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“Big-company PR” versus “the blogosphere” August 29, 2006

Posted by Thomas in General, Tech & Science.
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I think the latest unfounded rumors about the supposed changes to the Office 2007 UI are the perfect example of why marketing and PR departments in large companies are going to have a problem letting go and letting employees talk freely with the world.

Scoble has been on a kick recently about Google going to the New York Times to leak it’s latest news instead of going to bloggers.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the web is revolutionizing how companies communicate with the world. I’m all for getting information out there and letting the world digest it. I’m all for talking directly with customers instead of using some marketing-speak press release. I think the mainstream press does a lot of things the wrong way and I like that the web is changing how information is distributed.

BUT, I think there’s a reason Google went to the New York Times and why big companies are struggling with the “internets” and how to interact with this relatively new medium.

The line between “this is my opinion” and “this is a fact” gets blurred with blogs, and I think that scares big companies. When a game of telephone spreads across the net and suddenly at the end of the day the story is completely wrong saying Microsoft has gone back on it’s new UI and canceled it’s plans, other companies look at that and say, “I don’t want that to happen to me.”

Most bloggers don’t have editors enforcing the rules of good journalism. Fact checking and source-verification are important, especially when your post is read by thousands of people and diseminated across the web. Most bloggers have opinions, and some are trying to make a splash with a sensational post.

Can a major paper like the New York Times get it wrong and cause the same kind of confusion and misunderstanding? Of course! But a big company probably feels a little more safe because the number of times that has happened with a major newspaper or magazine is far less than the number of crazy internet rumors that get started each day.

Is that fair? No. There is understandable suspicion these days that corporate ownership and “scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours” alliances create an environment where it’s hard to get past the marketing-speak to the truth.

So, what’s my point? Everyone needs to do a better job so that these kinds of problems don’t occur and companies have a reason to trust blogs.

Microsoft should have done a better job educating their folks in Australia before TechEd, but the journalists and bloggers who took that poor information and did ZERO fact checking or further research have to share the blame. If they had taken an extra 10 minutes to do a search or read Jensen Harris’ blog, they would have seen that there wasn’t any major reduction or scaling back of the Office 2007 UI.

Traditional journalists need to do their part. The web is a huge resource just waiting to be tapped. How hard would it have been to do a quick search to see if any information was out there about the Office 2007 UI?

Companies need to do their part. Make resources like blogs and podcasts available to anyone who searches your site. Microsoft’s PressPass web site is horrible. The Office System section doesn’t have a single link to any of the bloggers who write about Office. The Excel team blog is amazing. As is Jensen Harris. That’s unacceptable.

And finally, bloggers need to do their part. I’m not saying all bloggers are irresponsible and that we can’t rely on the information they post. But I am saying that for all the faults of the mainstream press, they do a few things right.

If bloggers want to be taken more seriously by more large companies, they are going to have to clean up their reputation. Is that reputation fairly earned? No, probably not. A few bad apples may be spoiling it for the rest of us, but big companies look at what happened with the Office 2007 UI debacle, and they think twice before interacting with bloggers.

Don’t apologize for the Emmy plane-crash skit… August 29, 2006

Posted by Thomas in General.
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Good grief. Apparently people are upset by the Emmy’s opening skit that involved a plane crash because it came so suddenly after the Kentucky crash.

Ok, I can understand that the timing may not have been great, but are we all so over-sensitive these days that we can’t just laugh at a spoof of “Lost”? It’s not like they were intentionally lampooning the tragic death of 40+ people. I think calling it “cringe-inducing” as the L.A. Times did, is a bit over-the-top. Cringe-inducing would have been a Saturday Night Live skit on September 22nd, 2001, featuring a “my parachute won’t open” gag for a guy jumping off the World Trade Center. That would have been actually horrible and truly cringe-inducing.

Fox pulled an episode of Family Guy last year because it used the word “hurricane” a few times and it was so soon after Katrina. Granted, Family Guy has no fear in being truly offensive, but the episode was animated 6 months before Katrina was even a tropical depression. There was no malicious intent.

So why is this something that NBC should apologize for? There were over 40,000 fatalities in car crashes last year, but “House” and “ER” and “Grey’s Anatomy” aren’t pulling car-crash-related episodes. Why not?

That’s 109 dead people each day, and if we say it’s insensitive within a time period, let’s say a week, that’s 763 families that could possibly be offended by any of those shows’ car-crash episodes. That’s many more potentially offended people than the 40 families of the victims of the Kentucky crashes. But apparently, since the car fatalities aren’t nation-wide news, we don’t have to be sensitive to anonymous tragedy.

Yes, it’s awful that the people on that plane died, but since they got a national headline we have to make sure there’s nothing on TV that could offend their families?

Meanwhile, the people who die every 15 minutes in a car accident don’t get nation-wide recognition, and therefore we aren’t over-sensitive, and “ER” gets to have a 20-car pile up flood their hospital and provide a dramatic back-drop with tension and nerves for some relationship or inter-personal dilemma.

“24” premiered right after September 11th with an episode featuring the mid-air explosion of a 747. I think it’s done alright for itself since then. NBC, don’t apologize for a funny spoof’s poor timing that you had no control over.

Office 2007: UI for “power users”? March 15, 2006

Posted by Thomas in General, Tech & Science.
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There’s an interesting addition to the Office 2007 Quick Access Toolbar, discussed on Jensen Harris’ blog.

I consider myself fairly knowledgable regarding the various Office apps, but by no means a power user. I’m just not in Word/Excel/Powerpoint often enough, so I haven’t developed any nit-picky UI preferences or anything (other than moving the Font toolbar onto it’s own row from the New/Open/Save toolbar row).

While I think the Ribbon is one of the most innovative and brilliant things I’ve seen in a long time, I can understand where “power users” are coming from with their complaints about their lack of control and customization.

I can understand the Office team’s desire to reduce the amount of junk that piles up over time in the UI. I appreciate that the floating toolbars for images and tables eventually clogged the interface because users were afraid to close them for fear of not finding them again.

However, I can see why people want to have the ability to detach these groups into floating bars, so that they have less distance to travel with the mouse to reach a critical command.

Isn’t it possible to enable this? Here’s my logic:

The old default behavior was to pop a floating toolbar for images, tables, etc. and this resulted in UI clutter because users wouldn’t close them ever again and they would just float there with disabled icons.

The new behavior is to switch to contextual tabs when specific tools are needed for images and tables.

As a result, there will be NO/ZERO/ZIP UI clutter from users who are afraid to close floating toolbars. There are no more default floating toolbars.

Now that the problem is no longer the result of default Office behavior, can’t you always assume that any desire to have a floating toolbar is at the explicit request of the user, and that this is not clutter to be feared, but functionality to be embraced?

LiveClipboard – interesting but totally useless? March 7, 2006

Posted by Thomas in General, Tech & Science.
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Scoble links to Ray Ozzie’s blog about LiveClipboard and hasn’t provided any commentary of his own, other than linking to it.

I think it’s interesting, and a very cool concept. However, I don’t really see what I would use it for.

That being said, I think it’s awesome that folks are trying new things. I may not see any use for it, but the demo is very cool, and I’m just glad to see people trying new ideas and figuring out how far they can push the web.

Cures for diseases are rarely found as the result of trying to cure the disease directly. Instead, lines of inquiry into seemingly un-related areas have often resulted in stumbling upon a new discovery. The treatment of diabetes with insulin was discovered by folks who weren’t trying to treat diabetics.

This web clipboard may or may not lead to a revolution on the web, but at least some people are trying new things. You never know what they will stumble on.

Microsoft’s IM opportunity March 7, 2006

Posted by Thomas in General, Tech & Science.
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With the announcement by AOL about it’s Open AIM Strategy, I see an opportunity for Microsoft to make life easier for all IM users.

Integrate MSN Messenger with AOL. Seriously. I don’t know if it’s really possible, I haven’t looked at the APIs and there would need to be some kind of licensing because it would exceed 2 million connections per month, but there’s an opportunity here.

Make our lives easier Microsoft! I like Trillian just as much as the next person, but I’m tired of needing 14 different IM logins.

I know I’m glossing over all the challenges that there would be in making this work, but they have some great teams over at Microsoft working on Windows Live Messenger and the other Live services.

Google GDrive & Lighthouse March 7, 2006

Posted by Thomas in General, Tech & Science.
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An interesting article up at ZDNet on the “Web 2.0 Explorer” blog about some Google powerpoint deck that accidentally left in some notes and comments that was quickly taken down by Google.

If this GDrive service is for real, it could be interesting, though current internet connection speds seem too slow today for mass adoption. I like that OneCare makes it easier for people to back up their data online, though I know that’s nothing new. It’s a step though.

However, what I don’t get, is why would anyone trust their data to a 3rd party like Google or Microsoft. Yahoo’s actions, resulting the jailing of a chinese citizen, don’t give me much reason to trust these large companies with my data.

If there’s some kind of encryption on the data that allows me to set the password or key on my local machine, the data is encrypted and then transmitted to a remote server, where it is encrypted and unreadable/unsearchable by the storage provider, I might be more interested.

More details will be helpful here.

Windows Live Messenger Beta refresh March 1, 2006

Posted by Thomas in General, Tech & Science.
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I don’t know what Robert McLaws is thinking, but the new UI for Windows Live Messenger Beta is a nice change from that total mess that they had in the previous release.

The nasty gradients and hideous color schemes was painful to look at, I actually stopped using the beta.

But the update last night changed all of that. Sure, they still need to do some work on making the UI pop, but it’s a far cry better than what was there before.

Welcome to Philotica January 31, 2006

Posted by Thomas in General.
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Random thoughts, ideas, comments, and whatever else I feel like talking about will soon appear here.