Tag Archives: Google

Different Spokes

When Jeff Douglas from CloudSpokes contacted me last week to ask if I would be interested in being a guest on their Different Spokes show to talk about Cloud Foundry, help to review a book on node.js, and generally talk tech, I was delighted to be able to say “yes!”. I met Jeff back at Monktoberfest in October and I love the stuff the CloudSpokes team are doing around application challenges to build skills in different areas.

It turns out that these guys are spending a lot of time with Javascript lately and the brief was to review The Node Beginner Book. We did talk about it for a bit, but I probably talked too much earlier in the show because I was getting excited about all the cool stuff happening around Cloud Foundry lately 🙂

This was my first use of the Google+ Hangouts On Air feature, which allows content producers to publically stream the group chat to a YouTube account. I have to say that I was extremely impressed. We used the lower thirds feature from the Hangouts Toolbox plugin to do titles, and I’m sure there were a bunch of other handy add-on features we could have used to enhance the experience too.

It was great to be able to respond to viewer questions coming in via Twitter, and I’d like to thank my colleague Raja for his cool node app examples (don’t forget to check out nodelogger which uses the Cloud Foundry authentication features too). A shout-out to Brian McClain for bailing me out when I forgot the features of my own product, too…!

All-in-all, a really enjoyable discussion, and I’d love to take part in that show again sometime – smart guys! They’ve posted a nice recap post if you’d like to check them out.


When Blocking the Web… Stops Work Getting Done

Interesting situation recently. As long-time readers know, I’ve been a big fan of the Stop Blocking campaign for a number of years, and I tend to find it frustrating when I come across blocked networks. Trust and empowerment make me feel great in my job.

I’ve spent most of October and November travelling to speak with customers and present at a couple of conferences around Europe. In that time, I generally had very few problems with network access.

On one occasion though, I realised just how tricky things are becoming, as “social” elements become increasingly baked in to the fabric of the Web. I was in Switzerland, and the plan was for me to present locally during the morning, and then to host and facilitate a conversation with a number of my colleagues in the Hursley lab during the afternoon. The hosts arranged guest wifi network access for me, so that we could make this work. I’d be able to use Sametime to receive files to present locally (we couldn’t access LotusLive), to clarify questions with the remote team, and to coordinate other team members to join the conversation as we went along.

This plan was initially all looking good, until I found that the VPN connection I was using to tunnel in to the corporate network would suddenly and apparently randomly, drop in the middle of a conversation.

After a while these VPN disconnections became more frequent, I became more frustrated, and the meeting became less productive.

… and that’s when I looked at the piece of paper I’d been given with my guest network credentials. To summarise, it said that guests would be subject to all of the same restrictions as employees regarding network access and specific sites were disallowed including “Personal email: Hotmail, Gmail etc; IM: Skype, Google Talk, etc; Social networking: Twitter, Facebook, etc”.

The penny dropped that my browser was sitting there with tabs open on sites like Gmail and Twitter. I shut them, reconnected, reconnected to the VPN, and things…. were better…. well, better, for a while.

I still wanted to use the Internet, of course, so I continued to do so – searching Google for relevant issues when questions were asked in the workshop. That’s when the VPN started flaking out again…. and that’s when I realised that with the Google redesign, the +1 features in the header bar were accessing Google+ when I loaded the Google page, treating that as a “social network”, and silently dropping my wifi connection.

This was a case where a heavy-handed filter, no doubt designed to “protect” the users from themselves and the organisation from inappropriate behaviour, actually impaired real work getting done. Either this technology needs to get a lot, lot smarter; companies need to reconsider these blocking rules, and trust an increasingly savvy workforce to behave responsibly; or the Web just needs to stop getting so darned social and… troublesome. Which option do you prefer?

Search queries (aka lies, lies… and statistics)

I’m shamelessly stealing an idea from Peter Anghelides‘ blog here, although with less of an amusing result.

I’ve been blogging here for a number of years now and it’s always fascinating to see what search terms lead people in. For the first few years it was a post on the UK direct.gov car tax renewal site, because people seemed to be typing the URL into Google and Yahoo (instead of the address bar) and hitting my site rather than the actual service.

From the results over the past 12 months it seems that people usually are looking for me, or for something on MQTT. Some of the other search terms, though, are quite surprising… Visio? VMWare? iMovie 09? it has been a while since I wrote about those.

On another note, I’ve now got the new Google Authorship markup working, so hopefully search results should be linked to my Google Profile along with my happy smiling face… 🙂

Google Authorship

Is Facebook really useful for B2B?

I was struck by the title of Chris Koch‘s recent piece for Social Media Today, 4 Reasons Why Facebook Stinks for B2B Marketing – it’s an eye-catching headline. This topic is something I’ve thought about a lot recently. In my professional space, much of the marketing is in aid of business-to-business product awareness – or sometimes, business-to-employee, or developer relations – but it is rarely a straightforward, business-to-consumer/man-in-the-street model. I read Chris’ article with interest, as well as another article he’d earlier tweeted about, Facebook Can Work for B2B Marketers, and I was surprised to find that both pieces missed out on what I believe are some very important points.

As regular readers will know: I’m not a marketeer, I’m basically a techie who sometimes talks about social stuff. However, since I’m tagged as a “social media guy” within a software development organisation, I’m often asked whether a particular software product or technology should have a Facebook page. What about support information, documentation, introductory videos – surely those kinds of things should be available via Facebook? Isn’t that where all the cool kids are?

My answer is usually tentative and skeptical. Don’t get me wrong, I think the idea of  brands having some presence on Facebook is fundamentally useful for visibility, and more so if an organisation is prepared to spend some time on engagement (NB ephemeral, instead of ongoing engagement is one of the key holes that B2B campaigns can fall into that Chris Koch picks up on in his piece). I follow Starbucks UK and love getting the occasional freebie from them… and I am a fan of many other brands, too. However, considering a B2B relationship, I personally feel that Facebook is a far less useful social space in which to share information and engage with customers than, say, a network like LinkedIn or a standalone site with API hooks to existing social networks.

Here are my own “4 reasons” why Facebook doesn’t hit the mark for B2B:

  1. Facebook is famously a “walled garden”. You put content in, and they keep it there; it’s not indexable or embeddable from the outside. They’ve recently added a tool to export personal profile data, but not product or brand pages, to my knowledge. Facebook has always been about absorbing data, whereas a company like Google has been about indexing it. If you read Jeff Jarvis‘ excellent book What Would Google Do? it quickly becomes clear that Google grew and became successful by building or acquiring tools which made it easy to embed their information and gadgets into your site (whilst of course, recording signals as people visit those sites). That YouTube video you created? Easy to socialise and embed on other websites. Post a Facebook video? it can only be played on Facebook.
  2. It’s ok for Business-to-Consumer products, but not so useful for enterprise software and middleware where the relationship is essentially B2B and less visible. What does it mean for me to “like” WebSphere Middleware (or whatever) on Facebook? Why would I want to make that statement in a personal context? Will my friends and family, many of whom I don’t work with, know what these things are when they show up in their social streams? It makes sense for me to be part of a professional network via e.g. Slideshare or LinkedIn, but the value for B2B / middleware / invisible products is a lot less tangible.
  3. Facebook is blocked by a very large number of companies. I may not like that personally, and in fact I’m a supporter of the Stop Blocking campaign. I happen to work for an organisation where I have a wide degree of freedom in my access to and use of the web. On balance, though, it’s unlikely that users connected to a corporate network will be able to do lot with content that is posted on Facebook, during business hours. Have a presence, but think about whether it’s worth the effort to push a lot of content through that channel (and see point 1, again, too)
  4. It’s not necessarily a useful place to post content if your goal is to attract people in “nascent / emerging markets”, either. I spent some time in China last year, and clearly in countries like that, Facebook is officially inaccessible. Consider how to maximise access and “sociability” of content – Facebook is unlikely to be that channel.

So, having said all of that, and started out declaring myself “not a marketeer”, I end up sounding suspiciously like one, talking about channels, content and effectiveness! I am a page owner and I’ve played around with the advertising tools, so I do know that Facebook offers some very compelling segmentation, reach and analytics tools – but again, I’d argue that you have to consider whether you’re really providing wide access and ongoing value by centralising information inside their network.

What about Google+? I’ve not written about the social network of the hour here on my blog yet (but if you are on G+ feel free to add me to a circle…) but given Google’s interest in making content indexable and easy to locate, it is likely that when business pages arrive, content over there will be more widely accessible than it is inside Facebook. I’m not saying that “social” in general doesn’t work for B2B communications and marketing… I’m just saying that Facebook, to me, doesn’t make the perfect choice.

I’m still not a marketeer, and I don’t think I’d make a very good one – but I try to apply common sense to these spaces. Those are my 4 pennies on this issue… let me know what you think!

Thoughts on Google Chrome OS

I’ve resisted writing anything on the recently-announced Google Chrome OS, for a number of reasons… the most significant one being that so far, we don’t know a huge amount about it. This hasn’t stopped reams of opinion being written or spoken about it anywhere else though, so a week on from the announcement, I thought I’d lay down a few opinions of my own.

First of all, I always felt that the Chrome browser itself kind of pointed towards an operating system, since the engineers were clearly thinking in terms that you’d usually associate with an OS – ideas like the threading model immediately made me think of the domain of the operating system. The “Google OS” has been one of those rumours that has consistently failed to die.

So what do we know? We know that Google Chrome OS will be based on Linux and will be largely open source, and that the initial target constituency will be the netbook market but that it has ambitions to the desktop. We know that it will have a new windowing system (bye bye X). We hear that Google has been courting various netbook manufacturers, and we know that it should be out sometime in 2010.

On the threat to the desktop

Scott Bourne was saying on MacBreak Weekly this week that he felt this meant it would be no real threat to Mac OS X, and I guess the ensuing discussion really sparked the majority of this post. Scott based his assertion on a straw poll of people who he’d asked “OS X or Chrome?” (a: OS X) for laptops, and “Chrome or Windows Mobile?” (a: Chrome) for PDAs. I just think that’s an impossible discussion right now. So far it’s vapourware. We don’t know what Google Chrome OS will look like and we don’t know what features it will have. It’s pointless to try to compare it to existing operating systems at this stage.

The other reason the MacBreak Weekly crew decided that Chrome OS wouldn’t be a threat was that it would initially be limited to netbooks but “will it actually be able to make the step up to the desktop?”. This is an interesting discussion, as it assumes that the granddaddy / holy grail of machines is the desktop computer. But… wait a minute. Haven’t Apple spent the past two years convincing the whole mobile market that they have to have fully-capable computing platforms on their handheld devices? Isn’t the netbook market exploding? Aren’t laptops outselling desktops? Aren’t computers and televisions converging via set-top boxes and streaming media? People want computing power and access wherever they are, in a form factor that fits. I think the suggestion that the desktop is still “where its at” is deeply, deeply flawed – the desktop is dying, and has been for a long time. The desktop is a place where people occasionally anchor themselves, but the rest of the time they are moving around and taking their platform with them.

So is it a threat? On netbooks, in my opinion, yes – probably to both Linux and Windows. As for Apple, they aren’t going to be keen to let anyone run another OS on their hardware, and they’re not currently in the netbook market, so it probably is not a big deal right now. Windows XP still seems to be an OS of choice on many netbooks, but Microsoft probably will finally kill that with Windows 7. There are too many Linux distributions around (Linpus, Moblin, Ubuntu) vying for a slice of that market. The Google brand, combined with an experience that is genuinely pleasant, could take chunks out of both sides of that market. From there, who knows… but if it is Linux-based, we already know that that scales from big to small machines, so there are plenty of places it could go. I personally think it will be interesting to see where they choose to go with the user interface, and this is the area that will determine the future.

On the cloud

I think the idea that Chrome OS could be a lightweight system with the majority of content hosted in the cloud is particularly interesting. How secure are we all feeling this week about the safety of the cloud? In the light of the Twitter hack, I imagine that people are rethinking the security of the public cloud, anyway. Paired with a secure behind-the-firewall private cloud, a lightweight OS like this makes a lot of sense. That’s not to say I don’t like the flexibility that cloud/web-based services offer me – I use many of them, including things like Google Docs. Of course, you need a network connection for it to be effective, and it’s true that bandwidth is becoming pervasive, although if you take a look at 3G coverage for various UK mobile operators (hint, look at the PDF and the maps *per operator*, not the overall coverage map), you might want to rethink your dependence on that, too.

On the image

Will Google be able to get away with labelling Chrome OS “beta” to start off with? I think that in order to get people to use it, beyond the Google brand name, it will have to be really good, polished, and / or flashy and convincing enough as an initial experience for people to base their computing lives on it. I think it will probably have to have had more testing than many of the existing Google cloud web products.

Final thought

Right now, all we can really say is: “well, this is interesting”. We can speculate, but frankly, I don’t think we know enough to say anything more. That’s all I’m sayin’.