Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Category: Technology (page 1 of 2)

5 reasons why the word ‘phablet’ won’t catch on

Journalists and analysts love a new word. The current favourite is “phablet”, used to describe the new larger-sized smartphones that are nearly tablet-sized, but still a phone.

It’s a ghastly word, but don’t worry – it won’t catch on, despite the pick up in interest (see chart below). Here’s my theory why:

1) “smartphone” hasn’t caught on as a phrase

Smartphone is used in the industry to distinguish between the newer, touchscreen devices and older models termed feature phones that look like this (remember these?). It’s used all the time in articles and research.

But not in common language. No-one says “hey, have you seen my smartphone?” People still talk about their mobile. Or their phone. Because smartphone is both clumsy to say, and sounds pompous.

2) nobody cares about these distinctions in other areas

Like smartphone vs feature phone, we have laptop, netbook, PC – all industry distinctions. People just refer to their computer. And as we move to a world of uniform touchscreens, the only decisions people will care about are the cost, the operating system (Apple vs Android vs maybe Windows), and the size.

3) portmanteau words might be catchy, but don’t often work

Grexit? It’s had it’s day (see chart below). Descriptive words like “onesie” are much better.

4) people prefer to talk about brands

Seen my Kindle? Pass me the iPad?

and the biggest reason of all: 5) your mobile is not your device, it’s your number

Whatever device people call you on, that’s your mobile. As Christopher Mims pointed out on Quartz, we use these things less and less for calls – as little as 10% – but that doesn’t mean phone calls are completely dead. We still need to make and receive calls. And if you are sharing your contact details, no-one will ever ask for your “phablet” number – just as no-one asks for your “smartphone” number. They will ask for your mobile number.

Because you move your number across devices – I’ve had the same number for over 8 phones now, I reckon. Whether I have a phablet, a smartphone, or a something else, when it rings, I’ll answer it – and I’m on my mobile.


Goodbye, Feed My Inbox

{UPDATE} see the comment on this article from Feed My Inbox co-founder Nick Francis – in which he explains a lot more about the service (many thanks Nick).

Bread of heaven, bread of heaven
Feed me till I want no more;
Feed me till I want no more.

I was a customer of Feed My Inbox. It did (and for a few weeks more, still does) a useful but unglamourous service, which is take an RSS feed and turn it into email. This was great for sites that either publish now and then, like this blog, or for daily summaries of news. I even had a sign up box on this blog, recommending it.

But the service is closing down. On the homepage, the company says:

After much consideration, we have made the difficult decision to shut down Feed My Inbox over the course of the next couple of months.

Long story short, we failed to generate enough revenue to sustain the business long-term and justify the time necessary for ongoing support, maintenance and feature development.

We wish it turned out differently, but our team learned a great deal over the last 4+ years. Thank you for being a customer.

I don’t know much about the company, but I do know that it was a small outfit – perhaps just four people. I learned this from digging around on Brightwurks, which is the site owner. The company was private, so there aren’t any numbers to digest, but in one blog post the company mentioned 175,000 customers.

What isn’t clear is whether these are paying customers or not. It operated on a freemuim model – the basic service of 5 feeds was free, and then you paid for additional premium features and more feeds, starting at $5 per month.

As far as I can see it, the problem with Feed My Inbox was three-fold.

1a) Freemium doesn’t work unless you have massive scale. Because, unless you provide a killer app, most people will just stick to the free version. And then if someone offers a similar service, you are stuck – it’s hard to change the barriers between services without annoying paying customers, or attracting new ones.

1b) Freemium is a bad model for development. Paying customers fund the growth in non-paying free-riders, with the hope that some of them eventually turn into payers too. Very little of the revenues from paying customers is ploughed back into improving their service.

2) Email is a cluttered mess. There are too many newsletters, bills, updates etc, nevermind all the crap emails that people actually write, nevermind the spam. So adding to all that isn’t particularly appealing to lots of people who are already swamped.

3) Hello social media. Facebook and Twitter are far better places to follow or like stuff you are interested in, making email seem a quaint, antiquated way of getting updates. That’s without considering RSS readers like netvibes or Google Reader.

So that’s it. But you can bow out gracefully, which is the case here.

The Feed My Inbox team have put together a very helpful page of tips on other services and ways to migrate, which I think is above and beyond. Can you imagine a bank doing that? But thanks to them, I am now using, and have a sign up form on the blog for that service, and the whole service seems very good.

I just hope it lasts. It’s free.

An open letter: 8 bits of advice for spammers and fraudsters

Phishing and spam – dangerous and inconvenient, to be sure. But sometimes I despair of the standard of emails that come through. So – dear spammers and crooks, here are a few pointers.

1) Don’t pretend to be informal if you can’t pull it off

For example, if you send me an email that says “How are the things”, which you have a lot, I’m hardly going to think that’s from a friend. “How’s things?” would be much better. “How are the things?” shows you are clueless on chatty English discourse. Either you mean “Where are the things?”, which sounds like the start of a domestic disagreement:

– Where are the things?
– What things?
– You know, the things for the doodah
– I have no idea what you’re on about
– Why are you always getting at me?
… and so on,

… 0r you are referring to my children as “the things”, a bit like Thing 1 and Thing 2 in Cat in the Hat. If so, that’s quite funny, and closer to the mark. But I’m still not falling for it.

2) Get personal

“Dear Bank Account Operator” really isn’t very convincing. Even “Dear customer” would be better. But better yet, use my name. “Dear Mr Minto” gets you through the first line of defence. But there are many to go…

3) Avoid block capitals

“YOUR WIRE TRANSFER FAILED” is something that a company would never write. Why would anyone fall for that?

4) Get off my domain

Sending email that looks like it has come from an address on my domain, such as, isn’t fooling me. I didn’t set it up. I would remember, you see. And then I wouldn’t email myself pretending to be from my own accounts department. That shit might work with a big corporation, but it’s not gonna fly here.

5) Social media is too obvious

Messages from LinkedIn, Facebook etc – sure, they look good, but I’ve never clicked on one. If I want to reply to a message on a social network, I’ll do it from inside the network. Safer that way.

6) Use better URLs

Even if I was tempted to click on some malware link by mistake, anything with “wp-upload” in the URL is a bit of a dead giveaway.

7) Get sophisticated

I’m rarely a customer of many of the banks or companies you pretend to be emailing from. So I’m hardly worried if I get an email from Citibank, say. Now, if I got a clever email from HSBC *, that would be a different thing.

8) Frequency = desperation

Send me one email about my “account”, and my interest might be momentarily aroused, however briefly. Send me 5 in quick succession? I’m not so worried. Show me a company that does that.

I’m sure there are more pointers I could give, but that’ll do it for now. Have a nice day, fraudsters.

* I’m not an HSBC customer either.

The Getty watermark is a stroke of genius. Here’s why.

I had an article in today’s FT (June 1, 2012) on Getty Images watermark (Getty shifts with new stamp of ownership), but in the interests of journalistic fairness, I couldn’t say exactly what I thought. So here’s what I think.

In brief: the company has changed the watermark from an obstructive, possessive gesture to a helpful, open one. It is not longer a simple stamp across the image, but a cleaner box with a short-form URL and a photographer credit.

It’s a stroke of genius, in my view. Why? Well, there are several reasons I can see. In no particular order: Continue reading

Why Gmail’s new look is a usability nightmare

I am absolutely furious with Google’s changes to gmail. I don’t really care about the design. The themes allow you enough scope to personalise. The problem is a technical one that has screwed up usability. It’s fundamental, and is the use of multiple iFrames.

What these iFrames do is create scrollbars within scrollbars, especially if you use labels and gadgets in your gmail (which I do).

Gadgets are used to be an easy way of seeing other things like your calendar or Google docs without leaving your email – a nifty productivity bonus. Labels are pretty fundamental to using gmail. Now they have become a nightmare. Continue reading

The crazy cost of Switzerland

I’ve just got back from a long weekend in Geneva. Lovely place, beautiful lake, painful exchange rate. Switzerland was always quite expensive, but with the Swiss Franc a safe haven for investors, hanging out in Geneva suddenly looks like a small fortune.

But leave aside the cost of normal stuff like food and hotels for a second. We were staying with friends for part of the trip who live very near the border with France, so I got text messages alerting me to what mobile services would cost from my telco (T-Mobile) in either country.

[easychart type=”vertbar” height=”200″ width=”350″ title=”Mobile prices, price(£)” axis=”both” groupnames=”France, Switzerland” valuenames=”Make call, Receive call, Text, Data per mb, Picture msg” group1values=”0.366, 0.115, 0.115, 0.333, 0.2″ group2values=”1,1,0.4,7.5,0.2″]

And what a difference half a kilometer makes – over in France, it was 36p per call, and 11p to receive a call, compared to £1 in Switzerland. A text in Switzerland was 40p to 11p in France. Weirdly, picture messages were the same on both (20p).

But it was data where the greatest difference lay. In France, I was offered £1 per 3mb. In Switzerland, it was £7.50 for 1mb – over 22 times more expensive.

Now I know that EU regulations are bringing down the cost of call and data roaming in Europe, which Switzerland is free to ignore. And this is a sample of one, rather than a proper survey. But data should never, ever cost 22 times more just by walking 500m across a border.

The lazy journalism of citing Facebook and Twitter

I’m getting very annoyed with the phrase “such as…” in journalism. It’s becoming a lazy substitute for not having concrete facts, and is used especially to write about websites and  social networks where the writer usually has no idea what they are talking about.

In other words, the phrase “such as Facebook and Twitter” really means “something’s going on online and it must be going on on Facebook and Twitter so just say that as that’s the only new thingy we’ve heard of in the newsroom”.

Some examples:

From the Telegraph: “Teachers believe social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are to blame for pupils’ poor grades, a study has concluded.”

From the FT (see, I’m not biased): “Banks are searching out fresh ways to engage with customers on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter as they look to capitalise on the growing popularity of these mediums…”

I thought the other day – if I had a pound for every time I saw that written… So I googled it. Over 9 million instances of that exact phrase. And then I got curious. What about the other combinations. LinkedIn and, say, Orkut? Why should Facebook and Twitter be the only show in town?

So here’s the grid:

Source: Google results for exact phrase “such as x and y”. Here’s the data.

I’ve given anything over a million a red background, 100,000 – 1m in yellow, under 100,000 white, and put grey on anything less than 10.

So Facebook and Twitter is the killer combo, although MySpace does well with Facebook. But look at the rest – it’s a joke. It’s not as if they have that magnitude of users less than Twitter – or even Facebook.

But the real joke is that Twitter and Facebook are so radically different. To lump them together that often in a lazy format is ridiculous. The network effect of journalists is not far removed from the network effect of social networks, or software, or other monopolistic services. Once everyone starts to say “such as Facebook and Twitter”, there isn’t much point in bucking the trend.


The internet of 1901

There was a curious story today of a woman who cut off an entire country’s internet access. A Georgian woman digging in her garden cut off Armenia from the net.

Impressive in a way, but it also got me thinking about the internet, and how, despite all the talk of the cloud and cyberspace, the internet is a very real thing of servers and fibre optic cables.

In fact, the cabling around the world is very mappable – the Guardian did this great infographic after a previous cut-off in Egypt. And then I saw a picture of telegraph cables from 1901. See any similarity?

The many names of Gaddafi

You can hardly miss the colonel who has run Libya for the last 42 years. But how do you spell his name?

Due to there being no formal way of translating his name from the Arabic, Col Gaddafi (FT spelling) has many viariants. This has been written about here, and lots of other places, but I thought I would take the time to try to quantify it.

Using ABC news‘s list of all the variants they could find, I removed the extraneous bits, and cut all the variants of “Muammar”, leaving just the Gaddafi bit. I then deduped the list. This whittled their 112 names down to 41. I then ran each name through Google, making sure to get the exact name and not one they were suggesting.

Here are the results:

Variant Google results
Gadhafi 104,000,000
Gaddafy 94,800,000
al-Qaddafi 27,200,000
al-Gaddafi 24,800,000
el-Gadhafi 11,900,000
Kaddafi 11,000,000
Gaddafi * 3,250,000
Kadhafi 3,070,000
Gadafi 1,770,000
Qaddafi 1,360,000
Gheddafi 1,010,000
Gadaffi 873,000
Kadafi 563,000
al-Kad’afi 387,000
Al-Kaddafi 339,000
al-Kadafi 332,000
Kad’afi 300,000
Khadafy 285,000
Qadhafi 231,000
Khaddafi 153,000
Ghaddafi 148,000
Ghadafi 113,000
Qadafi 96,800
Kadaffi 89,500
al-Qadhafi 85,900
al-Khaddafi 84,100
Khadaffy 80,500
Ghadaffi 61,400
Gadafy 57,300
Gathafi 47,900
Qathafi 44,900
al-Qadafi 30,300
Qadhdhafi 25,300
Al-Gathafi 23,300
Gaddhafi 16,600
Kazzafi 8,650
al-Qadhdhafi 6,580
Ghaddafy 5,480
Quathafi 4,070
Qudhafi 649
Qadthafi 199

* Most frequently suggested by Google

So there you have it. Gadhafi is the clear winner, with 104m. And yet it’s not the most frequently suggested by Google. That’s Gaddafi. Why?

Here’s another way of looking at the data with a Many eyes bubble chart. And here’s a bar chart. Basically, there’s one hell of a long tail.

Source: Google. Click to see full graphic.

Facebook: is the party over?

In all the hoopla surrounding the Goldman Sachs investment in Facebook, one thing seems odd.

It isn’t the money – Facebook made $2bn in revenues last year, apparently, which isn’t bad (although we need to remember that revenues aren’t profit – finance 1.01).

And it isn’t the ambition – Facebook is making itself the de facto log in for half the web. Nor is it platform issues: people look at Facebook on iPhones, Android phones and so on.

It’s the traffic.

Facebook is first and foremost a network. And the laws of networks mean that the more people join, the more useful they are, and the more connections are made. It’s exponential – just think of the moment when 2 people are on a network, and a third person joins – the number of possible connections doubles each time.

Now look at these charts – they are from Wolfram Alpha, who use Alexa as their source.

The number of users just keeps growing:

Facebook users, 2010

Facebook users, 2010

But the traffic doesn’t:

Facebook pageviews, 2010

Facebook pageviews, 2010

You would think that the traffic would mirror the user growth. In fact, given the network effect, it should outpace it.

So what’s going on? Either Facebook’s new users are dud accounts, or the older users are getting tired. People are either spending less time on the site, or are turning up less frequently. According to Alexa, the time on the site is relatively static too, but the daily pageviews per user are falling:

Facebook pageviews per user

Facebook pageviews per user

But this should be a worry for the company. They aren’t in the business of charging users, and may never be if the right revenue model comes along. So usage is everything. Facebook’s growth may seem relentless in terms of the numbers of people signed up, but boredom is a very dangerous thing for a network. When was the last time you logged into MySpace?

Goldman may have made a great investment, or they might just be turning up to the party as all the cool people are leaving. We’ll see.

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