Thursday, May 17, 2012

How can Google+ increase usage?

There has been ample coverage of Google+ and it's growth or lack of it. So much so, that I won't even bother linking to any. Everyone knows that Google+ is not heavily used when compared to usage rates from Facebook. From my personal vantage point, Twitter and Facebook still attract more users more quickly than Google+. Many who tried Google+ early on have given up on it. I'm not sure that Google+ usage compares favorably to the current usage of prior internet darlings MySpace and Friendster.

When Google rolled Google+ out, it seemed like they wanted people to jump from Blogger to Google+. This would stem the losses to Twitter and Facebook. I recall seeing hearsay that Blogger would be eliminated.  Fortunately, that has not come to pass.

To me, the nice thing about Blogger is that it is possible to get some return from your effort. Ashdar Partners has not made a dime directly from this blog. Being who I am, I like numbers and measurements. I do look at the blog's statistics from time to time. The fact that anyone at all looks at these pages for any reason is encouraging to me.

As far as I know, there is no way to see if anyone is reading Google+ posts unless they "+1" the post or leave a commentary. There is no aggregated reporting on those attributes. It doesn't seem possible to ask a question like "Which of my posts has the most +1's?". For people who are full-time bloggers (rather than running one as a sideshow) or who have multiple blogs the ability to judge reader interest in particular topics is critical and guides what they blog about.

I can see if anyone reads Blogger posts, even if they don't leave commentary. There are nice reports, with drill-down items. The only metric that Google+ seems to surface is "followers", which doesn't provide me with a number that I can get excited about.

So, with respect to improving the usage of Google+, I have two suggestions. I will go with the obvious one first.

Google should provide a way to monetize Google+ postings. I know that I'd be more likely to post if I thought that I could get something out of it and my posting wasn't going to be just another data source being collected by Google in order to market me to other companies. It doesn't have to be a huge reward. Only a few dollars a year or even just an occasional free coffee at Starbucks or even Dunkin' Donuts would make it seem more worthwhile.

I think that the economic aspect would tempt a lot of people. The downside on this is that it would cost Google something. It might not be a lot, but it would be more than they are spending now.

I think that my second suggestion would tempt fewer people but those people are the ones that tend to take their blogs and online prescence more seriously.

Google should provide analytics on Google+. They do it for Blogger and my recollection is that this facility has only improved over the years. I presume that Google is collecting and aggregating similar statistics on Google+ postings for their own use. I couldn't be too hard to surface that data so that Google+ users could see what generates user interest.

In short, if Google want Google+ to supplant Blogger, Google+ should provide all of the features of Blogger plus new features that make Google+ better than Blogger. They have not achieved that, yet.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Experience with OneNote on Smart Phones

OneNote is my favorite Microsoft productivity program. I would like to say that I have had a lot of experience with Microsoft's OneNote on mobile devices, particularly on smart phones. Unfortunately, I have just about no experience with OneNote on smart phones.

I have been using OneNote on Windows desktops and laptops for well over four years. I've used both OneNote 2007 and OneNote 2010. OneNote was the program that convinced me to move from taking notes from simple text files. I had been taking notes that way since around 1989. Generally speaking, I'd rather have access to OneNote than Word, Outlook, or even Access (the database program).

I think that OneNote is the worst-marketted product in Microsoft's stable. People just don't know about it.

Two years ago, I was  using a Nokia E71 smart phone and awaiting the first modern Windows Phone devices. My expectation was that I could run OneNote on my smart phone and seamlessly edit my notes on my phone, the Microsoft Live web site or the OneNote 2010 installed on my laptop. I carry my phone everywhere. I could have all of my notes with me at all times.

Then I found out that OneNote on Windows Phone wouldn't fully support everything that the Windows edition of OneNote does support. The features that wouldn't be supported were a little mysterious. Which of my notes would not be viewable on my smart phone? I couldn't tell. This was my first disappointment with OneNote.

Within the week, I bought an Android smart phone, a Motorola XT710. I subsequently moved the vast majority of my notes to EverNote or Google Docs. Now, I have over 1200 notes stored in EverNote and I use it nearly every day for both work and personal data. I started this blog entry in EverNote and finished it off in blogger's editor. These days, I spend more time with EverNote than any other software, except for a web browser.

When I heard that there would be an Android version of OneNote, I was again hopeful. Shortly thereafter, I learned that the version of Android on my Motorola XT701 ("Eclair") was not supported by OneNote, due to the age of that version of Android. This was my second disappointment. I sent OneNote back to the bottom of the pile of things to try.
So, as of last Saturday, I have a new, modern Samsung Galaxy Nexus smart phone with the latest version of Andorid (Ice Cream Sandwich, patched to 4.0.4). I thought that there would be no reason to not at least give OneNote a try. I hopefully installed OneNote on my new smart phone. OneNote allowed me to enter my LiveID and then it crashed. I restarted it and it crashed again. Restart. Crash. I don't think I've seen any other Android program crash like this. This is my third disappointment.

I don't see many other smart phone users with this problem, though I can't imagine what I am doing that they are not. I haven't had time to gum up the phone with lots of strange apps. Perhaps my phone is too new; it has only be around for seven months. For the time being, I intend to keep the app on my phone and see if it gets any updates.

Monday, May 14, 2012

How Did the Upgrade to my Samsung Galaxy Nexus Work?

After about 18 months of service, I have found that my mobile needs have outgrown my Motorola XT701. You can read earlier blog entries about my XT701 here. The old smart phone would take longer and longer to respond to touches, programs seemed to be spending time swapping, I had to remove some apps to free up storage space and there is no upgrade path from Android "Eclair" for the phone. So, though the lifespan of the XT701 seemed short, it seemed like time for a new phone.

Our communications needs at Ashdar Partners are minimal, we rely on Verizon FIOS for the heavy stuff. I buy off-contract phones because I've got a decent ATT plan with a grandfathered price and ATT coverage generally works for us. It is less expensive to buy a phone outright than it is to get a subsidized phone on a contract and see a subsequent increase in the monthly bill.

After some research, I settled on a Samsung Galaxy Nexus. The runner up was a Samsung Galaxy S II. The Galaxy Nexus seems a little more modern than the Galaxy S II. It was easier to buy a Galaxy Nexus directly from Google than find a seller on eBay. I was interested in the Samsung Galaxy S III and the HTC One X. These are smart phones were just announced and have limited availability so far. I think that the are too expensive to purchase off-contract. I can get most of the value of a GSIII or a 1X by spending (roughly) half as much. I also considered a Samsung Captivate Glide, but I think that I've gotten used to the idea of having only virtual keyboards on a smart phone.

I don't think that ordering a Galaxy Nexus through Google's site could have been easier. The phone arrived as expected on Friday, but I had to let it sit until Saturday when I had more time to tinker with it. Here are the issues that I ran into while setting up my new phone:
  • Only paid-for apps are automatically downloaded and installed when you configure a new phone. I did not realize that free apps will not be automatically downloaded and reinstalled. I've seen comments from people about waiting while their old apps downloaded to their new phones and I never thought that free apps would be different than pay apps, in this respect. So, I spent an hour or so manually downloading apps and re-entering login information. This was made easier by using the list of installed apps that Google provides. I also found that the voice-recognition works pretty well and allowed me to search for apps more quickly. This "install-fest" was an opportunity to re-install a few things that I had to remove from the old phone due to storage limitations and leave off a few apps that I don't really use, so it wasn't all bad.
  • I ran into a data migration issue with aCar. The problem was compounded by chance. I had researched how to move aCar data files from an old device to a new device just a two weeks ago. However, the program was updated in the interim and the old method no longer applies and has been removed from the aCar FAQ. On-demand import/export/backup is limited to the paid version of the program. I do use aCar some and, though I'm not 100% in love with the app, I have a few records in there that are business-related and therefore tax-deductible. So, I just went ahead and bought it. (It's worth saying that aCar is much faster on my new phone and I expect to be using it more often in the future.) With my limited usage of the program, I'm not sure how long it will take for the $6 investment to pay off. After several years of smartphone ownership, this is my first purchase. I didn't realize how easy it is to buy apps. It is almost too easy to buy an app.
  • I didnt' have an account for Key Ring, which is an app that keeps track of customer loyalty cards. I guess that I never created one. The data was somewhere on my old SD card and I could have probably found it if I had looked for it. I only have six or so of these cards and it was just as easy to re-scan the cards as it was to dig up the data files. I also created an account for Key Ring.Since Android 4.0 has data usage auditing built in, I no longer need 3G Watchdog. I exported my old data and stashed it with my SugarSynced files in case that I want to see those numbers in the future.
  • I am disappointed with the "MTP" support. I'm used to just copying files onto and off of my phones via USB or by swapping the SD card into my laptop. I didn't realize how limiting MTP is and there is no SD card in a Galaxy Nexus. At first, I wasn't sure how to copy files like my aCar backup or some custom alert noises I like to use to my new phone. My first thought was SugarSync, but seemed like it would involve a lot of copying and then moving files around, meaning that it would be time-consuming. I did a little bit of research first, and I found a reference to AirDroid on Android Central. AirDroid is impressive. Install it. I don't think that you will be disappointed.
  • OneNote has disappointed me again. More on that it another post.

So far, the new phone is better than my old phone in nearly every way. The screen is bigger, has more resolution and generally looks better (pentile or not) than the old phone. Android 4.0, AKA "Ice Cream Sandwich", is much better thought out than the version on my old phone, "Eclair". Naturally, everything is faster.

The largest gripes that people seem to have with the Galaxy Nexus are the screen and the camera. It might be true that there are phones out there with better screens and cameras, but both are better on my Galaxy Nexus than my old XT701.

I don't see a problem with the screen. It is easier to read text on the new phone than the old phone, and YouTube clips seem fine.

The camera support was almost non-existent on my old XT701 and the camera on my prior phone, a Nokia E71, was buggy. The few test shots and video clips that I've taken with the Galaxy Nexus look pretty good, and I hope to expand my use of the camera in the future. The cats aren't going to take pictures of themselves...

The only negative about the smart phone is that it is bigger. It doesn't fit into the back pocket of my jeans as easily as my old one. With a bigger screen, it can't be helped and it seems that everyone wants larger and larger screens these days.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Did You Read It? for April, 2012

This blog post mentions a few of the most interesting articles that I have read recently, or recently-ish, with a little bit of my commentary on each article.

What's the difference between a temp table and a table variable in SQL Server? This is the best answer I have seen.

Here is a short and sweet bit of PowerShell code that can make a persons life a little more enjoyable by providing some feedback to long-running processes.
This is from 2010, but I'd never seen it until now. I would temper it with Malcolm Gladwell's view that it takes 10,000 hours to become expert at something. (I am not sure if Mr. Gladwell originated that thought, but he has popularized it.) I'm not so sure that 'polyglot developers' will know everything there is to know about all of the languages on their resume, plus Active Directory administration, plus database clustering, plus SAN administration, plus VMWare, plus being up on the latest half-dozen NOSQL darlings, but maybe they don't need to be. Do we really need all of the hyper-specialization that we have bred into IT in the last 20 years? Perhaps we are only ensuring that specialists have a hard time pulling their narrowly-defined career out of the weeds when their chosen technology becomes obsolete or when that up-and-coming thing fizzles out. What if we just invest in smart people that are quick learners?
This caught my eye. Microsoft is doubling down on getting more businesses to put their data on Azure. Small businesses aren't usually the ones who are concerned with certifications. Medium and large businesses are.