Category Archives: Technology

Cold Start #4 – How to Start Your Startup with Dan Grigsby

Dan Grigsby from MobileOrchard, discusses how he’s building a comfortable life for himself with a combination of projects, what’s lacking in the Minnesota tech startup community, and why that isn’t a problem.

Listen to Cold Start #4 -How to Start Your Startup with Dan Grigsby [55 minutes]

Bringing Me-dia to Rural America

For a few weeks in the early 80′s the town 30 miles down the road had a broadcast TV station. The only TV broadcaster in the county.

In the 20 years that follow, it’s only been Eau Claire, LaCrosse, or Minneapolis TV. Communities at least another hour away (if not 2) with no incentive to regularly report on far more rural areas aside from the occasional tornado, hunting, or farm accident.

Nothing banal. Nothing important.

So, what happens to the analog TV spectrum when all over-the-air television goes digital in two years?

Microsoft, Google, HP, Intel, and Philips have plans to re-purpose it for delivering high-speed internet.

This means, if you’re out in rural American and can pick up a network affiliate, that’s now an internet connection.

While it does raise the question of how the broadcast towers would be supported with broadcast TV’s ad dollars, it sounds like a much needed Rural Internet-ification program.

The thought of rural America getting reliable high-speed internet excites me. The thought of kids living out on our dirt roads blogging, podcasting, and videoblogging, publishing brings me to tears.

What’s the Browser Matter?

I’ve been pondering a redesign of this website for a while now. As it should be, it’s way down the bottom of my Things To Do, but it’s there.

I’m writing this in MarsEdit, I’ll read it in NetNewsWire. According to my server logs, some of you are reading this within your Google homepage, Newsgator account, email client, or something altogether different.

So, who would I be redesigning the site for?

Robots? They don’t appreciate interesting typography or color choices.

This is why the default WordPress theme is so popular – the value isn’t in the CSS. The value of a website is in it’s reception.

I’ve half-joked about rebuilding Amazon.com to make it friendlier to my Treo. Using their E-Commerce Service – it’d be a decent effort, but not outrageous. Completely do-able.

37Signals recently opened up the Basecamp API to developers.

ProgrammableWeb’s Mashup Matrix says there are 89 other APIs available.

If I can get the data from those services within applications I’m already using and comfortable with – what does it matter what their website looks like? I won’t see it.

Let’s say, you loaded up this page and found just a link to the RSS feed. Let’s say we got really real and just released the API of a web application. Leaving the interface design to the customers.

UPDATE 11 May 2006:

“The browser will explode into a thousand fragments, will spawn a thousand specialized offspring” – Stowe Boyd

First Crack 78. The Trouble with Business Models

As I promised, here’s the second half of my conversation with J Wynia on geeky stuff. (The first half is at GlassTooBig.com)

Here, we talk about making money, keeping overhead low, income diversification, and making sure an idea needs a business model.

Listen to the Trouble with Business Models [39 min]

First Crack 76. Paying Attention with J Wynia

Back from SXSW 2006, J Wynia and I grabbed a morning tea and talked about:

Listen to Paying Attention with J Wynia [33 min]

The Niche is You

There must be something in the air, Seth Godin picked up the ‘who’s the audience when everyone publishes?’ argument.

Seth is of course right – the cost of the production is quickly reaching zero. Fantastic blog software like WordPress is free – just the cost of implementation. Other hosted services are free. Once a blog is up, it’s one step away from offering audio or video. Hurrah.

I’m unclear about what Seth is asking here:

So there’s more, but is there better?

Better than what? Than mass-media? Than what doesn’t exist today?

From my perspective, having more voices is better than having fewer. Knowing that everyone I have a personal relationship with can share video, audio, or text with me (and everyone else in their circle) easily is better than not. I’m recalling Dan Gilmor‘s quote,

“Everyone will be famous for 15 people.”

A while back, Eric Larson from the Ericast asked what his niche was. I responded, the niche was him. If people want to hear what he has to say – there’s only one place to go.

Coincidentally, I think Godin proves this point in his last paragraph.

“It didn’t matter if it was the best movie Walt [Disney] ever made, because it was the only one right now.”

Replace “Walt” with your nephew, with your best friend, your sister, with Seth Godin, Dave Slusher, Garrick Van Buren, or anyone you’d like to hear from regularly. It doesn’t matter if anything from them is the best ever (on any scale) it’s the only thing from them.

In the choice between an expensive, high production-value, special-effects laden, movie and one from someone I have a personal relationship with like Chuck Olsen, I’ll pick Chuck every time. If I’m looking for tips on choosing a good bottle of wine, I’ll choose Tim Elliott over Wine Spectator every time.

The bar is a lot higher – for movie studios, broadcast radio, television networks, and newspaper companies. For now they’re competing with your nephew, your best friend, your sister, and everyone else that doesn’t have to make millions of dollars in profit to continue – just something to say and people that care about them.

“We are people with hearts, lives, families, aspirations, hope and something to say. That’s by far the more interesting story, and it has legs, it’s going somewhere, unlike the tail, which is a vestige of times gone by, when you could count on people to be idiotic couch potatoes, ready to be harvested by advertisers with their intrusive and mindless ‘messages.’” – Dave Winer

So, yes – More is Better.

Add Cable Public Access to the Endangered Species List

The MACTA talk was interesting. I sat next to tech lawyer, Brian Grogan. He explained the regulatory difference between cable companies and phone companies in this age where everyone is offering video over IP.

I believe the difference came down to whether the video was offered exclusively on the proprietary network or available on the public Internet. He used the example of a music video. If the video was watched on MTV’s television channel via coaxial cable, the service provider was regulated. If the video was downloaded from mtv.com, the service provider was not.

To me that feels like an microscopic hair-splitting. Though, I’m sure when the laws were originally written the public internet was non-existent and production tools like digital video cameras were extremely expensive.

Either way, today a portion of your cable bill (not your phone or satellite TV bills) pays for the public access channels. These legislated-into-existence channels great way for citizens to create media and for a community to distribute city council meetings and other governmental events easily.

In 2005, when media production tools are inexpensive and everyone with a website can be a television or radio channel, public access television channels should shutter their studio doors. For any moment now, Comcast or TimeWarner could decide to deliver all video programming over the public internet and POOF – no legal requirement for a public access channel.

Now, I believe, all government meetings – at all levels – should be podcast (audio or video, though audio is preferrable). This transparency currently provided by public access channels is of utmost importance to our democracy, but cable television is the wrong delivery medium for five reasons:

  1. Searching and retrieving archived programs is inherently cumbersome.
  2. Programming is limited to a 24-hour clock.
  3. I don’t have cable and don’t plan on purchasing it anytime soon.
  4. RSS can automatically deliver audio, video, or any other file type.
  5. Municipal Wi-Fi eliminates the need for a cable access channel.

This puts cable access channels on the same list as record distribution companies – the endangered species list. If either of them want to stay in the same business, they need to offer bandwidth. Lots and lots of it, with BitTorrent thrown in. Otherwise in 5 years, they’ll be footnotes the technology history books.

First Crack 63. Coffee Technology with Timothy Tulloch of EuroRoast.com

Timoth Tulloch, CEO and Roastmaster at Minnesota-based European Roasterie (EuroRoast.com), and I talk coffee technology, from brewing to packaging, and why he’s aggressively moving into the single-serve coffee pod program (declaring the Black & Decker Home Cafe the best pod brewer). We wrap up with the culture of specialty coffee and how independent coffee shops can win against Starbucks.

I’ve been really enjoying their Mulawi and the new theme song is by Jeremy Piller.

Listen to Coffee Technology with Timothy Tulloch of EuroRoast.com [27 min]

Google Buys Then Kills Urchin

If you’ve been tracking the ‘Most Popular Episodes by Downloads/Day’ way down on the far left column of the website, you’ve probably noticed it hasn’t been updated in a while.

I know I have.

The great guys at TextDrive moved servers and as such needed to revise their licensing on the Urchin – the server log analysis tool Google bought a while back.

Prior to the server move, I’d grab the mp3 download numbers via Urchin and update the ‘Most Popular’ list.
After the move. Nothing. The people at Urchin won’t return TextDrive’s phone calls.

TextDrive hosts 5000 domains, 1 of them is this site. None of them have any idea how their sites are performing because Urchin is “re-evaluating” their pricing model. In the mean time, all their existing customers are left in the dark. Not cool Google. not cool.

For more, check out the Where’s Urchin? thread on the TextDrive Forum

Laptop Killing TV and Stereo

I had a post on my personal blog about wanting my favorite movies and TV shows available as digital downloads, rather than DVDs. Looks like I’m not the only one considering my laptop the all-in-one media and communications center. PSFK points to an article on British youth not owning televisions. I picked up a Tivoli iPAL this weekend to replace the bulky 5 CD stereo system we haven’t turned on in months (because there’s no line-in jack for the iPod).

RSS is the Molecular Unit of the Internet

Strip the web of all the graphics, all the CSS, and all the AJAX, and you’re left with a list of things, their detail information, and the forms to add more items to the list.

RSS is the list. The web browser is simply a presentation of it. Same as my feed aggregator, my email client, and my instant messaging client.

As such, the list as RSS should come first, it’ll be needed anyway, with all the various presentations simply parsing it out. The RSS file is the molecule of the internet, made up of atoms, er, items.

To add to the list, Web Services. The create, read, update, delete functions offered through web services are always needed by Web developers. Seems like the site itself should simply be another customer of its web services.

Subscribing to the First Crack Podcast is Easy with iTunes 4.9

If you’ve been listening to the show through your web browser, your life just got easier. The latest version of Apple’s iTunes is out now and full support podcasts.

Here’s how Click Here to subscribe to the First Crack Podcast in Apple’s iTunes

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That’s it. Now you’ll automatically received each show immediately when it’s published.

If you just want to listen, and subscribe later, click here to listen to the First Crack Podcast in iTunes

First Crack 47. Documenting Push the Future 2005

Push the Future 2005 was held this week at the newly renovated Walker Art Center. This episodes of the First Crack podcast are bits of my conversations with Loretta Hidalgo, Push Singha, Ethan Zuckerman, Leif Utne, Tom Mandel, and Push the Future founder Cecily Sommers.

Listen to Documenting Push the Future 2005 [17 min]

Let’s Be Honest, also in the PodcastMN aggregator, covered Push the Future in their 5th episode.

First Crack 43. Web 2.0 in Minneapolis

My coverage of Jim Cuene’s Web 2.0 presentation at the May 2005 Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association salon. One on one comments with attendees and Jim’s full presentation. Lots of insight into the current local interactive marketing scene vibe. Once again, I slide the Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle into conversation.

Listen to Web 2.0 in Minneapolis [1 hr 12 min]

First Crack 31. The Wine Episode with Tim Elliott

Tim Elliott, from winecast.net, and I met at Bev’s Wine Bar and talked wine, coffee, and technology.

Listen to the Wine Episode with Tim Elliott [32 min]

Got questions about coffee or comments about the show? Call: 206-20-BEAN-1

Like the show? Support the First Crack Podcast

Wal-Mart.com Tests Ship-To-Store

Big box retailers are continuing their search for the Holy Grail of Retail – increasing merchandise selection without increasing real estate costs.

For years, Click’n’Pull for years. Unlike Click’n’Pull which is only available for in-store items, “Ship to Store” is only available for Wal-Mart’s web exclusive items.

This development is interesting in 3 major ways:

  1. It recalls the heyday of Sears & JCPenney catalogs, where orders could be placed and picked-up in-store.
  2. Both Sears & JCPenney currently offer an “order online / pick-up in-store” service. Sears.com has offered it for the past 4 years and seen 22% of online customers make additional sales while picking up their orders.
  3. This is for items not normally stocked by Wal-Mart. Knowing that Walmart.com merchandise is of higher quality and the store merchandise. Is this a way to gradually increase the quality of in-store merchandise, therefore a play against Target?

Dallas Morning News articles: Wal-Mart tests store pickup for online buys

Mobile Phone Etiquette Tips

SprintPCS has partnered with etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore to compile an excellent list of 10 mobile phone etiquette tips

Number 1…

Let your voicemail take your calls when you’re in meetings, courtrooms, restaurants and other busy areas. If you must speak to the caller, excuse yourself and find a secluded area where you can talk

Thank you SprintPCS for publishing this list. It should be distributed with every mobile phone sold.

On-Board Wi-Fi

The last place for wireless to penetrate may actually be where the money is – according to this Forbes article:

Boeing plans to charge $30 for flights longer than six hours, $19.95 for flights of four to six hours, $14.95 for shorter flights and $9.95 for a 30-minute trial.

Continuous access from Munich to LA for $30? Definitely.

How about Munich to Tokyo? Definitely.

Wi-Fi is a valuable amenity and airlines should use this offering as a stepping stone to more specific and valuable customer offerings.

This may just be what carriers like United need to cruise into the black.

In a related story, Two Apple managers videoconference at 35k feet

In what might have been the first in-air commercial videoconference, Apple product manager Kurt Knight, on the ground in Cupertino, hooked up over iChat AV with product line manager Eric Zelenka, returning to San Francisco from Munich, by leveraging Lufthansa’s new wireless high-speed broadband connection service.

Shopping Goes High-Tech

Wal-Mart’s aggressive efforts to implement RFID makes the news frequently, and you’ve probably noticed an increase in the number of stores offering self-checkout (Home Depot, Rainbow Foods, K-mart, among others). A number of other stores are experimenting other technologies poised to changed the shopping experience.

The Salisbury Post has an excellent article on Bloom, the new store concept from Food Lion.

Consider the technological changes, such as photo printing kiosks, complete with Bluetooth wireless capabilities, and personal scanners that shoppers can use to keep a running tally of what you’re buying.

Other information areas allow you to do things like scan in a cut of meat or piece of seafood and have a variety of recipes pop up that you can print out and take with you.

Their focus is on making grocery shopping better:

“We want people to feel like they’ve had a good experience.” – Robert Canipe, VP Business Stragety

“…take the pain points out of shopping” – Suzy McIntosh-Hinson, Bloom’s IT Design Lead.

A number of the experimental technologies at Bloom can also be found at the Metro Future Store in Rheinberg, Germany.

The last line in the article…

“There will always be certain areas where customers will not accept a high-technology store”.

…leads me to Stores.org’s May 5 cover story, Prada’s Pratfall. The article describes Prada’s retail technology experimentation gone horribly wrong at their very visible Manhanttan flagship store.

RFID, interactive touch screens, liquid crystal changing room doors all back-firing when they’re functional at all.

Made from liquid crystal panels that darken for privacy, the doors were designed to open and close using a foot pedal and shift from clear to opaque with another. But it turns out that some Prada devotees missed the second pedal, revealing more than intended. Others stomped on the pedals in a futile attempt to open doors that frequently jam.

Paula Rosenblum, Director of Retail Research for the Aberdeen Group declares:

“In an attempt to be as chic about technology as they are about heels and handbags, they misjudged the customer’s acceptance as well as the sales associates’ willingness to embrace it.”?

This is an excellent counter to Mr. Canipe’s quote about improving the customer experience. Prada seemed more focused with looking cool than using technology to deepen the customer relationship. Did Prada conduct the depth of customer research described in the grocery store articles? Doubtful. Otherwise they would have realized that customers and sales associates prefer less technology and better service.

Collaborative Technologies at Work – Bottom Up Productivity

Corporate IT departments consider new collaborative technologies (Wikis, Weblogs, Instant Messaging) as rogue elements to be eliminated. When in fact, they are increase productivity.

Ross Mayfield points to this eWeek article describing one organization’s battle with its own people.

The most recent problems came to light when a network failure cut off e-mail and Web access throughout the company’s far-flung operations.

Instead of simply calling it a day, creative employees quickly implemented workarounds. One group installed a quick and dirty Wiki to enable team communications.

Another took advantage of America Online Inc.’s Instant Messenger application to route files and messages between geographically remote employees. Others used Web e-mail and wireless networking to keep the company’s business flowing.

The CIO’s response was predictable: He moved quickly to lock down corporate desktops and laptops to prohibit users from installing unapproved software or accessing unsupported Web services.

New technologies are not without risk, but by eliminating homegrown productivity innovations Corporate IT departments themselves risk being considering irrelevant – thereby increasing constituents finding their own unsupported solutions.