Nice one, AT&T!


AT&T has collected a lot of flame, this year, for delaying availability of cool new features in the new iPhones released in June.

Today, AT&T officially enabled one: MMS (notably, sending pictures along with text messages). I say “officially,” because they’ve actually been enabling it for a few weeks, as some users learned by receiving a text from AT&T, and others learned by turning it on and trying. But today was announced as the official roll-out, and today was the day the necessary “carrier settings” became available from iTunes, no tricky developer voodoo required.

AT&T has explained all along that this delay was so they could upgrade their network to handle the traffic. I believe that story, by the way, I’m not casting doubt in that direction. But there does remain the question of why they didn’t do the upgrade before Apple’s launch.

And there also remained the question of whether they would upgrade enough to really carry the load. A fair, not to say urgent, question, given the service problems all AT&T  users have been reporting since the explosive growth of iPhone users and 3G network use. For instance, from me.

So, how’d it go?

Painless. Apparently flawless. Googling about just now, I find multiple breaking-news articles with subjects like “AT&T Survives …”. Not a very cheery slant on the news, I grant you, but still very good news. Provacateur that I am, I tweeted my tweeps, fishing for complaints, and no one had an unkind word to say.

It just works.

Nice work, AT&T!

Now, about that “tethering” business…

Another installment in my continuing musings over the Amazon Kindle.

I’ve just started reading Trust Agents, by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. You can find my reactions to the book over in Communities are founded on trust. But there’s a Kindle tie-in here as well, that made me think.

When I decided to pick up this book, I pondered whether to buy it in physical or electronic form (of course it’s available for Kindle!). As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t have a Kindle, but I do have the Kindle iPhone app. While the real Kindle has a much bigger, and arguably nicer, screen, it fails my “pocket bloat minimization” requirement.

It occurred to me that Trust Agents might be just the sort of book I’d want to read electronically. It’s very easy reading, it’s interesting and substantive, and yet I don’t quite see myself treasuring it for ages, passing it on to my grandchildren. I hope I don’t break any hearts, but I expect I’ll move on to other books, hopefully just as helpful, in a year or so.

But, I didn’t get the Kindle edition, I got the physical edition. Here’s why:

I expected (and have not been disappointed) that this book would have lots to think about. I’m a tactile thinker. I mark books up. I’m just getting started with this book, but there are marks on nearly every page so far: underlinings, marginal references to similar thoughts in other books, quibbles and arguments and wild disagreements. Truth is, the way I work, I may never go back and read any of these (at least, not once I’ve blogged them), but they help me engage the text and remember the points.

I did not expect, did not think about, my love of physical books, of their physicality itself. But it’s there. I peeked into my mail slot every morning, to see if the book had arrived. I snatched the box and scuttled to my desk, trying not to look too conspicuous. I ripped off the tape. And then, I performed that marvelous, evocative, familiarizing ritual of loosening the binding: opening to several pages, gently spreading the leaves, bending every so gently beyond the tightly pressed rigidity, peeking at a word or paragraph here or there, opening the object and the thoughts and the time all together.

If you want to read Chris’s words, you can get them on line. You should. If you want to get to know Chris, you should buy him a cup of coffee, or dinner, or invite him to speak at your next company off-site. But if you want to clear your mind of distractions and enter into this engaging, enlightening exploration of a new way of socializing, get the book.

The actual book.

While trying to re-re-re-reschedule a meet-up, I sent my friend this SMS from my iPhone:

I don’t hate you. But maybe I’ll expect you to pay…

When we finally did meet up, he asked, in extreme bafflement, “Did you really type in all those @’s???” I said “wha … … … ?” He showed me his Crackberry:

@I@ @d@o@n@’@t@ @h@a@t@e@ @y@o@u@.@ @B@u@t@ @m@a@y@b@e@ @I@’@l@l@ @e@x@p@e@c@t@ @y@o@u@ @t@o@ @p@a@@y �

Yikes! Since he’d shown me his, I showed him mine, and then we did some experiments and determined that he wasn’t getting Unicode, or apparently anything beyond US-ASCII. If I message him something Latin-1-able, like “Jürgen”, the accent gets stripped: “Jurgen”. But the real kicker in the original example appears to be the “horizontal ellipsis,” Unicode code point #2026. This apparently got past his de-Unicodifrator and left all those UTF16 nulls-before-ASCII-codepoints as “@”.

“But, I have the new Tour World Phone,” he cried!

“Yes, so long as the ‘world’ will condescend to speak only US American, apparently.”

So I went googling. Actually, we both went googling, but his Crackberry was too slow, too small, and couldn’t display all the pages we found most interesting anyway, so we did it all with my iPhone.

I found ample substantiation of Crackberry Unicode incompetence, in the form of questions in many forums. There are a few responses of the form “choose the right language” (Uhhhh … which language would “…” be? I thought the whole bleedin’ POINT of Unicode was to handle all languages???). But the directions for doing that didn’t work on his Tour (they were evidently for some other model), nor could we find any analogous configuration screen.

C’mon, RIM! Unicode’s hardly “cutting edge.” In two thousand bloody THREE, Joel on Software was chastising web developers for ignoring Unicode.

Can anyone help my friend Unicode-enable his BlackBerry Tour?

The folks at Twitter continue to strive to provide the best service possible. I say that with no irony what so ever. I mean it literally. Even though I’m about to dis their latest effort!

They’re formalizing the notion of the “retweet.” Check Twitter Blog: Project Retweet: Phase One. There are some pretty pictures there, which is nice, but I think the whole effort is going in the wrong direction.

The twitterverse seems to me to be divided into roughly three groups.

  1. Newbies and casual users, tailing off to the “haven’t visited the site in two years” crowd
  2. Experienced, frequent, social users
  3. Business and social-media users

I’m a lowly newbie in category #3. I think Twitter is making a significant difference in how I do my job, providing significant benefit for my company, and saving me significant time (or providing me significant information I couldn’t have gained by any efforts without it). I’m a fan!

But this “retweet” business, now … In the category-3 community, and maybe the cat-2 crowd as well, we’re kind of “over” the retweet thing. Simple retweeting has, with increasing frequency, been discouraged. Rather, we think you should add some value to the conversation, not just boff off someone else’s remarks. We usually refer to these “value-add” repetitions as “via”, because of the most common formats for the two techniques:

In the retweet (RT:) case, all you do is forward the same remarks. In the “via” case, you add your own reactions, maybe even completely rewrite the comments, but give “via” credit to whoever pointed the original out.

Feeling is widespread that literal retweeting is more often annoying than helpful, and it certainly does very little indeed to help your readers get to know you, only whoever you’re quoting. Adding value, providing comment, rewording, even completely disagreeing, are all more substantive. And if you can’t think of anything to add, you maybe shouldn’t even be forwarding this stuff.

Certainly, there are some legitimate cases for the simple retweet:

  • Helping to spread word of some breaking news
  • Mega-follower superstars widening the distribution of info originated by us commoners

But for the most part, a little thought, a little added value, seem well worth encouraging.

In Lokis Net – OReilly Radar, Jeff Carr spins a Trickster myth to encourage Government 2.0 fans to use appropriate caution. It’s good story telling, except that I think he’s used the wrong central character. It should have been Odin.

Jeff’s myth features Loki, the Norse god who fills a role often known as the “Trickster.” There are several great references in Jeff’s post if you’d like to get to know Trickster better, but in short form: most indigenous myth systems include at least one identifiable Trickster character. Trickster is never one of the Big Boss Gods, but an imp: clever, often perverse, by no means always in the right, a counter-example more often than not. In Jeff’s myth, Loki spins a net that the other gods then use to trap him.

But Jeff’s warning, that we must not spin the web by which we are caught, is not the sort of story I would expect to find told about a Trickster. Trickster tales more often caution against hubris than mere folly. A simple oversight like this would not happen to Trickster, because he never does anything so simple as casual knitting. Trickster has plans, Trickster has dreams, Trickster’s plots are deep and convoluted, or they are brash, or greedy, or devious. Never casual. And Trickster’s downfall is foreshadowed and visible to us all from the first word of the tale.

The sort of mistake Jeff warns against, rather, usually falls to another character, the true boss-god, the one who bears the responsibilities of the world, and tries to execute them faithfully. This is the character whose slips cause disaster.

Consider, for example, Elder Brother of the Tohono O’odham, in his role as The Man In The Maze:

In ancient times, Se-eh-ha, who is also Elder Brother, needed a safe place to live. He still had a lot of work to do getting the world ready for the Pima and Papago people but he could not do his work because his enemies were always following him. …

Finally he decided to build a home underground in the center of a mountain. At the edge of the mountain, anyone could see the opening that led into his house, but … anyone who wanted to find Seeh-ha had to follow many narrow winding paths that went around and around. His enemies did not know which path to take. … The only trouble was that he wanted his friends to be able to come to him without getting lost. He made a map for them, and anyone who followed the map could make his way in without getting lost.

What’s the catch? Where’s the mistake? Take a look at the link and study the maze. It’s unicursal: there’s plenty of twisting going on, but only one path. Friend or enemy, you have only to keep going, and you reach Se-eh-ha. Sometimes, I worry about Se-eh-ha and the Tohono O’odham: their intended defenses are only a path for their enemies.

In Government 2.0, it’s not the advocates of openness who risk the future: they, like Jeff, are aware of the risks, and discuss them openly. Some may overstep their abilities, but others will be able to see, warn, and protect.

The danger to power is the arrogance of power, the one who supposes that his secret map is what keeps him safe.

It’s about one week after “The Great Twitter Reply Farrago of ’09.” Time for a check-up: how we doin’?

  • My timeline does indeed seem to have fewer replies in it. That’s basically no surprise, given the announced compromise implementation. The Twitter team didn’t actually say that “reducing messages sent” was the goal (rather something about the internal costs of their processing), but I can’t judge that, and I can judge this, so FWIW: yes, to the best of my ability to judge, they seem to have accomplished their “reduce the load” objective.
  • I have not seen a single reply and thought “hey, that other person might be interesting to follow.” Again, not surprising, since Twitter has already told me they won’t be sending me such things any longer. Well, a teeny surprise: the twitterverse-at-large had quickly invented a way to get around the Twitter changes, but it appears that no one in my twitterverse is bothering with that. Too bad: people who take the time to spread the community sound like they might be interesting folks to know, but I guess I never will 😦
  • It might be more than 3%! Browsing through the Twitter trends for #fixreplies, I find some people saying they used to turn the option on and off, so Twitter’s count of “those with it on at some particular moment” might be a bit off. Probably not much, I suppose.
  • Now this surprises me: I believe that my own twittering habits have changed. Used to be, when I replied, I took a bit of time to make sure the reply was interesting: self-explanatory, or at least self-intriguing, maybe adding something to the discussion. I notably don’t do this any more. I’m sure my tweeples will confirm that my reply tweets are not as interesting as they were a week ago. Unless they care to allege I was never very interesting in the first place, of course.

I’m inclined to take this as spectacular vindication of my clap-of-doom review of the original change: I think the original, non-default behavior was crucial for community building; I think its low usage (only 3%) must mostly be because nearly 97% of people never bother with options anyway.

On the other hand, I’m also inclined to accept Twitter’s claim that supporting the option was too expensive to live. (I’m grumpy about their particular choice of which universal behavior to preserve, but supporting options? Yeah, that can hurt.) And I do believe (I do I do I DO) that they’re all about community building, and are working on some good community building facility that doesn’t hurt.

And once again, I gotta say: I’m impressed as all get-out, both with the Twitter team and with the twitterverse, for responding so quickly and effectively. In less than 24 hours, there was a big mistake, a coordinated reaction, some overcoming of hurt feelings on all sides, a compromise negotiation, a short-term palliative, and at least the beginnings of a long-term strategic reassessment. It really was a spectacular accomplishment!

OK, this is actually pretty sweet: Twitter Blog: We Learned A Lot.

  • A response (a second response, in fact)
  • More details of the explanation (scalability, confusion)
  • A temporary compromise (more details below)
  • A statement of intent to provide a more permanent solution
  • And some words to make it clear they understand

Really, how many calls would you have to make to, say, your cable company, to get that kind of satisfaction? I dunno about you, but I have no idea how many that would be, because, let’s face it, I never ever got anything even vaguely close to that good a response from my (former) cable company. Hence, the dish on my roof. And, of course, I haven’t paid a red cent to Twitter. But I digress.

If the Twitter blog entry above doesn’t make clear to you what was, what was done, what’s been done to it, and what’s coming, then there are several other explanations on the web; this one’s nice:  (Marshall Kirkpatric / ReadWriteWeb).

Here’s my chop at it.

What Twitter have done is expand the taxonomy of tweets.

  • Originally, there were just tweets: anything you said could and would be heard by your followers.
  • Then, there were mentions: twitterers added “@username”, just as a convention to catch the eye of “username”. The tweets were still seen by the same folks, the sender’s list of followers, but “username” would perk up and take notice
  • Then, there were replies: Twitter volunteered to forward mentions to “username” even if s/he wasn’t actually following the speaker. At some point or other, this was applied only to mentions where the mention was at the beginning of the tweet. “@username right on” would get special treatment; “right on, @username” would not. Then, fairly recently, this was changed so that the mention anywhere in the tweet would get reply treatment, and even several usernames “Let’s meet at @fred ‘s house, @joe” would go to both, even if they didn’t follow.
  • Somewhere along the way, and this seems to be the development Twitter didn’t actually notice, people started noticing their friends talking to folks they didn’t know, and using that to expand their own community. A lot of us think this is the fundamental juju of Twitter.
  • The new thing, as of some time today, is this: while above, “mentions” and “replies” were the same thing (identical messages), now Twitter has a formal notion of a difference: a “mention” is made by typing the “@username” thing; a “reply” is made by clicking a button labelled “reply”. In these terms, “mentions” get wide dissemination, as always, but “replies” only go to the addressee.

This is a bit odd, as everyone acknowledges. Look at it this way: if you seem a message appear in your Twitter timeline, “@you did you see this?”, there may be no way for you to guess whether anyone else has seen it. Also odd, the explanation is something about which button you pushed, but what’s that mean? Are they changing the code in their web UI to support this? And if so, what’s the impact on the 3rd-party clients?

I’m only guessing, but I’m guessing that they actually are using something that’s already common. You may not have noticed it, because not all clients show it, but the system already supports a notion of linking tweets and replies. One way to see it, no matter what client you start with, is to go to the “status” page for the individual tweet. This (and many-but-not-all other presentations) sometimes says “in reply to <username>”. I suspect this is what Twitter refers to when they talk about messages sent by clicking a Reply button. Which would be good, in that all the clients I know of already support that (they may not show it, but the provide it).

So, I suspect: any message with “in reply to” info will only be shown to the reply-ee; other kinds of mentions will be shown to all followers of the sender (there’s still no personal option available).

Long term (again, see the blog post linked at the top of this one), Twitter promises to “ive folks far more control” via “a per-user setting,” so expect some check boxes or something, soon.