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Will RSS wither and die?

I’m getting a bald spot on the area of my scalp I keep scratching trying to figure out how RSS will remain viable for those trying to monetize content and drive people to their respective sites.

Steve Rubel at MicroPersuasion — in a post today entitled, “Why Yahoo is Backing Away from RSS” — examines some recent moves by Yahoo deemphasizing RSS feeds and asks one pertinent question along these lines: “Could this be the beginning of a larger trend?

I think it is.

In the last year I’ve seen data that 1% — and as many as 6% — of internet users read through RSS readers. I’d agree that reading feeds is still in the early adopter, technoweenie stage and few people may even be aware that they’re using RSS when reading feeds in a personal portal, on a web page or on someone’s blog where content syndicated feeds can be displayed.

We’ve seen few copyright problems yet though I’ve been expecting some media company to go after smaller players that display the former’s RSS-fed content on the latter’s site as though it was their own. I’ve also not seen much push-back from companies who’d be much better off to have all internet users appear at their Web offering instead of having their content appear elsewhere (so as to sell advertisers on unique visitors/pageviews, etc.). RSS is still too new and underutilized and it seems as though everyone is still trying to figure out how to build an audience that is sustainable, so it’s all offense right now…but the defense (like lawsuits) will come.

Even though ad insertions have been filtering into RSS feeds, they’re few-n-far between and most content companies are ad-funded. I’m also very aware that — when I read RSS-fed articles in my preferred reader — all content is equal. They all look the same and I sometimes find myself having to look to see where the feed has come from in order to have some context. This is a bad thing for media companies or anyone else trying to build a brand, a customer experience or momentum as a destination for online participants.

I’m going to bet we’ll see more and more companies controlling their RSS feeds to make 100% certain that anything offered has a compelling reason to click-through. Fast Company magazine does this with intriguing article headers and a one sentence abstract. 90% of the time I’m interested enough to click through and read some of the articles they offer. I end up seeing the context of the article, photos and, of course, all the ads that surround it.

So maybe this will lead to better content as media companies, bloggers and others invest in better-n-better content? Maybe. Could also end up like Digg right now where it seems *everyone* is creating provocative, compelling headlines that lead to almost always disappointing content…but the goal is to get people to click on a submitted article and get it promoted to the home page.

The marketplace will find a sweet spot where people like me can read FAST by aggregating hundreds of feeds into an RSS reader yet still snag me frequently so I click-through and receive ads. Better ad insertion technology will appear. I’ll bet too that there will be good technology fixes like web bugs that will help identify, track and measure RSS-feed-to-click-through so everyone will be happy and content can be monetized.

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Rich Internet Apps: Momentum is Building

Was talking to a smart friend today about spaces or places for him to focus on with respect to the next big thing in software and the acceleration in value creation it can bring to people, industries and inefficient processes. My view? Rich Internet Applications (RIA’s).

Momentum is building for these desktop look-n-feel, in-and-out-of-a-Web-browser applications. When Ajax hit the scene with fast in-browser applications like Gmail, Zimbra and others, it instantly gave Web application developers an ability to visualize how robust a Web application could be. Just like Roger Bannister breaking the 4 minute mile, 46 days later that barrier was broken again and then it was done again-n-again-n-again.

There’s quite a bit happening driving momentum and providing the enabling tools and approaches that are already delivering amazing application functionality:

  • Working on other approaches (rendering in Flash or DHTML) was Laszlo Systems (check out their site to see how far they’ve come with their value proposition and look at examples of RIA’s built with their approach)
  • Laszlo tossed their frameworks into open source with OpenLaszlo with IBM’s support as well as the Eclipse foundation
  • Adobe bought Macromedia to do many things…including delivering enabling tools and frameworks for development of RIA’s
  • Microsoft has their Expression suite coming that will also deliver ‘traditional’ and RIA Web applications.
  • I’ve seen some cool stuff at IBM with encapsulated Ajaxian code chunks to quickly build RIA’s that will see the light of day soon.

But the proof in a market demand becoming a reality is when the trade shows hit.  If you don’t believe that RIA’s are becoming a market, check out Ajaxworld.

I’ve talked to some naysayers about “Ajax isn’t scalable” and “I can only imagine RIA’s — all with different UI’s and menu structures — all over my desktop” and “Enterprise and other data systems are simply too complex to deliver actual service oriented architectures.” It’s funny….but this reminds me of the beginnings of the desktop publishing (DTP) boom.

DTP wasn’t scalable. Printing and publishing was for experts and the processes were too complex. Typography and page layout couldn’t go mainstream. I submit that the plumbing, internet platform, approaches and workflows will quickly be figured out. There is too much in the way of opportunity to put a new “face of functionality” on all the tired, old applications as well as kickstarting completely new ones that access disparate data systems over the internet (i.e., mashups).

This statement may be a bit bold, but I think we’re entering one of the most exciting times in software that will happen in our lifetime.

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Apple Tablet: Why it could happen…

Photo of HP Tablet PC running Windows XP Tablet PC Edition (click for larger view)

It makes perfect sense that Apple would deliver on a Mac tablet as discussed in this article at SmartHome. They have the experience, the ability to deliver a great device that is easy to use, and they’ve got the OS underpinnings to pull it off.

I believe this since I have a Newton running version 2.1 of the NewtonOS. Though the battery is hatched so I have to use it plugged in, I’m still stunned that the handwriting recognition is far better than anything on the market today IMHO.

Inkwell, the handwriting recognition built into Mac OS X, has also added to my belief in the rumors of a Mac Tablet since at least 2000. I knew it could be done, Inkwell was fabulous (though surprisingly dumbed down and the handwriting recognition slightly worse using a Wacom tablet than my old Newton) and who could do a tablet better than Apple?

With Apple’s limited market share (though growing), I completely understand why they’d wait for a “perfect storm” of demand, market possibilities and cost to deliver a mass consumer product. With ubiquitous WiFi an increasing reality and use of multiple device types growing, the timing would be good.

With Apple’s iTV coming out in Q1 2007, what better device to hold in your hand that controls the media center, allows surfin’ the Web simultaneously and possibly controlling devices in the home? I’d personally use such a device for Skype calls as I’ve set my phone for simultaneous ringing to it and Skype…and thus I could answer my phone while surfin’ and watching the tube.

I can only imagine Steve Jobs waiting until handwriting recognition reached a level of perfection with which he’d be satisfied. If my own experiences and perspective are any indication, it’s quite possible we’ll see a Mac Tablet in January.

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Collective Consciousness/Smart Mobs/Convergence/Yikes!

Cover of the report, “Rise of the Participation Culture” (click for larger view)

The response to my Rise of the Participation Culture report has been phenomenal. So much so that I’ve been contacted by a number of people at large companies with incredible opportunities that I’m not sure are ones I can embrace due to available time and my current focus.

The intent of the report has been one part of the answer to the question I’ve been asking most of this year: What does the world need that I can uniquely deliver? With this high level report I’ve metaphorically scooped up just a cupful of ocean water regarding the culture of participation…and there’s a lot more water where that came from!

After pinging several thought leaders whom I respect and would LOVE to have in a room talking about how big the ocean-of-collective-consciousness really is, I came away with some thought leading resources I’d like to share with you. (By the way, the people I pinged included Howard Rheingold, Henry Jenkins and Danah Boyd among others).

I was pointed to some amazing resources…

[Read more…]

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Paving the way for Apple’s iPhone

If you’re in the US and were eating turkey, you might have missed a fairly profound ruling that is paving the way for a possible Apple iPhone (and other unlocked devices). In addition, there is a possible crack-in-the-armor of the Digital Rights Management (DRM) crowd which would be another accelerator for just such a device.

This article at Ars Technica led me to search and actually read much of this PDF. The US Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) has attempted to restrict much of what’s possible with the digital tools most of us have at our fingertips but the restrictions are easing.

For the purposes of this post, the relevant recommendation that paves the way for products like Apple’s iPhone is this one by the US Copyright office:

Computer programs in the form of firmware that enable wireless telephone handsets to connect to a wireless telephone communication network, when circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of lawfully connecting to a wireless telephone communication network.

While most of the rest of the world enjoys unlocked phones, the US has historically been a subsidized, carrier-centric mobile telephony market that minimizes choice and freedom to switch. In my view, it’s also severely restricted innovation.

Since it’s been increasingly trivial to manipulate audio, video, text and other content, markets (e.g., music and movie industries) have attempted to react to this reality with DRM. Apple obviously hit the sweet spot of the record industry troubles with music sharing, the iPod device itself and the software to manage it and buy music. Even though I hate DRM in any form, I understand the need to not go out of business while figuring out a new business model.

Rumor has it Apple’s iPhone will marry the iPod with mobile telephony and become an MVNO (buying wholesale time on other carriers’ networks and reselling it). They may not have to do that if the iPhone can freely be purchased and not locked into a specific carrier.

The chink in the armor of DRM is showing too. “DRM as we know it is over” says Paul Birch, International Federation of Phonographic Institutes (IFPI). Read more at New Music Strategies. We’ll see…but there is a growing realization that people are still buying CD’s and DVD’s in order to rip them as DRM-free content that they can move around at will.

So once again there appears to be a number of factors paving the way for Apple’s introduction of an iPhone in January similiar to the perfect storm of an industry on the ropes (i.e., record industry), consumers pent-up demand for freedom with digital music, and Apple’s penchant for great, usable design. The stock price is sure reflecting that possibility!

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Giving thanks…

Um…Happy Thanksgiving?

A moment of quiet time in an otherwise cacophony of noise on this Thanksgiving Day has allowed me to reflect on what I’m thankful for today.

I’m thankful for my family, our abundance and health, and that we’re all still alive. For those we’ve lost…there’s been an almost perfect replacement that’s occurred with new lives coming in after others depart.

I appreciate the turkey that gave up its life for us to eat it…though I’m always amazed by the fundamentalist view of the sanctity of life except for those in an uncertain combat situation, those on death row, innocent civilian “collateral damage” and animals who live in horrendous conditions before slaughter.

In a bizarre way, I’m thankful for the acceleration of technology and the Internet, which holds the promise of allowing the collective wisdom of humankind to figure out solutions to the problems we all share. I should also mention how incredibly thankful I am for the culture of participation that exists which is giving us open source software, Wikipedia, stupid viral videos, an explosion of opinion in blogs, and a level of healthy transparency that fills me with hope for our collective future.

Lastly, I’m thankful for humor. Listening to my 12 year old son howl with laughter watching Scary Movie 4 last night filled me with delight. We all search for joy, and I’m thankful we find humor.

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You may be able to be “Lost in Space”

Cast of the 1960s TV series “Lost in Space”

Ever since I was a voracious science fiction reading young man, I had a knowing that my only shot at getting into space would probably be virtually. After experiencing my first virtual goggles at a SIGGRAPH show 15 years ago, I knew also that if the latency problem could be solved, that I might someday be able to have a robot act as my controlled proxy that I could manipulate and send around distant worlds — as though I was actually there.

Science fiction? Maybe not for long…

This article in New Scientist tells why this notion may not be so farfetched:

Technology that lets a human “inhabit” the body of a distant robot for remote exploration is being tested in Germany.

The robot sits on top of a wheeled platform and has an extendable arm that it uses to manipulate objects. An operator moves the robot around by simply walking or using a foot pedal and can see out of twin cameras positioned on the robot’s head after donning a head-mounted display.

The controller’s wrist is also connected to a touch sensitive (haptic) interface that controls the robot’s arm. Furthermore, a wearable glove provides control over a three-fingered hand at the end of the robot’s arm.

I’ve been writing alot about how the consciousness of our planet is being increasingly connected due to the Internet and how the essence of ourselves is populating virtual spaces. As the days and months go by, we’ll experience better and more efficient means of us collaborating, communicating and interacting virtually as we work on making this global network a multiplier and accelerator of human cognitive evolution.

Sadly, there’s a long way to go before I’ll be able to jack in to some sort of an interstellar network and scream “Danger, Will Robinson!”

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Sit back, relax and let your customers create your products

Vintage Factory Workers (click for larger view)

Two enlightening and informative posts today that deserve you reading them. One by Doc Searl’s and the other by Tim O’Reilly. Both see beyond the technical aspects and deeply into the meaning behind it.

Doc talks about real relationships and markets where actual people interact (vs. eyeballs, clicks or targets). In a day of marketers gleefully talking about “harnessing collective intelligence” and offloading the hard work of figuring out what people will buy through putting in place methods to lurk and observe what they want instead, Doc’s premise is one where customers are on equal footing in the relationship with those delivering goods and  services.

Tim then discusses a real-world, collective-intelligence-harnessing business model geared for customer’s to participate in choosing which products get made. He illustrated this by taling about what threadless.com has done with customer participation (i.e., “voting” on which t-shirts get made). Making t-shirts isn’t terribly complex or involved, but then O’Reilly talks about what I also view as the complex, powerful possibility going forward: mass customization.

At some point in the not too distant future, imagine releasing computer aided design drawings for one of your products, letting customers modify or enhance them (either as an individual or as a group of people), and manufacturing the end result?

Or what if your production line was set up for actual, one-off, mass customization? People could return their “order” as a customized, ready for manufacturing one-off that would be shipped or maybe picked up at one of your resellers with output devices in their store?

Perhaps these designs will be sold and delivered for self-production. Think this is far fetched? Not since I’m already seeing an acceleration in the capability of delivery possibilities that go beyond just prototyping (e.g., 3D printers which I wrote about last year). Great example is how far we’ve come from color printing with presses to ones in our offices and homes.

What I *really* want, however, is a replicator like on Star Trek. Just ask and it’s created.

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A story about marketing, sales and service in a time of accelerating change

Let me tell you a story about marketing, sales and service in a time of accelerating change. It’s illustrative and informative if you make, market or sell anything.

One way to stay on top of the tsunami of news and information available today is by using an RSS aggregator — though I know that I’m in a minority since ~2% of households use RSS). Daily I skim roughly 75 blogs and dozens of news and information (and thoroughly read a handful) in order to stay on top of my game in the Internet, Web and applications space. Since most of the good stuff, in my opinion, comes from blogs, an aggregator is the most efficient means of reading so many of them. Speed is an imperative as is a pleasant look-n-feel since I spend so much time with my face turned toward my aggregator.

When starting off using an aggregator a couple of years ago, my choice was the popular Bloglines. It was fast and free…but the user interface design I found awful (though 80% of the people that read MY blog through RSS use Bloglines so alot of folks must like it!). I migrated to Newsgator (also with a free option) mainly since it looked better and had a few more options.

I should mention that I was REALLY FOCUSED on using an online vs. offline news aggregator since I use multiple devices to access my news aggregation (a laptop, desktop machine, and a Treo) and I really need to be able to pick up reading where I leave off for maximum flexibility. So I chose options that I thought were the best balance of speed, look and capabilities to meet those needs.

My news and information life started to get harder…until a new solution appeared (by accident!) that changed my paradigm of reading through an aggregator.

[Read more…]

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Toyota Scion XA: Why we didn’t buy American

Having lived through World War II, both my father and father-in-law wouldn’t dream of buying anything but an American car. One drives a Buick…the other a Cadillac. They’re fine cars but nothing I’d buy nor would my wife.

My bride drives a Japanese car and I a German one. We haven’t had an American car for nearly 18 years since quality, fit-n-finish and technology has continued to surpass what American car companies produce. Yesterday, we picked up a Toyota ScionXA for my college age daughter to drive (she was driving an old VW Jetta with lots of personal problems I was tired of fixing). I can only express my amazement at how a cheap car has been executed so flawlessly and what a joy this little ScionXA is as a driving experience.

This leads me to the point of this post: why in God’s name can’t American car manufacturer’s execute flawlessly? The base price on this Scion is $14,120 and then it’s Lego-like in its kit quality (you can add and add accessories over time). Their target market is first time, young car buyers and, for example, the sound system is better than what either my wife and I have in cars costing 3-5 times as much (think they know what their target market deems important!?!).

I read often how American car executives expound on “Well…we do more volume” and of course it’s easy for lower volume offerings to provide more overall return on a car buyers investment. Toyota (maker of the Scion) is on the brink of becoming the world’s largest car manufacturer so that argument doesn’t hold water.

The ride of this little car is fabulous. I’m not a small guy and yet I could sit in the back seat in relative comfort. I’m just shaking my head in amazement over what a package of technology and fit-n-finish this cheap car provides.

Unfortunately for American car companies, most people are like my family in that we choose products based on the biggest bang for the buck we can find. Edmunds shows the Chevy Aveo, Honda Civic (a second choice but more money for less goodies), Hyundai Elantra and Kia Rio. In comparison to the ScionXA, the American Aveo is cheaper but is a jaw-droppingly spartan alternative to the ScionXA.