Geeksquad in the Making?

A Tech Podcasters group – perhaps something like a tech version of the Podsquad- is in the making.

I needed a break during a longer-than-desirable Audacity session yesterday (yes, it will eventually crash on you, save often). Triggered by some comments in an In The Trenches podcast, I remembered this callout by Todd of GeekNewsCentral. He was looking for tech podcasters for a mysterious “endeavour”, and I fired off an email accordingly. Well, the endeavour is now public. The audio announcement is here and the email with plans – which indicates is fine to publish – is shown below.

I’ve boldfaced a few highlights and wrapped some links around some of the terms. The text is unchanged.

All of Thanks for being Patient!

All below is a open letter to each one of you, you are free to repost this and to report on it. The Site that is referenced you will find has a plain jane page with a solitary link in it to subscribe to the new mailing list. You all have been sent a invite to join that mailing list. This is where over the next week or so we will develop and enact a plan for that website, This is of course if you so choose to put your weight behind the project. OK here are the details.

Dear Tech Podcasters

First of all I want to thank all of you that have responded to my inquiry. I have spent some time on the Phone with Doug Kaye of IT Conversations, Robert Scoble and several other influential bloggers/podcasters. I want to thank Steve Holden ([email protected]) for getting my brain spinning at about a million miles per hour. He and I have hatched this plan and wanted to get all of the tech podcasters involved. I want to run down with you some ideas we have floating around.

This effort will be for the entire community and will be setup as either a coop or a non-profit with the intention to return any profits to the coop based on some formula that needs to be come up with.

I am not even sure this will make any money but here is my idea. It is but a idea and the infrastructure and site has to be built. But a domain has been reserved .org .biz .info .net

1. A site that features only tech podcasts 2. A site that pulls in your metadata from your podcast post and re-post it on the site 3. A area that resembles the NBC of Podcast a. Programming Lineup with schedule of Tech Podcast Releases b. Listings of TechPodcast in one XML c. A way for users to build their own show lineups 4. Real Reviews of each Show and a un-biased Rating system 5. Add you idea here!

We all must realize that their is a race on to monetize podcasting. I want to be sure that our interest are best served by ourselves. We all must realize that only a few shows will have the capability to reach the number of individual listeners by themselves.

Several things I want to get clear. First, joining the coop is voluntary, hosting of your own podcast will need to continue until we figure out a way to centralize the podcast.

Second we do not want to have anything to do with your creative process. The only thing we may ask in the future is that the podcasters in the coop carry a audio advertisement which you will get compensated for. (Details to be figured out at a later date)

The entry into the coop will not be free. We only want those that are serious about moving this movement forward. I am not sure what the price should be so that is open to discussion.

My thoughts are that the initial goal is build the Tech Podcasters Listenership to 100,000 listeners this in turn will attract real advertisers with real money that can be distributed to the coop (need to come up with formula for payouts in the charter) a sort of royalty system maybe.

Things that will help us get a initial boost to the site to make this happen

Robert Scoble has indicated he would be willing to host the podcast interviews for his upcoming book with in turn we pay for the bandwidth. He gave me a good analogy. When you build a mall you need a Macy's and a Sears on either end to draw traffic so that the little stores in the middle will benefit.

Roberts book on blogging will direct a lot of traffic to the site if we decide to host the data as he and others will refer to the site. This could be an anchor point for us. The price of admission though will be that we will have to take care of the bandwidth.

Within the next month or 6 weeks I will have a major announcement that if we are up and running would provide another anchor point. Several of you are in the know but are sworn to secrecy and will confirm what I am not announcing.

I am sure some of you are in this for the fun. But as a long time geek who started out on a 300 baud modem podcasting has some major steam behind it. I feel we are already 6-8 weeks behind as I think others are already headed down this path. If I could bank-roll this whole thing I would but I don't think it's fair. As a group I think the calculated risk of not doing it is to high. This project is to be for the benefit of all I want this to be a community effort.

Hell it doesn't even have to be non-profit we can indicate we want to be profit from the get go.

Join the newsgroup and fire me your thoughts, Second get this onto the airways and on your Blogs!

Todd & Steve Todd ([email protected]) Steve ([email protected])

E-Commerce Transaction Minus the Life Story

The B&H Photo Video Pro Audio Checkout Page lets you bypass the registration process if you want, and just buy the damn product. Brilliant!

Registration is a big barrier to E-Commerce transactions. It’s time-consuming, error-prone, and forces people to remember yet another password – or reduce security by reusing an existing password. I recall studies showing how many people gave up at each step of the process, and registration is a big reason for a potential customer to throw in the towel.

I am trying to buy a microphone (for podcasting) from the above-mentioned site, and I will rarely, if ever have a reason to buy something from them again … it’s a microphone, not a tube of toothpaste! So why labour through the registration process?

Since many people are already registered with Amazon or E-Bay, they will pay a premium to use those sites. To be sure, the premium applies for other reasons too, such as customisation and familiar look-and-feel. But it definitely makes a difference that they don’t have to register to purchase, and – thanks to cookies and browser auto-completion – they may not even have to log in. So when a site like B&H lets users bypass the registration process, they’re knocking down the advantage of the online megacorps.

The funny thing is how simple it is to implement such a feature … basically just a small change to the workflow. But no more need for Captcha, logins, passwords, and other irrelevancies. If the site’s workflow is architected in a modular manner, it should be very easy to let the user choose on registration.

Wearable Devices Set To Take Off?

For years, there has been talk of walking around with geeky gadgets sewed into your sleeves, strapped around your waist, slung around your neck. With ubiquitous mobile phone usage, ipod accessories galore, and tiny devices, maybe wearable is starting to happen. Here’s a really simple one that makes a lot of sense – the Burton Headphone Beanie (salute Gizmodo).

And here’s the kind of ridiculously small device that will make it seamless to embed devices – a 128MB chip that’s even smaller than mini-SD.

Quirks of Google Suggest

Congratulations to google for proving it’s still possible to innovate in simple but powerful ways. Google Suggest brings auto-completion to the world of search. Simple idea, albeit technically challenge to scale, and amazing that none of the Google wannabees can’t come up with something like this first.

Slashdot posters have noticed some interesting trivia:

  • Since the suggestions appear to come from real searches, there are privacy implications.

  • The first suggestion (presumably the most popular search) across all letters and numbers forms The A To Z of Google Suggest and The 1 to 9 of Google Suggest. Among the more notable entries:

    • F is for Firefox
    • J is for Jokes
    • K is for Kazaa
    • P is for Paris Hilton
    • 1 is for 1
    • 9 is for 911
  • There are a ludicrous number of pages containing g{o repeating}gle, as in “gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooogle”! As this guy says. type “g”, then “o” repeatedly.

Mapping websites

How cool is this? A zipcode map (via Joho) that narrows in on candidate locations with each digit you type. Especially neat in “zoom” mode. If only I had a fair dinkum reason to look up U.S. zipcodes.

This is the sort of thing that excites me about technology, because it’s so far removed from anything that’s possible in the physical world. Map sites have improved, but they are still basically the obvious online equivalent of physical maps. This is the “tree in the paddock” scenario … if you cut down a tree in a paddock, cows still continue to bend their path around where it used to be. In the same way, old ideas continue to be applied to new technologies.

Much better to rethink the medium you’re working with.

Just for fun, here are a few things you could do with mapping websites off the top of my head:

  • Provide images customised to the user’s current needs, e.g. highlight the route between two points; superimpose landmark photos or service station locations.
  • Remember previously searched locations, even offer to highlight them on customised maps.
  • Accept a URL – and provide a relevant map or a list of possible maps. e.g. If I go to a list of hotels, I could drag/cut-and-paste/bookmarklet the map site, and it would parse the page to suggest possibly relevant maps. If you think that’s too complicated for the average user, it’s certainly not too complicated for the average webmaster to create a link to such a page.

Easier to imagine it than to create it, but none of these ideas are especially challenging from a technical perspective. If any sites already do this stuff, I’d like to know about it.

Simplicity Versus Complexity

Google’s unassumingly clean UI sits atop mindbogglingly massive infrastructure. Clarke Ching observes that people value this simplicity, and he observes that this value may contradict the idea that people see complex things as clever.

I don’t see the contradiction.

A distinction needs to be made here between two qualities:

  • Perceived simplicity
  • Perceived cleverness

How to achieve perceived simplicity? Following conventional usability principles would be a good start. Google’s pristine UI is the reason it is perceived as simple, and it certainly fits in with the standard usability . (In fact, there is a good argument that traditional usability principles place too much emphasis on the lowest common denominator at the expense of power users. But that’s another rant for another day.)

How to achieve perceived cleverness? A much harder question. This is an under-researched area. There is a lot of relevant work on the related notion of perceived trust, but I haven’t seen much about perceived cleverness. In any event, it’s certainly different from perceived simplicity. I think it’s sometimes valued and sometimes not. I would say there are several responses to perceived cleverness:

  • Perceived cleverness viewed as valuable when it actually gives value to the user. This is the case for google…the perceived cleverness comes from the clever algorithms that give people the results they want. Note it does not from the mindboggling infrastructure – which is invisible. Nor does it come from the clean UI – although I do think the UI accentuates the perceived cleverness by adding a sense of cool arrogance, as in “yeah, I scanned 4 billion pages in 10 milliseconds and I’ve still got a hip white background that makes me look like I’m straight out of 1997”.
  • Perceived cleverness viewed as a bit cringeworthy when it makes no difference to the user. If you add some flashy metrics to the status bar of your word processor, users won’t particularly care very much, other than seeing it as a bit pretentious. You could achieve the same effect by giving them a quick tour of your garage full of cables and motherboards.
  • Perceived cleverness viewed as evil when it prevents the user from achieving their goal. Flash animation, say n’more.

In Google’s case, it has achieved both perceived simplicity and perceived cleverness. However, any combination of simplicity-complexity and dumbness-cleverness is possible. And remember that old adage: it’s better to be seen as simple and clever than complex and dumb.