CategoryInternet

Leaving Facebook

I deactivated my account on Facebook on New Years’ Eve [1]. There was no specific reason or motive for doing so. I’ve been living without the Facebook app on my phone for more than 6 months now [2] and have not missed it much. I used to access Facebook via the browser on the phone and laptop using the web view interface. It works just as well if not better in case you’re wondering.

So why did I quit a social networking site that I’ve been using for the last 12 years [3]? Continue reading

Footnotes:
  1. Why wait for the new year to begin your resolution, right? []
  2. Admittedly, after hearing about Facebook’s attempts at tracking our location even when we’re not using the app []
  3. Yes, I opened my account back in 2005 when Facebook was open to only college students in select universities. I used to enter the classes I was enrolled in to find my classmates to add as friends. I still had some of them as friends []

Disconnecting

Whenever I’m done browsing Twitter, I always end up more angry and frustrated than when I opened it. I usually check Twitter first thing in the morning and sometimes only at the end of the work day to catch up on the news and am horrified at what has transpired in the past 8 hours. This doesn’t include the various notifications and alerts you get. Regardless of whatever good is happening in your life, you end up despondent. I want to break out of this cycle.

The drastic step is to delete your Twitter account. However, we do rely on Twitter for news. I first heard about Osama Bin Laden’s death on Twitter [1]. So what’s the tradeoff here? Is ignorance really bliss? I have always been the person who’s interested in keeping up-to-date on current affairs. I pride myself on knowing what’s going on at all levels of the world I exist in. But we often hear about news that often don’t pan out and we just end up freaking out early and often.

@sqrlta recommended not reading Twitter first thing in the morning and instead reading Washington Post. I agree. That would make a profound difference and it has. If we read news, we rather read it in depth instead of bite-sized takes by random people. But I decided to try something more. I tried the following steps:

  • Disable all types of notifications including mentions from all Twitter accounts on all devices. Yes, they can wait. Respond only if I’ve the app open at the time I get a mention.
  • Disable notifications from news apps. No news is breaking unless it’s happening in my immediate vicinity [2]. I can read about it later when the rumors have died down.
  • Delete NYT apps and evangelize unsubscribing it among those who will listen. If you’ve been following me for a while, you know why.
  • Mute prolific political accounts for a week and see if I miss anything[3].
  • (Eventually) create or subscribe to lists for political accounts and unfollow them from main timeline. Dip into those lists during major events that you hear about from elsewhere like the Alabama special election.
  • Engage more on my professional Twitter account especially given my new role and responsibilities at work.
  • Stay busy at work and home or read more long-form articles and books.
  • And yes, blog here more often. About anything. Even if no one reads it. Especially so.

I’ve done this for 3 days and my life already feels better. Anything you would add?

I have been already living without the Facebook app for the past couple of months. I haven’t missed much and don’t think people have missed me either. I’ve posted maybe couple of times in this time and mostly let A post and tag me. I access it once a day at the most using the web view. Listen to this Hidden Brain episode and you’ll see how even the oh-so-sacchirine Facebook can be toxic.

Footnotes:
  1. Turns out I wouldn’t have missed it if I wasn’t on Twitter []
  2. We get text alerts from UT in that case. It’s not like I am going to stop a terrorist attack as it’s happening. I’m no Jack Bauer []
  3. I already follow fewer than 70 people on my main Twitter account yet feel overwhelmed. Not sure how those who follow hundreds cope []

No Free Basics Lunch

India’s telecommunications regulatory authority, TRAI finally signaled to Mark Zuckerberg that his Free Basics venture was not going to be allowed in India. He spent countless hours lobbying for it including hosting journalists at the Facebook HQ after flying them business class. In his head, “Instead of wanting to give people access to some basic internet services for free, critics of the program continue to spread false claims — even if that means leaving behind a billion people…Who could possibly be against this?” [source].

Now I haven’t delved much into the issue as much as I’ve liked to but I see the opposition’s ‘net neutrality’ viewpoint. It’s also been under attack in the U.S. and cellphone carriers are constantly trying to get around it. It’s based on the simple premise that all data should be treated and priced equally. That’s the only way you can prevent a single entity establishing a monopoly in the market. Essentially, that’s what Facebook was trying to do regardless of Zuckerberg’s claims of humanitarianism. And then there is this type of naïveté that’s essentially right out of the GOP playbook if it was done in the U.S.

Pitching the issue as ‘us’ versus ‘them’ without being mindful of the long-term consequences. No one has yet answered the question that why does a country like India need Facebook to provide ‘free’ Internet access to its poor. And if it is indeed free, why only ‘basics’? Who has decided that the poor will and should only use the Internet for its ‘basics’? I’ve no problem with the ‘free’ part but rather the ‘basics’ part. Facebook’s hold on the world is so strong that he could effectively give free Internet access and people would simply use it only for Facebook, which is fine. Let people use the Internet for whatever they deem necessary. Maybe they’ll see only pron for the first few weeks. That’s ok. Eventually, they’ll discover the other 10% of the web [1]. If infrastructure for the Internet is expensive, well, we should then invest in it or give people the basic bandwidth for free and charge for more use. There were countless ways they could’ve made it work without violating net neutrality. But they chose not to. Therein lies the intention or motive for their actions.

So I would interpret that tweet the same way as the author intended and ask the same question – People who have unlimited access to the Internet have successfully decided (in their head) that people who don’t have it need only the basics. Eat your own dogfood and then we’ll talk.

Footnotes:
  1. That’s a joke, BTW []

Beware of Phishing Attacks

The majority of the time your online accounts get ‘hacked’, it is because of social engineering more than technical vulnerabilities. This is applicable for normal folks like us and obviously high-value targets face the full ‘brute force’ of the technical attacks. Social engineering hacks or ‘phishing’ makes you believe that the communication mostly via email is from a person you know and trust and it makes you click a link in the email that will further ask for your login details. Once you enter those in, bam! They’re in.

Yesterday, I got an unusual email from my dad [1]:

Phishing Attack

Fortunately, it rang plenty of alarm bells when I opened the email. First, the tone of the email was casual and if you know my dad, his emails even with his sons are extremely formal. Even the ones he sends as personal emails start and end very officiously.

Second, it asked me to click on an allegedly Google Docs link. My dad (and his assistant) are barely able to use email let alone Google Docs. Sometimes I wish they were more technically savvy but in spite of trying several times, I haven’t been able to teach him. In fact, his email is operated entirely by his assistant and we communicate with him via his assistant (we call her Maushi so it’s not that formal of an arrangement). He dictates his email to her and she types it out and sends it to us. Third, if it was some kind of official work, he would call me and tell me about it several times within the span of that call. This email was way too short to be anything from him. Finally, if you hover over the link in the email, it doesn’t point to Google Docs and also, the To: field in the email was blank indicating the use of BCC: My brother confirmed that he too got the same email and so did another family friend.

Anyway, my suspicions were confirmed when I directly called his assistant and told her to change their email password. Obviously, she hadn’t sent the email. But I learnt something more scary. Couple of weeks ago, my dad had received a similar email (except it asked for money to be wired) purportedly from my brother. But instead of calling him first, they exchanged a few emails with the spammer and only when it got a little too suspicious[2], did they call my brother. However, the spammer correctly targeted my dad’s fondness for wanting to send money even when we explicitly always tell him that we don’t want any. Luckily, he did not send any money but I’m sure he must’ve clicked some link in the email that may have given them access to his address book. It must be similar to the script that lets Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn to import your address book.

This post is just meant to warn you to not trust any email containing links from your personal contacts especially if it sounds a little suspicious. Always call or Whatsapp them to first confirm whether it really came from them. The few minutes (or hours) you wait for their reply may end up saving you a lot of trouble.

Footnotes:
  1. the screenshot is from my Spam folder where the message now resides []
  2. they wanted to money to be sent within India whereas my brother is currently in Canada []

Why did Twitter introduce the Mute feature

Today we’re beginning to introduce a new account feature called mute to people who use our iPhone and Android apps and twitter.com. Mute gives you even more control over the content you see on Twitter by letting you remove a user’s content from key parts of your Twitter experience.

Source: Twitter Blogs.

Twitter announced a feature that I though they would never announce – the mute feature. This will let you ‘mute’ the tweets of the people you follow. But why not simply unfollow them if you don’t want to see their tweets? Well, the important distinction between unfollow and mute is that they won’t know you’ve muted them. Therein lies the capitulation of Twitter for user perception over their business model. How?

If you look at it, muting is in fact, bad for Twitter. It messes up the most important number people use to measure their worth on Twitter – follower count. Higher the follower count, larger is the perceived influence. But muting changes that since now you may have a thousand followers but will not be aware that maybe 100 of them are muting you. Why wouldn’t they just unfollow you? Well, because now following and unfollowing on Twitter goes beyond just simple actions you take online. It defines online etiquette. Unfollowing people often pisses them off and they often reciprocate by unfollowing you although they would’ve never done so if you hadn’t. It’s like breaking up your friendship. It somehow turned into a mutual exchange while we weren’t looking. This causes people to not unfollow certain people in spite of them having lost interest in their tweets, mostly to avoid drama.

Facebook already lets you ‘unfollow’ people so their updates don’t appear on your newsfeed without unfriending them so I guess Twitter had no choice but to follow that lead. If you’re old enough to remember, you didn’t have a clue if someone read your blog unless they said so publicly, linked to it, or commented on it. Twitter was actually the anomaly in that regard. Better than a chat client where people know if you are online or not, Twitter still let people know that other people are interested in what they’ve to say. That leads them to tweeting ‘for them’ instead of tweeting about what they find interesting but that’s a separate topic.

How is muting bad for Twitter’s business model? Well, because brands and other people who earn off touting their follower count now will not be sure if their tweets are reaching all the people that claim to follow them. This will lead to more reliance on retweets or maybe as Twitter hopes, Promoted Tweets. So in fact, by giving people more flexibility, it is forcing brands to find more intrusive ways to people’s attention and making money off it. If that’s the logic, it’s brilliant.

What I would really like is for Twitter to also give me a count of how many people are muting me while not necessarily telling me who. By me, I mean, generally I have given up caring about who follows me and if I have any ‘influence’ on the cliques I’m supposed to belong. I had a taste of them while blogging and nothing much came off it. I’m content with how many I’m following and how many are following me. I use a public profile only because I can tweet at people who aren’t following me; mostly brands I like to complain and praise. If Twitter let me do that while being private, I would happily lock my account.

How to use #TWSS or #TWHS

Few weeks ago, Fluffy or as most of us originally know him, Curious Gawker corrected me on my usage of the #humblebrag tag on Twitter. Considering I am either humble or extremely pretentious on Twitter, he definitely caught me trying to tread the middle ground. I like to pretend I’m cool like the kids so a lesson here and there helps. That and also, I hate seeing terms or the craze of our generation, the hashtags, being misused. That brings me to how people use or rather misuse the #TWSS or #TWHS, which stands for ‘That’s What She Said’ and ‘Thats What He Said’. The former is the original and the latter was invented by women who wanted to be as crass as most guys.

Instead of attempting to explain what the term means, let me simply defer to that all-knowing source on the Internet that is called Urban Dictionary [1]. It defines TWSS as:

A phrase used to turn a simple comment into a sexual joke
simple.

E.g. “This Math exam. Man, it’s so hard!” .. “that’s what she said”

More complex: “every time I pull it out I almost break my back” .. “that’s what she said”

Basically, the idea is to insert sexual innuendo when people are least expecting it thereby introducing awkwardness or disgust in the people who said it. It also usually has the added benefit of showing you in a good light sexually unless your brand of humor is be self-deprecating. Also, the joke is funnier if the sexual pun is not evident or obvious.

However, the way I have seen people use it on Twitter is to use TWSS if a woman says the original sentence or TWHS if a man says the original sentence. Such usage simply makes me #facepalm (look, another hashtag; more on that next time). If a guy ends up using TWHS or if a woman uses TWSS, then it automatically implies that they are gay which I know for a fact for some people that they are not. So unless they’re being sexually self-deprecating to a great extent or are simply clueless, don’t use the hashtags this way please. I’ve DM-ed (not a sexual act but simply means direct-messaged someone on Twitter) some people I know well [2] and asked them if that’s what they meant. Almost always their reaction is that they didn’t know that’s how you use TWSS or TWHS. Just because a guy said it doesn’t qualify it for TWHS and vice versa for a woman.

I hope that cleared up lots of misconceptions. Next Twitter lesson: TBD.

Footnotes:
  1. Don’t be addicted to this site. There is a perverse meaning to everything innocent you say []
  2. see, @c_gawker, I don’t shame people publicly. Hrmph! []

Quid Pro Quo in Social Media

In the case of junkets, however, ask yourself what is the company getting in exchange for thousands of dollars? In the slimier cases, there’s an explicit quid pro quo. But the ambiguous cases are almost worse. The company is pretending they don’t want anything in return…so why are they sending you there? They are counting on implicit social pressure to write something and make it favorable. That gives them good press and the plausible deniability that they paid for it.

Source: PandoDaily.

While VC-backed PandoDaily might not be the best source for this advice, it still rings true. Lately in the Indian social media circles, brands have realized the potential of popular bloggers or more specifically people on Twitter with a large number of followers. Even back in the day when I ran DesiPundit, I used get at least one email a day from people touting their products (more often than not, crappy products). In fact, even thought DesiPundit is hardly popular now, I still get such emails on a weekly basis [1]. I used to recommend buying one of our (rarely-bought) advertisement slots on the sidebar (in the old avatar) but never heard from them again. Even then, most brands knew that having a display graphic block advertising their product hardly held any value compared to someone who heartily recommended it within the content of the blog. One guy even took it to an extreme by openly selling personal book reviews.

Brands since have gotten more sophisticated with luring bloggers and as in the case cited above, offer to fly people to their product launches and tempt them with free ‘review’ products. In India, there is an increasing tendency of organizing tweetups and blogger meets that are sponsored by brands in hope that the people gathered there will mention the association. Brands have become much smarter too. Sometimes they will explicitly tell the bloggers/Twitterers they send on a junket that they don’t have to mention their brand. This, in my opinion, is even worse. Because now the onus is on the person accepting the favor and in reality, people don’t heed that advice. Either because they feel obligated to mention at least something they are genuinely enjoying, or want to brag about it to their followers, or simply because they know they will not get such offers in the future if they really do heed that advice.

Also, who doesn’t enjoy an ego massage at being told that, we want you to have this free stuff for having so many followers. Everyone likes being valued and Twitter gives you a tangible number of your worth online, just like daily pageviews or number of RSS feed subscribers did in the past. Although secretly I think most people value some followers more than others so are wary of pissing them off. As in other aspects of life, if you lose respect among your peers, no matter how many brands beg you to pimp their products, a self-respecting person will not be happy. That, my friends, is a saving grace among crass promotion that we see around us.

Ultimately it boils down to what your motives are for being on Twitter or for blogging. If you are in it for personal brand-building or earning a livelihood off social media, it is a perfect fit. I have quite a few friends who do their fair share of social media promotion. The ones who are self-employed, are students, or are working in advertising, are more likely to do so. Even among them, there are a few who have steadfastly stayed away from succumbing to brands’ pressure and even among those that have, I trust a handful to not get carried away (if they overdo it, I’ll bid farewell to them). The rest, I unfollow or simply mute their hashtags (if they are kind enough to tweet with one).

No matter how noble their intentions are, their promotion-related tweets/blogs take down my opinion of them a notch. While I understand the validity of pursuing their self- and monetary interest, that’s not why I’m on Twitter or blogs. It is one thing with Twitter inserting sponsored tweets in my timeline but a whole different thing when people I follow for their interesting tweets choose to consider me as a mere number to earn a quick buck. Twitter at least gave me a platform to share and read interesting content. If you are making me think about any hidden motive you may have behind your tweets then clearly I don’t trust or value your thoughts anymore.

Footnotes:
  1. I got an email just as I was writing this post []

Twitter API changes – will we continue to use Twitter?

Yesterday Twitter announced the much-dreaded update to its API. To perhaps, 99% of the people on Twitter, this didn’t even register, especially if it didn’t trend, and especially so, if it didn’t involve levying a charge to use Twitter. However, the geek world [1] was up in arms since it severely limited which and how third-party applications could use Twitter.

Unlike email or any open-web protocol, tweets are a proprietary medium and Twitter still is a private company funded by investors in spite of the ubiquity of tweets so no one is claiming that the changes are not permissible. Unfair, unethical, and uncalled for maybe but definitely it is within Twitter’s rights and realm of possibilities to have implemented them. In fact, such changes have been expected for a long time given how long Twitter has existed as a free service and utilized by several applications and third-party services to generate revenue when Twitter itself hasn’t figured out how to. The party was going to end sooner than later as Twitter’s investors were desperate to get a return on their investment. Twitter basically had two options — charge users for the service or cozy up to advertisers and ‘sell’ their users to promote products. No web company has started out free and gone with the first option. There are a few that offer limited service for free and charge for the full buffet of features like Flickr, etc. But Twitter’s largely casual users will instantly quit even if they charge a single dollar and no advertiser wants fewer eyeballs. So Twitter went with the latter option i.e. of creating a unified experience across all the mediums you use to access Twitter and block or limit those third-party services/apps that don’t offer that experience.

Continue reading

Footnotes:
  1. I’m not using this term in a derogatory manner. If you have an alternate word to describe the demographic, let me know []

The Missing Likes on your Instagram photos

Update: This seems to have been quietly fixed on Facebook now.

There are two ways you can ‘like’ a photo on Facebook when shared with Instagram. One is when you click the photo to enlarge it and click on ‘like’ and the second is when you just click ‘like’ in your News Feed without enlarging the photo. Strange, right? Especially since both ‘likes’ are for the same photo.

Instagram lets you connect to Facebook and share your photos on your Timeline the same time you publish it on Instagram. You can also go back to a photo in your Instgram and click Share on Facebook and enter a different caption than the one you used on your original image within Instagram. These two methods worked seamlessly before but nowadays are at best unreliable. You choose to share on Facebook and for hours nothing shows up on Facebook so you go back to Instagram and explicitly share again and now two copies show up. At other times, the first method works as advertised.

Back to the original problem of two sets of ‘likes’ on the same photo. Facebook changed the way Instagram photos showed up on the News Feed. Earlier it just showed up as a photo upload and marked it as Via Instagram just like it would if you uploaded it using iPhoto or Lightroom on your desktop. Now it classifies Instagram as an app and says, ‘XYZ took a photo with Instagram’ with XYZ, photo, and Instagram all hyperlinked. So if you like this ‘activity,’ you end up liking only this activity that has one photo, akin to liking an album versus liking a photo in that album. Only if you click the photo, you end up liking the actual photo. People in a hurry end up liking the Instagram activity involving just one photo whereas others like the photo. But strangely, those two types of ‘likes’ never meet.

Why would Facebook make this so confusing? If only they bought Instagram and made photos uploaded via the app, part of Facebook…oh wait!

New Symbols for Content Aggregation Online

The Curator’s Code will use a symbol resembling a sideways S to express that a piece of content came directly from another source, and a different figure — a curved arrow-like symbol — to signal what is commonly known as a “hat tip,” or nod to a source that inspired a further thought. The Curator’s Code supplies the appropriate symbol and then the blogger or writer simply puts in a hyperlink behind it as they normally would.

Via NYTimes.com.

Content aggregation gets a bad name these days due to a few overzealous sites like the Huffington Post [1]. But done right, it is the basis of the Internet. Content has always been shared and linked. Most of us do it the right way. I try to always excerpt a short paragraph (less than 50 words) that makes the reader click through to the original source. I think my experience with DesiPundit helps me do it the right way most of the time. So any code for conduct is a good thing. It is important to codify the etiquette for people who don’t have bad intentions.

I’ll take this opportunity to plug my links blog — Favorites – again. Thanks to requests by couple of readers, I managed to figure out a way to point the post titles directly to the original link source, like it is done on Daring Fireball. Unfortunately due to my limited PHP knowledge, this link behavior is feed-only but considering that’s how most of the readers — all half dozen of them — access the feed, I think it is the best solution. The blog thus clearly has no pageviews motivations, like most content aggregators too. Feed subscription is not only preferred but also strongly encouraged. If you have moved away from feed readers then I also mirror all links I post to this Twitter account; that’s the only content on that Twitter account.

Update: Marco’s post made me change my syntax a little. I shall now use ‘source’ instead of ‘via’ to point to the original link source. Also, he makes several excellent points on the etiquette of linking and attribution. I tend to be generally generous in attribution but to each his own. If I have missed attributing someone, it is probably coz I’ve forgotten where I first read it. This happens especially with viral links.

Footnotes:
  1. I stopped reading HuffPo more than a year ago and thanks to the branded URL shorteners, I don’t even accidentally click on a HuffPo link via Twitter or Facebook []

The problem with Flickr

The Home view is also quite un-interesting. Some recent activity is displayed, as well as a few recent photos from your Contacts, but it’s just not done in beautiful way. And these are photos we’re talking about! What’s with the miniature thumbnails?

[via Flickr’s upcoming makeover]

After Vimeo’s impressive UI update, I cribbed about Flickr’s lack of updates so I was glad to hear about the upcoming changes. But apart from making changes to the single photo page, I don’t see any major overhaul in the way the site is designed. I hope I’m wrong and BetaBeat didn’t report on the entire list of changes. But as Ryan points out, Flickr, especially after being bought by Yahoo, has lagged. I still consider it a superior photo hosting site compared to its competition. It still offers plenty of options in terms of customization and privacy; the recent geofences privacy was especially brilliant.

But the way I use it now is more of a photo storage in the cloud with almost no interaction with the community that it was known for when Flickr launched. I receive almost no comments or favorites on the few public photos I upload but then I don’t comment or favorite others’ photo as well. Flickr Home is a total disaster; cluttered, filled with unused features, and worst of all, scant focus on the photos. Almost all social networking sites have or at least are working on presenting the recent activity in more pleasing terms. Facebook’s News Feed updates constantly and hence fosters more interaction. Flickr’s idea of recent activity is showing recent photos from your contacts in the smallest thumbnail size possible at the bottom of the Home Page. If one of your contact has uploaded several photos at once, like most of us do, then all you see is that person’s photos. Why isn’t the much vaunted ‘Interestingness’ photos promoted on the home page? Where are the photos that inspire you to shoot better photos, like the way 500px does?

O HAI! by Pratik M (Pratik) on 500px.com

On the other hand, 500px is an excellent site if you want to get inspired (or intimidated) by people’s photography skills. But more importantly, their UI is excellent and so is their iPad app. I nearly purchased their ‘Awesome'(pro) account until I realized 500px doesn’t allow private photos (to be fair, they want you to only upload photos that you want to share with everyone else). Checking out the Popular and Editor’s Picks on 500px is something I do every night before I sleep. It helps to end the day looking at wonderful art disguised as photographs.

Flickr doesn’t even have an iPad app; I hope they do especially after the retina display iPad 3 launches. But they’ve already lost the market to apps like Flickring and Flickr Studio that tap into their public API. Talk about a lost opportunity.

PS. I hop over to 500px site to get their URL and am surprised by an overhaul of their UI to make it even more impressive (just look at the size of the thumbn…err…photo previews). Flickr indeed has a steep hill to climb.

Megaupload shut down

One of the largest file-hosting site, Megaupload was abruptly shut down by U.S. officials. Technically, it was not a ‘sharing’ site or as we have come to understand ‘sharing’ over the Internet since a minority uploaded files for the majority to download. The site charged users a fee to upload large files anonymously although I’m not sure how anonymous can you be if you are using a payment gateway.

Admittedly, most of the content was pirated movies, music, etc. but I’m sure Megaupload can argue that they just allow for hosting large files and do not monitor what content users choose to upload. Like the DMCA states, the copyright holders are free to file a claim and ask their content to be removed, like it is done with YouTube. But until the lawyers and judges get to parse this difference, the site will be down and is probably gone forever. But like previous attempts, the pirated content will simply move elsewhere. There are already several sites that offer services similar to Megaupload and the U.S. will have to continue playing whack-a-mole.

Instead, if the entertainment industry simply focused on enhancing convenient legal ways to obtain content and price it right, people would be more sympathetic. We recently ditched cable and subscribed to Hulu Plus in addition to Netflix and potentially subscribing to season passes on iTunes. Yesterday, we sat down to watch ‘White Collar’ on Hulu Plus and opened the app on my iPad to mirror it on the TV (since the app doesn’t offer AirPlay, go figure). However, we got a message that the episode was available on the web only so if both of us wanted to see it we had to either hunch in front of the 15″ computer screen or hook up my laptop to the TV, both inconvenient solutions. Other shows, like the Daily Show, however were available to view on the iPad. Also, we later realized that the episode was available on iTunes…for free! WTF. No wonder people turn to illegal solutions because the legal ones are so convoluted and inconsistent.

As Steve Jobs would say, focus on providing the consumers with a seamless, enhanced, and beautiful experience and they’ll be willing to fork out their hard-earned money for your products. And yes, stop making movies like ‘Jack and Jill’.

Cutting the Cord

We cancelled our cable service this week. We don’t have a hipster-esque reason for belonging to the Cord Cutter Club but simply because it was getting too expensive for something we rarely used. Rather, it was not cost-effective. We are not those that eschew television watching; in fact we do watch quite a bit albeit a lot less after Ruan was born. It is just that our TV watching habits have changed. We rarely watch anything live anymore except perhaps for college football games, the occasional NFL game, or an award show here and there. We used our DVR a lot and almost always watched the TV shows a day or two after they had aired. We had moved on to delayed gratification which was working out just fine for our lifestyle. No more centering our life around television schedules. In fact, we watched the last season of ‘Chuck’ months after it had aired before eventually giving it up even though it is in its last season.

Cable television by the nature of its business bundles several channels we never end up watching. If we could choose our channels al a carte, perhaps we could talk. In the current model, it simply is not cost effective especially when you are not only paying for the basic cable package but also to rent the DVR and other hajjar associated license and regulatory fees. Our cable bill even without any premium channels easily touched $100 a month especially after Comcast snuck in a stealth monthly charge on deferred equipment rental costs. The new year gave us an opportunity to reexamine our priorities, changed preferences and usage patterns.

Legal streaming options provided by content providers and other associated services like Hulu, Netflix, and Apple in addition to devices like the Apple TV and the iPad make downloading and renting shows that you watch a breeze. Although most of the network channels are available over the air in HD quality in most of the cities, we live just outside the zone. So we only get CBS in crystal clear HD with the cheap antenna I bought off Amazon. I was told by our local public television station manager that if I got an optimized antenna we could probably get the local public network too. If you live in the U.S., you can check what free OTA channels are available to you by simply entering your address at this website or this website. I might experiment with some more optimized antennas but largely our viewing is now going to be via the Internet.

For now, we have subscribed to Hulu Plus which has a majority of the shows we watch including Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. We simply play it on our iPad and mirror it to our TV. The quality is decent with rare hiccups due to streaming lags. Apple TV also lets you subscribe to TV shows and even if we subscribed to season passes of all shows we currently watch, it will cost us about $500 for the year which is still less than half of our annual cable bill. We may choose this option starting Fall which I believe will also help us winnow down the number of shows we watch (Economics 101). The ideal solution would be, if Hulu was a built-in app with Apple TV or the iPad app at least let us AirPlay it in which case the quality would be much better. When asked, Hulu replied saying due to “content licensing issues” it doesn’t have AirPlay yet but are working on it. This is typical Luddite attitude on part of the content providers who are trying to squeeze as much as they can from you unmindful of the fact that technology often finds a way or pushes people to piracy. This merely ends up as a sub-standard experience for the customers who pay or as a total loss from potential customers who now chose to pirate content.

As far as live sports is concerned, ESPN3 live streams college football and soccer matches. The OrbLive app for the iPhone/iPad lets you direct that stream to your device from which you can AirPlay it to your TV. I guess I have to live without NFL games or the Oscar/Golden Globes unless they are broadcast on CBS. I’m sure people survive without watching them.

So far we have had no withdrawal symptoms as our online strategy is working well. Yup, the monthly bandwidth usage will go up but our ISP provides a cushion of ~250 GB per month (capped Internet is here!) and will charge us $50 for every additional 50GB; still a lot cheaper than cable.

Why Google Is Wrong to Kill Off Google Reader

For one thing, Reader is only sort of a social network. In many senses it’s an anti-social network. Not in the sense that people in Reader are anti-social so much as the point is to harbor a small enclave of carefully selected people and create a safe-haven of sorts where that “carefully constructed human curated” list of shares and insights can flourish. In Reader, you don’t go after as many friends as possible. You certainly don’t see anyone from high school. Nobody shares photos of their kids. The discussions that do blossom are almost always very smart and focused. It’s the internet if the world were a more prefect place.

Google Reader was one of the last vestiges of the Internet where you could avoid all the 'friend-ing' and focus purely on content sharing. Of course, you had likes, sharing, and following friends but that was never primary goal of the service. Any communication you had with your 'friends' was focused on the content you shared.

[Link to Why Google Is Wrong to Kill Off Google Reader]

Stephen Fry on Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs « The New Adventures of Stephen Fry:

It was on a NeXt machine that the British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee wrote the protocols, procedures and languages that added up to the World Wide Web, http, HTML, browsers, hyperlinks … in other words the way forward for the internet, the most significant computer program ever written was done on a NeXt computer. That is a feather in Steve Jobs’s cap that is not often celebrated and indeed one that he himself signally failed to know about for some time.

After having written www, Berners-Lee noticed that there was a NeXt developers conference in Paris at which Steve Jobs would be present. Tim packed up his black cube, complete with the optical disk which contained arguably the most influential and important code ever written and took a train to Paris.

It was a large and popular conference and Tim was pretty much at the end of the line of black NeXt boxes. Each developer showed Steve Jobs their new word-processor, graphic programme and utility and he slowly walked along the line, like the judge at a flower show nodding his approval or frowning his distaste. Just before he reached Tim and the world wide web at the end of the row, an aide nudged Jobs and told him that they should go or he’d be in danger of missing his flight back to America. So Steve turned away and never saw the programme that Tim Berners-Lee had written which would change the world as completely as Gutenberg had in 1450. It was a meeting of the two most influential men of their time that never took place. Chatting to the newly knighted Sir Tim a few years ago he told me that he had still never actually met Steve Jobs.

(Via Shared by Roshni Mohapatra)

So very awesome anecdote and the far-reaching influence of his innovations that sometimes even he (Steve Jobs) wasn’t aware of.

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