inkling Markets 1 Week Later

The inkling markets I started last week have been making progress. While I can’t speak authoritatively about why the participants are investing the way they are, I can always make some wild-assed-guesses.

In the OpenID market, the biggest gainers are Wikipedia and Yahoo!. Wikipedia announced that they’re working on OpenID, which sounds like it’s a lock. But you’ll notice that talk was given at the end of April 2006, and since they haven’t done it yet, it’s possible that they won’t make the August 26th deadline of the market.

Another big winner is Yahoo!. They have been pretty aggressive about opening things up lately, they are offering lots of APIs to web developers and I think the feeling is that OpenID is right up their alley. Note that idproxy.net doesn’t count as a “win” for Yahoo! since the market is looking at these web sites consuming OpenID.

One stock that surprised me was that MSN.com has the lowest stock price of the bunch. I realize that Microsoft has cultivated the exact opposite appearance as Yahoo! in that people believe that Microsoft refuses to interoperate with anyone else, which is probably driving the stock price down. It’s still surprising to me because Microsoft has announced that they will be supporting OpenID. I wonder if the stock price is so low because of the perception of Microsoft as closed or if people believe that Microsoft will be pushing OpenID as an enterprisey technology but not something for consumers.

The Jabber market has some things that surprised me as well. While Yahoo! is doing well and MSN is not–which I attribute to the same things as their performance in OpenID–Skype is currently the highest price stock. That’s surprising to me because Skype has not been very open. Of the 5 IM networks in the market, only Skype doesn’t work with Adium. In August 2005 Skype announced SkypeNet API which sounds like it might allow Jabber interoperability, but apparently it’s been abandoned. I wonder if the SkypeNet API is driving up the stock price or if it’s just wishful thinking.

My final observation is that AIM and ICQ (both of which are owned by AOL and interoperable) haven’t moved very much at all. This is notable because AOL and Google Talk (which runs on Jabber) announced interoperability in December 2005 but nothing has come from it yet. Since Google Talk runs on Jabber the path of least resistance for interoperability would be for AOL to support it as well, even if they only federate with Google at the start.

SXSW Interactive 2007

I’m registered, have my plane tickets, and my conference schedule picked out. I’m going to SXSW Interactive!

I’ve wanted to go for years, but it was only recently that the planets aligned and it became feasible for me to make it to Austin. The first order of business is to let everyone know so that I can finally meet a bunch of the people I only know online.

I’ve also never been to a conference of this sort (I went to some Def Cons in the late 90’s, but I imagine this is a bit different) so I’m looking for advice. I have a couple friends who have offered me a floor to sleep on, so the fact that there are 0 hotel rooms available isn’t that disconcerting (although additional offers would be gladly welcomed so I don’t overstay my welcome). What panels should I make sure to attend? What should a first timer know?

inkling predictions for OpenId and Jabber

I got the inkling bug. inkling is a site for prediction markets; basically you buy and sell stocks with funny money based on what you think will happen. Wisdom of the crowds, power of many, all that jazz. First Ed Vielmetti got bit, then Brian Kerr started trading, and now I’m doing it.

The two questions I’m trying to answer both relate to technology adoption. I want to know if Jabber and OpenID will make it big in the next six months. So I created these two markets:

http://home.inklingmarkets.com/market/widget/3512

http://home.inklingmarkets.com/market/widget/3514

I like this over O’reilly’s Buzz Game since, as Ed pointed out, with inkling anyone can ask a question. Of course, the more people who participate in inkling the more accurate the predictions, so go sign up and put your money where your mouth is.

Sony making the same mistakes again

There a 3 big problems with the Playstation 3 (ignoring smaller problems like the UI). The first is availability, with all sorts of stories of people getting shot with BBs or trying not to give birth or abusing the trust placed in them just to get a PS3. That can be fixed with time. The second is game selection, because Resistance: Fall of Man looks great, it doesn’t look great enough to justify the hassle of getting a PS3. That too can be fixed with time.

The third big problem with the PS3 is the price tag. Can that be fixed with time?

Some company named iSuppli thinks that the $600 60 GB PS3 costs Sony $840.35. It seems unlikely that Sony can lower the price any more, since they’ve already decided how much of a hit they can take on each PS3. The PS3 clocks in at $200 more than the high trim Xbox 360. Incidentally, analyst Michael Goodman estimates that “Blu-ray is adding $150 to $200 to the product.”

Ah, so there’s the price problem, Sony threw in an expensive Blu-Ray disc drive. It’s an attempt to make their horse, Blu-Ray, the next VHS and Microsoft’s horse, HD-DVD, the next Betamax (incidentally a Sony product). But because they’re so focused on the format battle, they might lose the whole war.

It wouldn’t be the first time that Sony’s corporate goals screwed its consumer electronics division. Up until the past 5 years, the first thing you thought of for portable audio was the Sony Walkman. What happened? Was Apple just that adept at making killer consumer electronics? Well, yeah, that’s part of it (see Zune). But Sony also refused to give consumers what they want – a hard drive MP3 player – because Sony Entertainment is dictating what Sony Electronics is allowed to produce. We’re seeing the downfall of the Walkman again, with the entertainment division dictating that Blu-Ray must be rammed down consumer’s throats and the Playstation team being hobbled by their business requirements.

The saddest part of it all is that the format war between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD is like a format war between horse carriage hitches in the 1930’s. The next big format isn’t either of those, it’s downloading! Hopefully either Sony will realize that and release a reasonably priced PS3.5 or exclusive titles like Resistance will get ported to a viable platform.

Firefox 2’s great new feature with a horrible UI

Firefox 2 (which is officially released today) has a great new bookmarking feature: Microsummaries.

These are short bits of information in bookmarks’ titles that update from time to time. Imagine bookmarking an eBay auction and seeing the current price in your bookmarks bar, or bookmarking your webmail and seeing your unread messages count, or bookmarking this blog and seeing the latest blog post title. Well with the last one, you can. Here’s how:

First, install Firefox 2.0 if you haven’t already. Bask in the integrated spellchecker, marvel at the extension upgrade process, yadda yadda yadda. Got it? OK.

Go to my blog and bookmark it by either going to the “Bookmarks” menu then “Bookmark This Page…” or using the Cmd-D keyboard shortcut (Ctrl-D on Windows/Linux).

Wait a couple seconds for the “Name:” field to become a dropdown. Finally, choose the one under “Live Titles” and your bookmark will update periodically whenever I make a new post.

Bookmarks properties dialog

That’s it! Thanks to Brian for cluing me in to this, he’s got it working on WordPress with WP-Microsummary. I rolled my own solution for Movable Type, but I’ll leave that for another day.

Hopefully the Firefox team improves the usability of this feature, it’s kind of sad that there’s no way to spot microsummary-enabled sites out of the box. I suspect that extensions and Greasemonkey scripts will fill in some of the gap.

Also, I’m just scratching the surface of microsummaries. It’s even possible to add microsummaries for sites that don’t support them (including the eBay example from above), but now that you know about them you can go find out more on your own.

[Update: OK, the UI isn’t as awful as I thought, I originally thought the only way to get the Microsummary was to bookmark and then to right-click on it and choose properties. I’ve updated the post to reflect the fact that Microsummaries are also available with the “Bookmark this page…” dialog.]

To Reply or Not

I’m trying to move hotelling.net from Network Solutions to another registrar. I initiated the move, and now NetSol keeps having me email customer support. Here’s part of their latest email to me, emphasis mine:

Thank you for contacting Network Solutions Quality Processing Department. We have received your request to transfer HOTELLING.NET to [my new registrar].

For the protection of our customers, in certain instances we ask for confirmation of a domain name transfer request from the Primary Contact as listed in Account Manager. Please respond to this email from the following email address [my DNS contact email] to approve the transfer.

Thank you for using Network Solutions.

Sincerely,

Robert F.

Quality Processing Specialist

Network Solutions

registrar@networksolutions.com

Please do not reply to this e-mail.

Great, so no matter what I do they can show I did the wrong thing. Beurocratalicious.

Update 2006-10-05: I called NetSol to find out what was up, and they said I had to wait for another email before they would allow the transfer, which could take up to 5 business days. I pointed out that my domain didn’t have 5 business days left, so the customer rep gave me a free 15 days extension to sort it out. Plus, they manually approved the transfer, so I didn’t even have to wait for the transfer. NetSol did me right.

Lester Bangs, Chuck Klosterman and Video Games

Sex, Drugs and Cocoa PuffsWhen I saw Chuck Klosterman’s Esquire piece The Lester Bangs of Video Games on various linkblogs, I ignored it for two reasons. The first is that I assumed it probably didn’t have anything to say that The New Games Journalism didn’t say a year ago; the second is that I didn’t realize Chuck Klosterman wrote it.

In Lester Bangs, Klosterman writes “video games in 2006 are the culture equivalent of rock music in 1967. … We all assume that these games have meaning, and that they reflect the worldviews and sensibilities of their audience, right?” He is treating video games as, to use his word, consequential. I’m glad that he’s encouraging people to take video games seriously, and I hope people are listening.

What caught me off guard about the authorship of the article was that in his book Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, Klosterman wrote a chapter about The Sims that completely dismissed what he he now refers to as “an art form.” Compare that with this paragraph:

I realize there is a whole generation of adults born in the seventies who currently play Sega and Nintendo as much as they banged away on their Atari 5200 and their George Plimpton-endorsed Intellivision in 1982. I am not one of them. I agree with Media Virus author Douglas Rushkoff’s theory that home video game consolers were the reason kids raised in the 1980s so naturally embraced the virtual mentality–we never thought it seemed strange to be able to manually manipulate what we saw on a video screen–but I’ll never accept pixels killing other pixels as an art form (or a sport, or even a pastime). A homeless man once told me that dancing to rap music is the cultural equivalent of masturbating, and I’d sort of feel the same way about playing John Madden Football immediately after filing my income tax: It’s fun, but–somehow–vaguely pathetic.

The chapter goes on to talk about how great Will Wright is (he is, and holy crap I just found out I share a birthday with him!) for introducing existential angst and non-zero-sum mechanics to video games, but the tone he takes completely ruined that part of the book for me. The rest of the book was fun though, and I still recommend it if you like the idea of reading a cultural critique of Saved by the Bell or what a Guns N’ Roses cover band does off stage.

I don’t want to harangue Klosterman over his flipping and/or flopping. Instead, I want to provide the context to a widely linked story about why his voice is important. I suspect that The Sims opened him up to possibilities, maybe that the violence isn’t why Grand Theft Auto 3 was popular or that Metal Gear Solid 2 was a post-modern triumph. He came to video games thinking they were useless, albeit fun, diversions and discovered an art form.

Please stop pretending you know how much bandwidth BitTorrent uses

I’ve seen this mentioned a lot when people talk about BitTorrent, but this bit from an announcement of BitTorrent 4.20 happened to push me over the apathy threshold:

It’s no secret that bandwidth concerns have been one of the more pressing issues surrounding the BitTorrent community. CacheLogic, which provides P2P caching solutions for ISP networks, has previously calculated that approximately 60% of a networks bandwidth is consumed by the BitTorrent protocol. This average varies according to the ISP, as some ISPs report less bandwidth consumption and other reporting more.

They’re completely wrong about what the CacheLogic study says. The most recent numbers I could find from CacheLogic say that “P2P still represented 60% of internet traffic at the end of 2004” and “By the end of 2004, BitTorrent was accounting for as much as 30% of all internet traffic.” Even if P2P has grown in the past 18 months to consume 99.99% of internet traffic, CacheLogic’s own studies show that eDonkey surpassed BitTorrent in P2P traffic in August 2005. If CacheLogic’s numbers are correct, there’s no way that BitTorrent has more than 50% of internet traffic.

But that’s the real issue here-are CacheLogic’s numbers correct? Look at what CacheLogic sells: P2P caching appliances. Their entire business is built around reducing the amount of bandwith P2P applications use. And they are also the sole source of numbers saying that P2P applications are using lots of bandwidth.

I’m not saying that their numbers are all wrong, I’m saying that I don’t know what the truth is. A press release from a company that has a direct and obvious profit motive from over-hyping shouldn’t be treated as a solid fact. Unfortunately a highly-suspect number is far more attractive to a writer than saying “I don’t know what the truth is.”

CacheLogic seem to have been pretty successful at getting their numbers into the collective consciousness. Traditional media like Wired Magazine, BBC and Reuters trumpet the numbers as if they were a fundamental rule of the internet (like Rule #34: There is porn of it. No exceptions.). Then, the numbers are repeated ad nauseam until sites like Slyck News can pepper a story with them without even needing to cite the source, since everyone knows it’s true.

Let’s stop pretending we know things that we don’t. There’s nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know,” there is something wrong with pretending you know what you really don’t. Let’s get our numbers from someone who isn’t trying to sell us a solution to the problem the numbers describe.

(For more skepticism about CacheLogic’s numbers, check out Peter Sevcik’s piece at Business Communications Review)

AIM Down

AOL IM was down today for a bit. I found out because I got an instant message saying “Is AIM down for you?” IMs to friends confirmed that AIM went down for a while this afternoon.

In addition to AIM, I use Jabber, an open standard IM protocol that lets anyone run a server. That means there’s no centralized server to go down. It’s something to consider, especially if you use your IM for business.

Want to get started with Jabber? If you have your own domain name, ask your hosting provider if they do Jabber hosting too. I know Dreamhost and Zettai both provide free Jabber hosting (I am not currently a customer of either, but have been happy with both for web hosting).

If you don’t have your own domain name, you can download a Jabber client (iChat in OS X 10.4 supports Jabber out of the box, I prefer Adium
and I hear good things about GAIM from Windows users) and sign up for an account on Jabber.org or another open server.

Or if you already have a Gmail account, go download Google Talk and you’re all set. (Thank you for opening up, Google.)

The point is, you can be self-sufficient with your instant messaging and it isn’t difficult. Go on and try something new.

If you’ve tried Jabber in the past and decided it wasn’t for you, go on and add all the people @gmail.com to your contact list. Imagine how surprised they’ll be to see your Jabber ID show up, it might just convince them that they don’t need to be locked into a single company’s IM network.

Thus concludes today’s commons propaganda.

Xbox Media Center installed

XBox Media CenterI finally installed XBox Media Center this weekend and I’m thoroughly geeked. It plays just about anything, and I wasn’t expecting the picture quality to be so damn good. I realize I’m a little late to the game, but so be it.

I followed ProductWiki’s guide to soft-modding and was able to get through it with minimal teeth gnashing. The main reason I hadn’t modded before was the pain it is to figure out which mod chip you have to buy, install it, etc. so this soft mod guide was exactly what I needed.

So now that I’ve caught up with what the Makers were doing 4 years ago, does anyone have any recommendations for cool add-ons for XBMC?