The Dead End Web

Originally published in The Clarion | February 23, 2011

If you are like me, there are times where we feel like we have reached the end of the World Wide Web. Whether we’re experiencing a day of boredom or are searching for a piece of information that we simply cannot find, frustration can quickly set in when we feel like we have reached a dead end. There was a television commercial a few years ago for an Internet Service Provider where a middle-aged man, dressed in his robe and munching on potato chips, had wasted his day away online and did just that – reached the end of the Web. Although the commercial was a bit misleading (no ISP should provide more access to the Web than another), it was quite comical and representative of what many of us experience far too often.

Of all the things the World Wide Web is, one thing that it isn’t is thin. According to WorldWideWebSize.com, the Web contains at least 12.83 billion pages. Think about this for a moment. A typical novel (at least the ones I read) may be two to four hundred pages in length. Using a nice round number of three hundred pages per novel, at 12.83 billion pages the Web contains the equivalent of 42.77 million novels. Talk about a staggering statistic, yet all too often we feel we have reached the end of the road when browsing the Web. The reasons we feel this way are most likely simple ones.

For starters, it is human nature to want to read or learn about things that interest us. For some, it’s sports – for others it might be genealogy. Odds are good that unless you work in the field of nuclear physics you most likely won’t spend any time reading about it online. The same holds true for television viewers – although you may have one hundred or more television channels, surveys tell us you typically only watch fewer than ten of them on a regular basis. Again, it’s simply human nature.

Another reason why some people may only visit a fixed selection of websites on a regular basis is that they simply don’t know what is out there, or they don’t know how to broaden their Web horizons. Search engines on the Web have evolved drastically over the years. Some even claim to be “decision engines” instead of “search engines”. Thank you but I don’t want your site making decisions for me. That aside, knowing how to phrase a specific search can greatly increase your chances of finding what you are looking for. It’s definitely not rocket science, but a minor hurdle nonetheless.

In the upcoming weeks, we will take a look at some websites that I find to be useful, entertaining and informative. My goal is to help you broaden your Web horizons so you can make better use of the plethora of information available to you online.

Share

The Smartphone Marketplace

Originally published in The Clarion | February 16, 2011

If you have paid any attention to recent technology news, you probably already know that Apple’s iPhone is coming to Verizon this month. Released in late June of 2007, the iPhone – exclusive to AT&T’s wireless platform – swiftly gained popularity, selling over six million devices in its first year. Sales of the iPhone increased exponentially beginning in its second year and estimates are that as many as ninety million iPhones have been sold between 2007 and 2010. Needless to say, the iPhone has been quite a hit in its less than four year lifespan, but with its success have come several issues including technical issues, price, single-carrier availability and maybe most importantly competition.

If you own an iPhone or know someone who does, it should be obvious that iPhone owners love their phones. Over the years, Apple’s resurgence into the technological marketplace can be primarily attributed to one simple fact – they produce devices that people love. Whether a desktop computer, smartphone, laptop, mp3 player or tablet, Apple’s hardware design and software applications are attractive. Overall, they are also reliable and user-friendly. On the other hand, products from Apple are notoriously expensive – especially when compared to competitors’ offerings. With all of its successes, market trends have shown that several of Apple’s methods of operation may have actually contributed to recent slips in market share.

The smartphone market essentially began with the infamous Blackberry line of products. Seemingly the only player on the field, Blackberry was the de facto choice for businesspeople who wanted eMail and Web on-the-go. A new market was born with the introduction of the Blackberry and other vendors jumped in head-first including both Apple and Google. Apple, holding true to its roots, developed both the hardware itself (iPhone) and the operating system and applications which run it. Google, on the other hand, developed the Android operating system and licensed it to several hardware manufacturers. Microsoft has also dabbled in the smartphone arena but to-date has yet to be very successful with its offerings.

For the first time, the final quarter of 2010 ended with Android devices surpassing iPhone in market share, second only to Blackberry. I find it interesting that Apple’s slip in the marketplace coincided with the long-awaited announcement that the iPhone would finally be available to Verizon Wireless customers. It seems that issues with the reliability of AT&T’s wireless infrastructure along with the popularity (and freedom) of Google’s Android offerings finally caught up with the iPhone. Only time will tell how Apple will rebound once the iPhone is available to Verizon Wireless customers beginning this month. If you currently have an iPhone and wish to switch from AT&T to Verizon – a couple words of caution are due. First, your current iPhone will not work on Verizon’s network. You will have to purchase a new phone. Also, unless you’re at the end of your contract with AT&T, expect to pay early termination fees when making the switch to Verizon.

Share

Pointless Apps

Originally published in The Clarion | February 09, 2011

The proliferation of smartphone technologies over the last several years has been interesting to observe. It wasn’t that long ago that I was introduced to something called text messaging – a new form of communication using the same device I previously used only for making and receiving telephone calls. Seemingly overnight, a new breed of communications device came into the market that raised the communications (and entertainment) bar exponentially. Today, our modern smartphones are essentially nothing more than a smaller version of our personal computers. Business travelers can almost – and I use this loosely because I’m sure some do – travel for days without lugging around a laptop computer. Everything they need is readily accessible via the smartphone in their pocket. This makes me think back to the comparison several decades ago that the Apollo space capsule’s computers had less processing power in them than the digital watch on your wrist. Simply amazing.

What’s even more amazing to me is what some people do with their smartphones, and above that what some people actually rely on their smartphones to do for them. With the introduction of Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android operating system on countless models of smartphones (sorry Microsoft, you just haven’t seemed to hit it big in this niche so far), an entirely new market of smartphone applications was born. With the maturation of the smartphone application market over the last handful of years, users of these technologies have at their disposal a plethora of applications – some productive, some entertaining and some, quite frankly, dumb.

Having the ability to synchronize one’s smartphone with his or her personal computer is quite valuable. Being able to do so essentially eliminates the need for toting around a laptop computer or even checking in to the office every day when traveling. As helpful and essential some of these applications are, there are applications on the other end of the spectrum that I simply cannot wrap my brain around. I recently read an article about one smartphone application that baffled me to the point of not being able to get it out of my mind.

This application – called Closet Lite – is (from its own description) “a clothing organization/planning application. It allows you to organize your clothing items, create outfits, plan them for certain days, and view them in beautiful full screen mode. All wherever you go at your finger tips”. Not to be sexist, but I imagine women may get this more than I do. Even so, never in my wildest imagination would I envision the need for a smartphone application that would organize and plan my wardrobe for me. This is just one example of countless smartphone apps that I simply don’t understand. I guess my point is – it should now be fair to say that technology has officially reached a point of no return – whether for good or bad I am not entirely sure.

Share

An Already-Mature Internet

Originally published in The Clarion | February 02, 2011

I recently read an article by Marshall Poe, a professor at the University of Iowa. In this article, Poe examines the Internet and makes some points I personally had never considered. The angles taken by Poe and his perspective of the Internet from its beginnings to its future are rather interesting. Sometimes it’s hard not to be blinded by and overwhelmed with Internet technologies as they’re presented by mass media. Interestingly, Poe was able to stand back from all of the hype and make some observations that, quite honestly, put the Internet and all of its magical wonders into an entirely new perspective for me.

The leading theme of Poe’s article is a simple one – the Internet was not revolutionary nor will it ever be. Its establishment and maturation over twenty-some years has effectively produced nothing, and odds are good that it never will. In his words, the Internet is already mature. No matter what the mass media or experts tell us, the Internet is what it is. So, just what is the Internet and how is it in-fact not revolutionary? Let’s take a look at some of his points.

First, and probably foremost, the Internet really has not produced anything since its inception. Consider what activities you use the Internet for. For most, the Internet is a source of information, a tool for communicating and often an entertainment escape. There is nothing new here. Content available via the Internet existed before Web browsers enabled someone to search for information and rapidly click through endless hyperlinks. One could argue that the only new content is that which centers on the technology itself – Internet technologies have produced Internet-related content. Other than that, novels and reference books and telephone directories all existed decades before the Internet put this information at our fingertips. Online newspapers are still newspapers, video still video and banking still banking. The Internet has only enabled us to access and manipulate the things we do in a different manner.

Another point Poe made is that online communication is still communication. Instead of writing a letter to a friend or loved one, putting it in an envelope with a stamp and mailing it, we simply launch our eMail client and type away. Rather than sliding a picture into the envelope, we click a paper clip icon and attach an image. Again, there is nothing new here – we continue to do the same things we’ve always done, just in a different manner.

For entertainment, we play online games while our board games or decks of cards collect dust on a shelf. Just like television took some twenty hours of our week away from us when it invaded our homes, the Internet now occupies hours upon hours of our daily lives. Are we smarter now that we have the Internet? Possibly…but absolutely not necessarily. Will the Internet revolutionize the world? Most likely not – we’re some twenty-plus years in and the Internet’s maturation has seemingly come and gone.

Share