Archived Posts from this Category

Who’s got the users?

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 02 Dec 2009 | Tagged as: Internet, Software

Loads of websites and web startups are all about the users, and how many of them they can get. Especially the ones that do some sort of matchmaking between a consumer and provider (landlords and tenants, sellers and buyers, employers and employees) always try to get to a point where they can boast a large number of participants of either side, so that they can lure more of them in. And how do you get there? Well, a great website that’s got something new and unique is a good start. Marketing helps too.

But there’s a new twist to this. Twitter’s success means there’s now a new way to go about it. Tweetalondoncab have come up with a smart way of harnessing Twitter to help match taxis with the people who need them. As they explain on their blog, you send a DM (direct message) to their Twitter account, which gets seen by all the participating taxi drivers. If there’s one available for the specified time and route, they give you a call, introduce themselves, arrange where exactly to pick you up, and give you their licence-plate number so that you know it’s them when they arrive.

That costs nothing to the users, and virtually nothing to the taxi drivers (apart from a bit of Twitter admin and working out the system). But, had they tried to come up with their own service for this from scratch, even after all the development effort, they would have had a hard time getting people on it. How do you find out about them? How do you contact them when you need them? Twitter on the other hand, gives them an existing messaging channel already used and recognised by all its members, and allows them to tap into the massive pool of Twitter users. And via the very nature of Twitter, word of mouth is quick and effective.

In short, the tables are reversed. Instead of coming up with a new website that tries to draw users to it and thus increase its people-centric value, one can tap into an existing community of users. It must be done with caution though, any sign of abuse, or lack of respect for Twitter’s main function in people’s daily communication, will send the brand’s karma plummeting.

Note: I used tweetalondoncab here merely as an example, but I must say that I have used them and they do provide a very good service. Worth a try!

IE6 anti-whinge

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 14 Aug 2009 | Tagged as: Internet, Software

Microsoft have announced that they will be supporting IE6 until 2014 as opposed to 2010 which was the original plan. This has caused a bit of a stir, especially amongst web developers who are sick and tired of spending a disproportional amount of their time debugging and making customisations for IE6. An example of these opinions, is the folks over at

So why is it still around? Phil Hawksworth makes a good point that it’s all about the enterprise. Large enterprises need to have their users locked in one browser, and they have a whole suite of applications that are developed, tested and supported for that browser only. I work in one: on-line training, performance management, supplies ordering, travel bookings, expenses system, time sheets, promotions, the list goes on and on: they’re all browser based, they’re all mandatory and they’re all supported for IE6 only. And guess what: a lot of them do actually break on other browsers (although IE7 is close enough, and Firefox isn’t far behind). Throw in dodgy ways of getting old and new systems to talk to each other and dodgy software built by vendors interested in delivering in the least amount of time possible, and you get a hell of a software soup. Moving to a different supported browser would have a massive cost, not including the cost of any of these not working well for any amount of time.

So am I surprised that companies in that situation aren’t supporting other browsers? No, even though that means they can’t upgrade up from Windows XP either (and for a while, the only thing to upgrade to was Vista anyway). I think they should be planning for it of course - there are systems slowly being upgraded and changed all the time, and if in this day and age the person responsible is not making damn sure that their product works in the latest versions of all popular browsers (as well as the still necessary IE6), then they’re doing a crap job and their company a disservice.

But I have to admit that people whinging at Microsoft for extending their support seems unnecessary and childish. Changes like this can only come from the people. And by that, I don’t only mean the users changing browsers, but also websites and online tools ceasing their support of IE6.

So, are you building a website or online tool and you’re sick of spending so much time customising for IE? Don’t. Put a note saying “we support IE7, IE8, FF 3.x, Safari, Opera, … We DON’T support IE6″. Or detect the browser being IE6 and give them a more basic version of the website, or even an HTTP 400 code and a message “Here’s what your missing - get a decent browser”. Do something. Make a stand. Microsoft are not producing dangerous drugs or guns, they’re not accountable in that way for IE6 still being around. It’s just a browser and as long as it’s being used and it makes sense for them to support it they will; and they should. If you want a change, make it happen.

No, not there

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 28 Sep 2008 | Tagged as: Internet

A while ago, I blogged about the (then new) “My Location” feature in Google Maps. In summary, it didn’t work for my PDA (constantly reporting that my location was unavailable) and it seemed like there was a newer version out, but not available for my OS (Windows Mobile 5, I was asking for trouble to be fair).

I looked for a newer available version yesterday and happily downloaded it hoping it may solve the problem. Indeed, I had a brief moment of joy when a blue dot appeared on the map with the footnote “your location with 3000 metres accuracy”. And then I noticed the map around the blue dot. This is where it was:

No. No I’m not in Taiwan, I’m in London. That’s off by a tiny bit more that 3000 metres.

Remaining seriously unimpressed (albeit slightly amused).

25 words

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 22 Jul 2008 | Tagged as: Internet

Some of my colleagues have had a stab at the 25 Words of Work/Life Wisdom project. After compulsively counting them all to see if they’re indeed 25 words long, I can’t help but remember how many of this type of wisdom imparting sayings I’ve read on school-desks and schoolbooks. Maybe we had it right at 15. Anyway, here’s my attempt:

Having the luxury to forget what’s important and worry about what’s fleeting, is bliss in disguise. Remembering every now and then, is wisdom in humility.

Startup #3: Soocial

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 09 May 2008 | Tagged as: Internet

This is the third entry in a series of reviews of startups that were present at the Next Web 2008 conference.

Soocial has set out to solve the fragmentation of your Contacts. I don’t know about you, but I have friend’s and colleague’s contacts all over the place, mainly split between various email clients and my mobiles. There are websites or tools lying around promising to import your contacts, but what about synchronising back? Well, soocial promises to synchronise from and to your phone (400+ phone models supported) , GMail, Highrise, OS X Address Book, while also providing a web front end to manage it all.This is a very clear proposal, when the (very wacky) guy presented it everyone got it straight away and started asking for more (”how about Outlook?”, “how about synching your calendar?”). I’m waiting for an invite for the closed beta, but Kerry tell me it works. Bring it on! Oh, and check out their 404 page. Very wacky too.

Startup #2: CoComment

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 01 May 2008 | Tagged as: Internet

This is the second entry in a series of reviews of startups that were present at the Next Web 2008 conference.

Don’t you really hate it when you write a comment on someone’s blog or post at a forum and then you never remember to check back for replies? Well, I do. And CoComment provides, among other things, the ability to track that, via a browser plug-in that tracks your comments and replies to them pretty much anywhere. It would be unfair to say that this is all CoComment does though. Another interesting feature is the ability to start a discussion on any web page you want and other cocommenters will see that when they visit the page, thus getting a conversation going between the cocomment community on virtually any page on the internet.As cool a feature as that is, I fear that it’s quite easy to blog about something interesting I spot on the internet by including a link to it, or twitter about it if I have a very short comment on it. And I know that my friends follow my blog or my twitter updates, whereas they will not necessarily be CoComment users.

Nevertheless, I’ve seen a lot of startups trying to somehow combine a social aspect with blogging/commenting, and this is one of the most original and interesting ones. Let’s see where it takes them.

Startup #1: andUnite

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 16 Apr 2008 | Tagged as: Internet

This is the first entry in a series of reviews of startups that were present at the Next Web 2008 conference.

andUnite is about searching while socialising. The idea is that you do your internet searches through them (they delegate to the search provider of your choice) and your searches get logged to your profile. You can then share these searches with your friends, or everyone (there’s obviously an appropriate permissions model around that).I can immediately see some benefits to this:

  • The social aspect is similar to Twitter, but instead of “What are you doing now” it’s “What are you searching for now”
  • The practical aspect is that you can find out about interesting things from your friends searches
  • Also, you can find what you’re looking for by observing other people’s search strings. I often have to use many permutations of search strin got discover what I’m after, and seeing that a coleague searched for “weird rails activerecord issue” a few days ago can speed up my searches in more than one ways

A drawback is obviously that I may forget to label a search that I intend to be private as such and people find out things I don’t want them to. Another more subtle drawback is that I’m quite used to my Google toolbar whcih gives me plenty of added goodies (suggesting what I may want to be searching for, highlightinh and searching through my search results etc.) and I’m not feeling quite ready to give it up in favour of the IE search bar with andUnite configured as the search provider.

However, I can see how this could be very useful, especially if they add cool things like results rating (if I could see that the people who searched tha exact same search strings I am, found the third link down the most useful one, rather than the one on the top, I would really like that).

Definitely on to keep an eye on.

The Next Web

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 15 Apr 2008 | Tagged as: Internet

On 3-4 April I was at the Next Web 2008 conference in Amsterdam. This is a long overdue (owing to my blog being down) but brief write-up of my overall impressions.

The conference was satisfyingly wacky. It’s all about new web startups presenting their stuff and conversations on what’s coming up on the web, upcoming trends, the new Google or Facebook etc. It’s a good place to find out about cool new startups, but also to observe the areas that attract the most innovation.

In the following days I’ll write up my comments on the most interesting of the startups, but here are some of the other highlights:

  • Robert Scoble talking about some interesting differences between software experiences of yesterday and today. Signing up on Twitter or Facebook and having no friends makes for a much different experience than having thousand (as he does). In the old days, a software installed on your computer always offered the same experience.
  • Chris Saad speaking on Data Portability - very relevant in a room full of new web startups and very interesting.
  • Nova Spivack talking about the semantic web - computers actually understanding the web. Probably slightly dumbed down for our benefit, but very informative session.
  • Adeo Ressi speaking on how to get funded by VCs. A good guide on how to “get funded for your dream”.
  • A brilliant episode by Tegenlicht called ‘The Truth According to Wikipedia‘. It explored the nature and status of Wikipedia as the source of all truth on the internet in contrast with the fact that it’s maintained by a community of users rather than experts as a printed encyclopedia is. I won’t side with one side or the other here, but it was a very thought provoking video.

Overall I would say that it was a very worthwhile two days, held in a lovely city. I’m glad I was there.

Blog back up

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 15 Apr 2008 | Tagged as: Internet

Finally! Apparently I was caught between a server going down at the same time when I was due to pay my subscription for another year of hosting (this is with Tophost, essentially the same company I got this domain from; don’t click that link unless you’re prepared to come face to face with website that’s all greek to you). The server was brought back up, but did not know that I’d paid my dues and dutifully deactivated my account. It took a week or two to get my account reactivated.

As an aside, the emails exchanged with their sales support had the ticket information at the bottom, right where I could spot the following:

Priority: Low

Low! A week and a bit of downtime, due to a combination of server and billing issues, low! I think not!

On the other hand, a hosted managed Linux Plesk environment (no ssh access though) for €50 per year, I can hardly complain, can I?

Hosting adventures

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 07 Mar 2008 | Tagged as: Internet, Software

The hosting package I’m using just failed massively, and it’s the second time week. Out of 4 servers (2 dedicated, 2 virtuals) 3 were inaccessible this morning, and the response the technical support gave (after fiddling around trying to ssh in themselves I presume) was “here’s the number to the server team, call them in 2 to 3 hours for an update”.

2-3 hours! In server time, that’s about a year. It is seriously bad form for a hosting company.

On to buy a box from another hosting company, I opened two browsers and typed in the address for slicehost and vpsland (I’ve happily used the former so far and the latter was suggested by a colleague). It took 30 seconds to choose a slicehost package and by then the vpsland website hadn’t come back. It subsequently took 2 minutes to complete the very short order form in slicehost, and vpsland website had come up by then, but too late. And in 4 minutes, I was ready to log in to my server. Brilliant, well done slicehost.

Hosting is a highly commoditised industry, and reliability and good service makes all the difference…

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