Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Is anyone else nervous about Google?

It's been a little while since I last posted to this blog. I am now maintaining our OpenUp! blog at work, plus I have been distracted on another blog-ish project I'm doing with my brother, Anyway, so I login here only to find that now everyone needs to have a Gmail account to use the new Blogger. If that were an isolated occurence I would be a happy camper. But Google has been snapping up smaller web 2.0 companies like... um... well... a lot. Here's an interesting timeline of Google's acquisitions (viewable in anything but Internet Exploder). I guess I should be excited about the shiny, new, AJAX-y feel of the new Blogger site, but right now I feel like there is less and less elbow room on the World Wide Web. Google keeps hogging it up. All of a sudden Google feels like Wal-Mart.

Don't get me wrong. I really enjoy using Gmail and many other Google products, but lately I've been getting a little nervous about where Google is headed. Let me explain why. Fast forward five years. As you run your weekend errands, talking on your cell phone, Google is tracking you. (Currently Google requires a cell phone number to activate a Gmail account. Ever wonder why?) Your cell phone position can be determined with reasonable accuracy by triangulating three or more cell phone towers. (Cell phone tracking is already a service in some countries.) Maybe you don't care if Google tracks where you happen to be on a Saturday morning, but maybe you should. Remember, Google also knows where all the stores are thanks to Google Maps. So now Google knows where you shop and where you spend your time. Google knows if you go to church on Sunday or if you prefer to play golf. And you'd better believe all this information is very valuable to advertisers.

But I signed up for Gmail before they were collecting cell numbers, so I am safe. Or at least I thought I was until I did a quick search of my Gmail and realized that I have included my cell phone number in ten different emails. But at least they don't have my credit card information. Well, they didn't until last week, when my wife signed us up for Google Checkout and used it to save $10 on a purchase.

Let's review: Google either knows or soon will know where I live, where I work, where I shop, how I spend my time, and anything I happen to write in Gmail. It's all tied to my email address and it's all very trackable. So where do we draw the line when it comes to privacy? Or is everything fair game when it comes to marketing? And what happens when the subpoenas arrive at Google's front door? Yes, Big Brother is watching (or will be soon). It's just not the Big Brother you expected.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Bookmooch: Web 2.0 in paperback

Every once in a while, the Internet makes a great idea possible. This is the case with Bookmooch and sharing used books.

What is Bookmooch?
This article from explains the basics: "Bookmooch is an online community for exchanging used books. If you join as a member, you can ask someone in the community to send you a second-hand book. In exchange, when someone asks you for a used book of yours, you send it to him or her." Memberships are free, and all you have to do is post the titles of 10 of your "available" books to get started. You get one point for every book you share, and it "costs" a point to request a book from someone. All you pay is the shipping for the books you request. And you can leave feedback, similar to eBay, so every "bookmoocher" develops a reputation that can be tracked.

Getting authors involved
"Bookmooch is now planning to introduce another feature to invite authors to jump into the value-chain of the ’sharing’ community. The trick is to reward authors when their book is traded, that is ’shared’." Here's how it works: "[A] credit is given to an author each time his or her book is traded. The more the author’s books are passed along, the more credits the author gets. A ‘credit’ means free books in Bookmooch so that new feature might be translated as ‘authors get free books for life’. John added that he would like to work on ways to be able to help independent authors."

Off to a great start
"After only 7 weeks after the site launch, there have been 20 000 books exchanged, 100 000 different books are available in the site, and 10 000 people have joined from 67 different countries. The site is translated into 5 different languages, with a soon to be added Japanese version. From statistics John noticed that when people share 10 books for free, they then seem buy a new book [from the site's links]. Who knows this might be a magic number to link ’sharing’ and ‘purchasing’?"

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Depressed about democracy

In the US, representative democracy just means that the more money you have, the more your special interest get represented. Is there still room for regular people to have a say?

UPDATE: I understand that voting is important. But the problem goes beyond people not voting. At what point do we realize that the 2-party system is broken. This post by a friend pretty much sums it up.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Here we go again...

It's time to put at little oil into the ol' blogging machine, pull the cord a few times, and hope she starts up again. I've gotten so rusty at this I really don't have anything to say. We released eduCommons 2.1.0 at work, and since then my brain has pretty much been fried. [insert witty closing comment here] G'night.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Putting the "Pay" in PayPal

Have you ever stopped and wondered about how PayPal makes their money? Let's review: With PayPal Personal you can send and receive money electronically to and from other PayPal accounts for free. You can also transfer money to and from your regular bank account at no charge. Sign me up! The other account type is PayPal Premier. With this this type of account PayPal charges a fee, $0.30 plus 2.9% of each and every dollar received. So why would anyone sign up for a PayPal Premier account when they can have a PayPal Personal account which can send and receive funds for free? This is where they have done something clever. It's actually kind of boring, really, which is why few people have noticed the fact that since buying PayPal, eBay has nearly doubled it's revenue for each auction that uses PayPal.

Here's an example scenario: Joe Blow puts his old laptop up for auction on eBay. The high bid is $450, which costs Joe around $18 in eBay fees. But Joe has taken eBay's advice and listed his laptop auction as PayPal preferred. So when the high bidder pays for the item, she of course transfers money through PayPal. Well, because PayPal encourages its users to pay through PayPal using a credit card, that is what most people do. (That is the dafault funding source, if you've noticed. You even get a warning if you try to change it to a bank transfer.)

Well, guess what? You have to pay a fee to receive credit card transfers through PayPal. Actually, if it was just a question of paying a fee for that one transaction I could live with that. No such luck. You can't receive credit card funds at all unless you "upgrade" your free, PayPal Personal account to a Premier account. And once you switch to Premier you have to pay that same fee ($0.30 + 2.9%) for ANY type of transfer into your PayPal account. Oh, and by the way, you can't go back to the free PayPal Personal account.

I told you it was boring. Billions of dollars worth of boring. And the only people who seem to notice are the eBay sellers who are forced into PayPal Premier. Someone in their marketing department deserves a big raise for putting the "pay" in PayPal.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Why I like my job...

I work as a quality assurance analyst for the Center for Open and Sustainable Learning (COSL) and as an instructional designer for the Faculty Assistance Center for Teaching (FACT). In the afternoons I am at COSL, and I test software that is used to publish university courses online for all to see and use. Being part of the OpenCourseWare movement and getting paid to do it is a pretty sweet deal by itself, but last week something happened that was cool enough to make me want to stop and blog about why I like my job.

One of the features in our eduCommons software is the ability to track whether or not course content has been cleared for copyright. It’s just a check box that you can click as you create course content. The only problem is until last week there was no easy way to view this for all your content at once. You had to click on each item to check copyright. So on Thursday I suggested displaying a copyright symbol or a check mark next to each item when viewing the contents of a course. And Friday morning Brent shows me the new version of eduCommons with the copyright symbol idea implemented. He had also added an “M” flag as well to show which course content items had metadata entered. This is the kind of software development you don’t see every day. A suggestion for the QA guy gets implemented in less than 24 hours. Sweet.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Video iPods and Blockbuster

iPod video rentals at Blockbuster? It's not as crazy as it sounds. As Bob Cringley explains his idea in a recent PBS article, Blockbuster's chain of neighborhood video stores is just what Apple needs to reach millions of new customers who don't have high-speed Internet (or iPods, for that matter). Since they can't rent movies online, these folks will show up at their local Blockbuster, dock their shiny new video iPods, select their movies, and swipe their credit card. Then they can take their rentals home, plug into a TV, and enjoy them for a week or 5 days or until they expire. No returns. No late fees. Beautiful. And Apple gets to push it's music and video distribution empire beyond the limits of the high-speed Internet world. Don't forget that Blockbuster is taking a pounding from NetFlix. They need a new business model to survive. They'll do it. And we'll all go home, happily ever after...