Oct 212008

I just got around to watching Friday’s webinar by Optaros about Alfresco in the media industry.  In it, Bob Fitzpatrick highlights three major points regarding how to increase online revenues:

  • Increase user engagement with your content
  • Extend the reach of your content
  • Enable API access to your content

As a prerequisite though, companies should be converting their content into assets that can be managed centrally.  In so doing, content can be easily related to other content and then be syndicated, retrieved by third parties, or composed and presented to users.

In addition to the aforementioned strategic goals, companies should strive to deliver on them in an efficient manner.  According to Bryan Spaulding, this means building a system with a Media Service Architecture that scales and enables exposure to PCs, mobile devices, and TVs.  And don’t forget to instrument your system such that feedback can be obtained to enable reporting and thus tweaking of the platform.  Jeff Potts reminds us that Alfresco and Optaros can be levaraged to get you there faster via their awesome capabilities.

What is interesting to me about all this is the different approach to the problem.  At Ringside Networks, we focused on the “beefy middle”, as Shaun Connolly so eloquently put it.  In a nutshell, this meant enabling social interactions in the context of existing web sites with existing users and content.  Restated in terms of a Ringside customer’s objectives, those three goals might look like this:

  • Increase user engagement with your web site
  • Increase the reach of your company/brand
  • Enable API access to your site’s social capabilities and/or users

In the Alfresco/Optaros case, the underlying premise is that content is of the utmost importance, and that people will pay to enable their users to interact with your content, or better yet to advertise around your content.  In the case of Ringside, it was all about identity and interaction on your site amongst your users, with new eyes sourced from various social networks.  SocialPass is taking yet another approach, which brings people to your site, regardless of where they came from.  Either way, people would pay to bring users to their web sites.

I think the best of both worlds can be achieved.  There will be some shops that won’t be positioned to re-architect their content management systems, and will pay to bring new users to them.  Hopefully their advertising revenue will more than offset the costs of customer acquisition.  Other shops will be well positioned to capitalize on their content via a solid Media Service architecture.  Finally, there will be shops that do both.  I can imagine the NY Times online syndicating images, videos, and stories, providing API access, and serving photo galleries and videos along side related stories with personalized SocialPass conversations involving Facebook users, MySpace users, E-Mail invitees, and Twitter invitees all on the same page with integrated ratings and persistent commentsThis is nirvana!!!

May 292008

If you’ve ever spent too much time on Facebook, you may be familiar with the ability to declare yourself a fan of a page. For example, I’m a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles on Facebook (see below).

Wouldn’t it be interesting though, to enable people to declare that they are “not a fan” of a page. For example, as an Eagles fan, it would warm my heart to declare myself “not a fan” of the Dallas Cowboys. Such an action enables users to further define their social identities.

This doesn’t seem all that important on the surface, but let’s take a minute to think about a case that may be important to a business. Let’s say that I own a golf course and that I created a page on Facebook for this golf course of mine. Currently, I can see those users that are “fans” of my golf course, but I have no visibility regarding those users who are not fans. Wouldn’t it be great if I could learn about what people don’t like about my golf course via Facebook? Perhaps users could enter comments when they declare themselves “not a fan”. As the owner of the golf course, I could take corrective action based on what I learn from those comments.

Let’s face it, people like to complain. Why not enable businesses to learn from it? I’ve created a new feature request for such a capability to be built in the Ringside Social Application Server (see JIRA item). What do you think? As a Facebook user? As a business owner? As a brand manager?

May 282008

Last week I started fiddling with UStream. At first it was just a cool new technology that I was trying out, but it has evolved into a daily part of our lives at Ringside Networks. We’ve been streaming live video for about a week, which has been working out very well. For those team members that are remote (we have 3-4 depending on the day), they have been privy to the office conversation that they have always missed. Since we started streaming, those remote teammates have been clamoring for better cameras, and more of them.

You can view our live stream here. Note that there are portions of the day that are very boring. For example, at the moment, anyone that is tuned in will be watching my face as I type this blog entry and listening to Weezer. However, Twitter is a great tool for notifications. Whenever an interesting discussion is going on, I’ve made a habit of turning the camera outward towards my colleagues and the white board and logging a message on twitter with a link to our live audio/video stream. Follow me on Twitter if you’d like to get these updates.

The most interesting part of our use of this technology is that it pairs nicely with our open source development model. For those developers out there using our software, they can watch and listen while we discuss how to resolve a bug, how we will prioritize our work for the next beta release (every two weeks), or just get a feel for where we stand on a daily basis (our daily stand up meetings are at 2:30pm EST). Even better than watching live though, is that the community will have the ability to participate through the chat window in the UStream interface. For our remote team members, we’ve been using Skype to bring them into the live discussion. As users of our software, you could potentially have the same level of access.

To me, live streaming takes open source development to the next level of openness and provides an engaging experience that will ultimately result in better software and faster solution delivery due to the availability of this rich communication medium.

By the way, we also tried Stickam for a day, which offers group video chat capabilities. Our experience has been that Stickam’s availability is not as good as UStream’s. Also, Stickam’s user interface wasn’t very intuitive or descriptive. We have tried on two separate occasions to coordinate three video streams in the same session without success. Regardless, this service has great potential, and I look forward to improvements that are surely coming.

May 222008

Ringside Networks is working on a social payment service that will enable users to subscribe to real business applications, and in the near future, pay for their friends as well. Application providers will be able to offer payment plans that are specific to social networks such that a user can pay for themselves (say $5/month), themselves plus three friends (say $7/month), themselves and five friends (say $10/month), or themselves and all friends ($25/month). But enough about that – check out the video demonstration.

ESPN Social Payment Demo

Apr 292008

Ringside Networks has released their Social Application Server’s second beta release, which includes pricing plan provisioning for social applications (amongst other great things). What this means is that Facebook application developers could begin charging their users monthly subscription fees for access to one or more levels of value added application features when deployed on the Ringside Social Application Server. The implementation of end to end payment is not yet complete, but the video below will give you a better feel for what’s coming (click the image to see the movie).

Provisioning Pricing Plans Demo

Feb 252008

When I investigated OpenID for the first time, I thought it was a good idea, but not sufficient to solve the problem of online identity management from the standpoint of a single person with identities at many, many web sites.

But what if we narrowed the scope? Instead of asking whether OpenID could be an identity solution for all sites, maybe it could do the job for some segment of web sites. For example, could OpenID be a solution for social identity management? I don’t know about you, but I’m part of four social networks (Friendster, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Facebook), though am active on only two (LinkedIn and Facebook). Certainly there are more social networks out there, and certainly there are many people who are an active part of all of them. I’m sure those people would love it if maintaining their profiles was as simple as making a single update.

Of course this raises another issue: privacy. Some people maintain a professional profile in some networks, and a more social profile on others. To have one social identity would mean that users would need the ability to manage access control of profile information as well as application information. This could definitely be handled technically, but by whom? This is probably going to be the topic of another post.

Feb 222008

Last night I decided that I’m tired of not knowing what OpenID is all about, so I got one and learned how to use it, and thought about whether or not it is a good thing.

So the big idea as I understand it is that people should be able to have one login for all internet sites, instead of having to create an account at each of the 42 web sites that you use. This can be accomplished via the use of a single trusted source (that being your preferred OpenID provider), and having other web sites defer to it for authentication. Sounds good, right?

If you want to experience this for yourself, here’s how you can do that:

  1. Set up an account with a trusted OpenID provider. I set mine up with Verisign because I trust them.
  2. Go to a web site that supports OpenID and login with your newly created OpenID. Try Plaxo.
  3. Use the OpenID login you created (such as http://[username].pip.verisignlabs.com)
  4. Fill in whatever information is requested (this is made easier by the OpenID provider if you’ve fully set up your profile already)
  5. Determine whether you want to trust Plaxo forever, until a specified date, or just for this one moment
  6. Click “Allow”

So there are a couple of things going on here. First, you’re doing the work of setting up your OpenID up front, so that you may save yourself some time later by not having to re-enter that information when you login to a web site that supports OpenID. Second, you’re setting up your trust relationship with Plaxo up front, so that when you need to login there again, all you have to do is enter your OpenID (such as http://[username].pip.verisignlabs.com) and you are into the site (unless you are not currently logged into your OpenID provider’s site).

What does it all mean? Well for one, you don’t have to remember a password to login to Plaxo or any other web site that supports OpenID; you only need to remember the password for your OpenID and the string that represents your username (such as http://[username].pip.verisignlabs.com or http://[username].myopenid.com, depending on your provider). Additionally, you are you across all OpenID supported sites since your OpenID is unique.

It also means that you have to hope that the entire internet supports OpenID at some point in the future, if you only want to remember one password. If this really is your goal, I don’t think OpenID is your answer; you’ll fare better with some sort of locally installed software package that manages your internet credentials for you.

So all in all, I like OpenID, but it needs much more support. Specifically, I’d like to be me across GMail, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and Facebook for starters. In the meantime, if anyone out there knows of some good online identity management software that I could install locally, please comment here and let me know about it.

Jul 242006

Last week I had a need to build a web application prototype for work, and a real user who I could discuss requirements with. Basically, she needed a relational database with a web front end. Of course, I was thinking AJAX, and built the HTML mockup of the design with those types of interactions in mind.

I pretty much knew I was going to use GWT to implement it…I’ve been wanting to dig in to GWT, and here was a perfect opportunity. Also, in a comment from a prior post, I learned that a new beta of my favorite IDE, IntelliJ IDEA, had just built in a GWT integration. Freakin’ sweet!

So off I went. I built a single GWT module with a form that reacted dynamically to events occuring in several controls. The cool thing was that I had my page design in HTML, and I was able to just add an id to certain table cells with a name that I could refer to within my GWT code. This enabled me to just pick my spot, build my control in Java using the GWT API, and add it to the page. Very nice.

By attaching change listeners on list boxes and click listeners on buttons, I was able to control the entire page whenever an event occurred. Of course, this was all done using Java, and GWT took care of translating it into cross browser compatible JavaScript.

Or so I thought. This was the first noticeable problem I encountered. I had the application running very smoothly in the browser tool that is built into the GWT toolkit, but it did not work in IE, Flock, or FireFox. Quite honestly, it didn’t matter too much for me since I was just building a proof of concept. If you’re part of the GWT crew, ping me and I can look into it further so as to isolate the problem.

The next big problem I had with it is that there was no way that I could see to set the value of a list box to something other than what it displayed. So for example, if I had a list box that contained different products for the user to choose from, I might want the actual value of that list box to be the primary key id from the database for that product. Without the ability to do this, my application loses data integrity. Maybe two products have the same name! What should I do then?

This next one really bugged me quite a bit: I couldn’t figure out how to build multi-page applications within a single GWT module. I know this was a limitation of the IDEA integration, and they’ve filed a bug about it. Again, I didn’t try too hard to figure this out due to the time constraints I had to complete the prototype.
Also, I could not figure out how to obtain multiple values from a multi-select list box. Granted, I didn’t tinker with the API regarding this point, but it certainly wasn’t obvious to me that it was possible. I would have expected a getSelectedValues() method that returned a List to be available as part of the ListBox class.
Finally, GWT does not currently support the use of java.util.Calendar. Instead, you have to use the deprecated java.util.Date class and its deprecated methods. Not a really big deal, except that it makes me feel dirty. I hope they add support soon so I can fix that code!

So overall I’m pretty pleased with GWT, despite the various problems I’ve found with it. Of course, these issues may be the result of my own ignorance…but I digress. GWT saved me from having to fiddle with JavaScript (which has tended to piss me off in the past, particularly when trying to support multiple browsers), took care of all serialization between the client and the server, and had a very easy to work with API. Once I had the AsyncCallback interface in place as per the demo from JetBrains, I was rockin’ and rollin’.

If you’ve worked with GWT, what are your impressions?

Blogged with Flock

Jul 162006

For once, I’m not using my laptop, and as a result, I had a realization. I want to check my news from this computer, but my feeds are not set up here.

I love Flock’s news reader, but from this computer, I can’t use it! I’d have to set up my feeds all over again!

So here’s my suggestion: Integrate flock with both newsgator online and rojo.com, and give users the option to set up their feeds using either of those services as a source. Also, every time a feed is added, they should be added to one of those services as well.

That’s a good one, if I don’t say so myself. I’m hoping the folks at Flock agree, and that we’ll see it in the next beta.

Blogged with Flock

Jul 132006

After just having read an article at Knowledge@Wharton on the subject, I’m still left wondering really, where is the value of internet video?

Forget about the business models…there first has to be something of value for consumers, which I have yet to see.  The most revolutionary thing I have seen thus far related to the space is TiVo, and that’s really just TV show listings over the internet and a hardware/software combo that records shows.  With this people don’t need VCRs any more; TiVo (or any digital video recorder) can record all of your shows for you, and even suggest similar shows that you might like.  Playback happens using that device without the need for video tapes.  This is real value.

Getting back to internet TV, I still don’t get it.  Yeah, I’ve seen “The Easter Bunny Hates You”, and yes, it is funny and entertaining.  In all likelihood though, I would have gotten an email from one of my friends about it without the need for YouTube or Guba.  These sites are great if you want to waste time flipping through user uploaded video clips in search of something entertaining.  But in reality, I’ve got better things to do.

Guba is a little different though in that it allows you to purchase licensed videos of movies that were released to theaters and DVD.  This still doesn’t cut it for me.  I don’t want to watch full feature length films, or even 30 minute television shows on my computer.  Sure, I could be tech slick and figure out how to hook up a computer to my TV, but again, I’ve got better things to do.  Even if I did hook it up, my bet is that those videos that you can purchase do not show in high definition.  The move from regular TV to high definition – that is real value.

Personally, I’m anxious for the time when I can use my DVR to peruse a mega library of archived television shows dating back 50 years, and every last one is available in high definition with surround sound for download/streaming.  That’s real value.

Finally, I can’t wait for the day that all I need is a single network connection that costs me ~$20/month that I can use simultaneously for my VoIP phone, live or archived high definition television, and internet access.

What do you think about internet TV and it’s prospects?

Blogged with Flock