Applesauce Sandwiches

Like regular sandwiches…but soggier.

Intel’s first smartphone arrives, nobody cares.

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Intel has released the  Xolo X900, its first entry into the smartphone market. It has a single core Adam chip, a 400 MHz GPU and will probably make little to no splash in the states.

I was recently in a discussion at work with a gentleman who told me he loved his prepaid Boost Mobile android phone. It’s a generic Android device with an ambiguous name like “Desire” or  “Sensation,” to the point where you’re not sure if they’re talking about a phone or a prophylactic.  He told me that this phone had a faster processor than my iphone 4s (turns out that wasn’t true, but it’s irrelevant). He said that it was a much better phone, but couldn’t exactly back that up.

And that’s the thing about all these android devices. Like the nearly defunct Blackberry, there are so many of these phones and they are all so similar, that the differences end up being negligible. Anyone who has studied aesthetics will know that form ultimately follows function, and the fact that you have a fast processor means nothing if your apps aren’t being honed to work in tandem with that processor, and in the case of android, they aren’t. They can’t be. With the preponderance of devices that all have different processors, there is no specialization going on like it is with ios developers.

I love Intel. I went out of my way to make sure I got an i7 chip in my macbook.  But they will never be in a position to shake up the smartphone market unless they do something different, and they haven’t. These kindred android devices, with their blocky form factor and fractured stock OSes do not help anything, even if you’re the best chip manufacturer in the country.


Written by kolchak

April 22, 2012 at 2:28 pm

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Drudge Does Right.

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If you ask anyone knowledgable in the areas of punditry or news about Matt Drudge, you are sure to get divisive responses. The Drudge Report, originally created in 1996 as a weekly email dispatch, has grown to become one of the most highly accessed sites on the web, now driving more traffic than Facebook and Twitter combined. What Drudge has accomplished is impressive, cultivating a news empire from limited staff and a majority of other people’s content. Whether you disagree with his politics- Drudge arguably has as many detractors as Andrew Breitbart (a former colleague of Drudge’s) did- it’s hard not to respect what he has turned his little patch of internet into.

The content of The Drudge Report is almost entirely winnowed from other sources. The bulk of the page consists of hyperlinks to articles from legitimate news sources, oftentimes with Drudge providing his own (partisan) headline. One story in particular will be headlined atop the page with a large, prominent photograph. Other stories dispersed throughout will have photographs, too, but none that large. If there is a breaking story, Drudge will highlight it with his trademark animated gif of a squad car top light. Below the articles is a list of reputable news agency sources. Besides that is a list of pundits (from Ann Coulter to Paul Krugman). Occasionally, Drudge will break a story (as was the case during the Monica Lewinsky scandal), and do a short write up on that, but these are few and far between.

Drudge has no system of commenting.There is no “Drudge Community” of regular posters. There are no message boards.  In fact, he has no problem whatsoever sending visitors away from the site, and does so actively. There is a small text box towards the bottom of the site for purposes of sending scoops, but that’s it. There is no communication between Matt and his visitors. But these people still actively comment on the stories linked to, and often times drive up the traffic to those stories single-handedly. Users are sent away from TDR only to come back to be sent away all over again. It’s a winning formula.

The aesthetics of TDR have not changed since the page was first debuted. Widely criticized for its mundane look of black text (Courier for stories, Arial for headlines) set against a plain white page. There is no diversity of color, save for the photos, and there is no tabbed browsing system. Every link on drudge is available from the main page, which is separated into 3 columns of varying length.

In a strange, counterintuitive way this look serves to help Drudge. There is nothing distracting here. No developer is flexing their muscles here by alteration of color or size. Everything is easy on the eyes. It’s simple and constant. There is no divulging from the format. Unlike the New York Times’ site, Drudge doesn’t exhibit the slightest change in layout. It would be easy to write this off as a symptom of the site’s elderly core demographic, but it’s really a pleasure to look at after a while. It’s actually quite like a newspaper or maybe the fabled Apple product: it just works.

There are sparse ads on the site, always un-intrusive but presumably very well payed for. None of them detract from the news, and they never appear to be actual stories. There’s nothing dubious going on. With Drudge, everything is out in the open and readers like it that way. And why wouldn’t they? There’s no flashy slideshows to click through, nor any annoying expanding flash-based advertisements.

There is no way one can be confused by the navigation of TDR. There isn’t any navigating to do. One simply clicks the links or doesn’t. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to muck up. Drudge has built a brand out of this bare-bones design. It works because it can be run, if need be, by a single man. There is almost a modernist element to it all, the efficiency and ease of usability. The Drudge Report is like an underappreciated work of art.

To censure Drudge for his format seems to miss the larger picture that it’s lead him to resounding success. Currently, TDR is listed by Alexa as the 79th most visited site in the United States, beating out both the pages of the Wall Street Journal and USA today. It garners 82 million page views a month. Drudge is not just a web site, but a brand. It’s a powerhouse, able to motivate its user base to take action no matter which side of the aisle you’re on.

The mark of a truly remarkable product is one that creates divisiveness. The masses either love or hate things, often with no in between. Drudge has done something that works very well, and I feel that it has to be respected.




Written by kolchak

April 17, 2012 at 9:24 pm

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Newspaper Jesus Died For Your Apps.

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It hasn’t happened yet, but the tablet is going to save journalism. The endless speculation on the subject seems silly. Tablets are the next logical step; these things simply take time. No one is going to stop consuming news.

Print products are going to disintegrate into niche publications. People will always pay for their Cat Fancy magazine and subscribe to The New Yorker for the art. Literary publications will persist in some capacity, too. But news, specifically general news, will be nearly entirely digitized.

What will happen? The digital product will, in a short period of time (as the market becomes saturated with tablets and prices lower- Microsoft will be swarming it with a line of tablets in October) begin to cannibalize the print product like never before. The subscribers are there.

Last year Rupert Murdoch made headlines by producing the first tablet-only daily. It’s been floundering, reaching only 120,000 of the 500,000 readers it needs to stay afloat. Was it a bad decision? I don’t think so. Murdoch is a gambler, and I think he was a visionary in this respect. Unlike NewsCorp’s acquisition of Myspace, which is dead in the water, most people have yet to buy a tablet device. They’re waiting for devices to come down in price but increase in functionality. Reports from Japan indicate that Apple may be releasing a “mini ipad” in the third quarter to combat devices like Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Barnes and Noble’s Nook Tablet. That would seriously change the game.

Either way, tablets are going to be the main way we consume our news (right besides cellphones and the desktop browser). This has to be embraced, and newsrooms should begin a slow transition over to 100% digital. Lessen the print team little by little, winnowing them down until it’s a thing of the past. It’s inevitable. Embrace it.

As David Bowie might put it: “Turn and face the strain” (Ch-ch-changes).

Written by kolchak

April 17, 2012 at 3:24 pm

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Social Media Rules

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I would tentatively agree with all of the “rules” this piece advises breaking. It seems humorous, though, considering most people break them (and have been breaking them) for a long time.

I don’t know of a single business or personality who doesn’t cross-post updates. The piece argues that cross-posting isn’t worth it if your audience on a particular site pales in comparison to that of another, but what kind of reasoning is that? There will always be someone who has not subscribed to updates from you on both platforms, so it will be worth it regardless.

The next, a rule to not schedule posts, is ludicrous and I can’t imagine any sensible person following it. This is particularly true given the studies examining how people use social networking. Site trafic ebbs and flows at particular points in the day. I know many users who schedule tweets to be sent out during peak times so as to gain the most stars. It just makes sense.

The notion of following everyone back who follows you is a very dated one, and I only see the odd SEO quack subscribe to it. The fact is that having lots of followers but following only a select few will lend you credibility, the maintenance of which should remain a top priority. Following everyone back makes you appear desperate, like the sad and lonely lot of the #teamfollowback hashtag. Now might be a good time to interject that sending an automated “thank you” to new followers is annoying and unnecessary.

The last piece of advice, to repeat yourself, I find somewhat ill-advised. Like the television news viewers, tweeters and facebookers will tire of whatever it is you are trying to push at them.  And though I use Twitter for joke telling, and not news making, I can attest that as a user, I don’t like seeing numerous posts about the same thing- particularly after some major event.

These rules are sensible for the most part, and I think users catch on to them after a brief period of using any social network.

Written by kolchak

April 5, 2012 at 12:01 am

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Troll Patrol

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I should assert foremost that anonymity is crucial for the web to continue as a force of innovation and good in the world. I believe any solution that involves removing anonymity from commenters would stifle discussion, both productive and non. But I do understand why a news web site specifically would want to maintain civility in its comments section.

 The piece in question offered a number of solutions, most of which I find ineffective. A number of them involved making new blog posts out of individual comments. This is the last thing I want to read. It would pit the commenters against each other, vying for the coveted separate post.

The most effective tactic detailed in the article was that of having the journalist stay involved in the discussion. This way, at least there is someone to steer comments in the right direction.

Trolls, despite their best efforts not to, can actually provoke some very deep conversations between people of dissenting opinions. It’s really all about how you handle them.

Lines still do need to be drawn. I support a system that gives users a rank based on how many upvotes or downvotes their posts get. It isn’t a perfect system, but it would serve to give people an indication who is insightful and who is not.

Obviously, bans and moderators can be used as well, but I firmly believe this should be an absolute last resort. These should be relegated mostly to spammers and people who are completely distasteful. But overzealous moderation leads to a decrease in commenting.

The best method remains to just not feed the trolls, because they will always be there. And moderating too aggressively will not help that cause. In many cases, it makes them try even harder, because they’re now out to spite the moderators.

Written by kolchak

March 22, 2012 at 2:29 pm

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Ex-Microsoft employee launches “fixing windows 8” site

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An ex-Microsoft employee who now works for Amazon has launched a web site detailing his problems with the upcoming Windows 8 platform. 

Mashable reports:

“Fixing Windows 8″ says Windows 8 is less than optimal for a mouse-and-keyboard setup. While he thinks that the touchscreen experience is “great,” he says Microsoft’s repeated assertion (seen most recently in a post about how Internet Explorer will work in the new environment) that the interface is every bit as fast and fluid on a traditional non-touchscreen PC is “not entirely true.”

Bibik, the employee, also included a video of his elderly father trying to operate the new interface unsuccessfully. 

I installed Windows 8 on my netbook last year, and immediately felt deep concerns about the metro interface. It’s great for touch screens, but on a desktop it doesn’t work at all. Unlike JoliOS, a cloud-based linux distribution that has successfully brought the flashy “Apple-esque” look to the desktop, Metro just looks cluttered and complicated. 

I ended up altering lines deep within the Windows registry to permanently boot into the regular, non-metro interface. This is something that most people won’t have the patience or knowledge to do. 

That said, I don’t think it’s fair to place an old man in front of ANY operating system and expect them to know their way around a priori. You could certainly get used to Metro after a bit of hands-on experience.

There are valid points to be made about the messiness of Metro on a desktop. I think that Microsoft will make it simpler to switch between metro and its old, familiar interface before finally rolling out Windows 8 for good. 

Written by kolchak

March 15, 2012 at 3:32 pm

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RIM rolls out Playbook 2.0

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Disenchanted Canadian company Research in Motion has seen better days. They have lost their crown as king of the smart phones in North America (sales in China and India are another story), suffered PR problems after infrastructure outages and have had the Playbook, their flagship tablet, completely decimated by competition.

Mashable reports that they have now released a firmware update to that device, saying:

The new version of the OS brings social integration with services such as Facebook and Twitter, speedier operation with the help of real-time multitasking and several new/improved productivity tools including Print to Go and Documents To Go, which lets you view and edit Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files.

The update also brings a native email application, something RIM was heavily chided for leaving out of the original release. Unfortunately, this is mostly a non-news item.

RIM has done too little far too late. Rumors of a Blackberry Playbook firesale continue to circulate, and Best Buy slashed prices a month ago to get rid of their surplus. Nobody wants a playbook. Most people don’t know they exist. This is due to a catastrophic failure on RIM’s behalf.

The Playbook is actually a sleek device. It could have been a serious competitor to the ipad. Could have been, if they had adapted to the times and focused on everyday consumers instead of their staple business demographic. RIM remains focused on catering to executives, and therefore have lost ground in the app developing battle. People don’t develop Blackberry apps because they have made it so difficult (ironically, their biggest strength remains their closed, proprietary network- which has now crippled them in app development).

I believe the 8 inch tablet is the way of the future, as opposed to larger ipad model. RIM’s internal structure has botched everything about their company (the phone end, the tablet end, the development end and the PR end) that there is no way to return, despite the new OS.

I do look forward to the day, though, in which I can pick up a Playbook (once they’re $150), slap android on it, and have a functional tablet without worrying about their service again.

Written by kolchak

February 21, 2012 at 7:42 pm

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