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“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” ― William Morris

Handy Hint: iPhone with Skype to Go

Posted: January 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Technology | Tags: , | No Comments »

Recently Skype, the wunderkind of the cheap internet phone service (until Google Voice is global), rolled out Skype to Go numbers for all of their paid subscription members. The Skype to Go number is a phone number you can call from your assigned mobile phone to make, generally cheaper, calls abroad when you aren’t near an Internet connection. So not as cheap as calling abroad from Skype on your computer, but pretty handy nonetheless, especially when you’re using an iPhone and you can’t use the handy Skype App to call because there’s no available wireless.

The Skype to Go number is a local number, and consequently will be included within your phone plan’s normal monthly minute allowance. For most of us with OTT monthly plans this means an effectively free outbound call, with just Skype charges to pay for connecting to the other end. Just call the Skype to Go number, then type in the number you want to call (’00’ + the countr code, then the number) followed by a hash, and voila! Of course the trouble is that there is not yet a handy Skype to Go app, or extension to the Skype app, that lets you easily call any contact in your address book, which means typing in numbers from memory is an old skool skill most of us have lost.

There is a handy workaround though for numbers you call abroad regularly. Simply create a new ‘Skype to Go’ number on that contact, and cut and paste your Skype to Go number into the field, followed by two pauses (press the ‘+*#’ button to see that option), then the person’s international number, and don’t forget that final ‘#’. Save the number, then give it a go. You should hear the polite Skype voice saying ‘Please dial your number’ and then shortly after your phone will magically start to type in the number and off you go.

This is a life saver, but not the only option. You can also use one of the many card calling apps on the iPhone and set up your Skype to Go number as a card there. The only issue I’ve found with this approach is that for some security reason iPhone apps aren’t allowed to embed the ‘#’ character when they make a call, which means you’ll have to manually press the ‘#’ key after the app initiates the call. For someone with a lot of international contacts to call this might be a preferred option.

Statistics on BBC iPlayer Usage

Posted: November 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Internet Life, Social Media, Technology | Tags: , , | No Comments »

CXO magazine this month has an interview with John Linwood, CTO at the BBC, about the amazing success of the iPlayer, the BBC’s on-demand video service. You can only read the interview in their print magazine at present, however they do give us a great infographic showing iPlayer usage patterns.

The iPlayer has demonstrated the desire of people across the UK to access on demand content, and has simultaneously raised the ire of broadband providers who’ve seen download levels rocket. The iPlayer infrastructure vends 12.5Gb/second of pre-processed video to the many different players it supports – from mobile phones, through computers to the mainstream satellite providers who then help distribute the data themselves. Arguably the BBC is in a unique position around the world, being funded by public money which means that the content is effectively ‘owned’ by the British public already. Whatever the reason though, you can’t demand the success of the venture from a technology perspective.

BBC iPlayer Stats

[From The Next Web]

Visualising the Invisible – The Wattson

Posted: September 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Interaction Design, Internet Life | Tags: , , , | No Comments »


At the Tent London show during last week’s London Design Festival we came across the wonderful Wattson, produced by DIY Kyoto. The Wattson is a device for tracking and visualising your household or business electricity use, a great example of ambient feedback that we’ve touched on before.

The Wattson shows you either a gentle blue glow to indicate that your household electricity usage is reasonable, or a choice of kilowatts or pounds spent over a year based on your current electricity consumption. The yearly figure is a great way to inject fear into your wallet and encourage reduced electricity consumption, so much so that DIY Kyoto are seeing 20% reductions in electricity usage amongst users of their Holmes software who sign up to their website. That’s a great achievement, and all the better for being achieved by the carrot of positive feedback rather than the stick of fines and taxes.

The Wattson we bought at the show is a lovely piece of engineering, from a team of product engineers part funded by NESTA (a non-government body that funds creative innovation – in full disclosure I did use to work for them). The unit works by attaching round the main electric wire that comes into your house or flat, and then transmitting a signal to the main Wattson box that sits, visibly, in your living room. The transmitter is powered by four AA batteries (supplied) and the display unit has a charger, or can be powered by the USB connector through which you can also connect to the free software to review your consumption (figures are stored in the Wattson for the last 4 weeks).

This is all very exciting and I’m looking forward to getting ours working.. the only problem right now is that the standard transmitter connector only goes round standard electrical wires and our flat has a shielding, thick cable going straight into a junction box! The Wattson website rightly advises that you employ a professional electrician in these situations. So you’ll have to wait a bit longer for some proper feedback on how it works in practice. In the meantime we’ll just keep turning off lights and un-plugging our TV without knowing which activity is really having the most impact.

IE6 – The browser that wouldn’t die

Posted: July 20th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Interaction Design, Technology | Tags: , , | No Comments »

For all of us who work in the front end of the Internet world we are constantly amazed and enchanted by the new developments that arrive every day. New ways to interact with technologies such as AJAX that enable better user experiences, new ways to share with our friends through social networks and new ways to access services wherever we want via the iPhone and the slew of competitors that arose in its wake. But for all these exciting developments there’s been one thorn in our side for many years now – the continued presence of Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) visiting the sites we build.

It was late August 2001 when Microsoft released IE6 to the world. At the time this was a life changing browser, releasing us from some of the earlier pain that IE5 held. Adoption was rapid, mainly due to the lack of competitive browsers at the time and IE6 being bundled with the Windows XP update. At its peak, it was estimated that IE6 accounted for upwards of 80% of all internet browsing. Now, with the ascendency of Firefox and other browsers including other versions of IE, its estimated that IE6 still accounts for between 15-25% of all global internet usage. A huge figure for software that is now eight years old and superseded by two new version now – both of which are free upgrades.

The reason for this persistence is widely attributed to corporate installs of IE6. Businesses are slow to change desktop software, justifiably so one can argue due to the costs involved. For those of us who build sites and applications that target business users that means the pain of developing browser applications in IE6 will stay around for a while yet. All web developers know that supporting IE6 with its vagaries and non-consistent behaviours leads to a large extra effort in development and testing. Thankfully there are plenty of sites that help us all get round this issue – such as the excellent Quirks Mode.

Now youTube is striking a blow against IE6, they have released a statement saying that support for IE6 will be phased out shortly. Now, if you browse to youTube with IE6 you are presented with a gentle prod to upgrade to a more modern browser, either Chrome, IE8 or Firefox. Of course being a Google service, Chrome is the first suggestion. I’m sure we can expect to see more of this now that a major site has made the first visible step, in perhaps what is the start of the death knell for IE6. May it rest in peace.

Social Relevancy – The Future of Contextual Search?

Posted: July 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Social Media | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

ReadWriteWeb has a good article on the upcoming battle for dominance in search between Google and social upstarts Facebook. For most of us Google’s position as the ‘go to’ site on the web for searching is an ongoing certainty, we even use the phrase ‘to Google’ to indicate that we’re doing a search. However there are two fronts on which industry commentators are concerned that the search giant’s dominance may start to be challenged – the first is real time search, and the second is social relevancy.

Twitter is the golden child of real-time search at the moment, with the bite-sized information posting rapidly lending itself to a global network of immediacy (and the usual increases in spam). Something posted on Twitter in the last few minutes is generally more relevant to a time based event than anything posted elsewhere on the web in the past, or in the next hour. Facebook has attempted to challenge Twitter’s fast rising star with it’s own interface re-tooling to use status updates in the same way, but status is ultimately a personal statement, whereas Twitter has left it very much to the user to decide what their Tweets are about. This search paradigm shift is ongoing, and will continue for a while.

Social relevancy is a much more concerning attack for Google. The basic principle is that when you want information you would normally trust your friends and contacts more than a random stranger on the web. Trust is a critical web commodity, one that is slow to lend and hard to build. Want to know the cool places to go out in your neighbourhood? Then you ask your friends and peers. Want to know how stars are formed? You ask Google. ReadWriteWeb express this as:

| Increasing
| Relevancy

Friends and Following
Taste Neighbours
Friends of Friends
The Crowd (Aggregate)

Google sits firmly at the bottom of this hierarchy – processing the crowd and its network of links with complex rules to provide us with quick and (generall) accurate responses. Facebook and other social networks, from the first days of Six Degrees, sit with the top two positions. This positions are hard for Google to gain a foothold in as the time and effort necessary to get people on-board and to build up an accurate social graph are large, and although Google has the resources the question remains as to whether Google’s brand perception amongst people is sufficient to create a Facebook ‘killer’.

That’s not to mean Google isn’t trying to gain footholds into this market. They’ve supported open standards for creating semantic links describing relationships. They’ve bought out social networks of their own. They’ve even announced an advanced, in-browser UI (Google Wave) that lets you combine all your services in one place in real-time. Meanwhile Facebook still prevents Google and other search engines from spidering Facebook’s information and hence ascertaining a social graph of their own. Facebook want to own this space and won’t broker any deals that don’t help them reach this goal.

This is an interesting transition and it’s still hard to say who will win. Google ousted the search incumbents under 10 years ago, and there’s nothing to stop them being ousted in turn. Interesting times lie ahead for search and for us in the world of networked services.