It’s easy to see San Francisco and Bay Area as the Western hub of hi-tech technology. The theory goes that one should be able to fully navigate and organize their day with a smartphone and a bit of change for the transportation. Which works pretty well for the most part.
You tell the phone to use GPS to figure out where in the space it is, you tell it where you want to go and decide on transportation mechanism: Driving, Public Transport and Walking. Google Maps then sends all this personal data to the big machine in the sky and gives you back directions. Pretty nifty as it knows most of the public transportation options.
That is also a catch for unwary traveller new to the area. It turns out that while there are plenty of transportation options during the day, the bay area public transport is tricky at night. It seems that Google Maps only knows night transportation within the San Francisco and gives up if you’re somewhere else, in Oakland for example. While 4 hours of walking are always an option, it’s not something you want to do at 1 AM. With a bit of luck you catch a cab and a bit of cash later, you’re home.
There’s a bigger lesson here. Blindly trusting the technology in corner cases such as late night trains, buses etc. is not very smart. Always check everything online three times to ensure that if you leave the party late, you’ll know how to return home and have a Taxi phone number with you, just in case ?
Iâ€™ve noticed a number of Slovenian bloggers writing and tweeting about of BlackBerry 8310, which I guess is now available in Orto smart or something like that. For some reason these reviews are very positive and happy, so Iâ€™d like to provide some balance into the discussion.
Image by nino63004 via Flickr
Iâ€™ve been using the phone now for 6 months+ as part of the business package that my employer decided to standardize on.
Iâ€™ll start by saying that the user interface is a horrible mess, with most things at unusual locations and well hidden. Unless you patch the phone with the latest firmware, itâ€™s even worse. This means that youâ€™ll be scratching your head clueless most of the time.
Also the most obvious things are missing. You can not send someoneâ€™s contact to a SMS number. You have to find the contact in address book, select the number, copy, go to the other menu in the phone, create a new SMS, paste the number and then send the SMS. A process that will take you a few moments and a lot of practice with the wheel and the command button before you manage to do this without starting to scream at the RIM (Research in Motion, makers of Blackberry).
At one of the conferences I actually met someone from RIM and asked them about this feature, and the person told me that SMS is not popular in North America, therefor BlackBerry is not optimized for usage. You know – just send that contact as email (something that you can do easily).
Image by asmythie via Flickr
Itâ€™s also not possible to receive contacts via SMS. For some reason RIM decided not to play nice with other phones, so someone sending you Nokia VCF/contact SMS, will translate into lot of garbled text that you have to hunt out details out yourself and do big things with copy and paste again.
The other thing that really annoys me is that battery life is terrible. You get two days most, with most of the time being day and a half, just enough to make the end of the second day miserable because of dead BlackBerry battery.
While nice thing about BlackBerry is that itâ€™s quite robust, itâ€™s still pretty weak at points. The scroll wheel in the middle will regularly stop working, fall out or stop scrolling in one direction.
The application collection (remember, itâ€™s a smart phone), is terrible with everything hidden behind random pages on Google. There are some nice apps like Google Maps, Gmail, Google Sync (starting to see pattern here?), Remember the Milk and TwitterBerry, but they all seem lacking any true passion from developers to make them really useful on the road.
Image by Getty Images via Daylife
Iâ€™ll end this rant (even though I have enough material for follow-up), with the fact that mobile browsing/data packages on BlackBerry are really slow. If you sit in a confrtable office in middle of Ljubljana, they somehow work (even though web browser canâ€™t even do CSS), but as soon as you start moving around it becomes really slow. God forbid you want to visit any of the foreign cities, where something like Google Maps would actually be useful. Since the phone is GRPS/Edge only, the Simobil contract will put you on Vodafone roaming which is 3G in UK, which will make your phone default to GRPS. Thereâ€™s nothing better then to be lost in London, late for a meeting (remember: youâ€™re lost for a while now) and your BlackBerry Google Maps still doesnâ€™t show you actual map because of the low GPRS speeds.
I wonâ€™t even start on a crappy 2 megapixel camera, that doesnâ€™t allow good blog photography or the fact that even keyboard starts failing after 6 months with enter key mysteriously being pressed while typing, loads of empty SMS-es sent our automatically during night and no clear way to know, what is part of RIM roaming and when you have to pay data charges.
Image by Getty Images via Daylife
While BlackBerry 8310 isnâ€™t a complete Fail, itâ€™s not something to be really exciting about. I also have some good things to say about the phone, but Iâ€™ll save that for a possible followup blog post. Right now Iâ€™m seriously considering switching away from BlackBerry mobile platform. Iâ€™m considering waiting for Nokia N96 or just go with now cheap N95, that actually has camera that works and is much better mobile machine (notice that I didnâ€™t say iPhone here).
The fact that Iâ€™m considering switching from a company issued phone to something that I finance myself just to have a better life on a road, should speak for itself.
What are your experiences with BlackBerry? Am I just grumpy because itâ€™s raining in London as I write this and my BlackBerry is on slow roaming, with battery that mysteriously died yesterday in a middle of the day?
Nick Black, Common Enterprise: Building a Business on Free Data, is involved with OpenStreet made and his company Cloudmade, that is trying to figure out if itâ€™s possible to build business on top of it.
He starts with a point – nothing is free. Most free data has a cost, there are costs associated. Even though I write article for Wikipedia for free, I probably value this time more then the money I could get for it. There also some architectural costs, bandwidth, hardware etc.
Example: OpenStreet map server network card broke, even though it costs only 20 pounds, it costs about 5 hours of someoneâ€™s time.
Different free models:
Most projects distribution are free.
itâ€™s also possible to get free at point of collection or creation, like Wikipedia.
There is also lots of data, collection is paid by tax payers, and then itâ€™s given into Public domain, like US ZIP codes.
Free to reuse
Free to re-mix
Free to re-sell
Free to alter and transform
Example: taking oranges, and making orange juice at a convenient time for me, creates a great value for me and this way massively increases the amount I can make in the process.
Example: Choosing Zimbra vs. Exchange. Zimbra – 3.5 pound/month, Exchange 4.0 pound/month. Even though Zimbra is free, there is a lot of added value, and licensing at the end of the day represents only 0.5 pound/month in costs.
When the data is free, delivery becomes everything. P2P (Bit-torrent etc.) are examples of how the value changes. Itâ€™s not anymore about the money for the CD, but is it worth to me to click and download and listen to it.
Free data as valuable as an alternative hedge against proprietary data. It serves as a way to prevent vendor-lock in because I have commons alternative so I can either help myself or go to some other provider.
Examples of companies that got bit by that are Yahoo and Google maps that have problems in relation to their map providers.
When you are building a business that is available as a data in the commons, it gives you a great advantages.
But, thereâ€™s a more interesting answer to this question:
Data alone is not that useful, it needs to be augmented to add value.
Data itself is not really useful, but when itâ€™s combined with software and communities, it gets really powerful. In addition, you want to create a circle that feeds itself and gets better and better with time.
Some comments on distributing free data
Once I distribute something I canâ€™t stop it being redistributed. And we donâ€™t want to stop you, since itâ€™s a fundamental part of data redistribution. You have to make sure that data redistribution is an integral part of your business.
Creative-Commons is your friend. Links are currency on the Internet. Using linking back as an Attribution requirement and this at the end of the day drives back traffic, SEO, etc.
Can I pay people to collect free data?
The reason this is significant, it takes a long time to build communities.
Non-monetary motivation (people have fun, and instead of obsessing over why, lets give them more ways to have fun doing this stuff)
Discrete multisize peices (it should be low cost integration, itâ€™s got to be easy to do)
Low cost integration
Communities give you so much more.
Aggregate and Organize (Geo-Commons)
Create a Market place (A Flickr market place; Weogeo – ebay for data)
Suppose all maps are free:
Value can be created by end product
.. at the end of the day itâ€™s all about the communities: they greatly enhance the value of data. Need needs to be loved.
If you want to use the community, you have to respect the community. Remember the CDDB? Bits of freedom was taken from the community, until it broke apart. No matter how big you get, the community that built it can turn back and destroy it if you donâ€™t treat them kindly back.
Free data is fine, but communities make it way better.
One of the great things of working in a web startup, that might be one day high profile, is ability to go to different conferences. Following the footsteps of last months Future of Web Applications in London, next week brings our team to Berlin Web 2.0 Expo. The Conference format seems quite different from FOWA, since they mix keynotes speeches over the course of whole week and have much more parallel tracks since it is much bigger conference.
The other thing is that “hip” conferences nowadays seem to come with their own social network that somehow helps you being in touch with other conference attendees. While FOWA rolled out their own mini social network, Web 2.0 Berlin uses CrowdVine, a white-label social network, similar to Ning. For now it seems that it is full of conversations between a small number of people, but maybe it will liven up by the time the conference is in full swing.
What I’m wondering is, how useful is such social network, given that conference wireless rarely works well, with a few 100 active laptops on a single access point. While social scientist in me can see the need/wish of everyone to get better networked I don’t think “social” web is ready yet.
The other possible outcome that comes to mind is that with OpenSocial alliance we won’t be joining new social network next year but just adding web2expoberling widget that will help connect all the people across different platforms and plot (public) conversations and buzzing on a Google Maps mashup that will be projected on one of the big screens at the conference.