Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Notifications: the good, the bad and the ugly...

Notifications have been part of life since for ever, mom reminding you to take out the trash, alarm clocks, postcards in the mail from your dentist.

They are such an important part of life that it was inevitable that they would become a part of software, just like discovery and word processing... The problem as usual is that there is no best way of doing it, everyone does his notifications differently, and wants to be notified in certain ways about different things... So to do it in a way that would please everyone is a pretty tough job. So tough, in fact, that Apple didn't even tackle it until the fifth major version of its iOS (that has just been released, and many people claim that it was copied from Android).

Though it seems today as if Google invented notifications in Android, they have been "invented" long before that in software... All desktop OS's have had it for years, many enterprise applications have notification mechanisms, etc. etc... 

If you look around (you know - Google it) the number implementations is pretty mind boggling. it appears that everyone tried to invent the wheel here, even when the OS (Windows, Linux you name it) provides an implementation and API, many developers ignore this (for many reasons) and go on to create for better or worse their own way of doing it.

There are many aspects to notifications, and my interest was raised following a post in Google+ (link, may not be accessible if not logged into Google) which asked if anyone knew a solution to a problem the user was having with his notifications to which I responded and realized I misunderstood the request - this was because notifications are so important and universal but everyone wants something else (and therefore almost always thinks that other people want the same - just like in politics). This caused my mind to start processing in hyper-drive, suddenly thinking about the complexity of the issue, and what can be done.

Some of the issues that raced through my head, what to notify about, how to give the user control without overloading him, push vs. pull (obviously push), privacy concerns (what data to attach to a notification, who to notify of what, does the user want someone else to be notified of his action, etc..), do we group notifications? are some notifications better in digest form?, different notification types (actionable, info) and lots more...

As you can understand by now, this is an enormous problem! and there is no easy or simple solution.

Too many notifications can cause the messages to be ignored (developers know the problem of servers sending messages that are not actionable - causing the developer to start deleting messages without even reading them - making the messages a nuisance instead of a helpful feature), worst case users can abandon your product deciding the notifications are just too annoying (in Google+ this is a major problem, since the notification indicator is so prominent).

Too little notifications can cause the user not to get messages he considers important, this can also be a deal breaker.

What is too much, what is too few, what is the ideal notification length? how to "compress" the message to that size? do we send a notification about a +1? do we allow the user to control this? who/what can send users a notification? 

When we talk about user control, how to let users control the notifications - Google decided in Google+ to allow users to choose who they allow to send them messages. This might be a temporary solution until Google decides to implement an automated SPAM filter, or the two might be combined. A SPAM filter risks the user not getting a notification he might care about due to problematic content, or might let through a spammy message... 

When is a notification legitimate and in what point does it turn into SPAM? 

All these questions come (or should come) before actually implementing such a feature. In the iOS case, I believe Apple felt that the smartest thing to do is to sit it out until a workable solution was completed by Google - just to avoid the questions and trouble of coming out with a half-baked solution that might annoy their users - they may have been right :-)

This post is just scratching the surface of the notification concept and surrounding issues I'd love to hear from you - my readers, what you think about this subject. Do you know of any research done in this area? Please send me your thoughts and comments.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Google+ search is here!!!

I was looking at the latest changed on the Google+ project page

by shear mistake I was using the desktop version (I was using Google+ mobile at the time), and went up a level on the help, and suddenly there was an entry about search on Google+

I tried it, it only is available on jthe desktop version, and it seems to work great!!!

Unfortunately, being hospitalized at the moment, I can't access a regular computer, my Samsung Galaxy Tab 7" which is a great gadget to have in a hospital bed (dont forget to bring your charger), is not the best for the desktop experience. So I can't check this very well - the feature isn't yey avaiable on the mobile site or the Android app. but the one search I did gave back lots of results from Google+ (users whos profiles contain the search term, public posts that match, private posts that have been shared with me that match etc.). It is also possible to save searches.

This is huge, and its silently released. almost everyone has been waiting for this.

a short disclaimer, this might not be available to you, possible reasons:
1. it hasnt been rolled to everyone yet
2. you're using a mobile version
3. it might be available to me because im part of the Google+ Platform Preview so its not publicly yet

still it is very weird that there is no mention of this as a news item on google.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Book "review" - Kiln People by David Brin

I'll start by saying that I liked the book very much. Kiln People like other good science fiction books is here to explore possibilities of  technological advancement. The book describes one that I personally do not believe will ever come to happen, especially not in the "technique" described. Still the implications and ramifications are well explored and discussed and the plot is pretty good as well. I won't go into the details or any spoilers.
There are many concepts discussed in the book and the more you continue reading the more "crazy" it gets, it's anoying I know - not to explain what I mean, but the ending is not so good, and by ending I don't mean how it ends for the hero(s) of the book, but the concept of what happens there I think goes beyond the scope of the book - the author David Brin whos' books I realy like went ballistic with possibilities, but I expect that in a book with so much morality and mortality there was a need to ascend a bit beyond?!
Anyway, if you liked I, Robot by Asimov you'd probably like this one as well - it is definitley meant as a compliment and not connected to the fact that both have movies that are related (in the Asimov case a movie by the same name) - actually Kiln People is only related in idea to the movie Surrogates, apparently there is a totally different movie script it is based on (that is what David Brin says, to me it seems a bit too coincidential)
Recently I decided to split my reading time between analog (paper) and digital books, during the work week I read digital content - web pages, kindle etc. and on the weekend I relax with a good old paperback. This was a paperback and it provided a few weekends of joyous reading. It is making good use of my paperbacks and allows me to focus on reading - something that is much harder using a connected device for the reading, Amazon has done a VERY good thing by hiding system notifications when the Kindle app is loaded on Android, but that's never enough. On weekends my digital devices are shit down so they don't provide any distraction.
Kiln People - David Brin

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sharing Google Maps to Google+

Sharing Google Maps to Google+ (thanks +Danny Sullivan for sharing the article +Greg Sterling wrote - covering this new development)

Well this is cool! more Inter-Integration of Google+ into other Google properties, this time via the BlackBar *.

This was a simple button (Share...) that looked like an afterthought, just next to the orange notification count on the top-left of the screen, but it's turning out to be something huge! Now, when you go to Google maps and click on the Share... button it adds some context with it into the sharing widget (instead of just an empty Text input area).

Obviously this exists on Google.com only (where the bar has been added), but I can see it growing into a widget you can embed on your own website - an HTML5 replacement for the Extension/Add-on toolbar we have grown to love/hate...

This integrates with the +snippets announced earlier ** capability which allows you to embed special snippets in a map (and in any website) and have the share button automagically detect them and have that data pulsed/beamed directly to the users' Google+ chosen circles when he clicks the "Share".

This also ties directly into the +1 button which is a different beast, but very similar in effect for regular non-google websites. The +1 Button this button has been significantly upgraded in the last two weeks *.

Wow, this is growing fast! This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what Google+ is capable of (and will do, in the future)!

* I believe the black toolbar is going to turn into a full fledged HTML5 Google Toolbar eventually, which users will be able to add as a Chrome extension, and website owners to embed in their websites for integrated site-search capabilities etc... Huge, if this happens - I thought of this first! (+Bradley Hawkes +Vic Gundotra +Larry Page )

** http://google-latlong.blogspot.com/2011/09/snippets-on-google-maps-if-you-can-see.html

* http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/08/doing-more-with-1-button-more-than-4.html (nice intro video by +Timothy Jordan ) andhttp://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2011/08/making-most-of-improvements-to-1-button.html

Ref: Post on Google+: https://plus.google.com/102370937568758228574/posts/JTmpDDy9RAy

Controlling Your Circles Visibility Tip!

If you tried editing your Google+ Profile (you should, very important - this is your face.), you know there are a LOT of options and things you can do on that page.

One of those options is showing Who follows you / Who do you follow - using boxes:

  1. People in common (##)
  2. In (Xxxx)'s circles (###)
  3. Have (Xxxx) in circles (###)
You have an option to decide if people can see the #2 box (and by this implicitly cause box #1 to appear or not), and another option to display (or not) box #3. In addition you can set who can see boxes 1+2 (Anyone / Your circles only).

This is a good and important feature, but there is an additional sub-option here which is even more important, but more obscure since it is a sub-option of the option which makes it hard to display prominently, pay attention!

You can choose which circles will be included/dropped from the data displayed in boxes 1+2, meaning that you will show ONLY those persons who are part of the "People I want to show the world that I follow" circle and avoid displaying the "I don't want anyone to see / know follow those guys", and by that improve your public face and avoid giving free advertisement to those profiles you do not wish to promote even though you do follow them.

To illustrate assume you want your family private (even though you are a public person) - remove them from this list, or if you want to show your professional partners - make their circle visible. Daily deals you subscribe to by following - hide, Charity organizations you want to promote - show.... you get the drift.

This is a very powerful option, AND it doesn't change a thing about your streams and notifications - you will still get notifications about people from those circles adding you, commenting, mentioning etc. and you will continue seeing their posts in the relevant streams.

Where to find this setting: These settings are accessible either directly from the profile page "Change who visible here" or from Google+ Settings page (top-right corner of the page in the black bar wheel button) -> Profile and Privacy tab (from left menu) -> "Edit Network Visibility" button

P.S. or Related Tip: if you're looking at someone else's profile, if you don't see yourself in the In (Xxxx)'s circles box, you might be followed by him anyway (if the circle you are in is not in the list). How do you know? At the top right of the page under the Green button showing in which of your circles this person is (or if he isn't in any - you will have a red "Add to circles" button) - there will be a small note saying: "You are in Xxxxx Xxxx's circles" or "You are in Xxxx Xxxx's circles too" - depending on if you follow him or not, this note is displayed only to the relevant person when he is logged in, and is a way to check on things when you get a notification that someone is following you and you want to verify it still is the case.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Google+ do not despair, we love you!

To the Google+ Team and Google in general, I want to apologize in the name of all those people who have no clue, and expect features to fly out of Google+ on a daily basis.

They do not know what they are asking for.
They have no clue what it takes to get such a web application going.
They complain without understanding.
They have been spoiled rotten by your attention.

They have been poisoned by the media hype.

Yes I miss some features, and I ask for them, but only that you add them to your list, if it isn't already there, and get to solving them when you get to it, not before. No time limit or expiration.

Me and Other web developers and software engineers stand in awe at the rate and quality of this product, I don't think such a quality web launch was ever witnessed by myself and many others (and I've been launching website since 1994).

Keep up the good work, don't let the crybaby's dictate the tempo, release when you are ready and only then. It might cost you in the short term, but in the long term you will be judged the winners!

You rock!

This goes out for the entire Google+ team, Photos, Hangouts, Mobile, Web, Android, iPhone, Huddles, and whomever I left out for lack of knowledge

Your biggest fan?

Thoughts about Tablet form Factor

Maybe I should become a Tech blogger?

Anyway, I'm the owner of the Galaxy Tab 7" (first edition, WiFi + 3G) - I use it as my phone (+ Bluetooth Headset), as well as out of office computer, recently bought an el-chipo bluetooth keyboard to type with.

So this device travels everywhere with me, it charges in the car (on the go), and it manages to last a full work day (just barely though), and then full charge at home. I find it very useful. (I haven't yet done a battery calibration).
I'm very happy with the size, and was excited when I heard Samsung is coming out with a new model with upgraded specs.

I find it excellent for reading in bed (I like the kindle better, but it has its drawbacks), controlling the kids computer (loading movies for them to watch, shutting it down when it's necessary), getting and answering my mail and social network notifications, keeping notes and task lists, car navigation, SMS, voice and video calls, keeping up with news, podcasts the list goes on and on (and can't forget gaming, although I'm not really that much into it)

My fantasy setup (need a little more cash to achieve) is:
  1. Small handset for phone that is tied in to the tablet for contacts and other things (phone should have 3G and the tablet can use that connection via phone hot spot). A Samsung Galaxy would be an overkill for this, but a good fit (not the 4.5" but smaller)
  2. 7" tablet - my current one works exteremly well, but I would love a longer life battery and better hardware specs (+ I guess Icecream Sandwich OS) - this would be used for getting around, traveling, meetings etc.
  3. For the home I would like to have a bigger tablet 10.1" or so, beats my PC hands down for entertainment and stuff (Android OS) - this would be for watching movies and games. If I can get two of these or even three, so I can have the kids play on it and have one for my wife at the same time (I could still use my 7")
  4. Bluetooth keyboard, so I can type on my tablets with ease.
  5. Just bought a stylus (Jot Pro) which I hope will help with drawing and sketching on the tablet.
  6. Still need a PC to( or two) for all the other stuff I do, and to perform as a multimedia hub, storing all the movies, pictures, audio and I also use it for professional usages of( website development, software development and other usages which the tablet doesn't do yet)
  7. Optional: E-Ink Kindle (or any good E-Ink device) would like it to have touch technology though - for book reading

I Don't think I'll need 3G capabilities for my next tablet, I think tethering on to the phone and( or phones WiFi access point) will be more than enough.

No iPhone or iPad on this list? you're right - tried it and didn't like it, much prefer Android and it's possible customizations and hacks, what can I say, I'm a technical savvy power user and I don't want to give away my control.

I'm back (from Google+)

I decided to stop posting blog posts on Google+, at least untill they enable auto-save, and re-kindle my "tech-blog" opened a long time ago.

I slowly realize that I sometimes have thoughts on technology and that I'd like to write them down. For a while I've been writing about them on Google+, and publishing them over there, but due to problems I've been having with it, I finally decided to come back to blogger and publish here for the public, and only mentioning the posts on Google+.

What problems you ask? Isn't Google+ perfect? Well there are many issues, some are very minor some more serious:

  1. No Auto-Save: it is one of the most frustrating things that can happen to a writer, writing for a long time and then having it all disappear. When writing in some 
  2. Public Vs Private issues... You can't have a post which is limited in the push to people send only to some circles, but have it open for all to see through a link.
  3. No search - no one can reach my posts using Google Search.
  4. Can't put ads on my posts - a minor issue, but still.
  5. Limited Images and Videos in posts

I'm quite sure that most if not all of these issues will be addressed in future versions of Google+ but until then...

So my setup is changing for now, I will publish my posts - all of the English language ones, on this blog and my Hebrew ones on another one. Whatever is a small post Twitter like, will still go on Google+, and whenever I publish anything on the blogs I will push a notification to Google+.

As a side note: discovered that blogger has now an autocomplete typing feature that works pretty well.
Your'e welcome to comment here or on Google+

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Thank you David! (STG_E_ACCESSDENIED)

An error occurred during local report processing. Access Denied. (Exception from HRESULT: 0x80030005 (STG_E_ACCESSDENIED))

Just resolved a bugging issue I had with Reporting Services, when I tried to preview a report in the Dev environment (Visual Studio BI) I got this annoying error, on a specific report only, which worked perfectly on the deployed environment (no problems with build or deploy).

I new it had something to do with permissions, but since it basically worked, I ignored it (the problem only started today).

A quick search brought me to David's blog where the answer was written clear and simple (SSRS has a lot of these permission issues, and it's always this small bit that is wrong).

So thanks!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

PayPal APIs: Up and Running By Michael Balderas (eBook Edition)

In short a book you can take out of your wishlists, no value for your money, all the data is available in at least the same level or better for free on the PayPal developer website.

I had some expectations when I downloaded this book, for a long time I have wanted to do a small PayPal integration project, just to flex my eCommerce muscles, I thought doing it on such an important platform would be a great experience, and so I was very happy to see this book on the list.

However, reading the book, I found little information of interest about the different APIs available, and hardly any information that explains the logic and the options of the PayPal API. it is mostly a LOT of source code which does the same thing again and again, with no added value per example. Not enlightening, no special tips or gotchas - just function by function rundown of the API (what you could get by reading the attached documentation from the Developer site).

I expected a lot more, more about eCommerce, more about security, more about integration with a working site (which the book mentions but never gets around to showing).

Do not waste your money.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Book Review: SQL Pocket Guide, Third Edition By Jonathan Gennick

This is my first book review for the O'reilly Blogger Review Program, I read this book on my Amazon Kindle 3 - a great experience in itself.

A great resource for starting and experienced SQL programmers alike, this book is indeed what it claims to be - a pocket guide for SQL. It is highly informative and covers a lot of ground in a concise and readable manner.

When programming in any language a handy reference is always helpful, today it is easy to find almost anything on the web (vendor website or elsewhere), but sometimes especially if you work in multiple environments it is better to have an organized form of the reference in a book (hard copy or ebook). If you find yourself in such a need for SQL this book is what you are looking for, and for the price I would recommend you buy it.

It organizes the information you need by section (SELECT, UPDATE, PIVOT, Window Functions) and inside the section gives all the information relevant for the different SQL platforms (SQL Server, MySql, Oracle, etc...) - including basic explanation on the functionality and the required syntax and differences between them.

The reference itself is very useful, but the book also provides explanations on the different functionalities and concepts which I think could greatly assist beginners in understanding more fully what they can do and why.

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program  SQL Pocket Guide (Pocket Guides)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Amazon Kindle - a personal review

I have wanted to purchase a Kindle for a very long time, I love reading books, I read a LOT of books - Fiction, History, Woodworking, Science Fiction, (Auto)Biographies, you name it - I probably read it. 

So as a book lover (and gadget lover) I was excited when the Kindle was announced, a book reader for book lovers - I wanted one for myself. This seemed like the sort of gadget I would enjoy spending money on, it took me a few years, but I finally bought one! I'm sorry I didn't do it sooner... 

So on to my review, well sorta, I ramble, so bear with me...

First things first - Reading with Kindle is fun - the Electronic Ink technology is amazing, compared to reading a PDF on the PC, no comparison, I can read for hours with no fatigue - almost like a real book - I hear that color is coming soon - that will be a nice addition for children books and cooking books for example...

The web browser functionality is a bit limited but it works, using the free 3G connectivity I can access my emails and most websites (you are usually better off using the mobile version of the specific website or service you need). Wikipedia and others are particularly good looking. I wouldn't but the Kindle for this, but it's better than not having anything... (Now if only I could figure how to make my Kindle a WiFi hot-spot :-))...

Navigating in the book is basic, I love the next/previous locations (I've heard complaints - I think it is superb usability), also search in book (or all books) works well. The build quality is great, this is a sturdy little device - a nice case is recommended - a lighting device as well (since you can't read your kindle in the dark without additional illumination)... A nice addition to the next-gen Kindle would be a built in light, I think...

I really would like touch capability for the Kindle, I understand this was left out for the screen clarity and quality, but I think it would simplify my life as a reader to have it (many selection options and other things would be much faster than using the "5 in 1" selector).

I like the built-in dictionary - so much fun, bookmarking, and the highlighting, and the fact that Amazon remembers (across devices) my last location in each book and synchronizes this... I would like the ability to select and search text in Google (preferably a configurable/switchable search engine).

I get books from Amazon (which has many classics for free) easily, also Oriley has technical books in the mobi format which work fine on the Kindle (you can put it direct on the Kindle using the USB cable or send it through the WhisperNet service). a new software I discovered lately http://calibre-ebook.com/ is a VERY good manager, and allows you to manage your library (beyond Amazon.com) including converting many eBook formats to the .mobi (so that they work on the Kindle), it knows how to download news sources (blogs/online newspapers) for reading on the Kindle as .mobi files (avoiding subscription rates and very readable).
I like reading on my Kindle, it is a good experience and close to a book, but it is not a book... I still like reading real books much better. On my next vacation I will probably take along both (at least one real book and the Kindle).