Sunday, August 29, 2010

Vacation Shots and Content Overflow

I like taking pictures. Occasionally, I even take a good one, worthy of adorning a wall of an unlucky relative. I started taking pictures when I was a kid and I went through decades of progressing from completely manual cameras to the completely automatic gadgets with all the bells and whistles - autofocus, exposure, built-in flash and even image stabilization. Taking pictures became easy, although no camera on the market offers automatic composition yet, which is pretty much the most important feature of any photograph. But during all of these years, photography had one thing in common – it was relatively expensive and so we were very deliberate about when to press the shutter.

That changed with the advent of digital photography. All of a sudden, we can take pictures without having to pay for film, film development and prints. With flash cards being dirt cheap, we can keep taking pictures without worrying about the cost. We can take a picture of any scene under any conditions – just try it and when it does not turn out, who cares? Bracketing is no longer something only pros can do and action shots can be taken via a sequence every time. With enough pictures taken, even the greenest of amateurs will occasionally get lucky and score an awesome shot worth mounting on the wall. There is no downside, it seems. Or is there?

Well, as someone who’s been hanging around the enterprise content management industry for years, I see at least three problems - storage, liability, and usability:

1.Storage. Storage is cheap, right? Yes, that’s true, at least when it gets down to the cost of your flash card and the hard drive in your home PC. Enterprise IT departments might have a different view but even if you are not an enterprise, you ought to think about backup and recovery and that’s where storage costs add up quickly. What, you don’t have any backup for your pictures yet? Ouch!

2.Liability. Yes, liability is a big issue in the enterprise but increasingly, we come to realize that liability matters in our private lives too. Yes, those college party shots on Facebook might become a drag when applying for a job at a stodgy company. And how many pictures with previous girlfriends or boyfriends are out there? Embarrassed by your baby pictures? Just wait to hear what your kids will say one day! With the proliferation of recording devices, privacy has to be redefined.

3.Usability. Let’s face it. Having to look through 100 pictures of your relatives on vacation was pretty dreadful back then. Today, when you come back with thousands of pictures, who do you expect to look at them? How will you ever find that special moment when all of them are named IMG00043569.JPG? And how many of those pictures do you adjust using iPhoto or Photoshop? Wasn’t easy post-processing such as color adjustment or horizon straightening supposed to be a key benefit of digital photography?

Don’t get me wrong. Digital photography is absolutely awesome. It has changed my life with unprecedented benefits. But the seemingly free nature of digital photographs should not mislead us to think that snapping thousands of 12 MB shots has no consequences. The vast quantities of images taken contribute to content overflow which is one of our top challenges in the information age. And the low cost should be no excuse for snapping thousands of lame shots.

OK, I need to get going now. I have to cull my vacation pictures to get rid of any photographic garbage.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Environment and the Power Charger

My post today is a step away from my usual topics. I am packing for vacation and being a connected wannabe-hip geek, and so I am packing a bagful of gadgets. There is the SLR camera, the pocket camera, the video recorder, the Flip recorder, the GPS, the DVD player for the kids, my shaver, my blackberry, my wife’s iPhone, my iPod, the iPad, and I am still debating the laptop. That’s not a particularly impressive list, just what a man needs to barely scrape by.

The problem is that every one of these gadgets requires a power supply, a battery charger, a car outlet charger – or sometimes all of them. That’s creates some problems. First, I can’t find many of the adapters since I only use them on vacation trips which are not frequent enough. I have multiple gadgets that have been retired only because I can’t find the charger and getting a new one is either impossible or unreasonably expensive. Second, many of the power supplies require a separate cable which may also be difficult to locate; not to mention an additional cable for data connectivity. Then finally, there is all the added weight and bulk that easily doubles what was originally a reasonably sized bag. That’s just not right.

Why, I have to ask, don’t we have a standardized universal power supply? All gadgets could probably be powered by the same DC voltage. Apple uses the same power supply for my iPod, iPad, and iPhone. And if the gadgets do need a different voltage, the supply should have a switch between 3, 6, 9, and 12 Volt, preferably automatic. The gadgets should have the same type receptacle – or different sizes according to the different voltage requirements. I hate RIM for introducing a new size receptacle in my BlackBerry Bold 2 that requires a separate cable than my cameras. Sorry my RIM neighbors, that alone is an incentive to buy an iPhone!

The cable needs to be detachable from the power supply and it needs to use the USB adapter to connect to it the way that Apple does. That way, the same cable would work for data connectivity with computers and other devices. Basically, I want one power supply and one cable that can act as both power cable and data cable for all my gadgets. Is that too much to ask? No! Oh wait, and of course the whole thing needs to be small and work in any country. Yes, that’s doable – just ask Apple.

I believe that it is absolutely unacceptable that companies such as Sony, JVC, Panasonic, RIM, LG, Olympus, Canon, Nikon, and Kodak are not only NOT working together but they are even using different power supplies and cables for their own devices. That’s crazy! As consumers, we should demand better. We want the vendors to work together and agree on a standard. The USB standard is a good example and proof that it is possible for vendors to agree. The results would not only be a huge convenience but also some major economic benefits for the vendors. They could ship devices without power supplies. There could be an aftermarket for fancy power supplies in different colors, with battery back-up, solar charger, hand crank, etc.

The elimination of power supplies would also represent a major environmental benefit. Imagine all those power supplies that wouldn’t have to end up in the landfill. In fact, the government should step up and drive such standard in the name of the environment. If the vendors are not capable to work together, the government could come up with a useful regulation for once.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Wave That Really Was a Ripple

Yesterday, Google announced that they will sunset their Wave offering, a cloud based collaboration tool that brought closer Google to the enterprise software space, particularly into an area relevant to Enterprise Content Management (ECM) which certainly got it on my radar screen. Wave was introduced in May last year with a quite a bit of attention - just like everything else Google does. It introduced a number of interesting innovations such as live typing or concurrent editing. Warming up to no check-in/check-out is an interesting concept for a long-time content management aficionado like me. But after just 15 months, Google decided to pull the plug on Wave stating a lack of adoption. What does that actually mean going forward?

First, I am impressed by Google’s resolve to try out new things and kill them early if they don’t work out. This is hard for traditional software companies – read for any company that actually makes a living by selling software. The traditional wisdom is to hang in there for several years, keep adding features and piling up releases and, if failed, kill it in a gracefully unnoticeable way. Not at Google – if something doesn’t fly, they just kill it publicly.

The second possible consequence is related to Google’s strategy in the enterprise market. Wave was possibly their biggest bet on the enterprise. Sure, they have other enterprise offerings such as the search appliance or Google Docs, but these are mostly pieces of their consumer technology painted yellow for enterprise use (yellow is the color of the search appliance). Wave was a pure enterprise offering. There is not much collaboration happening in the consumer space and I don’t see anyone on Facebook craving concurrent editing with old high-school friends. Does the demise of Wave signal the end of Google’s ambition in the enterprise? Probably not, but this is a major mark on Google’s enterprise agenda.

The next result is a concern for cloud computing and its adoption by enterprise customers. Basically, if Google can decide to simply kill an offering containing potentially a ton of your data, anybody could. Yes, sure, Wave wasn’t officially released but no Google offering ever is – Gmail was in beta for years. And yes, Wave was free but I am pretty sure that Google sales reps were already counting their chickens for a paid-for option – just like Gmail has it. Killing off Wave is another argument for cloud skeptics. By the way, I am a cloud fan. But I am dealing with lots of skeptics every day.

Finally, the end of Google Wave has an impact on Microsoft. Wave was probably the competitor putting the most pressure on Microsoft SharePoint, forcing Microsoft to work feverishly towards a cloud-based Office and SharePoint offering. While the Office threat by Google Docs remains acute, the Office infrastructure provided by SharePoint has lost a major competitor. That likely means a massive sigh of relief in Redmond as SharePoint will continue adding the stickiness to Office desktops for which it was originally designed without a threat from Google. In other words, without a SharePoint alternative, enterprise customers will be less willing to jump ship from MS Office to Google Docs.

All in all, Google’s move to sunset Wave is major news and while Wave was just a ripple on the water’s surface, there are strong currents underneath to watch out for.