Robert Scoble, “Why I was wrong about Quora as a blogging service”:
I’ve seen a LOT of discussion about Quora in the past few weeks since I wrote it could be the biggest blogging innovation in the past decade. Turns out I was totally wrong. It’s a horrid service for blogging, where you want to put some personality into answers. It’s just fine for a QA site, but we already have lots of those.
The point of Robert’s piece is, essentially, “My answers on Quora are getting voted down faster than my fans on Quora are able to vote them up.”
A modest suggestion: the notion that new media blogging personalities have a right to be glorified wherever they go online should be known as "Scobletitlement."
If you choose not to decide, you are Apple's lapdog
John Welch pointed (in disgruntled fashion) to a post from Adobe’s John Dowdell, “Non-standard bodies,” which essentially argues that the WHATWG is Apple’s lapdog, as opposed to the happy openness of the W3C:
The W3C reaches group decisions with a large variety of participants, and ends up producing something which works for all. The WhatWG is four browser vendors (intentionally omitting the most important one) and tends to reach decisions which benefit those members (as shown by the eventual progress of VIDEO, which in practice just let Apple protect its proprietary business model).
Dowdell is referring to an Infoworld article by Neil McAllister, melodramatically titled “HTML: The standard that failed?" While the headline is an excellent example of Betteridge’s Law, Dowdell is right that the article itself isn’t too bad. The problem, though, is that the article isn’t exactly about what Dowdell thinks it is.
McAllister’s point wasn’t about the “massive differences between the W3C and WHATWG,” and it certainly wasn’t about web video. To be sure, McAllister has concerns in that regard:
In effect, [this is] who’s deciding the future of the web: four of the leading browser vendors, all of whom have incentive to pile ever more features into their products to compete with alternative RIA (rich internet application) platforms such as Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight. (Notice that Microsoft is not a WHATWG member.)
But, of course, this isn’t Dowdell’s real point. His real point is that the WHATWG is a puppet show run by his arch-nemesis Apple. Remember, in practice they’re just letting Apple protect their proprietary business model!
Okay, let’s step back a moment here. The WHATWG HTML5 spec doesn’t specify a video format at all. So apparently, by not mandating a video format, they’re playing into Apple’s hands. The only alternative, though, would have been to mandate a format. If they mandated H.264, clearly, that would have been seen as actively supporting Apple’s “proprietary business model.” What would Dowdell’s proposed alternative be? WebM? Ogg Theora? Both of those open up different cans of worms—neither of those formats are widely supported across all platforms, particularly in terms of hardware-level decoding. Didn’t WHATWG do the right thing by not stepping into this mire and leaving it up to the market to sort it out? Apparently by not choosing, they chose Apple.
But of course, H.264 is not Apple’s proprietary format. It’s certainly true that Apple’s decision to make it the only approved way to stuff video onto iOS devices is a big driver of its support on the web. But H.264 is used as the codec for Blu-Ray disks, nearly all major HD satellite services, many IPTV services, many videoconferencing services, many non-Apple mobile phones (including all Android phones I’m aware of), AVCHD video cameras, and some widely-used plugin from Adobe whose name escapes me right now. We can argue about what to do on the web (and my exasperation with Google partisans doesn’t mean that I think having WebM as a widely-available option is a bad idea), but in the video industry H.264 is already a de facto standard. Apple anointed H.264 as iOS’s one true video format because they could decode it in hardware, not—as Dowdell tacitly implies—to further a nefarious anti-consumer agenda.
Of course, we’re not supposed to pay attention to Dowdell’s own agenda here: promoting Adobe Flash. And Dowdell believes that the best way to promote Adobe Flash is by attacking Flash’s most visible critic: Apple. H.264 is bad when it’s not encapsulated in Flash because it can be played on iOS devices—but you’re not going to see H.264 replaced with WebM in Flash any time soon. And if Apple actually did start to support WebM directly in Safari and Mobile Safari with the <video> element, I guarantee the very next post from “jd/adobe” would explain how that meant Apple was subverting open standards and we’d all better stop using it now. Because Apple likes it. And that’s bad. QED. Welcome to Dowdellism.
I’ll be at Macworld, probably on both Thursday and Friday. Because I am cheap I only have an exhibition floor badge. If you’re looking for me, I will probably have a Hawaiian shirt on and, oh yes, a big name badge with my name on it.
My only plan for the convention so far is to make the half-mile walk from the show to 83 Proof one evening or the other, because I have learned that a bartender from Smuggler’s Cove—my favorite bar in San Francisco—just started working there, so they probably don’t suck.
It’s a familiar refrain from the music industry: revenue is down and piracy is to blame. “While record companies are innovating and licensing every viable form of music access for consumers,” says IFPI chief executive Frances Moore, “the music industry is still haemorrhaging revenue as a result of digital piracy.”
Being RWW, there’s bit of an undertone suggesting that the record industry is pointing the finger in the wrong direction and that their “inflexible business models” are to blame. This is pretty much the standard line, frequently cited by pundits and freeloaders. Yet in the last few years, DRM has effectively disappeared from digital music and the price of both singles and albums is less than it was a decade ago. (Adjusted for inflation, a $13.99 CD in 1999 would be $17.84 in 2009; most digital albums on iTunes or the slightly cheaper Amazon run in the $8-12 range.)
It’s interesting to me that the friends and acquaintances of mine who are most adamant about not paying for media often also actively avoid anything that forces them to watch advertisements in order to get media for free. Thus, consumers like me who do buy media from Amazon and iTunes and put up with the ads on Hulu are effectively subsidizing them. (You’re welcome.)
Since the W3C has endorsed using HTML5 to mean “anything that’s a new web standard,” the WHATWG (Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group) has announced that what they were referring to as HTML5 is now just HTML.
Google’s 2010 fiscal results—like their 2009 results—show that over 96% of their revenue comes from advertising. While I haven’t been blogging here long enough to do the “blast from the past” link day a few others are doing, it’s worth going back to March of 2010 for “You Are Not Google’s Customer.” I doubt today’s game of management musical chairs changes this equation.
Christopher Lawton of the WSJ: “The X7 would have been the first Nokia smartphone launched exclusively with a U.S. carrier since former Microsoft Corp. executive Stephen Elop took over as Nokia’s CEO last September. The unexpected cancellation leaves Nokia further behind in its effort to correct a major strategic weakness—its poor showing in the lucrative U.S. market, where it lags Apple Inc., BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd. and phones powered by Google Inc.’s Android software.”
“So, you ask, why do I use Facebook? The answer is obvious: Because other folks do, and they’re happy with it and I don’t mind making it easy for them to get in touch with me. But I work on the assumption that Facebook is working by default to make me look like an asshole to everyone who’s connected to me.”—John Scalzi
Web developer Jeremy Keith says “I think it looks pretty good” but nonetheless refers to it as a “Badge of Shame”:
What we have here is a deliberate attempt to further blur the lines between separate technologies that have already become intertwingled in media reports.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mind if marketers and journalists use HTML5 to mean everything under the sun, but I expect working web developers to be able to keep specs separate in their mind. If Apple or Google were pushing this kind of fuzziness, I wouldn’t mind…but this is coming straight from the horse’s mouth (or, in this case, straight from the horse’s ass).
Unrelated question: who designed the HTML5 logo? It’s not in the FAQ.
I can’t think of any other company where people routinely talk as if the CEO personally approves everything. Yes, we know he’s very “hands on” and has a lot of input into product development, but when an iPhone does something one way and not another people speak as if that’s a personal decision Jobs made. “Oh, Steve Jobs doesn’t want your phone to be a personal hotspot.” (Now, presumably he does.) “Your Macbook doesn’t have an SD slot because Steve Jobs doesn’t want one there.” (Maybe, maybe not.) “Macs aren’t in business because Steve Jobs hates the enterprise.” (Uh, look, Macs are in a lot of businesses, and did you consider that Apple might make decisions based on what’s profitable for them?) “Macs will all be like iOS because that’s what Steve Jobs wants.” (Wait, what?) “OS X should use zsh as the shell, but Steve Jobs is a bash user.”
All right, I haven’t read the last one, but I bet it’s just because I haven’t trawled Slashdot enough recently.
Is this because Jobs is so often the public face of the company? Possibly, but Dave Thomas was the public face of Wendy’s Hamburgers, and we know he had input into several of his company’s signature products—yet nobody assumed that Wendy’s would suddenly forget how to make burgers, shakes and sad sad fries after Thomas was gone. “Dammit, he was the only guy who knew how to make those buns. Close up shop, people!” And no, this is not a perfect analogy—Wendy’s did have travails after Thomas departed, but Wendy’s was never in a position of great strength in their industry. Anyone who doesn’t think Apple is in a strong position is deluded, extremely uninformed or practicing magical thinking.
I suspect it’s largely because we’ve seen Apple without Steve Jobs and remember that by and large nobody gave a damn about the company then, and there’s a tacit assumption that a post-Jobs Apple will slide back into the shape it was in the mid-90s. This isn’t a very logical assumption—the executive and engineering team at Apple now is all from Jobs’ corporate regime, which is a very different scenario from the time he was fired from the company by an executive regime which didn’t want anything to do with him.
Jobs’ greatest talent is often described as a willingness to say “no” to things that don’t meet his vision. I don’t know that Dave Thomas would have been all that thrilled with the multiple flavors of Frosty—he specifically wanted that flavor of Frosty and that flavor alone. Then again, Wendy’s was the first fast food restaurant to have salad bars and that was under Thomas, and they’re all gone now. Sort of like the iPod HiFi. (“Where’s the bass?” Ha ha sorry.)
But is Jobs the only one there with that ability? Tim Cook probably has it—and so does Jony Ive, whose influence seems to rarely be mentioned in the press. When you look at any of Apple’s current products, you’re not looking at Steve Jobs’ design work—you’re looking at Ive’s work. (Your Macbook does not have an SD slot because Jony Ive doesn’t want one there, kid.)
I’m expecting a round of people making doomsaying statements maximized for insensitivity, and an equal number of people dismissing this leave as something relatively trivial and mocking the doomsayers. I’m not willing to pontificate on the likelihood of Jobs’ return to his desk—those who will “assure” us that he is or he isn’t is, for the time being, speaking out of their butt—but I’m always up for mocking doomsayers. Five years from now, whether or not Jobs is still at their campus daily, Apple will continue making products in their typical pattern: terrific-looking industrial design, missing some features that tech pundits claim are vital for success, priced at points that pundits claim are way too high, and that sell like cocaine-laced hotcakes.
I’m playing bartender at a friend’s party tonight and for thematic reasons (don’t ask) I wanted to make a blue drink. As it turns out, this is not easy. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of blue drinks, but there are a lot of bad blue drinks.
I went back to what might be the original—the Blue Hawaii. As with a lot of Fruity Rum Drinks, this has changed over the years in random ways. I see a lot of versions with coconut; I see very few versions with any sour component. The original version, which surprisingly enough is actually from Hawaii, has sour mix and no coconut.
I did a “straight” version of it and decided that I wanted to tweak it just a little. “Sour mix” is usually two parts lemon juice to one part simple syrup; I find that most rum drinks are happier with lime, though. (I also find that most commercial sour mixes are terrible corn syrup and juice concentrate atrocities. Don’t buy ’em.) Knowing my audience, I also wanted to sweeten the drink a little. Here’s my adaptation:
Coyote Blue Hawaiian
3/4 oz. light rum
3/4 oz. vodka
1/2 oz. blue curacao
1/2 oz. lime juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
3 oz. pineapple juice
Put it all in a shaker with ice, shake it up, and strain it into a cooler glass with more ice.
The drink will be better if you can use fresh juices, but if you can’t—or if you’re expecting to make a lot of drinks for a party—look for not-from-concentrate juices. (Out here, Santa Cruz Organic makes a bottled lime juice which is worlds better than what you get in those plastic squeeze limes at a lower ounce-for-ounce price.)
Two minor notes: one, as you might suspect from the pineapple and lime juices this drink is more blue-green than blue. (My using amber-colored simple syrup probably doesn’t help matters.) Two, while this isn’t a hugely strong drink it’s real easy to drink fast. If this bothers you, cut back on the simple syrup!)
Over at TechCrunch, MG Siegler looks at Google’s recent announcement of dropping support for H.264-encoded video from Chrome and acerbically asks, “So Google, you’ll be dropping support for Flash next, right?" In the comments, many people are arguing that the two aren’t the same at all. Here’s "Keith":
The Flash file format is open and anybody is able to build a player for it, without paying patent licensing royalties. Adobe’s Flash player is the best, and its code is closed, but that doesn’t make Flash closed. Instead, if you want to implement H.264, you do have to pay patent licensing royalties.
Are Keith and friends right? The Flex SDK is (mostly) available open source and they publish the specification for the SWF file format.
Well, hold on a bit. Is the RTF document format an open standard? Microsoft dutifully publishes specifications for it that’s more or less kept up to date. Yet I’ve never seen anyone in the open source community describe RTF as being open in the way HTML and OpenDocument are, because Microsoft still controls the standard. A freely available specification can still be proprietary. It’s not a coincidence that RTF can represent just about everything that Microsoft Word can do in a document, and absolutely nothing that it can’t.
Likewise, Flash is Adobe’s standard, pure and simple. Nobody will (successfully) extend the SWF format to do cool things that Adobe’s player can’t handle, and Adobe’s tools will always be first with new features. Adobe makes the specification freely available, but just like RTF, Flash is still a proprietary standard. Flash is what Adobe says it is.
In practice rather than theory, Flash is more proprietary than RTF. You can find multiple non-Microsoft text editors, both closed and open, that read and write RTF—some as their native file format. But there are no widely used tools for creation or playback of Flash files other than Adobe’s. And even on Linux, parts of Adobe’s ecosystem—including Flash Player itself—are, as the GNU guys would say, free as in beer rather than free as in freedom.
The best argument for Google booting H.264 from Chrome is that H.264 is definitively not open in the critical sense that it is, to sound GNU-ish again, “patent-encumbered.” The licensing group behind it has said that it will remain free for noncommercial use in perpetuity, but commercial uses, unlike Google’s VP8, cost money. (VP8 is the video codec Google bought from On2 and open-sourced; WebM is the “container,” the file format. The distinction is like that between H.264 and the MOV and FLV file containers that both might use H.264-encoded video.) Those costs aren’t particularly exorbitant, but despite assurances to the contrary there’s no guarantee that any of this won’t change. Legally, MPEG-LA gets to set—and change—the license terms.
But if patent concerns really are Google’s rationale, then it doesn’t rebut Siegler’s accusation of hypocrisy—it supports it. Flash, no matter how much open source goodness Adobe claims it’s been imbued with, is full of Adobe patents. It doesn’t matter that they’ve released the Flex SDK under the Mozilla Public License—Adobe can still enforce algorithmic patents if they choose, just as Fraunhofer/Technicolor can enforce MP3 patents whether or not you’re not you’re using a free software encoder/decoder. (Like MPEG-LA with H.264, Technicolor has simply chosen not to require licensing for noncommercial use.)
Yes, it’s in Adobe’s best interest right now to not play footsie with Flash patents, but it’s in MPEG-LA’s best interest not to do that with H.264, too. Google is not interested in freeing Chrome from the evils of patent-encumbered video delivery systems. I don’t know whether Google pays H.264 licensing for Chrome itself—if they do, they’d be saving a few million by dropping it. But hell, it’s Google. They have a few million in the couch cushions.
But what if Jason Perlow of ZDNet is onto something when he theorizes that it’s all actually about YouTube? Google might save a lot on storage if they only have to store one video format, enough for even a company their size to notice.
The lack of Flash in iOS created a new calculus for web developers: serve Flash components to anything that runs it and HTML5 H.264 video to things that don’t. WebM fans seem to think that it eventually will replace H.264 in that equation, but the set “things that do not run Flash and do not play H.264 video” is likely to remain largely congruent with the set “things web developers do not give rat poop about supporting” for some time to come. If YouTube really went exclusively WebM/VP8, I suspect they’d be standing alone among “big name” sites.
Last but not least, as a Slashdot comment John Gruber linked reminded me, WebM/VP8 is in an important sense just as proprietary as Flash and RTF are: it’s controlled by a single company. H.264 is licensed but controlled by an actual open standards body. And, of course, VP8 is patented: if Google is correct that those patents don’t infringe any of MPEG-LA’s, that just means that we have to rely on Google’s assurance that they will never change the terms they’re licensing patents under.
But, y’know, that’s okay, because it’s Google, man. How could you not trust a man with a face like Eric Schmidt’s?
It’s bordering on obstinate to think that something you care so much about can be salvaged by doing more or less the same thing that has failed magazines so consistently until now: continuing to ignore the fundamentals of digital user experience design and how they diverge from analog print design.
I have a friend who works for Wired who always chides me for not having seriously looked at the Wired iPad app; Vinh explains why. What’s frustrating to me is that the technologies that could make magazines on the iPad—or Kindle, Nook or any other reading device—not suck are already out there, under names like “HTML,” “CSS” and “ePub.” (You may have heard of them.) I’m not sure I agree with Vinh that people won’t pay for content that’s available for free on the web, though—but they have to feel that they’re getting added value at a reasonable price.
There’s not a lot to say about the Verizon iPhone that wasn’t said months ago at this point, which is oddly fascinating in its own way. Objectively, this should not be a big deal, right? Nobody wastes much ink (or many pixels) speculating about what the next Blackberry or Android device means for a carrier, except to the degree that the next Blackberry or Android device is being touted as this week’s “iPhone Killer.”
There are two things that do interest me, though—one’s a feature, and one’s the chance to test a theory.
The feature is the Personal Hotspot. This has been one thing that the iPhone hasn’t done up until now—be able to serve as a portable wifi base station for other devices. It’s a lot more versatile than “tethering” with Bluetooth (or worse, a USB cable). Just being able to use an iPhone 4 on Verizon’s network rather than AT&T’s isn’t enough to switch, but this might well be. Since this feature isn’t something that requires a CDMA network, there’s no reason for it to not show up in a near-future release of the 3G iPhone software—and if that turns out to happen, it means the ball will be in AT&T’s court here to decide whether to allow it.
The theory is this. There’s a subset of tech-savvy consumers who buy Android phones because (a) they want to run Android specifically as they think it’s really the best mobile operating system for their needs, or (b) they see it as a political/philosophical statement (pro-“open,” or simply anti-Apple). Here in Silicon Valley or in other nerd-o-centric places, you’re going to find a disproportionate number of people carrying Droids and Galaxies and the like who fall into these groups.
But my hunch is that most people don’t care much about the operating system on their phone. They make their purchase based on branding, availability, quality perception, availability, price, availability, and did I mention availability? When many consumers want to get a new smartphone, or move from their old feature phone to their first smartphone, they go to their carrier’s store, and then they apply their other criteria: what phones in this room with me right now are ones that I’ve heard good things about, that I like the looks of, and that I can afford?
Granted, some people may actually choose their carrier based on their desired phone—I switched from T-Mobile when the iPhone came out. But that’s also the rub. I’ve heard of many people, both nerds like me and non-nerds, who switched to AT&T for the iPhone. But how many people switched to Verizon for the Droid? I can think of some who switched to an Android phone on Verizon or T-Mobile either as a political/anti-Apple statement or to get away from AT&T—but that’s not the same. I’m sure they’re out there, but without exception the people I know who own Android phones either fall into one of the two groups I outlined above, or bought them because they were already on a non-AT&T carrier and couldn’t or wouldn’t switch.
Don’t get me wrong—I don’t imagine (sane) people are going to line up to throw their Fascinate overboard for an iPhone 4. But in the US market the great Google vs. Apple Fight Fight Fight! has been a lot less of a real competition than either the technology press or the cheering fans make it out to be. With Verizon getting the iPhone and AT&T getting Android-powered phones that don’t suck, though, consumers who aren’t nerds are going to be finally making side-by-side comparisons when they walk into their neighborhood cell phone store.
And that’s when things get interesting. Pass the popcorn.
The Angry Drunk wrote a good little piece on “The Death of Upgrade Pricing" in the new Mac App Store, essentially arguing that what developers can do is to adjust prices so that they don’t need to charge less for upgrades:
Bob’s Nifty App 1.0 is currently priced at $39.99. Bob releases 2.0 also priced at $39.99, but he offers discount pricing to the owners of version 1 at $19.99. Total cost over two versions: 60 clams. Now let’s look at this scenario in a Mac App Store world. Bob submits BNA 2.0 to the App Store priced at $29.99. A year later he released BNA 3.0 in the App Store for the same $29.99. OMGWTF?!?! That’s a huge ripoff! Or not. What is the total cost over two versions? 60 simoleans.
Okay, but instead of Bob’s Nifty App, let’s look at Rich’s. BBEdit has historically run $125—just dropped to $100—with a $30 upgrade price for major versions, and it’s a program that people hang on to. (I bought it at version 5.5, upgraded to 6.0, and recently upgraded that to 9.6 after admitting that TextMate 2 won’t be out until they finish writing Duke Nukem Forever with it.) So what’s the “right price” for BBEdit in the App Store? If we’re going to pay full price for each major point release, I’d be loathe to go over $50. Yet Bare Bones has no guarantee that somebody who buys BBEdit 9 will upgrade to BBEdit 10, and if they don’t, they’ve gotten only $50, period, instead of $100. So they have an incentive to charge $100, and they are. But how many people will pay $100 for BBEdit 9 and another $100 for BBEdit 10?
Apple can get away with the lack of upgrade pricing on the iOS App Store because the vast majority of iOS applications are $4.99 and under. It’s fair to say that people bitching about having to buy a $2.99 app over again when version 2.0 hits are just being cheap bastards, but when version 2.0 of the $49.99 OmniGraffle for iPad comes out, if we’re asked to pay $49.99 again a lot of us are going to think about that really hard. The Drunk’s solution is, I think, excellent at the price points in his example—but I’m not sure it’s so excellent if those prices double. And it remains to be seen if on the Mac, you can really slash your prices by a half or more and make it up on volume.
I’ve been lax in keeping up the cocktail part of this blog. You didn’t think the tag line was a joke, did you?
When I was invited to a friend’s for Thanksgiving, I wanted to bring something along besides just a green bean side dish. (They had no other vegetables, people. What was I gonna do? Stuffing is not a vegetable and potatoes are only a vegetable on a technicality.) So I looked around for something that sounded like a good seasonal cocktail, and found one at The Cocktail Chronicles.
Applejack Old Fashioned
2 ounces Laird’s Applejack
1 tsp. maple syrup
2 dashes Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel Bitters
Build in an old fashioned glass. Stir, add a few chunks of ice, stir again. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Applejack, if you haven’t come across it, is an apple liquor native to America. Not liqueur, liquor. It’s more like whisky than brandy. Laird’s sells two versions of it, one just called “Applejack” and a higher proof “Bonded,” which is close to the original recipe; the non-bonded version is blended with neutral spirits. I couldn’t find the Bonded, but the lower-end stuff works well enough for this drink.
The Whiskey Barrel bitters add a lot of complexity and spice to the drink. You could use Angostura bitters if you can’t find the Fee’s, but definitely look for the Fee’s if you can. It’s good stuff to have on hand anyway. (I should probably write a little about bitters sometime, actually. Hmm.)
If you have favorite autumn or winter cocktails (cold or warm), what are they?
Daring Fireball linked to the Guardian newspaper’s slideshow “Detroit in Ruins,” and it’s quite striking. But it’s pretty easy to find stories that use Detroit as a symbol of decay and ruin and the death of the American Dream—it’s rare, and welcome, to find stories that show Detroit as a living city rather than merely a symbol. This documentary—oddly sponsored/hosted by UK boot company Palladium—features music from, among other bands, The Dirtbombs, whose lead singer is an old (if sporadically seen) friend of mine.
“I don’t think anyone is going to be able to have a truly sane discussion about Android vs. iOS until one critical, reality-distorting myth is put to death: The myth that Android phones are Google phones.”—John C. Welch, “Not Dealing with Reality”