Why adsense for feeds is a bad idea (at least for now)

I've been thinking about advertising in RSS for a while (and Google's foray most specifically) and always with a general distaste for it. It wasn't until recently that I was able to put my finger on exactly why I think it's misguided, but I think I figured it out.
From my experiences in using Adsense nearly two years on PVRblog, I've noticed a great deal of my traffic comes from search engines. I only have stats on those viewing the site via the web (bloglines says 4k users read it via RSS, but there's no way of knowing the full number), but a random swath of stats will frequently show 75% or more of the web traffic has google.com as their referrer. Here's a screenshot of my Typepad stats, showing a single page of accesses in the past few minutes as I'm writing this. The ones with no referrer listed were reading the site directly.
These are folks looking for information on products I reviewed and mentioned or tips I might have divulged in a post. I have no way of verifying this, but I would assume that my adsense click-throughs are mostly due to this search engine traffic and not due to my daily readers. At the very least, the random searchers simply outnumber the daily readers, but I think it goes beyond that (which would assume both groups click through ads at the same click through rate). I don't have any data to prove this, but I'm going off on a hunch since that's how I tend to use google's text ads myself. If I'm searching for information about a baby monitor or trying to figure out when the superbowl is starting, and I end up on a site with Google text ads, I often click on the ones that seem to offer better info than the site I'm viewing. If I'm viewing a page that mentions the text string "Superbowl" and "start" and "time" but doesn't answer my question, and there's an ad that says "Plan your Superbowl Party Here" I would probably click it, hoping they happen to mention the kickoff time.
Let me circle this back to ads in RSS feeds. You can be fairly sure that every single person subscribed to your feed is a daily reader and it's not likely random searchers would add your feed. The people reading your feed are using a feed because they don't want to miss a single word you're saying. They're not just fans reading your site, they're more die-hard than that.
Who would you subject to advertising, if you had a say in the matter: random visitors or your biggest fans?
I've come to the conclusion that I do have a say in the matter, and that I do my best to decrease advertising pitches to my biggest fans. On MetaFilter for instance, there are blogads and google text ads for outside browsers, but when you get an account there you don't see any of it and the site is ad-free. PVRblog has both blogads and google text ads on the site but I won't be adding anything to the feeds.
None of this is set in stone, of course. Currently, the technology that does text matching in all the RSS ad examples I've seen is quite poor. Out of the context of a site with thousands of words, giving a unique ad to every single post that might only have a handful of words seems to result in totally random ads. I find myself looking at a someone's blog post on iPods and seeing a text ad for refinancing a mortgage far too often. If ads in RSS were more sophisticated and actually were pitched at the very things you were discussing in a post, I might reconsider. The other main thing that might change over time is that RSS readers are typically technology-savvy and a small minority of your audience. If RSS grows to the point that random visitors become the majority of your traffic, it might be time to reconsider this, but for now it seems pretty obvious: don't clobber your biggest fans with pitches to ads and instead relegate ads to areas where it might help people find more information or related products.

South by Etech recollections

During breaks in travel last week, I wrote a bunch of notes about both SXSW and Etech conferences and finished it off last night while waiting for a flight. What follows is a loose bunch of thoughts on various subjects.

SXSW

SXSW was fun, and good to catch up with everyone. At this point, I think it's officially a conference by and for bloggers, as the number of mentions of code or new products was minimal and every panel seemed to focus on the ins and outs of blogging, with some CSS thrown in. I enjoyed myself and the party atmosphere of the week even though I was nervous about having two talks. I don't recall anything too mind blowing as the conference has turned into a mix of summer camp reunion with friends and a four-day excuse to party. About the only interesting panel I recall was the one on minorities in blogging. Even though anyone can blog, it's still the domain of white males by and large, and while the speaker list at sxsw has plenty of women now, there were few people of color. The panel was a good one to have since it was just about the only one to force everyone to take a look at the medium critically. There's a difference between navel gazing and critical introspection and I think this one handled it well. I'd like to see more panels challenging conventions instead of celebrating them.
One weird thing I noticed is that I rarely brought out my big digital SLR camera. Usually on a four day trip like this, I'd take probably 100-150 shots but thanks to my cameraphone and flickr, I left my SLR at the hotel and ended up taking barely a dozen photos with my full-sized camera, while I probably uploaded 30-40 shots to flickr that week. I imagine if cameraphones get up into the 3-5 megapixel range, people will just use those instead of dedicated cameras. There's no photo downloading, manipulation, or resizing necessary. You just shoot, mash a couple buttons, and send it off to flickr. It's a lazy photographer's dream.

Etech

Etech and SXSW used to be quite similar, with one a bit more technical than the other, but I think this year they really diverged. Etech felt a bit weird this time around, much less hackery and technical and much closer to what I assume conferences like PC Forum or Web 2.0 are about. The long story short is that Etech suddenly seemed to be about money. Everyone talking about getting or giving angel funding, dropping tips on talking to VCs, and half the crowd sported gray hair and suits instead of fauxhawks and cargo pants. It was odd. The cutting edge geeks at etech have always pushed code and potential product trends but it seems the bubble is back and the money guys have wised up, and they descended this year to check it out. In this year's money-ified etech, Joshua from delicious seemed like the last unfunded, unincorporated guy with a great idea and he was the belle of the ball. I saw him get mobbed after every talk, surrounded by what appeared to be VC types.

O-fucking-deo

Every time I attend SXSW or Etech, it seems like the really amazing moment doesn't happen until the final day, when for one reason or another a panel or demo blows my mind. Late on the last day of Etech, that demo was Odeo.
I've long thought of podcasting as being technically cool, but problematic. You basically only have two options: download mp3 files off a website one by one by hand, or subscribe to a podcast and get everything, whether you wanted to hear it or not. There has to be a bandwidth-saving happy medium right? Odeo looks like it, offering in-browser previews and playback, a shopping cart-style download system, and the ability to subscribe in classic "download everything" podcast style if you want.
The biggest innovation of Odeo in my mind was the browser-based multitrack recording studio. You don't need to own expensive, sophisticated audio software or hardware, you can just use your browser and built-in mic to record your voice and add music bumpers or other recorded audio. You can even edit your final tracks, all in the browser. It has to be seen to be believed. Powerful tools, all inside the browser and they'll work with any browser on any system with the Flash plugin. It makes basic audio technology available to anyone, and I can't wait to see what kinds of shows pop up on Odeo once they lower the technology bar for all.
I got to talk to Ev for the first time in a couple years after his panel and I told him that while Odeo seemed to have a lot in common with flickr (you have friends and contacts and can easily find new tracks by your circle of friends), the in-browser recording set it apart. I remember telling him "It was like a flickr that included a free camera for every user." Just as Blogger+Blogspot lowered the bar and let anyone with an idea share their thoughts with the world, Odeo appears to be poised to do the same for sound.

Damn that Merlin Mann

While stuck awaiting delayed flights on the return home, I finally gave in and downloaded quicksilver and read all the tutorials. The strange thing is that while sometimes I feel like a slow, money-losing contestant on jeopardy when tabbing and auto-completing, the simple app launcher stuff is great. After training it to grab my ten favorite apps with just a couple keys, I closed down my dragthing launcher. Then I got used to the "open files with…" feature and cleaned my desktop of clutter. Now I have this zen-like clear desktop and anything I want is a keystroke away in quicksilver or expose. It only took a couple hours of tinkering but I definitely see what everyone is raving about. It feels like my mac just got that much easier and faster to use, and I finally got rid of my desktop clutter. I'm a bit of a lazy slob, often having dozens of folders and files on the desktop and now I have none. I've added App Rocket to my PC for the same effect and it's working pretty well as an app launcher too.

Conference IM stalk hacks

I was poaching folks from rendezvous in austin one day when I started to feel guilty and asked the person next to me if they ever felt pangs of guilt when doing this. "When doing what?" I heard back. I asked around, and no one among my friends had discovered a great (and potentially problematic) feature of iChat, so I might as well tell everyone here.
Open your rendezvous buddy list and your aim buddy list and put them side by side. Now, in the conference-populated rendezvous list, look for a name of someone you've always wanted to talk to over IM but haven't yet. Click, hold-down, and drag their name from the rendezvous buddy list to the aim buddy list. Ta da! You just poached someone's public aim name onto your perma-buddy AIM list and they have no idea. When you leave the conference and return home you can chat with them over AIM.
This is incredibly useful for getting friends onto your buddy list that you know personally but didn't know they used AIM. The more sinister fun/scary/stalky part is that you can also add famous people you'd never have aim names for, but that you happen to be on the same network with. When I first discovered this, I checked to see if it worked by putting Tim O'Reilly and a bunch of famous tech journalists on my list. The following week I realized I could tell when they were at their desk and it sufficiently creeped me out so I got rid of them. iChat should probably have a preference for whether or not you want to allow this feature (I would allow it personally, it's fun to touch base with conference goers afterwards), but for now it's a handy dandy free-for-all that no one seemed to know about. Now you know, so remember to poach everyone you'd like to talk to after the conference the next time you're at one. (update: several people emailed to say that it's in iChat's preferences, under privacy, so turn if off if you're concerned about this)

On Speaking

This year's conferences were a bit stressful for me because I had to talk three times in the span of four days, and two of the three talks were on subjects at the edge of my grasp. I don't get much practice talking in front of crowds so I always sweat these sorts of things. I think my community panel went well even though I prepared the least of all three talks. It was almost completely off the top of my head and fun to dive into the ins and outs of community management with Craig and Molly (it helped that she was an incredible moderator). My second panel at SXSW was my first time ever as a moderator and I think I did an ok job letting everyone talk and keeping the panel moving, but I did a terrible job introducing the subject and delineating the scope of the talk. My talk at Etech was more of a classic powerpoint-bullets-for-20-minutes kind of thing and in the formal confines of a standard lecture format, I think I did pretty bad. That kind of speaking takes practice and right before my talk I got to see a seasoned pro. I think I've honed in on what it takes to give a good talk in that format.
Clay's talk that preceded mine was fantastic, one of the best I've seen at a tech conference. Clay teaches at NYU and his polish from regular lecturing showed. He knows how to work the crowd and drop jokes at appropriate times and he moves his arms and body enough to keep you from drifting off but not so much that it's annoying. What really wowed me was his command of audience attention span. I've seen Lessig do it well but I think Clay does it even better.
Most folks have an attention span that cycles every 90 seconds or so, as they drift between total concentration and something less so. Clay had a knack for doing two things: he'd stay on a slide/point for about that long, and when he went to the next thing you were always ready to take it in. The other thing he did well was work with attention span on the macro level. He'd have pauses between shifts in subject matter to let the audience relax and cue everyone up for the Next Big Point he wanted to make. This entailed having a title slide for every section of the talk (maybe 8 or 9 of them in 40 minutes), which was completely black and only contained one or two words centered. Your eyes and mind could rest a bit on each one, which he used as a quick intro to a section, then he'd dive into charts 'n graphs or a meaty slide filled with bullets. After 3 or 4 slides on that section, he'd transition to another title slide that you could rest on. On an even more macro level, the entire talk created a thread between each section and made sense, and his conclusion simply reiterated the connections. It was just about as perfect as a talk could be and I can tell I have a lot to learn and a lot of practice ahead of me if I ever want to get any good at it.
Until next year…

Two things that suck about Intellectual Property Law this week

Earlier this week I heard Seth Green on Fresh Air, talking about his new stop-motion sketch comedy show, Robotic Chicken. It debuted last week but I caught a rerun and enjoyed it. The show basically follows the model that Saturday Night Live, In Living Color, and MAD TV have followed for years — a bunch of sketches making fun of pop culture, but the twist is that they use action figures, animation, and claymation instead of actors.
Before the opening credits even rolled, the law got in the way. The show opened with a message saying what you were about to see was parody, which seems like an unnecessary opener to a comedy show. Then I remembered from the interview Seth Green said that before they could show a 30 second goof on the "This is your brain on drugs" commercial, they had to get an ok from The Partnership for a Drug Free America. Apparently, since they used the woman that voiced the originals, the phrasing and her voice were "the intellectual property of the organization" and the bit didn't get into the show until they signed off on it. What's shocking is that I've seen 3 or 4 parodies of this commercial on shows before and I doubt anyone ever had to ok it first. The Simpsons did a joke version of a Schoolhouse Rock song, parodying "I'm just a bill" with the original voice talent, and now I wonder if had to get ok first.
The other sucky thing this week was when Sony got Beatallica's site shut down. Sony owns the rights to some Beatles songs and the guys in the rock parody group Beatallica sing send ups of Beatles classics, as if they were done by the guys in Metallica. They feature bits of lyrics from both bands along with lyrics they make up, and they play off The Beatles' melodies. It's a cultural mashup of 60's rock and 80's metal and it's a rocking good time. They don't charge for their songs and freely give them away online, so when they had hosting problems last year I volunteered to be a mirror for their first two albums. Now that Sony convinced their host to shut off their account, I'm one of the few places to find it and I hope Sony doesn't strong arm my host as well. Their work is non-commercial parody and I would think they were safer than a band like Dread Zeppelin or Mini Kiss that does shows for money, but Sony doesn't like parody works that build off their property, so they're offline for now.
I love comedy, and if I had a sketch show or a jokey band, I would never in a million years think that I have to ask for permission before I make a work parodying something from pop culture. What if the Partnership for a Drug Free America didn't like Seth Green's fake anti-drug commercial? Since when does the subject of a joke get to decide when and how you get to tell it, and since when do they employ lawyers to decide that?
So much of comedy exists in order to poke fun at our culture and these two examples make me think that lawyers using intellectual property law may have disastrous effects not just on culture and comedy, but on everyone's freedom to say what they want in the future.
update: The National Prostrate Cancer Coalition issued a press release playing off another bit from the same first show, where Optimus Prime gets prostate cancer. Kudos to them for having a sense of humor about the whole thing.

The Sony Ericcson s700i/710a Review

s700i, flipped open
There's been a lot of buzz over the new Sony Ericsson 700i/710a in recent months. As soon as I heard about this 1.3 megapixel bluetooth cameraphone on Gizmodo last year, I coveted this device. In late summer of 2004, a few people got early versions and started posting photos from it along with rave reviews. In November of 2004, I bought an unlocked one from this grey market phone site, for about $550. Today, cingular wireless finally launched it in the US, but still at the $500 price point.
For the past couple years I've used a phone that was one of the first to be good at bluetooth, a Sony Ericsson t68i, and one of the first phones that was good at photos, a Samsung v205. Moving up to the s700i was the best of both worlds for me.
All about the camera
Simply put, the camera is fantastic on this phone. It's one of the only phones you can buy today with a real CCD camera in it, just like a real digital camera. In fact, the way the phone is built, it's pretty much like a Sony Cybershot compact digital camera from early 2000, but with phone guts attached. Here's a gallery of my favorite photos taken with it.
O the glory of ikea Airport casino 20041217 Employees Only
What's great about the photo quality and small form factor is that for the first time, I always have a camera with me and it even has instant post-to-the-web capability. The drawback of my digital SLR is that it's big and I have to remember to bring it in its bag, along with the lenses I want to use. While the 1.3 megapixel photo quality from the phone doesn't compare to the 6 megapixel SLR, it's not that bad — miles ahead of other pixellated, blurry cameraphones you've probably used. I take a lot of photos to remember a place or a moment and since the phone is so small, I've always got a decent camera with me.
I've also found the camera comes in handy to the point that it's downright practical. Recently while going to a garden center to pick up seed and fertilizer, I noticed a few plants I was interested in, but felt I needed to do more research at Google before I could decide what fit best in my backyard. So I took shots of the labels to look up later. I've also taken to using it while shopping, when I need to remember if a price is better than what I can find online, or if something will fit in my home.
Everything else
Overall, I've found little to complain about when it comes to all the other phone features. Getting it to work on t-mobile was a matter of dropping my sim card in and having tech support send the MMS and VPN settings. The screen is bright and gorgeous, and the swivel keypad is smooth, though I only use it when keying in new numbers or text, otherwise I use it closed. While it doesn't iSync yet over bluetooth, I was able to send all my address book contacts to the device using bluetooth. On t-mobile it's just $20/month to add unlimited data so I can use it as a bluetooth modem when I travel away from wireless, and I can send as many photos as I want to flickr. It comes with a web browser that understands xhtml and css, but the bright screen is just too narrow to be useful for web browsing so you end up scrolling around and around. I kind of wish it converted pages instead and only sent text.
I replaced the stock 32Mb memory stick with a 128Mb one I found on ebay shortly after getting the phone (about $30), and with that setup I can take hundreds of photos (they're only about 200kb each) while at the same time being able to carry about an hour's worth of music for the mp3 player (the phone uses proprietary ear bud headphones though). It has a java gaming engine that has some pretty impressive graphics, but I've barely touched that feature.
One of the few gripes I've heard from folks is that the OS can seem buggy or slow. I've never had it crash on me, but I have noticed some lag when jumping through menus sometimes, though it is nothing like the horrible slow interface my t68i offered.
The only other problem with the phone is the price. I splurged and got it as an early xmas present to myself and I'm surprised to hear it's still going to be about $500 months later. If a carrier can get this phone down to $200-300, I suspect it will be so popular as to be ubiquitous.
Conclusions
Overall, a great phone, a good camera, and something I'm heartily reocmmending to all my friends, especially the ones that are also photographers. This is the phone you've been waiting for, one that combines all the basic phone functionality you'd want, along with a fairly respectable point-and-shoot digital camera that fits in your pocket.

Pieces of the Future

I haven't rented movies in months (seen plenty on HBO thanks to TiVo and *cough* downloaded from the internet) but recently grabbed a couple gems.
Pieces of April was something I wanted to see last summer, but its life was short-lived on the Oregon art house movie circuit, and before I knew it, it was gone. The movie is fairly strong, it's a little slow in parts, a little flat here and there, but has some really great emotional parts that make up for its shortcomings. I guess I'd give it a 80/100 if I rated movies on a quality scale.
But while I may consider this a pretty good film, I think it's a real breakthrough work; a milestone of sorts. The real breakthrough was the format. Now, I'm not focusing on it because I know it's sort of a gimmick to do a mainstream movie on cheap DV cameras, but it's worth looking at this movie as a sign of things to come.
I'm sure someone in 1979 (or whenever Wordstar first came out) made some bold prediction that in five years the Great American Novel was going to be typed out on a computer running their software and I'm sure people laughed. And when you think about how 99% of the publishing industry works today, through laptops and copies of Word, the Great American Novel is being written every year, thousands of times over, on cheap computers running cheap software that allows for easy writing and editing.
Pieces of April is the first thing recorded on digital video I've seen that finally felt like a "proper" movie. I'm going to say it was the performances and script, not just the actors involved that made it shine. The picture quality definitely feels like a step down from regular cinema, but after the first 10 minutes or so you don't notice any jaggies or the harsh exposure and focus instead on the story. The entire film was made for about $160k, using prosumer-level cameras.
When iMovie came out soon after MiniDV cameras became popular, I heard a lot of people predict that someday soon, the next great film was coming out of some unknown person with a computer, a good script, and a few grand to film it. There has been a few attempts at this already. Sundance recently screened a film edited in iMovie.
Although Pieces of April came out of the "Hollywood Machine" it's the first DV feature I've seen that made me forget it cost nothing and was produced with cheap gear. It was a good movie that happened to be shot in DV, and as technology marches forward, there's no doubt that ten years from now anyone will probably be able to buy a high-def DV camera for about a grand that could shoot a feature.
Of course, you're still going to need the basics that no piece of software or hardware can provide: great story, actors, locations, sound, and editing, but the prices of tools are dropping so fast that maybe someday we'll get to the point where an artist won't be limited by the cash in their pocket, but by the ideas in their heart.

All Hail Bluetooth

While I've known about bluetooth phones for the past few years and heard you could do cool stuff like use it as a modem, control your pc, and sync your computers with your phone, I didn't really give it a try until I got back from Etech this year. In the few months I've been playing with it, I can say one thing's for sure: it's like living in the goddamned future.

What it is

Understanding bluetooth is pretty easy, it's just a name for a low-range networking standard. It's essentially "personal area networking" meaning you can connect a phone to a wireless headset or a mouse with a computer, all without wires. There are a bunch of bluetooth enabled phones and PDAs out now, and thanks to USB adapters, powerbooks and PCs can play too.
My current setup entails a Sony Ericcson t68i phone on t-mobile, paired with a 12" aluminum powerbook. The follow's a run down of how to set it up and what you can do with it once it's in place.

The setup

I started by swapping the sim card from my old phone (a samsung I bought specifically to take photos and post online) into my partner's t68i and vice versa. I was surprised that this Just Worked, but it did. Once it was my phone I called t-mobile customer service and dropped my t-zones service for transferring photos and signed up for their unlimited GPRS internet service for $20/month. I asked for setup help, and they forwarded me to a tech that helped me figure out how to setup the account on my phone and what the CID settings were. I got an SMS a few minutes later with all my settings automatically stored onto the phone as well.
I fired up my powerbook, updated bluetooth to the latest firmware, then ran the "Setup a new bluetooth device" option in the bluetooth menu. I left everything on the defaults then when it asked for an access number to get online, I simply entered in *99***(your CID value)# where (your CID value) depends on your phone but is simply a number. That should add a bluetooth modem to your network preferences and I added the icon to my menubar so I could connect whenever I needed to.
And just like that I had a permanent backup connection whenever wifi was not available. No more worrying about which hotels have network connections and how much they cost. No more getting lost while traveling because I forgot to print a map. I just pop open my powerbook, start the bluetooth connection to my phone, and I'm connected.
In the 20-30 hours I've gotten to use my phone as a modem I've enjoyed a connection that seems to run right at the reported 20kbps speed. It's just a tad slower than a 28.8 modem, but is entirely serviceable for email and web browsing. Reading weblogs with lean code and CSS and RSS feeds is easy as well as reading email on the connection. Bluetooth does seem to suck some battery life out of the phone. I went from a full charge to about 50% left after a couple hours of bluetooth'd connection at an airport recently. The time to connect is fast, only taking a few seconds to establish a connection and bluetooth seems to work fine if I leave the phone in my pocket.
There's something impressive about leaving the phone in your pocket and getting a connection just fine (though you do have to fight the urge to yell "Hey everyone! I've got the internet in my pants!"). WiFi is revolutionary but I take it for granted. Playing with data connections over bluetooth, it feels like the first time I tried WiFi. It's almost magic that I can stand almost anywhere in the US, and pull down data from the air, via a wireless local connection to my phone.

While operating heavy machinery

You know how you can talk on your cell phone while driving at a high rate of speed? If you've got a good cell connection, you can transmit data as well. I'll give you a second for that to sink in.
This means while you're (or better yet, someone else is) driving down the freeway at a high rate of speed, you can connect and browse the web and download email from your laptop. I don't know why, but at first I figured this was impossible to do reliably. I've had tons of calls drop off in the last ten years I've used cell phones and voice quality is often less than 100%. If I want to downlaod 50kb of email, at some level I thought every byte is sacred and less than 100% perfect service would result in an unreliable data connection. In practice however, driving across the country at 70mph while downloading email and browsing the web works just fine. It even worked perfectly fine when I tried it on Caltrain, the commuter train line in the Silicon Valley.

caltrain bluetoothin'
Connected via bluetooth on the Caltrain, my laptop near the window as the houses roll by

This recent revelation that you can connect on freeways and trains has really opened up the possibilities. There's little stopping someone from doing a 2004 version of Travels with Samantha, but using a cellphone to post stories and photos from the road along the way.

Bridging the usability gap

One thing about cell phones that's always annoyed me is the keypad interface. You end up spending hours keying in your contacts whenever you get a new one, only to lose them afterwards if you ever switch phones or lose one. Bluetooth on the mac makes this problem a thing of the past by allowing you to link the address book application to your phone via bluetooth. When I switched to this new phone, I simply added a few entries to the Address Book that weren't already there, then sync'd up my phone and I suddenly had 40 phone numbers loaded up. As long as my future phones are bluetooth equipped, I'll never have to key entries in by hand. This is a very cool thing and one of the reasons why all my phones will have bluetooth from now on.

Nerdy fun

A cool bluetooth/t68i helper app I had to try out was Sailing's Clicker app. It installs a whole bunch of little applescripts that can be fired off from your phone. While it was fun to stand 10 feet from my laptop, point my phone and advance songs in iTunes, change the volume, and give powerpoint and keynote talks using my phone's buttons, I can't see this being totally practical for frequent use. The only actual useful feature I did find was incoming calls could be triggered to pause iTunes and set your iChat status to away. I usually leave my phone on vibrate and unless it's nearby on my desk or in my pocket, sometimes I miss calls. With the visual and audible changes on my mac desktop, I most certainly would know there's a call. The downside of this app is battery life on my phone. Without bluetooth on, I can go 3-4 days before I need a charge, but with Clicker connected via bluetooth all the time the phone's nearly dead in about 24 hours. After a day of playing around, I haven't used it since.

More Gadget Freakdom

Lastly, there are a whole host of bluetooth devices out there that you can connect to your phone, laptop, or both. I've got a Jabra Freespeak wireless headset, and it can connect to my phone and my mac. The sound quality is really good on phone calls and after you get used to tweaking it around your ear and jamming the piece into your ear canal, it's really comfy and you hardly feel it after a few minutes. On the mac, you can use it to iChat people using video or just live audio (using iChat as a phone), and it's ok, though the sound quality is kinda so-so.
I haven't tried out bluetooth mice or keyboards on my powerbook since I hear they don't wake sleeping macs (you can't just shake a bluetooth mouse to wake it up like you can with a usb mouse), and I hear the battery life is an issue (changing batteries once/month or recharging often).
I'm looking forward to the integration with cars. This has been problematic so far, but I think it's only because we're in the early stages of adoption. I can't wait until I have a car that is aware of my phone and can turn down my music when it rings, or transmit data (directions, car status, location, etc) to and from my phone.

Conclusion

It all started when a friend smuggled a phone from Finland into this country 2-3 years ago, and I saw his wireless headset that seemed too Star Trek to be real. Fast forward to today, and my own personal setup isn't just feeling Star Trek, it's actually useful.
So far the killer app is data over the connection. Whenever I'm out of my office and beyond the reach of free wifi, I'm on bluetooth. I hear that pricing for Bluetooth is still all over the map (which can bite you in the ass if you travel a lot) but my t-mobile plan has been a solid $20 in the months I've had it, and it even allowed for free data use when I was in Canada recently (on the rogers network I think). I'm still amazed you can speed across the land while downloading email at the same time, and the little gadgets like headsets are also quite useful. I know Bluetooth has been around for a while and no one ever thought it'd be ready for prime time, but that time is now, and the useful applications of this technology are plentiful and easy to use.
updates: A lot of people have sent in tips but here's one I didn't know about:
"One thing your article didn't mention is the how Mac's Address Book can work with Bluetooth. When you have Address book open you have the little BT button enabled, address book will have a popup with the name (if in the address book) and number of the person calling. This is great when you're at the computer but you're phone is across the room or in your pocket or whatnot. The popup will let you send the call to voicemail if you don't want to take the call." — Kirk

Social Software ideas

While social software may be the internet revolution du jour among venture capitalists, as a user I'm still waiting for the killer social software app that lives up to all the market hype. Recently I've been thinking about how the current crop of options could be improved upon, or at the very least, how they could be leveraged to be something useful for users. I've come up with a few ideas, some half-baked, others fully baked. I offer them here in the hopes that someone, somewhere already built it or would like to build it.

Colloquial mapping

The gist
Yahoo Maps + Slashdot
Have you ever been literally steered wrong by automated mapping systems like Yahoo Maps or Mapquest? Either the maps are out of date or the algorithm that determines the shortest distance between two points doesn't account for local traffic patterns. I find the difference between how Yahoo Maps says I should get from a point A to a point B and how a friend or family member would tell me how to get there differs about half the time. I find that the more rural or off-the-beaten-path a destination is, the bigger the difference.
I'm finding that in Oregon, the speed difference between two lane roads with stop signs and four lane freeways is substantial. Yahoo Maps suggests the shortest distance and it almost always includes backroads that are riddled with delays. Where these systems fall short is that they are not aware that a quick 5 minute jog over to a major freeway can save 20 minutes or more on an hour long drive.
The idea
Create a mapping service that allows the community to suggest alternate paths along with reasons for it. Suggest the routes to be taken as dictated by the software's GIS information, but also list user suggestions, and to ensure quality, also add ratings of user suggestions by others.
If I wanted to go from San Diego to Ventura, CA, there are several paths I could take and it would depend on time of day, day of week, time of year, and/or the weather. Software would dictate that I go directly up the 5 and 405 freeway to the 101, but that'd be murder during rush hour on a weekday and might take 4-6 hours to cut through three major metropolitan areas. During a holiday period, you'd probably save lots of time taking an eastern route around most of Southern California even though it would be a longer distance.
The rub
The biggest obstacle I can see is normalizing all the data. By its very nature, getting directions from people would be "dirty" and require some significant logic to normalize and get it into a database format that could be queried. You could store the paths based on the geographic start and end points, and perhaps take long/lat points along the way, then you could show users paths suggested by users that had start and end points that were shorter or longer than their desired path. The trickiest thing would be providing user suggested paths for a trip between say Los Angeles and Ventura, CA that could correctly draw upon some of the suggested paths from the San Diego to Ventura submissions.
Allowing other users to rate the quality of suggested directions would hopefully keep bad directions to a minimum and at the same time float the best alternate paths to the top. With proper reputation management in place, the service could keep track of a user's overall quality of suggested directions and highlight those ingenious travelers that always seem to know the quickest way to get somewhere.
Along with the proven utility of internet mapping, adding a suggested route system could fill in the last remaining gaps and produce a hybrid automated and human created system that any amount of AI programming couldn't match. Mapping software relies on simple mathematics and a conceptual map of the earth's surface that imaginary vectors can be plotted along. Humans that are veteran drivers in a particular region have extensive knowledge based on years of experience that simple mathematical models can't replicate. This service would attempt to bring those two worlds together to provide the best possible experience for users trying to get from point A to point B.

2. Geographical opinion systems

The gist
Epinions + Friendster
Last summer I moved to a town in a place far away from where I've spent the past few years, and one of the first problems I had to solve was finding the perfect everything. I quickly amassed a bunch of questions that took months of trial and error to answer through a network of new friends and neighbors. Where could I get a good haircut? Which one of the local dentists would be most understanding of my dental anxiety? Which store should I shop for food at if I want a lot of organic, natural, and meatless food? Are there any trustworthy mechanics in this town? Which one of the two Thai places is "the good one?" Where should I go for a nice night out here? Which theater plays the art house movies? Which one of the furniture stores should I trust with my money?
The idea
Even with a small network of friends, it's tough to find answers for all the questions you might have when you move to a new city. Worse yet is traveling to a new place and having to send off emails to friends that live there, asking them for all their favorite places to eat and have fun. The crux of this idea is to build something that combines a service like Friendster with a review site like Epinions. Basically the site would serve as a digital representation of the connections and knowledge one builds over time when living in the same place.
I'd be more than happy to write detailed reviews of all my favorite places in San Francisco for friends. Currently I do it over email when asked by friends and on localized or private email lists when the questions come up. It took me years to find the one honest mechanic, the nicest dentist on earth, and the best sushi in San Francisco. I share knowledge freely with my friends and they do the same right back at me, but it's tough to keep track of this stuff. This site/service would serve a place to share this information among a trusted network of friends or strangers given appropriate levels of privacy control and reputation management.
The rub
The hardest part of course is weeding out the tainted information. If limited to your friends network, this wouldn't be too hard to manage, as you probably do it currently. I might not treat my friend Jonah's opinion of hairdressers highly because I know he is married to one and talks up his wife's business too much. The bigger rub is when you expose the reviews to strangers, because it quickly becomes a minefield where trust management is paramount to keeping the service useful. Given any system that tracks quality or quantity of any property, participants will game the system to rise in rankings. People signing up fake accounts to rate their own services highly would be the death keel for this service among the many possibilities for tainting data.
Another obvious problem is why anyone would enter all this information somewhere. Sure, epinons could someday do this and it was fun at first, but writing reviews takes work, and I believe epinions relied on encyclopedic reviews and should have instead allowed shorter 1 paragraph reviews that might only be meant for friends. Reducing some of the formality and perceived amount of work would reduce the friction of getting information. Using perhaps an existing network like Friendster, keeping reviews private to only those close to you would also help. If you wanted to share a review of your favorite bar, it wouldn't mean spending fifteen minutes writing to help out some nameless corporate website network, if it was for your friends only, then you'd have the more immediate feeling of helping people you care about out. This would also give an incentive to expand your friend networks, in order to access to this privelaged, private information.
Tribe.net sort of does this by putting some emphasis on geographical location, though they seem to be more of a Craigslist style classified ad network. When I log in, I usually see a list of strangers trying to sell a guitar amp or get a knitting group together, which is fairly different than what I envision here.

3. Collaborative consumed media

The gist
Friendster + ??? (some sort of media management service)
Friendster currently lets you list interests in a free-form way and those become links to others interested in the same subject matter. What I want here is something a bit more formal than "rock music" or "AC/DC". I'd love to know the last five books my friends purchased and the last five CDs they liked. I'd love to know what's spinning in their MP3 player currently and what DVDs they enjoyed watching recently. While this may be a potential privacy problem, as long as my friends are the only ones that can see this info, I wouldn't mind sharing it, and I'd love to check up on what media they've been loving recently.
The idea
A central service perhaps built upon existing systems at Amazon or Friendster that allows you to share as easily as possible all the media you are consuming. Currently my friends do this using a mish-mash of web services, spaghetti code scripts, and their weblogs. I might think about getting the New Pornographers album after I hear my friend Andre rave about it on his site, or if I see Jason's "now playing list" that features the tracks.
The rub
As with the last idea, reducing the friction as much as possible is key to allowing people to enter data into the system. At amazon, simply let people share their recent purchases with friends and perhaps let them write micro-reviews that don't show up as formal amazon reviews. Provide javascript bookmarklets to let users quickly add movie listings, book ordering pages, and band homepages into their media library to share with friends. This would be trivial to tie into an existing commerce system like amazon, which already has the data and only needs to make it easy as possible for me to say "hey friends, I just finished reading Word Freak and it was a blast from start to finish!"
Privacy concerns would have to be addressed, as this could be a Total (media) Information Awareness listing of everything you've bought, watched, listened to, and read. Users would have to trust the company running the service and trust that their data wouldn't be used against them in any way.
Currently Erik's ingenious service All Consuming does this by scraping weblogs (and letting you dictate which ones are your friends) and creating pages and sending you alerts when friends mention new books, though it doesn't do music and movies, and it sort of does a end-run around the data by grabbing it from your site and normalizing it into an amazon-like framework.
Audioscrobbler does "what's playing" lists pretty well (here's my out-dated profile), perhaps if they could be incorporated into an amazon purchase history, it could be extended to movies and books.

4. Reputation management ideas

The gist
Multi-variate reputation management
Reputation systems have been around for a few years and it's about time to improve upon them. I've noticed that after using eBay for a few months that the simple +/- rating system doesn't always tell you what you want to know about an unknown seller, nor does it equate with trust in some cases. This could work with any reputation system, but eBay comes to mind as the most obvious application.
The idea
This is less of a product or service and more like a bunch of ideas around reputation systems.
Add additional variables for tracking reputation in a community system. For eBay, there are numerous informative data points that could help calculate trustworthiness. I'm going to trust someone that has high ranking for selling ten $1,000+ items more than someone that sold 50 $5 trinkets, and doubly so if I want to buy a $500 item. After having been burned by an overseas transaction gone wrong, I'm wary of buying from sellers that are very far away, unless they have extremely high marks.
Similar to the "grade inflation" problems common in colleges everywhere, everyone at eBay seems to have the same positive rating of "GOOD COMMUNICATION WOULD USE AGAIN A+++++++++++" which doesn't really tell you much and becomes meaningless if every bit of feedback looks like that. If you plumb someone's profile and all their previous transactions, you can eventually figure out if they've moved any big ticket items but it'd be great if that information (which is already in the database) could be surfaced and used to assess an adjusted reputation ("This user has been rated positively on 125 sales of items over $500". Other bits of info could include things like location of both the seller and the buyers (I'll trust a seller in Spain if they have lots of high ranking sales to others in my country).
Besides eBay, a system such as the one in use at Slashdot that keeps tally of a user's karma could be expanded to include additional datapoints, such as # of words per highly rated answer. You might prefer encyclopedic answers, or you might instead like to know the efficient users that pack the highest ratings in the fewest words/post.
Additional data would really help out sites that involve larger sums of money changing hands. The eBay-like freelance job site eLance and the home improvement finder site Service Magic could improve their simple +/- systems with a cost calculation. I wouldn't hire a handyman that typically does $50 doorjamb fixes to hang $10,000 worth of windows and at eLance, if I was looking for a cheap $500 website for my business I'd hire someone that had successfully done those jobs in the past and had a portfolio filled with low-cost jobs.
Update: Jay Allen lists an idea I would also love to see, an address book that could be shared with friends. This past xmas I had to email my new address out to a couple dozen people that asked, and most all of them were already connected to me in friendster.