Monday, October 27, 2008

FINALLY RELEASED: Qik for Blackberry!

I've probably emailed Qik 25 times asking about when they were going to release the Qik application for the Blackberry. I never got a response but I always knew it couldn't be far away with OS 4.5 bringing video recording to almost all recent Blackberry devices.

Imagine how I almost peed my pants to find that Qik announced and released the Qik Blackberry client on yesterday and that it, not only works, but works incredibly well.

Thank you Qik for making my week. This is awesome.

If you have a Blackberry and OS 4.5 I strongly suggest that you head over to Qik and try out the application. It doesn't have the social community of Next2Friends, but it's still a pretty cool application!

Now, I am going to bed.
Ok, really I am going to download Qik.
Then, I am going to bed.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Up to something new? Try Next2Friends!

UPDATE: 5:46pm CT - I just received an email from Next2Friends Hans Erik informing me that Next2Friends Live does not work on the iPhone because the iPhone has locked out video. Doesn't Apple realize the value that applications like Next2Friends, Qik, and others like them could bring to the iPhone? For all their glamour, Apple still has a way to go.

The power to create compelling media is definitely firmly in the hands of the people. Never before has it been easier for anyone to capture an event as it's happening and share it with the world in an instant. Thanks to the ever growing use of low cost mobile phones and video devices like The Flip coupled with nearly ubiquitous Internet access, just about anyone can become an instant videographer and share their creation with an ever hungry public.

To support such community video efforts, numerous sites like Flixwagon, Seesmic, Qik, and others have quickly popped up around the web. Today, I'd like to introduce you to the site I use to stream my videos, Next2Friends.

Next2Friends is a fairly new company that was launched earlier this year. Like Qik and its brethren, it allows almost anyone with an internet connected phone to stream live video to the Internet. This includes owners of the iPhone and the Blackberry (the latter of which usually presents a problem with services like Qik since video recording is fairly new to the Blackberry). The video quality of the streams are very good and, even with my really bad rural T-Mobile Blackberry connection, I was able to create videos with very few quality issues.

The nicest thing about Next2Friends is the social network around the streaming service. Users can communicate one to one, one to many, or in various combinations that allow real connections to be formed. Think of it as a combination of YouTube and Seesmic but with live video.

The company is backed with $12M in private funding so it's likely to stick around for a while assuming they can either keep up funding or monetize at some point. Judging from the community I've seen developing there, monetization won't be a problem. The community is eager, established, and active.

I think you'll find something different at Next2Friends. It's not Seesmic and it's not Qik. It has its own flow and a unique community that you can immediately connect with. Give it a try and see what you think.

The power of media is definitely in our hands!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Ashley Todd: Psycho or Warrior?

By now, just about everyone in the world has heard about the allegedly horrible ordeal 20 year old student Ashley Todd endured on yesterday when she was supposedly attacked at an ATM by a man enraged by her McCain/Palin bumper sticker. If you follow the news, you probably already know she's now admitted it was all a hoax; a kind of guerrilla campaigning tactic designed to help her candidate of choice win the election.

While most of the media is labeling Ms. Todd a psycho and a liar, I want to take a slightly different approach on the issue:

Ashley Todd is a warrior in her own mind.

The 2008 election is perhaps one of the most important elections in 50 years. It's nothing short of a battle for the heart and soul of the American republic and we have two men with very different views on how our country should move forward. Many people see the upcoming election as a moral choice between an untrustworthy, evil man (Barack Obama) and a proven, reliable leader (John McCain). Whether they are right or wrong voting on perceived moral issues always creates a passion that often leads to some pretty radical behavior.

Like faking an attack to hurt your opponent.
Like carving a letter on yourself.

I don't think Ms. Todd is psycho. I think she's someone with good intentions and who deeply loves her country. She is, like many people, concerned about the direction her country will take if the wrong person becomes president. I believe she sees this election on a moral ground and, as such, all bets are off.

Don't get me wrong, I don't agree with what she did and I think there were a lot better ways she could have made a much more effective statement for her beliefs. But I do understand her passion. I do understand her concerns.

I think that, instead of judging Ms. Todd as a psycho or unstable, we should see her as what she is: collateral damage in the war for America. Yes, it's tragic that she took things to the level she did, but I understand it in an odd sort of way. In her mind, this election is no different than how Americans might see the War on Terror. In her mind, losing control of the country to her candidates opponent would deeply and fundamentally harm America.

In an odd way, I understand her thoughts..
In an odd way, I actually respect her.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Lessons I learned from Jason Calacanis

Yesterday. Mahalo CEO and serial entrepreneur Jason Calacanis sent a very moving and informative post down his mailing list breaking the news publicly that his company was going to have to do layoff's. Firing people you care about and who've been through the battle with you is tough. It's made even tougher when you're a high profile company with a cheerleader at the helm who's used to focusing on what is so right with the company and the industry. What's really different about this situation though, is how Calacanis has chosen to be so public about the layoff's and turn it into a lesson that startup founders around the world can learn from.

In the email, Calacanis discusses the decision making process, the emotions behind laying off 10% of your workforce, and how he chose to handle it in a unique, unemotional, but still compassionate way. His words are written in a raw, honest voice that I believe expose the tough emotions he's dealing with at Mahalo.

Because of copyright restrictions, I'm not going to reprint the email here. But I'd like to share with you a few of the lessons taught in it. I think they will benefit anyone who's wrestling with these hard issues in their business:

1. Analyze where you're at and set a goal. Pull out your P&L statement and do a line by line audit. Toss out everything that isn't a necessity. Reduce your capital burn rate. The more you save, the less human capital you have to cut.

It's also important that you have a goal. Know where you are and where you need to go. From there, it's a matter of finding the right road to get you there which makes the entire process much easier.

2. Rethink your strategy. Maybe the way you've operated for the last year worked when you could burn through $50,000 a month. But, when you have to conserve on every dollar you spend, question everything. Change the way you do things, look at business processes, ask your staff to help you find ways to cut costs. Let nothing be sacred. Everything is up for grabs.

3. Focus on revenue. Most companies spend a lot of time doing non revenue generating things. Stop. Look at your procedures and cut everything that isn't positively effecting your bottom line. Survival is the goal here. You can live without the luxuries for a while if it ensures your company will survive.

Don't forget to look for new ways to bring in new revenue while you're cutting out things that flat line it. Think outside the box and look at non-traditional things that will have fast and long term effects on your growth or stabilization.

Unfortunately, there are times when the above 4 methods simply won't cut it and you have to lay people off. Calacanis offers some nuggets of wisdom for this too:

1. Do it right away and all at once. Don't bring people one by one into your office and try to explain everything. It gets to emotional and messy, throws the other employees into a panic, and creates a lot of fear. Instead, gather everyone together and tell them all at once. This will be a very emotional time so be sensitive of that. Be prepared for emotional reactions but keep it professional.

2. Don't sugar coat the situation. You're firing people. You can't make it better unless you don't fire them. Be direct and honest. Lay it on the line.

3. Don't cut salaries in an effort to save people. It demoralizes employees and generally fosters fear because everyone knows it's a last ditch effort that probably won't work anyway. Plus, in a way, I always look at salary cuts as a way of telling people 'you're just not worth what we're paying you'. It's demoralizing, degrading, and will make them resent you even more than layoff's will.

4. Be generous. Yes, the company is in trouble and you're getting rid of staff. But that doesn't mean you have to be heartless about it. These people have poured their entire lives into your company. Treat them well. Give them good references, offer decent severance packages, make sure they feel like they were valued. Believe it or not, you can fire someone and still have a good relationship with them. It's all about how you handle it.

The big message I got from Calacanis' email was that you need to focus on your company and how it can add or create future value. Not making the tough decisions now and letting go of a few people will only hurt everyone you employ in the future and then you'll be responsible for hurting a lot more. You have a responsibility to your staff and your business to make sure you will be there in the future. Sometimes, that means thinning the herd out for the short term.

All-in-all, I think Mahalo did the right thing and Calacanis handled the situation incredibly well. It forced me to take a long, hard, look at my own business practices and evaluate what we need to do to make sure we'll be around when the market settles.

Jason Calacanis is a smart guy. This email also shows that he's a pretty awesome person as well.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Just a little blues to spice up your weekend...

Buddy Guy is probably one of my all time favorite Blues musicians and he did an absolutely awesome set over at the Yahoo/Nissan Live Set. This is just one of the songs he did. This man is incredible. Old style blues with a definite attitude.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The social aspect of content consumption

I've noticed that the ways I consume and experience content -- both web based and traditional -- has changed over the years. There once was a time where I was content to sit in front of the computer to read articles, listen to podcasts, watch videos or rush home at the end of the day in the hopes of not being late for the start of my favorite program which I'd often sit alone and watch.

Those days are gone.

Now, my content consumption is much more socially based and tailored to my schedule. I want to watch the news while commutting, I want to catch the latest episode of my favorite shows whenever I have time, I want to listen to podcasts and other programs while I walk or bicycle. I want all of my media consumption to cater to me and my lifestyle and not have to schedule my life around my media consumption.

Perhaps most importantly, I want a good deal of that consumption to be social; I want to share it with other people and interact with it in a way that adds value.

Last night's presidential debate was a good example of my desire to have a social experience through the media I consume. Dave Winer totally changed the landscape of the debate for me by introducing the simple element of a live IRC discussion while the debate was going on. Now, instead of passively watching the candidates debate the issues, I was able to participate in a worldwide discussion about the debate and the issues surrounding the election with other people in a real-time format.

There once was a time when the 'instant reaction' meter at the bottom of the network screens mattered to me. It didn't last night because I was experiencing something much richer than pundits and a select group of people reacting to what was being said. I was experiencing the socialization of the debate and it augmented and enhanced the entire experience with me. Now, I was experiencing the event, not in the privacy of my living room, but right along with hundreds of other people as it happened and it totally rocked.

Most importantly, I got to experience it on multiple levels and through multiple communities: there was the instant reaction of the television networks, the live chat on IRC, Twitter and Seesmic discussions, Friendfeed posts, even SMS messages friends were sending me. It was an inclusive experience that made the debate much more personal and "real" for me.

What makes experiencing media with a social aspect different? Interaction and challenge.

In times past, I'd sit in my living room viewing the debate through my unique pair of rose colored glasses. I experienced it through my own experiences, my own judgements, and my own political leanings. If there were other people with me, they usually agreed with what I thought because those are the people I'd invite to watch with me. Last night was different. Last night, it was a free for all. I couldn't choose who participated with me so I got everybody. My thoughts, prejudices, political leanings were all challenged and I was forced to think in ways I might not have thought had I been alone or with a close group of friends.

And I came out better for it.
It was a richer and more intelligent experience.
I grew.

Experiencing media - any type of media - with a social aspect always enhances the experience. It totally changes the way you perceive what you're watching or listening to because you get the immediate thoughts and input of a collective of minds instead of your own limited view. And everyone is catching on to the value of socializing media. Major television networks are including live internet based discussion during some of their programs, radio shows routinely include IM and Skype interactions with the hosts, and those who create media are realizing that there is value to socializing it. It engages people in ways that the passive experience simply can't. It emotionally involves your consumers at a deeper level than passive consumption. It solidifies their connection to both the media and to each other and that adds value to both their lives and the media they're consuming. It morphs it from something they are experiencing to something they are part of and that's a very powerful thing.

Personally, I don't think this trend is going away. We're seeing the beginning of a worldwide revolution in media consumption and interaction. Right now, it's usually the viewers and listeners who organize the social aspect of group consumption. In time, we'll see more content creators formalize that experience and we'll see richer and even more engaging experiences emerge. It's going to be chat, voice, IM -- a conglomerate of technologies coming together to deepen our ties to what we're consuming and each other.

It's going to be a worldwide party and everyone will be invited.
Black tie and tails will be optional.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

CrossLoop: A must have tool for remote tech support...

Update 10/15/2008 - 17:47 CT - I was contacted by Dmitry over at CrossLoop and informed that the new version of the software does indeed contain an IM chat client. I think this just goes to show how this team is pushing this project forward and always making it better. Thanks Dmitry for the correction!

How many times have you walked a friend, family member, or client through fixing a computer issue over the phone? If you're like most savvy computer users, you've likely been through this ordeal more than you care to admit. While there have always been free tools like VNC that you could use to view and operate the remote computer, it's also been a very cumbersome and error prone process to walk a neophyte user through setting the software up and giving you the information you needed to access their computer.

Enter CrossLoop.

CrossLoop is a software product that makes accessing and controlling a remote computer very easy. When you use CrossLoop, you and the person you're helping don't need to worry about things like IP addresses, network firewalls, and all the other things that come with most remote administration packages. That's because CrossLoop layers their own proprietary software on top of the standard VNC program to create a package that's both lightweight and easy to use.

To use CrossLoop, both you and the person you're providing help to agree on a common password. Each of you put the password into the CrossLoop program and click connect. In seconds, you're viewing and controlling the remote computer just as though you were sitting in front of it. Access is snappy and you have total control. You can even transfer files between the two connected PC's.

CrossLoop is one of those programs that you absolutely have to have if you're providing remote support or even if you're just needing to remotely control your various home and office PC's. I'd definitely give it four stars for both functionality and ease of use.

There are only two features I wish CrossLoop had that it doesn't and both aren't really that important: I wish it had some sort of VoIP/IM client so the two connected parties could talk or IM with each other while in a session and I wish the screen session could be recorded. I realize the first point can be negated by using a secondary software like Skype but it would be nice to have it all integrated into one package.

All-in-all, I think CrossLoop is one of the most useful packages a system administrator or support technician (both professional and non-professional) can have in their arsenal. The CrossLoop team is hard working and they really listen to their customers.

A team that listen to its customers and provides uncomplicated, free software?
Hmm...something must be terribly wrong here.

Maybe CrossLoop is starting a cult.
If so, hand me a big cup of fresh KoolAide.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

For those who *still* dont understand the recent financial crisis...

The recent near collapse of the American economy is an incredibly complicated and multi-layered thing. But it was all triggered by a very simple process that, anyone with common sense, should have known better than to do.

This video, created by Hank from VlogBrothers, explains the recent financial crisis pretty completely and with a good dose of humor. It's a great introductory video for anyone who's still confused by the crisis and wants a better understanding.

Hat tip to Harold Pulliam on Twitter for sharing this with me.

Friday, October 10, 2008

One week with the ASUS EeePC 1000H

I received my new ASUS EeePC 1000H last Thursday and I've now had a full week to work with the machine. When I picked it up from last week, I was very skeptical about how useful the netbook (what these devices are now being called) could really be.  As far as laptops go, it was pretty low powered sporting only a 1.6Ghz processor and I doubted that it could be used for any serious work. Still, I thought it'd be nice to have an easily portable device so that when I went on presentations, I could leave my hefty notebook at home.

All-in-all, I'm very pleasantly surprised.

The 1000H is a speedy little devil that handles just about all of the non-development work that I do throughout the day. Whether I'm creating a proposal or presentation or I'm chatting on Seesmic or Eyejot, the 1000H can seemingly handle anything I throw at it.  Sure, I'm not going to install Visual Studio on it, but that isn't the point. That's better left for my work laptop or my desktop. The 1000H was designed for people who need to do basic to semi-advanced task on the go and it does that incredibly well.

Some of you probably noticed that I mentioned Seesmic and Eyejot in my last paragraph. That's right, the 1000H has a built in 1.3 megapixel web camera built right into the unit. Combine that with built in WiFi and you have instant video conferencing capabilities from anywhere with a wifi hotspot. Perhaps most shocking of all, the wireless card even supports wireless N!  The built-in microphone is surprisingly sensitive and can pick up your voice clearly even in noisy environments.

Other specs for the 1000H include 1 gigabyte of RAM, an 80 gigabyte hard drive, and room to expand your memory through the use of SD/MMC slots, and a whopping 6 cell 7 hour battery. Yes, you read that right: 7 hours.  Even on a good day running very minimal applications, my higher end Acer can only manage about 4 hours. How's that for incredible?  The system rounds out with 3 USB ports so you can easily connect just about any peripheral  you want to it including printers, flash drives, and external webcams and mics.

About the only thing I don't like about the EeePC 1000H is its incredibly small screen. It's fine for occasional use, but if you're going to use it for more than an hour, the 10.2 inch screen can quickly strain your eyes to the point of exhaustion. I believe that other EeePC models offer the option of a larger screen but this was the only size available for this model when I ordered.  It's not a deal breaker for an otherwise solid unit but it certainly would make life a difficult for someone trying to use this netbook  as their main PC.

The system runs on Windows XP Home but I've been told it's fairly easy to install Ubuntu Linux on it and have just about everything work right out of the box. I'm going to try that this weekend but I'll probably go the dual boot route, keeping Windows XP Home and installing Ubuntu Hardy in an extra partition.

Personally, I don't think the EeePC 1000H lives up to all of the hype surrounding it; I think it surpasses it. For under $500 you get a pretty rock solid little PC that you can easily take anywhere with very little trouble. It's so easy to use and so reliable that I'm seriously considering equipping our entire sales staff with 1000's so they can quickly and easily connect from the field.

Like I said, it's not your high end laptop or desktop.
But if you wanted that, why would you have bought the EeePC in the first place??

The beauty of this PC is indeed, its elegance, simplicity, and rock solid design.
It's one of the few PC hardware products I'd give 4 stars to.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

$80 billion dollars buys a lot of champagne

You would think that if your company were in enough financial trouble to need an $80 billion dollar loan from the government, throwing lavish parties that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars probably isn't very high on your priority list. And even if you'd already suffered a lapse in judgement and actually thrown one of these lavish parties on the governments dime, you wouldn't be so foolish as to try it again.

Unless you're AIG.

That's right: the boneheads who ran a stable, trusted, American company into the ground thought that it might be a good idea to get some R&R at an exclusive hotel complete with $500 a night rooms. The argument, according to AIG, is that they serve a high end clientele and have to maintain an image.

I guess it's hard to maintain a high end image when your entire company just went on welfare.

This is just another example of why this bailout was such a bad idea. Corporate fat cats are partying and feasting as hard and heavy as ever before and you, the American taxpayer, are paying for it all. I don't think it's just AIG either. I expect similar reports to emerge over the coming weeks about executives at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac because these people simply won't give up their lavish lifestyles for anything. Even the collapse of the economy around them and the abject failure of their company aren't enough to reign them in. They are motivated by pure and utter greed.

When was the last time you had a $300 bottle of champagne?
Get a job with AIG and it might become a routine.

To be fair, which I really don't want to be right now, AIG did tell FoxNews that they cancelled the retreat. I guess the first one will have to hold them for a while now.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

One of the coolest pieces of mobile software ever!

Demo of
Vlingo is perhaps one of the coolest pieces of mobile software I've ever come across. Those of you who are tired of fiddling with your phone keypad just to send a text message, email, or call someone now have a real alternative.

Vlingo allows anyone with a Blackberry smartphone to speak commands into their device to do things like send an email, send a text message, update Twitter and Facebook, search the web, and call contacts.

The software is free for now and version 2.0 is available in private beta right away. If you've got a few minutes and want to try something useful and cool, I encourage you to try Vlingo today.

This is probably not the best recruiting stratagy...

I dont need you to help me make money

Sometimes, people who are promoting work at home opportunities are slick, well thought out, well spoken, salespeople. Other times, not so much. The video above, posted by a Seesmic user, is an example of the 'not so much' type of recruiter.

While his video definitely doesn't make me want to join his cause, which he never gets around to actually telling us what it is, he does provide a great comedic break to a boring day.

Remember though...he doesn't need your ass to make his money. He just wanted to stop by and tell you that.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Bet Nirvana never saw this coming...


"Smells like Teen Spirit" is one of my favorite Nirvana songs. So you can imagine my scepticism when I came across this video on Seesmic of the song being done by a "ukulele orchestra". Surprisingly though, these guys rock. One of the coolest, and different, renditions of this song I've ever heard.

Friday, October 3, 2008

My American flag is almost gone...

As you probably already know, the United States House of Representatives passed H.R. 1424 today, the nearly 1 trillion dollar bailout bill commonly known as the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. This bill is so typically Washington that I can almost smell the burning end of Marion Barry's crack pipe as I write this. It's chock full of handouts and totally unrelated subsidies for things like wooden arrows for children (because they need to learn to hunt for when we all go broke and there's no food), and broader support for insurance companies extending greater coverage for mental health treatment.

But, in this case, it's not the pork that's bothering me. It's the fact that with the single stroke of a pen, our President effectively introduced socialism to America.

What is it with politicians these days that they can't simply admit that, sometimes, things fail. Sometimes, really important and big things fail. And those failures can often have a huge effect on our country. But that doesn't mean it's an excuse to step in and take control.

The market has a unique way of taking care of itself. First things fail and people get scared and pull out. Then, as the dust settles, things start to stabilize and investor confidence slowly goes up. The good of the market survives while the bad of it dies. Bailing out the bad just shows them that there are absolutely no repercussions for their bad behavior.

Swindle the American consumer? No problem!
Defraud a large section of the economy? It's okay!
Because, at the end of the day, the federal government's got your back.

And don't think this is a single party thing either. While the bill was heavily pushed by Republicans and the President, lawmakers from both sides participated in ushering in our new socialistic system. Barack Obama? Yep. John McCain? You betchya! The blame lies on both parties equally. Both parties have betrayed the American people and the Constitution of the United States. This bailout strikes at the very foundation of the free market system and, I hate to tell you, it's just the beginning. It's not going to end with this bailout. It's not going to stop at one industry.

Ranting? You bet I am! I'm mad as hell that people who are elected to represent us are more interested in protecting their Wall Street buddies (who I agree, do need some protection in some cases) than their Main Street constituents. I'm livid that we're being told one story and sold another. I'm sick of them treating the American people like we're too stupid to understand what this is. 'Rescue Plan' my ass. Unless the rescuing they're doing is of their large campaign contributors, this is a bailout of Wall Street plain and simple. It's an example of back scratching at its very ugliest,

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go and burn another piece of my well-worn American flag. There's barely any of it left anymore and it saddens me.

I wonder what the last piece will fall to?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Same song + 30 years = same message

Sometimes, it amazes me how far we've come with our technology and our societal change. Other times, I'm just profoundly saddened by how little progress we've really made.

30 years ago, when this video was recorded at the Washington Peace Rally, America was engaged in an unpopular war, the energy crisis was soon to begin, and the country was strongly divided on many issues. Fast forward 30 years an you'll see how little things have really changed.

This song, by one of my favorite 60's folk groups, Peter, Paul, and Mary, was recorded during a time of national turbulence. Isn't it amazing how this song, 30 years later, is still so relevant?

Amazing and sad.