Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

More haste, less speed.

March 25, 2012

Maccman says:

We should treat server-side software the same as client side software, and do incremental updates of our frameworks and languages – never more than one version behind. We should dedicate 20% of our time to upgrading and refactoring. Sure, they’ll be pain involved, but innovation stagnation due to old and tired software is far more detrimental than the short-term pain of upgrading.

Too true. We always stay close to the latest versions of underlying software (Ruby, Rails and a host of other plug-ins on our front-ends; Python, and a bunch of maths and language tools on our back-ends). Never more than one version behind


No fear for WordPress for iPhone 3.0

July 9, 2009

The post I just uploaded has been sitting on my iPhone for the last six months. I spent an hour writing it on a plane thinking that it would be breaking news. Instead a ‘communications error’ meant that that (pretty long) post was lost in limbo for a few months. I could read and edit it locally but just not publish it. Along comes the latest update and suddenly it all works.

Let me say: I love the app. It was until that fatal post one of my most used apps. But from that moment to this the fear of losing a post meant that I never used it once.

I had a similar experience recently with the Dutch national railways site booking a trip to Antwerp. Firstly the site would not allow me to find a trip because it was partly Dutch railways and partly international. Then when I tried to book the international part only, it let me enter my payment information but did not complete the transaction. Is there anything scarier for a user than realising that they have given up all their secrets but that you have not delivered on your side of the bargain?

Fear is one of the top reasons for conversion failure. Going out of your way to remove that fear is a great leap towards increasing conversions.

I still have to go a way before I trust wordpress on the iPhone again but without the fear, I am using it again and it can start again to build my trust.

How you can hack SpyMaster now!

June 7, 2009

I just read absolutely fabulous story on how the new Twitter game SpyMaster was hacked. I discovered this by googling ‘spymaster greasemonkey script’. Then, as my newly installed script started automatically doing tasks to earn my persona money, I started browsing for new approaches. I did not expect to find such riches.

The essence of the story is that our hero did not actually attack SpyMaster servers and take out their security. Instead, he built a few scripts and found out about a couple of bugs in the system. The key bug, which SpyMaster cleverly renamed an ‘exploit’, was that you could send money to different bank accounts including your own, and they money would never leave your account, but simply accumulate. Automating this with a script proved to be the key to great wealth in a few short hours: nothing short of inventing a bank note printing press.

“I earned 73.59 Trillion British Pounds in under 15 minutes. I bought every single safe-house and 100,000 of everything in the black market.”

Our hero, not satisfied with a personal fortune, then went one crucial step further and spread the wealth to thousands of others. In doing so, he covered his tracks.

SpyMaster was not happy to discover that some people had suddenly got not just hundreds or thousands or millions .. or billions .. or trillions in a few weeks of play. In a somewhat draconian move, they arbitrarily and without any warning shut down their accounts, renaming the bug an ‘exploit’. Unfortunately, they shut down thousands of accounts from people who were merely the beneficiaries of the new banking scheme.

Check out a YouTube video on how the bank account bug worked.

ZumoDrive in public beta and on the iPhone and

February 26, 2009

ZumoDrive is not just another cloud storage service a la Dropbox or MobileMe. Rather than using the cloud as a backup of the data on your hard disk, ZumoDrive merges the cloud and your disk to give you a lot more room than you’ve been used to.

For example, you can have 10Gb in the cloud, but only take up a few hundred Mb on your laptop – or now iPhone. Performance is very good so they you barely notice the fact that are not running applications locally. There are some IO intensive apps that I don’t think are suitable.

For instance, this frees you to buy a (solid state) small 60Gb disk on your laptop but have three times that available. ZumoDrive syncs the data it expects you to need intelligently, so that you can survive without a network. However, in this day and age that is quickly becoming less and less necessary.

The iPhone app is cutely named Supersize Me. Its proposal is similar: whether you access a network over wifi, 3G or some 2.5G variant, you get to massively increase your storage space by streaming it from the network. I am writing this 3000 feet in the air on the iPhone WordPress app on the way to Copenhagen and Supersize Me works just fine in flight mode too.

In fact, this is not as revolutionary as it sounds. Plenty of apps do this already but they are limited to a single purpose. For instance, my Last.FM app streams music to my iPhone, just as my beloved Sonos system does to three different sets if speakers spread across my house. There is no difference in performance between me listening at home to Coldplay streaming from my local NAS or streaming from a Last.FM server somewhere in the cloud. What is cute about ZumoDrive is that it works with files for any app: music, photos, spreadsheets, presentations, word processing documents – you name it.

ZumoDrive was only available with an invite code until today when their public beta started. At the same time, the app is available on the iTunes app store for free — before it goes up to $5.

Pricing plans have also just gone down from where they were in the private beta. You can get 25Gb for $7 a month, 10Gb for $3 and 1Gb for free. I think this is not at all bad, and Zumo is going to get a lot of users in a pretty short time. This has got to be a default choice subscription for MacBook Air owners.

Google Latitude puts you on the map

February 4, 2009

Google Latitude allows you to see you and your friends on Google maps on a phone or on a computer. Friends can be found by browsing Gmail contacts and introduced via SMS on a phone, or just used directly with some common Google services, like iGoogle on a regular computer. It’s currently ‘available soon for iPhone and Android’ — i.e. I can’t test it yet. For those of you that have, let me know your experiences.

You get good control over with regards to your location privacy — just like on an IM service, you can choose to be invisible.

This is now going to give social networks like Loopt and Gypsii a run for their money by commoditising one of their unique selling points.

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Bebo = SPAM

January 10, 2009

i just got a connect request for Bebo from an old friend. I connected and added two or three other friends who were already on Bebo. Half an hour later a flood of emails started coming back from the bounces from the 20% of my Gmail address book that was out-of-office. Ow. Bebo just spammed my entire Gmail address book.

I sent them this complaint
“Bebo just mailed everyone in my Gmail address book. Please re-email and let all my friends, acquaintances and people I’ve only spoken to once in my life know that the mail was sent by mistake and was a clear abuse of your privacy policy. Given the flood of emails I’ve been getting, I reckon you’ve been doing this with a good number of other users too. Maybe it’s worth making a Press Release – or at a minimum an apology on your blog – explaining exactly what went on?


If YOU got a friend request from me, you know I do want to connect with YOU. it’s just the other guys that I was trying to avoid… The upside of all of this is that now everyone I know or vaguely remember from one time or another is now on Bebo. The downside is that no-one will ever trust the platform.

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How to make sure viral is not cancerous

January 3, 2009

Kevin Marks has some interesting ideas on how to make sure viral apps really do reproduce. He extends the biology metaphor by breaking out different patterns of reproduction. Some patterns require very little nurture but a lot of distribution called an ‘r-strategy’ (which I call spam). Others go further along the scale to nuture passionate users — called a ‘K-strategy’. Kevin adds a few other examples.

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Genes of collective learning

December 16, 2008

Tom Malone has a great presentation on the common ‘gene’s — or replicable patterns — on groups of individuals doing things collectively that seem intelligent. He tries (and does pretty well) to answer the question “How can people and computers be connected so that collectively they act more intelligently than any person, group or computer has done before?”. He then maps out a set of design patterns for

  • the what, who, why and how to do this,
  • howing some well known and less known examples,
  • the limitations
  • typical clusterings
  • as well as for which problems these are useful to solve.

He prioritises genes with the ‘Why’ patterns first: “Failure to get motivational factors right is probably the single greatest cause of failure in collective intelligence experiments”.

All your base belong to SaaS

December 8, 2008

I love dropbox and I actually think Google Docs is not ‘alf bad either. But both terms of service are pretty scary.

Dropbox scalls itself “Secure backup sync, and sharing”. However, buried deep in the T&Cs, it also says Business Transfers. Dropbox may sell, transfer or otherwise share some or all of its assets, including your Personal Information, in connection with a merger, acquisition, reorganization or sale of assets or in the event of bankruptcy”

Google Docs terms states “… you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, adapt, modify, publish and distribute such Content on Google services for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting Google services…”

Pretty onerous!

Crowdsourced decision making for the chronically — err — indecisive

December 8, 2008

Stuck on a completely trivial decision? Not sure which path to take?
You need some automated decision-taking love in the form of I Can’t Decide . Fully crowd-powered — or maybe just slightly random to get the first decisions bootstrapped — it works as follows. Type in your A/B question and for the price of answering five other boolean bamboozlers the community will answer yours.