Eran's blog

How NOT to build your brand

Here’s why my friends at Get Satisfaction say that Customer service is the new marketing.

AT&T has completely dropped the ball here at SXSW’09. All those geeks running around with their iPhones have brought the network to its knees. You can barely get basic cell service anywhere around the convention center and around any large party. Here, Google will tell you all about it.

On the other hand, SXSW organizers and the Austin Convention Center completely rocked the Wifi setup. For the most part we’ve been getting great service for all the Wifi enabled smart phone and laptops running around the convention center. iPhones included! Twitter will tell you all about that.

The lesson here: Giving bad service to a couple thousand of hyper-connected technology influentials is not how you build your brand.


Filed under: General, Mobile, , , , , , , , ,

Bulk Email Tips and Tricks

DomainKeys authenticationDomainKeys is designed to verify the Email sender’s domain. Most ISPs out there seem to have moved on to DKIM (Domain Keys Identified Mail) but not Yahoo. To get Yahoo to authenticate your DK signed messages you need to include a DomainKeys signature. You can actually get both DomainKeys and DKIM together with DKIMProxy but the documentation is slightly out of date.

To get DKIMProxy to sign using DomainKeys in addition or instead of DKIM follow the instructions for setting up a DKIMProxy_out.conf file on Brandon Checketts’ web site. You may also find his DKIM Validator to be useful.

Sending Email on Behalf – Sometimes you want the sender to be someone other than yourself. For example when users send invites through your website you may want the From field to show the sender’s Email address and name. This requires understanding some SMTP subtleties (envelope sender vs. sender header vs. from header) but there’s some good examples on how to do this on the openSPF website.

Sending from Non-standard ports using JavaMail – If you’re using DKIMProxy you may end up sending email through port 587 (based on the recommended setup). Java makes it a but more complicated than it should be but I found a good bit of sample code here. This boils down to something like:

Transport tr = new SMTPTransport(session, new URLName(smtpHost));
tr.connect(smtpHost, smtpPort, username, password);
tr.sendMessage(msg, recipients);

Calling the connect method yourself is the important part. It seems that otherwise SMTPTransport will use port 25 even if you specify differently in the session’s properties.

Filed under: Java, The Net, , , , , , , , , ,

News and Software Engineering

In the olden days (I’m told) there used to be this attitude among some software companies that said “we don’t do QA, users do QA!â€? after a generation or two of software engineers we’re now safely in the hands of test driven development and all is well with the world. We’ve moved away from the pioneer, get-it-done age to the well-established, get-it-done-well age. I believe something similar might be happening in the world of blogging.

Quoth Michael Arrington: My readers do the final fact check for me. And if I’m wrong, I correct immediately. Sound familiar? If your readers know more about what you write than you, why is it YOU that’s writing? Let them write it. I don’t take on software projects I can’t finish and you shouldn’t write about things you don’t know enough about. For example, I’m still waiting for a complete rewrite on the twitter vs. dodgeball post which was written by someone who obviously has close to zero experience with either dodgeball or twitter.

No newspaper would let that article pass same as (almost) no software house would let a developer with 1 month experience with Java publish any code. Because (most) newspapers and (at least some) software companies are finally out of the pioneer age while bloggers are still exploring their limits. Blogging seems to still be a slave to the “First Postâ€? phenomenon and many bloggers are swimming these unmarked waters, publishing hearsay, rumor, unsubstantiated opinion or just general under-researched posts. I predict that, eventually, as blogging matures and more options arise, blog readers will also learn to be more discriminatory and choose reputable bloggers that fact-check and care about quality not just agility. Quality is NOT a Bad Thing(tm), it’s merely a sign of maturity.

Filed under: The Net

Scaling Community

With community based tools and games spreading all over the net lately, I find myself thinking more and more about communities and ways to make them scale. Obviously thanks to the Internet we can create communities of scales never seen before. Physical limits no longer apply rather we are limited by human capacity to filter information and by the technology that helps us makes sense of this information.

I spent some time as a very active member of Consumating.com. During this time I learned to love the overheard feature. Overhears show on top of the screen and quote some random post from a random conversation. It’s a great way to discover conversations and people you didn’t know about so far but how does it scale? What happens when consumating grows to 100,000 users? A million? 650 million?

The simple solution is some static division of users: by geography, age, industry, etc. This solution seems to work pretty well in many cases especially if the division is appropriate to the context. Where this approach lacks, however, is when certain categories of the arbitrary division aren’t popular enough and users end up in what seems like an empty site or when some category becomes too popular and crowded. In such cases it might be better to use a dynamic, user-driven approach.

On tribe.net (and I’m told on Ning as well but I never bothered looking) any user can create a new group (or tribe) based on whatever topic (or lack thereof) she finds interesting. Some tribes are location based, some are interest based and some are community based. One of the pros of this system is that it is self regulating. Small tribes with little interest or activity tend to die off while tribes that get too big can fork off into several related tribes. Any user can start an offshoot of the parent tribe to concentrate on more specific topics or subsets of the community. Of course, this eventually brings us to a similar problem, what happens when you have too many tribes?

This problem becomes even worse on mobile. While on the web we can (somewhat) easily navigate lists or even hierarchical structures of groups, this is not so easy on a mobile phone. Navigating long lists is painful, and hierarchies will likely take too many page loads and end up in confusion. Perhaps a search based solution or a matching/recommendation engine would do better in this case. I’d love to hear about any ideas, experiments or even better, working solutions to this problem.

Filed under: Mobile, Social Software

The Imago Effect: Identity in games

Note from the Avatar Psychology panel.

Speaking: Harvey Smith of Midway Studios Austin.

Topic is game avatar but extends to chat and other places where users create avatars.

You are the only one who knows yourself.
But you change with mood and time.
Different people have different ideas of you.
There’s probably someone else in the world that has your exact name
So who are you?

A lot of the game experience goes on in the player’s mind.

Games let you express yourself either intentionally or through customization.
Players love self-expression.
Game avatars facilitate self-expression.

Goes through character generation through the ages starting with Mr. Potato head and paper dolls. Now you can do the same when buying cars online.

Participatory culture reflects a primal human drive. The future is in more and more customization.


  • Some players assume a different persona
  • Some players express an idealized aspect of themselves.

FireTeam included player to player voice. Had existing characters. People would choose one that matches the type they like to play. When they added voice to the game suddenly the entire experience who the other people were changed because the voice did not match the avatar.

Avatars and Archetypes

  • Avatars are masks
  • Looking into your imago (your idealized expression)
  • People tend to gravitate toward repeating patterns – archetypes.
  • Archetypes provide for easily differentiated roles.
  • Joseph Campbell – hero with a thousand faces
  • Carl Jung – Multiple layers of identity
  • The archetype IS the goal. Exmaples: Sam Fisher vs. Superman.

People intuitively get archetypes, they already think along those lines.

What do players identity choices mean?

  • Avatar choice communicates a sense of personal identity or mood state.
    • No objective meaning.
    • Helps the player develop an understanding of self.
  • Henry Jenkins quote: All of us move nomadically across the media landscape, cobbling together a personal mythology of symbols and stories.
  • We appropriate symbols from the world and invest a personal meaning in them.
  • Even in games without character creation
    • Players make choices about what games to buy.
    • Example: different boxes for WoW with different character types.

Identity is multi-layered

Double-consciousness during play.
What’s going on in the player’s mind while they’re playing?
the immersive fallacy – the player is the character but they’re also themselves. Leaving a blank slate for the player to project onto.

Game characters allow us to temporarily restructure our view of self.
Game experience can be intense and immersive but the avatar is still just a puppet. The player is aware of the avatar being a fictional construct.
Many aspects to identity during game play.
Player is aware of several things at once (achieving goals, own feelings, avatar’s feelings…)

Reinforcing identity in COD2 – repeating the stylized rituals that hint at your character identity repeatedly.

Identity Absorption

Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics): My car becomes an extension of my body, it absorbs my sense of identity, I become the car. “She hit me!â€? not “her car hit my carâ€?

Identity is constructed
Judith Butler (Gender Trouble):

  • Core aspects of identity are constructed.
  • Coherence of gender categories seems natural
    • Constructed via repeated stylized acts.
    • Establishes the appearance of coherent gender.
  • Gender/sexuality are performative.

Identity is constructed by repeated stylized acts.
Example: all chars in Diablo can heal themselves but they each doing it differently in a way that enhances their identity.

Masking in anime – protagonist are drawn in more vague lines, antagonist is in more detail. Can clearly see the more detailed version is not me.

Q: how important is emotion to creating avatar?
A: We’ll definitely see more and more of that as we have more computing resources available.

Q from Justin Hall: please talk some more about yourself (I’m paraphrasing here)
A: our current game is a shooter with a subversive political message.
Letting the player create a squad (so she connects to them more). Can create a new squad member when one dies. Initially designed with different characters having different world views.
On his own representation online: started as more emo and moved to more relaxed avatars.
Mentions a avatar that was created for him by users for a 2nd life interview.

Q: why do game designers insist on putting words in my mouth?
A: this is still an open question. Some designers still see this as a good thing.

Filed under: The Net

There’s no Such Thing as the Mobile Web (Or Is There?)

Notes from the Mobile Web panel.

Is the Mobile Web separate or just an extension of the web Web?

Dan Appelquist (Vodafone/W3C): mobile web is an evolution of mobile applications in general. Mobile web design should adapt to the device and it’s limitations.

SVG/SVGT 1.2 scalable vector graphics. Version 1.2 allows scripting inside the markup. Real time information delivered using AJAX. Showing video and live information.

Michael Sippey (six apart): on transferring apps from PC to mobile. 6A has so far been focusing on the content creation side of blogging (post by email, Nokia life blog, etc.). Moving into content consumption and connecting with people – much more complicated, different use cases. Example: mobile Vox sites. LJ has an SMS based service for adding friends, getting updates, etc.

Carlo Longino (MobHappy): Users have different needs and interests when using a mobile service. The mobile web is a tool to deliver the information users need in a nice looking way.

Dwipal Desai (YouTube): Sees the mobile web as a way to take some information with you. We don’t need to have the whole web on mobile, find the things people are interested in and let them access that from mobile. Mobile gives a more immediate experience, especially when you have an integrated device that has video recording and communications.

How can we enhance the UE with the opportunities offered by the mobile device?

Appelquist: content creation on the phone and at the same time content consumption. Example: wikipedia is very useful from a phone although it may have never been designed for mobile access.

Sippey: Vox mobile uses the phone’s camera and lets user to immediately post to vox. Privacy controls (and similar options) can be preconfigured to certain defaults. Make the experience very simple and immediate. There’s a lot more mobile phone action on vox now with people going back later to add annotation.
LJ users can call in and leave messages. Friends can transcribe later. Also, LJ Radio lets you listen to a collection of such messages. In the future maybe allow users to easily create podcasts.

Longino: creating content that fosters interaction is important. Very easy for everyone to be a content creator.

On challenges to moving to mobile:

Desai: rich media on the phone is still pretty new. Networks and phones are still catching up. Interface is very fragmented. You need a whole company dedicated to porting. Operators have a lot of control although they’re slowly opening up as they see possibilities in data. We’re not yet at the point where we can create one application that’s accessible to everyone.
Things are getting better though. There’s some convergence towards open standards.

Appelquist: a lot of convergence in the field. XHTML MP from OMA which has created some fragmentation will be replaced with XHTML Basic from W3C as well as WCSS. Next thing to attack is Javascript support (AJAX, etc.) will soon be trying to create some industry convergence in that area.

Sippey: using lowest common denominator on the mobile site. Limited use of CSS. Lacking QA to test on every possible device. Developing applications for smart phones (S60, Windows Mobile and Palm OS apps) and even with this limited reach there’s a lot of differences. Will not develop a good blogging environment on Mobile Web until there’s support for richer apps (access to devices and additional data on the phone).

Longino: the important thing is to put things out there. Start simple and learn from your users, see what works and what doesn’t. there’s a learning curve in choosing what services to offer people as well, not just in the technology side of things.

On working with carriers and OEMs:

Desai: on the web most people don’t care about the carrier too much. YouTube can create a better experience with help from the carrier. Being On-Deck is important.

Sippey: 6A has more focus on working with OEMs that operators (getting integration with camera for example). In the US carriers are showing more willingness to give up some control. Power relationships in mobile are very different from the Web. Carriers have much more control and power.

Appelqiust: (representing the carriers here…) Ouch! There’s a lot of partnering with existing brands (Google, MySpace, etc.) going beyond creating the “Vodaphone Blogâ€? and towards cooperation and offering services On-Deck. For YouTube, getting On-Deck and getting good placement is easy. The Mobile Web allows smaller outfits to offer services even when the operators aren’t aware of them at all.
Talks about Mobile Monday – http://www.mobilemonday.net/ – monthly networking events around the world. Puts a focus on innovation.

How will communities evolve in the mobile environment? Extension of existing apps or a whole new breed of apps?

Desai: YouTube’s community is centered on video. Can create immediate connection and community when you combine location and video. Still mentions that people will use the website to connect and explore.

Future opportunities:

Longino: Mobile devices are ubiquitous and pervasive this obviously presents a huge opportunity.

Sippey: We want location based service. Example: tag photos automatically with location.

Appelquist: in 10 years we won’t be thinking or talking of using the mobile web, we’ll just do it. Location is a start of the evolution. Showing contextual information based on location and other people’s location around you. Ubiquity.

Q from Opera guy: what about the longtail? There’s a lot of information out there that you just want to be able to access. Are the guys who build the smaller sites no longer relevant? Or are they still important?

Sippey: 6A enables everyone to blog. Is not a big information provider. Enables individual expression. Example: Typepad blogs will all be mobile enabled later this year.

Appelquist: The mobile Web allows anyone to create the YouTube for mobile (in case that YouTube didn’t move fast enough). There’s room for innovation.

Q: People (outside of SXSW) don’t use mobile web apps. How can we drive usage of services?

Longino: Chicken and Egg problem. There’s no content so people don’t use it, etc. There needs to be a compelling reason to use the service.

Appelquist: Usage creeps up the generational ladder.

Sippey: Technology adoption is social. Users showing and helping each other.

Filed under: The Net

Online Games: Beyond Play and Fantasy with Joi Ito and Justin Hall

Some note from the Online Games panel with Joi Ito and Justin Hall later joined by Ben Cerveny.

Note: very dense, very passionate and knowledgeable speakers. It’s really hard to keep up or take notes that make any sense. Really, you should have been here.

Post Script: This was an amazing panel. It’s clear that everyone on stage is very passionate about their ideas. I’m sitting here with this strange feeling of having been in “The Presenceâ€? although I know I do not grok most of the ideas they discussed and probably missed a whole chunk of what’s been floating around. It’s good to know that these are the people that we and others are listening to.

Joi: Comparing WoW to 2nd life is like comparing apples and oranges or MOOs to MUDs. Silly!

You can make a game inside 2nd life, you can make WoW inside 2nd life but this isn’t where the 2nd life crowd wants to go.

Joi: games make for wonderful interfaces because they develop as an interaction between people who make the game and people who play the game. Sometimes the 3d world is important but when engaged in intense activities (boss fight) it’s more like flying by instrument.

Joi goes over his enhanced HUD for WoW showing some very advancecd and complicated information. Two things to earn from that:

  1. this interface is way ahead of existing interfaces for, say, project management.
  2. People are starting to hire their guildies now because they know a lot about them and how they behave under pressure. Also they have shared language.

About audio in fantasy games: it can break the fantasy but the fantasy is already broken. The game is just a common activity shared by a community of people. (plays southpark WoW episode).

Douglass Thomas and John Seely Brown have a paper about the difference between simulation and metaphor:
Simulation tries to real and teaches you how to do the real thing.
Metaphor has nothing to do with real life but the leadership and other skills you learn can be applied to real life.

Brown also talks about Ensemble – being part of a group, doing things together and seeing how things work smoothly. Gives participants a sense of achievement and being part of something bigger than themselves.

Note: This is the feeling I got every time I read someone writing about their experience in WoW, especially with high level raids.

Justin Hall:
WoW takes over your attention and your life. You must put in the time and effort to really get into it. What you achieve in WoW you cannot take into RL.
Uses his MySpace page to show what he’s been up to, where he’s been, etc. (look at my tribe page for an example). Has a similar effect to personal blogging. Different services give you “experience pointsâ€? in different thing (plazes, last.fm etc.)

Passively multiplayer online game gives you experience points for just surfing the web.
The BBC tried to use it to promote web literacy. Example: give new users quests to read sites outside of their comfort zone.

Creating user profiles based on DMOZ sites and categories.

Currently prototyping a board game to play this in RL. The game could be connected to the Web through microformats http://www.bud.com.

Ben Cerveney:
Talking about the dissolving separation between games and applications.
Creating game design is a sculpture in possibility space by constraining the player options in the possibility space.

We keep borrowing metaphors from game space and using them in other applications. Also goes the other way around. Ideas used in games are used in language or in serious applications. Example: ideas from the SIMs used to control similar applications. Talking about flickr that started as a game and became an application for sharing media.

Games give you more flexibility. You can control your interface to match your level of flow. Add more sources of information or remove them.

Justin: Slife is TIA (total information awareness) publishes all your top windows to the web. Tries to keep people in touch with each other? Will stop you from interrupting someone in an important task for example. Is the WoW LUA type of awareness coming to the office?

Joi: The rest of the world can learn from the kids who discover new options. In the US the assumption is that work should not be fun.

Question: (or rather speech): our current notion of work is about work is new. The corporation being threatened by life “invadingâ€? work is new, this used to be the way things work. We’re creating false dichotomies that aren’t there.

Justin: Seriousity – http://www.seriosity.com/ – gives you point for bunching your email access and gives you overview of the entire organization.

Q: How are MMOs helping to spread democracy?
Joi: Many members in our guild form many backgrounds. Many of’em never thought to participate in town hall meetings. Or never were part of anything diverse.

Justin talks about an MMO where they gave points to people being nice to strangers.

Q: There’s room for seriousness as well. In fact, in some cases it is very important.
Joi: 90% of what we do is not fun or playful at all. In raids there’s a lot of hierarchy and control. At the same time 40 people need to be engaged for 8 hrs. Requires a careful balance of play and seriousness. Being a part of an ensemble helps.

Filed under: The Net

SXSW: Web2.0 for the MySpace Generation

Almost live notes from the Under 18 panel. How youths use the internet, how they should use the internet.

Most young people are online and are active.
Problem: adults don’t get the internet
Results in one of two extreme ideas

  • Young people are in constant danger online.
  • Young people are fulfilling their inner potential online.

Trying to find the middle ground.

Danah Boyd:
History lesson leading up to Age Segregation. Teenagers grow up with only other teenagers. Not feeling part of “adultâ€? society. Now goes on until early 20s.

The internet allows young people to have a public life.

“if you’re not on MySpace you don’t existâ€?  you need to be there even if you don’t participate.

The architecture of public life through the internet has changed because of the properties of the internet.

Erin Reilly
Zoey’s room, extreme challenge – safe space for girls/kids online. Now coming out with a mobile version.
Elyzabeth sylvan
Lifelong kindergarten – group to build inspiring tools for learning.
Online community as a place to explore different identities.
Kate Raynes-Goldie
Taking it Global – International youth activism tools.
How to engage kids online in a way that speaks to them but does not alienate teachers or parents.
Need to overcome the fear adults now have because of sites like MySpace or FaceBook. Tools also need to be usable by adults, sometimes alienates children.
Anastasia Goodstein
Avatars help kids explore themselves.
Can’t really solve online problems with technology. Need to initiate dialog. Parents are afraid.
Andrea Forte
Wiki in school (high school) scare teachers. The community/collaboration aspect is at odds with individual assessment.
Young people now have an opportunity to contribute to what’s going on in the world. They can become part of something important.

Trying to discuss 3 questions:

  • What are young people getting from the online life?
  • What are the dangers to young people online?
  • What do we do about it? Are there design solution that can help? Technological solutions? Social ones?

Danah on DOPA: We’re moving from a digital divide problem to a participatory divide problem.
Bas things happen in public space. Online public space is no different. We should treat them in a similar manner. A proactive approach to educate parents and kids.

Breaking up with a person online – gives you a clear record and prevents the he-said she-said game.

Online life is good for shy kids, they can express themselves better.

At this point the panel moved on to discuss more and more about online predators and how to deal with misconceptions and with the actual problem. I zoned out 🙂

Filed under: The Net

Heard a rumor today…

This one’s completely unconfirmed but I’m told that Jeteye has finally given up the ghost. They’ve been going through some rough times lately so I can’t say I’m surprised but I won’t be surprised to see the company magically resurrected either.

Filed under: The Net

The Mobile Phone as a Virtual Campfire

In the old days, we huddled around a campfire for warmth and safety. We formed tribes and villages and lives in the cradle of an extended family. But we lost a lot of that when we moved to big cities. The local pub used to be a place to meet your friends and neighbors, now it is filled with strangers. We spend our evenings staring at the television, a poor replacement for a campfire. TV doesn’t connect you to anyone but it distracts you enough so you don’t have to think about it. In Fahrenheit 451, television gives people the illusion of a family so they can pretend to be part of a tribe, it’s amazing how true Bradbury‘s vision is 50 years later.

Strangely enough computers are changing this pattern. Thanks to modems and networks and telecommunications computers can connect to each other and through them so can we. Online communities started appearing in the very early days of the Internet (news groups, MUDs, etc.) and now with Social Networks more explicitly filling that role we can see virtual tribes forming everywhere. The network allows us to connect and capture some of those lost feelings of community and security. Is it really any wonder that we can’t get enough of those sites?

Now comes the latest wave; mobile social applications let us carry that connection and that sense of community with us everywhere. Dodgeball, twitter or jaiku keep us always connected, always aware of a community of friends around us. My phone has become a hub of social life, like a campfire it is surrounded with my friends and tribe mates. Every once in a while it bleeps with another sign of life from my tribe. Another connection, no matter how minimal. Another reminder that I’m not alone.

(Inspired in part by Trip Hawkins)

Filed under: The Net