Preparing to Swallow My Words as Verizon “Opens” its Network…

November 27, 2007 by Lisa Oshima | Mobile
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Today, Verizon reported (gasp) that it is “opening” up its network to any device and any application…that can meet it’s “minimal technical standard”.  I’m prepared to swallow my words (see my previous post “Will Verizon Become a More Open Mobile Network for Developers?“), assuming Verizon’s standards (to be published in early 2008) are as reasonable as the press release implies:

Any device that meets the minimum technical standard will be activated on the network. Devices will be tested and approved in a $20 million state-of-the-art testing lab which received an additional investment this year to gear up for the anticipated new demand. Any application the customer chooses will be allowed on these devices...
While most Verizon Wireless customers prefer the convenience of full service, the company is listening through today’s announcement to a small but growing number of customers who want another choice without full service.  Both full-service and “bring-your-own” customers will have the advantage of using America’s most reliable network.

I want to believe that the world is becoming a more open and mobile place and that Verizon is championing the effort, and Verizon’s release makes it sound like the company is moving in the right direction, but I’ll remain cautiously optimistic until I see Verizon’s execution.
If the ‘minimum technical standard’ is reasonable, it will be a huge step forward for the mobile industry and consumers. However, if that standard includes a requirement for handset providers to put bandwidth constraints on third party applications (i.e. purposefully limiting the performance of 3rd party application “bandwidth hogs” like streaming video apps), the network won’t be truly “open”. *

Here’s the part of the Verizon release that triggers my (ahem) skepticism:

Following publication of technical standards, Verizon Wireless will host a conference to explain the standards and get input from the development community on how to achieve the company’s goals for network performance while making it easy for them to deliver devices.

On the one hand, Verizon says the technical standards they’re introducing are ‘minimal’.  On the other hand, they’re going to have to “explain” them to hardware developers in conjunction with their “network performance” goals.  Verizon has always closely guarded its network.  While it’s possible that Verizon will throw caution to the wind in the New Year as they announce their new standards and become truly open, it’s also possible that they’ll establish a not-so-open standard that hardware developers must compromise to meet.

Here’s hoping that end result of Verizon’s announcement is a truly open network.

*Don’t get me wrong – I understand why Verizon (and other carriers) would want to limit bandwidth heavy applications… They suck resources and if used concurrently can negatively impact performance of a fragile or overstressed network.  But, with the amount of money consumers pay for wireless data and calling plans, networks should be investing to ensure robustness.  And, it sounds like Verizon is doing that.

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Understanding the Basics of Social Avertising on SocialMedia Networks

November 26, 2007 by Lisa Oshima | Advertising, Consulting, Developers, Enterprise, Social Media
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Check out the latest post I wrote on SocialMedia Network’s blog.  The post is an interview with Dennis Yu, SocialMedia’s resident SEO and advertising expert.  In it, Dennis explains the basics of social advertising, especially as it relates to SocialMedia Network’s Appsaholic.

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Dear Lisa, Is Plaxo Pulse Any Good or Will it Spam My Friends Forever?

November 26, 2007 by Lisa Oshima | Enterprise, Social Media
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I always loved reading “Dear Abby” in the Sunday paper growing up… You know – back in the days where people actually read newspapers.  I always wondered how “Abby” got her gig – quite possibly the easiest newspaper column in the world to write (and hands down, the most fun)… getting opinion questions in the mail and answering them, without doing extensive research.  With my childhood memories at the forefront of my conciousness, I was particularly excited when my good friend, Paul (prolific Voxer and neighbor in SF), wrote me an email (which, he gave me permission to post) to ask my opinion about a popular social media topic – Plaxo:

I have some substantially horrible memories of ‘plaxo spam’ from 2004, 2005 and 2006.  I had one particularly persistent cousin who took full advantage of Plaxo’s ability to bug the hell out of his uninterested acquaintances — he pinged me from Plaxo’s site at least once a month for two years.  I could have stopped the acquaintance spam by asking him to stop (though he’s not what we would call a ‘good listener’) or putting Plaxo’s address in my blacklist, but I mostly grumbled about it and deleted the messages.

Now I’m receiving new Plaxo-pings from my coworkers for a new service called Plaxo Pulse.  It seems to be some kind of uber-content-stream-sucker with little added value.  My question for you, oh-queen-of-all-things-2.0, do we leave Plaxo in the electronic doggy house for their acquaintance-spamming ways, or does Pulse represent a newer/better/faster Plaxo that deserves my clicks?”


Dear Paul,

Thanks for writing!  I too have “substantially horrible memories of ‘plaxo spam’ from 2004, 2005 and 2006,” and like you, I’ve recently started to receive Plaxo-pings from all sorts of people for Plaxo Pulse.  I know that technology products change frequently- mostly for the better, but since the spam hasn’t stopped from Plaxo, I’ve not bothered to give it a second look.

Am I being silly to ignore it?  Maybe, but if it “Plaxo Pulse” were really that good, it would take note of my blood pressure, realize that repeated spamming makes my blood boil, and it would stop spamming me.  Alternatively, when it did spam me, the email would thoroughly explain why I should want to join a service with a long history of spamming.  And, that reason shouldn’t be that a random acquaintance or friend has added me to their address book.  It should explain the benefits of Plaxo Pulse in detail and, in the process, apologize for the hundreds of spam emails I’ve received from it’s predicesor, Plaxo.

So as not to dismiss the merits of Plaxo Pulse without doing at least a little research, I went to Plaxo.com an dug around to uncover the ‘new’ value proposition. This is what I found:

“Sign up and get the only online address book and calendar that syncs with Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, Apple, AOL — and your mobile phone.”

I don’t see the point.  Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, Apple, AOL, and any smartphone (mobile phone) each sync with free address book/calendaring apps and Outlook… Granted, if you’ve got 5 address book and calendar accounts from 5 different providers, you may need Plaxo.  But, if you’re like most people and only have work calendar/contacts and home calendar/contacts, and you actually communicate with the people on your contacts list every once in a while, Outlook or Entourage should do the trick.

The only differentiating feature that I’m aware of with Plaxo Pulse is that it’s able to simultaneously sync information from 5 providers, and it will send annoying spam ‘fill in the form’ emails to your friends, family, and colleagues regularly to ensure that you have the most up-to-date contacts.

In a digital age where communication is often too frequent and less meaningful than it once was, I think you’ll have better luck staying on top of your contacts (and ensuring that they remain meaningful) by finding out where they are/ what they’re up to when you speak to them, rather than soliciting ‘fill in the blank’ updates.

– Abby (ahem, I mean Lisa)

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At the Vanguard of Social Advertising

November 12, 2007 by Lisa Oshima | Advertising, Consulting, Developers, Enterprise, Social Media
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Check out the new blog post I wrote for SocialMedia Networks about social advertising.

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Facebook Ads: Great News for SocialMedia Developers

November 7, 2007 by Lisa Oshima | Advertising, Developers, Enterprise, Social Media
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I just published a new post at SocialMedia Network’s blog.  Check it out!

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I’m Now Writing SocialMedia Network’s Blog

November 6, 2007 by Lisa Oshima | Advertising, Consulting, Developers, Social Media
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Yesterday, I started a 2 month, part-time consulting gig with SocialMedia Networks, a leading provider of social network services including a large and growing network of applications across Social Networking platforms.  SocialMedia’s flagship product, Appsaholic, currently available on Facebook and MySpace makes it easy for independent software vendors (ISVs) to manage, market, and monetize the applications they distribute online. In other words, SocialMedia helps developers buy and sell advertising space inside their application, cross promote their applications, and more.

A couple of weeks ago, SocialMedia announced that it secured Series A financing of $3.5 million. The investment was led by Charles River Ventures, with additional investors including: Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape and Jeff Clavier, founder and managing partner of SoftTech VC.

In the next couple of months, I’ll be getting Developer Relations up and running, writing the company blog (which is very good already), and working closely with Julia French from Covered Communications, who I’ve been working with over the last several months on marketing and business development projects for other clients.

If you’re a developer on the SocialMedia Network or are interested in joining, please drop me a line to introduce yourself!  And, check out SocialMedia’s blog
in the next few days (I’ll post a link on my vox blog when I do my first post).

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Will Verizon Become a More Open Mobile Network for Developers?

October 30, 2007 by Lisa Oshima | Developers, Mobile
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Last week at CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment 2007, Ryan Kim of the San Francisco Chronicle sat down with Lowell McAdam, the CEO of Verizon Wireless.  If Ryan Kim were one of my Facebook friends, I’d “high-five” him for putting McAdam’s feet to the fire during their chat.  In his Saturday post on the “Tech Chronicles” blog, Kim writes:

I asked [McAdam] about Wall Street Journal columnist Walt Mossberg’s blog comments about the big carriers acting like the old Soviet government restricting the freedom of their users, namely what kind of phones and services they can use.

McAdam said he had heard Mossberg bring this up repeatedly. He said that the U.S. mobile industry has nothing to be apologetic about in terms of innovation and competition but that Verizon Wireless is considering opening its network to new devices and applications, as Mossberg advocates.

“The industry is so innovative, and there are so many applications and devices coming, we’d be foolish not to respond to the market,” McAdam said.

Reading McAdam’s response to Kim’s question several times, I couldn’t help but think it could be interpreted one of several ways.  Will Verizon completely open it’s network? My bet is ‘not anytime soon.’  Will Verizon introduce cooler devices and increase the size of it’s developer network?  To remain competitive, they’ll have to.

While I won’t be surprised if Verizon introduces an increased number of apps – especially social networking applications and services in the next couple of years, I’ll be really surprised if they open up their network to the masses, voluntarily.  Verizon’s ‘walled garden,’ “V Cast” is the most fiercely defended ‘service platform’ I’ve seen in the mobile industry.  It’s going to take an unprecidented amount of pressure from mobile industry evangelists and critics including journalists like Walt Mossberg, entrepreneurs like Dustin Moscovitz (co-founder of Facebook who talked about the need for more openness in the mobie industry at CTIA), innovative OEMs (Google?!), ISVs, and customer advocacy groups to knock it down.

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Boopsie – Making Mobile Search Easier

October 29, 2007 by Lisa Oshima | Mobile, Social Media
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A colleague at Forum Nokia recently introduced me to a great mobile search product called “Boopsie.”  Until now, I’ve used Google search on my Windows Mobile phone to find the things I’m looking for.  Last week, I started using Boopsie, and I plan to continue.

Google searching on my mobile is still great for doing local searches, settling pub quiz debates, etc., but Boopsie is great for helping me find mobile content that I wouldn’t necessarily search for.  From social networking (Facebook, Plaxo,  Yelp,  Wikipedia), to google services (gmail, calendar, etc.), to store finders (Starbucks, Jamba Juice, CitySearch), to news and entertainment (Major League Baseball, eHowto, Fandango, etc.).  Boopsie aggregates channels of mobile content (including those outlined above) and makes them easy to find.  Think of it as a catalog for mobile content.   A native Boopsie application is available for download to your Windows Mobile, PalmOS, or Blackberry mobile phone by clicking here on your mobile browser.

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Microsoft at CTIA: Business + Lifestyle = Future of Mobile

October 24, 2007 by Lisa Oshima | Enterprise, Events, Mobile
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I’ve had a great couple of days at the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) Wireless IT & Entertainment Conference in San Francisco catching up with old friends and colleagues in wireless and learning more about where the industry is going.  It all started with Tuesday’s keynote from Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, which CTIA themed “Enterprise.”

Yawn?   No way… Forget boring enterprise software, Ballmer made it clear that while Microsoft knows where its bread is buttered right now, their vision of the mobile future is equally bright for enterprise IT managers and consumers alike.

Microsoft has learned a ton about the mobile marketplace in the last couple of years through the release of Windows Mobile 5 and 6 and the evolution of their strategic partnerships with Mobile OEMs, ISVs, and operators, and it is arguably now the world’s leading expert in the combination of enterprise software, server infrastructure and mobile.  Unsurprisingly, convergence was a recurring theme in Ballmer’s keynote…

We have to meld these models of computing into one. That’s an innovation challenge. And we have to bring together the business models in ways that are acceptable. The business model for the world of phones and cellular devices is different than the PC business model is different than the advertising-based model that people associate with online. And I think what we’re going to find, if we want innovation to proceed at the most rapid pace, we have to meld and weave together those business models in a way that works for software developers, for users, for telecom operators, for content providers, and for software companies like Microsoft and others…

The phone has a unique role. While the PC is the most powerful device, the phone is the most popular device. It will be the device that we can most count on everybody in the planet having, and having available at any given time. But how do we evolve the phone so it participates fully in this world, fully in the lifestyle side of this world, and the work style side of this world? How do we bring all the business experiences and entertainment experiences of the other devices to the phone in an appropriate way? And that’s a great opportunity for innovation from Microsoft, and for all of us in the room participating in this industry...

In many countries, the phone will be the PC for people who have very little money. What does the docking station look like so that when you bring your phone home at night, it can use a simple, cheap keyboard, and it can use the video screen of the television set to become kind of a PC-like workstation for people who simply don’t have the financial resources for both devices?

While I was pleased to hear Ballmer allude to a converged future, it was at this point, that I was unavoidably distracted by the loud conversation of three men sitting in front of me:

Man 1 (wielding a Blackberry Pearl): “Who is this guy?”
Man 2 (also with Blackberry): “Steve Ballmer”
Man 3: “Who’s that?”
Man 1: “Yeah, what does he do?”
Man 2 (opens CTIA program and points to Keynote description of Ballmer)
Man 1 and Man 2 (in unison): oh

I was amazed and amused by what I was hearing…  Is there really a rock large enough to simultaneously shield two people in the IT industry from having at some point seen this on YouTube?:

How could anyone at a Wireless IT and Entertainment conference not know who the CEO of Microsoft is?!  I was dying to find out where they were from, but I couldn’t see their badges from behind, and I didn’t want to stare. 😉  Besides, I really did want to hear what Ballmer was saying:

…IT does need to control and manage some things that go on on these devices, and yet end users are going to want to be able to control what they do with the devices in their personal lives for sure. And we have to make sure there’s a rich set of tools that will support both the end user and the IT department to let these devices fulfill a broad set of work needs...

One of the major investments that we have made, which we are really announcing today is something we call the Microsoft System Center, which is the brand name for our line of enterprise IT management tools, Mobile Device Manager. This is a product that helps IT manage, secure, and provide secure access for phones that are on the go. It increases that sort of general management capability. It will work with forthcoming versions of Windows Mobile devices. There will be updates starting Feb. 2 of next year, Windows Mobile phones will allow this product to work.

As someone who has worked with IT departments who are resistant to change, I appreciate Microsoft’s expression of a dual focus on IT and consumer.  It’s a tough line to straddle, but assuming they can get it right, balancing IT’s need for security with a consumer’s need for productivity, fun and privacy, will propel Microsoft forward in the mobile space.

Ballmer invited Brian Hoskins, Senior Product Manager the Mobile Communications Business, to demo the Microsoft System Center and Mobile Device Manager.  It was fantastic.  Device Management, Security Management, and Mobile VPN all in one.  No one in the mobile industry has done this successfully before, but Microsoft looks like it’s onto a winner.  Imagine:

  • never having to lose the settings on your device when you get a new one…
  • being an enterprise IT manager and using the same system for PCs and mobile to control devices and distribute policies…
  • total security with full file encryption
  • being an employee and VPNing in to see corporate information (CRM, eHR, etc.) securely from your phone from anywhere

Awesome.

AT&T is Microsoft’s launch partner for the Mobile Device Manager, and the Blackjack 2 is working with the Mobile Device Manager already.  HP, HTC, Intermec, Moto, and Palm are also working with Microsoft to bring the platform into use, and several systems integrators including a start-up called Enterprise Mobile (which is supported by Microsoft) and other systems integrators are also working on the project.

Moving from Enterprise to Lifestyle, Derek Snyder went on stage to demo some of Microsoft’s enhanced community, personal and social entertainment capabilities.   Productivity improvements to  Windows Mobile 6 include easier and more robust on-device search (including voice powered search with Live search), Windows Live, and Office Mobile.  The smart filtering technology makes sorting through masses of emails and contacts easy, without having to enter a specific search mode… Just type in the letters of the person or email you’re looking for, and results will filter.  There are also improvements to viewing photos and pictures on email.   Windows Live search is a free application that makes it easy for users to search for directions, restaurants, etc. all from the phone.  (I’ve tried it myself, and it’s great… Download all of the Windows Live apps from your mobile browser by clicking here.)

Entertainment-wise… Pocket Media Player Mobile and support for stereo bluetooth headsets make listening to music and watching video on a Windows Mobile 6 phone a breeze.  And, better yet, with 3 keystrokes, you can get to any song in your library of music.  It is also now possible to control Media Center programming via a Windows Mobile phone.  Using Media Center from a mobile phone is very similar to using it from home, as the two experiences mirror each other.  Derek even managed to record his ‘favorite show,’ (ahem) Oprah from his phone.  At one point, the phone Derek was using lost reception (bound to happen with so many people using mobile phones in one room) but with a quick slide of hand in the form of a almost un-noticeable swap of phones, the demo went on…

Social networking is also a focus for Microsoft.  Specifically, Windows Live Messenger is now running on mobile. You can send voice clips to friends via Instant Messager.  While not particularly revolutionary in scope, it is also possible to blog and upload photos from a Windows Mobile phone to a Windows Live Spaces blog in one click.  Interestingly, while there was no mention of Facebook on Tuesday, today, the Wall Street Journal reported that Microsoft agreed to invest $240 million for a 1.6% stake in Facebook Inc.

As a fan of Windows Mobile, I was pleased to hear about improvements to the platform.  I have high hopes for the future of Windows Mobile… While there is still a lot of work to be done, so far Microsoft is doing a great job of innovating and pushing the mobile industry forward.

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Facebook for Blackberry is Here, but What About BIGGER News?

October 24, 2007 by Lisa Oshima | Enterprise, Mobile, Social Media
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Was I the only one who was underwhelmed with the Facebook and RIM announcement of Facebook for BlackBerry at this morning’s CTIA keynote?  Don’t get me wrong, Facebook’s co-founder, Dustin Moskovitz, presented very well, but I was hoping for more.

  • Moskovitz didn’t mention Microsoft.  Just hours after the keynote, the Wall Street Journal confirmed rumors that Microsoft agreed to invest $240 million for a 1.6% stake in Facebook Inc.  That gives Facebook a value of $15 billion.  That’s pretty big news to keep quiet at a conference where both companies (Microsoft and Facebook) had such high visibility.
  • Moskovitz talked a lot about the importance of creating an “open” platform, but, ironically, the mobile application he announced is “closed” to the majority of mobile users (its only available on Blackberry).  I was hoping to see more seamless usability enhancements to Facebook’s mobile web capabilities (i.e. it would be nice to change my status message on Facebook from my mobile web browser.)
  • The good news for all Facebook mobile users is that 3rd party apps now appear in mobile profile pages, and, users can interact with 3rd party apps through SMS.  Requiring mobile users to launch SMS to interact with their Facebook apps seems a shame, as this inconveniences anyone with a single threaded operating system (i.e. feature phones and any PalmOS phones), presumably requiring them to close down their mobile browser before opening up their SMS client.
  • Mike Lazaridis, the co-CEO of RIM didn’t do a live demo.  Live demos can be precarious at places like CTIA where so many people are connected to the mobile internet and network performance sluggish. (Microsoft lost their mobile connection yesterday and had to switch phones mid-demo but did it gracefully).  But, without a live demo, the audience is left wondering how good an application really is.

I’m not a BlackBerry user, so I can’t test the new app, but I’m curious to know how it performs.  If you download the Facebook for Blackberry app and have feedback, please post a comment with your opinion.

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