Facebook IPO brings memories of coulda-been contenders

Myspace's strength is in music promotion, but its social media model fell apart.

Of course it’s interesting watching some social media service that some college student dreamed up in his dorm become a multi-gazillion-dollar company with stock and everything. But with Facebook’s usage near the billions and other online companies hitting Big Casino on Wall Street, it was bound to happen.

Facebook didn’t popularize the Internet, and it wasn’t even the first social media site to show up. Half a decade ago it was trying to catch some crumbs dropped by Myspace. It was just another Web presence.

But Facebook, despite its security holes, privacy issues and the creep-azoid aspects of friending and poking other people, must be doing something right. Whether that sticks now that it’s gone public, well, that question won’t be answered for another few years.

While Facebook was negotiating out its initial public offering (IPO), an article came out in Mashable! about some of the other Next Big Things on the Internet. These are companies that had a great deal of popularity, broke some new ground, and fizzled. These are the companies that, if this was a boxing movie, would be telling you “I coulda been a contender.”

America Online: AOL is still around, though it’s hard to tell sometimes. The days of the free AOL demo CDs that will hook you up to the Internet for free as long as you give them a credit card number are gone. AOL was huge during the dialup days, but couldn’t gain traction as DSL, broadband and Wi-fi took over. But AOL was more than just a way to get online and drain your bank account; they were a community. The first real “walled garden” in Internet parlance. Members could get into various chat rooms and read news that was unavailable to everyone else. AOL’s Instant Messenger was revolutionary in itself, and a lady friend even considered having the (now defunct) AIM logo tattooed on her butt. Despite a disastrous merger with Time-Warner, AOL stayed alive by shifting gears. It’s now in the news business, with national (Huffington Post) and hyperlocal (Patch) up front. AOL is now in the content generation business and finding new ways to lose money.

Friendster: We’re talking late 1990s, early 2000s here. Friendster was one of the first social media sites and for a while, the biggest. I understand they still exist as a social gaming site, although I’m not sure anyone really cares.

Myspace: This was the first truly successful social media site until it collapsed under its own weight. Literally. Users were encouraged to load their pages with all sorts of gingerbread, and it often took forever for a page to load. Facebook, with its slimmer, one-size-fits-all design, ate Myspace for lunch. Myspace is still a favorite site for bands because it’s easy to upload music files, and the thing that may save the company’s butt would be to specialize in that. It’s changed hands several times and the purchase price reflects its fortunes; NewsCorp bought it out for $580 million in 2006, and later Specific Media purchased it for $35 million. Ouch.

GeoCities: Back in the early 21st Century there were several online companies that allowed you to build your own Web page to a pattern. GeoCities’ social aspect allowed users to link their Web pages by interest, so in effect writers could get together under the GeoCities network. GeoCities no longer exists, which probably means the experimental web site I threw together under its banner probably doesn’t either.

sixdegrees.com: A short-lived social site tracing the I-know-someone-who-knows-someone thing. Is it true everyone’s only six degrees (layers of friendship) from Kevin Bacon? The web site is still there, open to members only. I never bothered with it.

Second Life: Fantasy meets technology. Caught virtual fire when folks realized you can be anyone you want online. I’m sure Second Life got as much blame for divorces as Facebook does now. Second Life currency became as good as the real thing in some circles, and somehow dealing in stolen Second Life credits became a cottage industry for some unlawful types. Some of these Second-Life-based businesses kicked off its decline, along with issues with unstable servers. It still exists, if you’re interested.

Orkut: This Google company now has 66 million users, but you’d have to go to Brazil to find them. But back in the day Orkut was a social networking site with serious Google gravitas behind it. But Google does have a history of trying new things and abandoning them when they don’t pan out (see: Buzz, Wave), and the search giant is proving once again with Google+ that social media isn’t as easy as it looks.

Coulda been.


There’s still plenty of use for that ‘obsolete’ netbook

Even with a Nook and laptop, there's still lots of room for the netbook.

Tablet computers like the iPad may be great for consuming Web content, but …

… it’s a whole different animal if you produce content. It’s just not there yet.

“Have you tried typing on a pad yet? I mean extended typing, like a few thousand words at a stretch? I haven’t, and I’m not really looking to try … my experience with pad-type devices is limited to my Android phone, which doesn’t count. It does have the default on-screen keyboard, but let’s extend that a little bit. An iPad onscreen keyboard is bigger than a smartphone keyboard, but still much smaller than the one on a netbook. And what’s this typing-on-glass thing? I like to feel something move when I type. I don’t bother to look at the keys half the time, so on a pad I’m never sure if I hit the right virtual key until I see the results on the screen. Sure, you can set the keyboard to vibrate under your fingers when you hit the virtual keys, but that’s not the same thing. Not even close. Plus, I’ve discovered I hate a grubby screen. There’s just something about it that bugs me, and I’d feel the need to wipe it off every few keystrokes. Ych!”

In Random Hacks, I will explain why I’m not ready to retire my netbook yet.


Remembering old word processors, forgetting the new

… I found out the hard way that when you import an MS Word document into a pagination program like PageMaker, you need to strip out the formatting, the so-called “garbage characters.” Again, straight ASCII — saving it in a .txt format — is the best bet here. Plus, when you send a word-processing document by email, you’d better hope the recipient uses the same software as you …”

Check out more details in Hubpages, including my first time.





Pardon, your geezer is showing: A bucket list

Bucket lists are real popular these days; so popular you may have found one in your email box or social media platform.

Admittedly they’re fun, and they can be a real eye-opener. The usual response after filling out one of those is something like, “I’m amazed I’m still alive!”

This bucket list is different. The rules are the same as any other — check off those you’ve done — but the results will indicate your true age.

The more you check off, the closer to geezerhood you actually are.

Got that? Have fun.

Have you ever:

  • Changed the channel on your TV without using the remote?
  • Figured out the best position for your TV’s rabbit ears for all three channels?
  • Bought your music on vinyl albums?
  • Bought a single song on a 45 record?
  • Listened to a transistor radio?
  • Put leaded premium gas in your car? (Bonus: For less than 50 cents a gallon?)
  • Stared at a TV test pattern?
  • Licked a postage stamp?
  • Licked a postage stamp that cost less than a dime?
  • Found out how many pages you can stuff in an envelope for one stamp?
  • Written a check for “cash” at the bank or corner store?
  • Played baseball in a vacant lot?
  • Tried switch-hitting because Mickey Mantle did it?
  • Dammed up a creek?
  • Laid your tongue on a cold railroad track to prove your courage?
  • Dialed a phone? I mean really dialed. Punching buttons doesn’t count.
  • (For the ladies) Ever own a princess phone? (If any of y’all guys ever owned one, you automatically flunked. Go away. Quit bothering me.)
  • Used a slide rule to do your homework?
  • Used an electric typewriter for your homework?
  • Or a manual typewriter?
  • Cheated in math by counting on your fingers?
  • Used a hand-cranked pencil sharpener?
  • Brewed coffee in an electric percolator?

The more of these you can say “yes” to, the closer to geezerhood you are. Oh, I already said that? I’m repeating myself? Durn it all. I tend to do that more these days; can’t understand why.

Really, the points don’t matter. It’s kind of like pants on a tool booth collector, no one knows or cares. But it’s fun anyway.

Feel free to post your “score” in the comments section. As for me, I’ll take the Fifth.

— Eric


Talk to me: Any bucket-list items you think totally belong here? Share those in the comments section (along with your scores).


Santa’s under surveillance, and you can watch

Sure, there’s a certain creepiness factor with the whole Santa Claus thing (He sees when you’re sleeping/He knows when you’re awake), but the jolly old elf is likewise under surveillance. By the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), no less.

You can watch his movements via the Norad Santa site online, and rest easy with the thought that they should be able to tell the difference between a bunch of reindeer and a warhead that Iran just happened to borrow from somebody. By knowing where he is, you can place the milk and cookies out on the hearth and not worry about them going bad before he gets to them.

As I write this, he stands at T-minus 14h 28m 55s from liftoff, from somewhere around the polar regions — right in NORAD’s wheelhouse.

Besides going to the NORAD Santa site, you can also download Santa-tracking apps for your iPhone or Android.

Now, I don’t expect Santa to drive his reindeer team to visit me. He’ll come thundering over I-26 driving a coal truck from West Virginia and he’ll offload the whole thing into my stocking. At least that’s the rumor.

Anyway, monitor the NORAD site. Watch to see where ol’ Santa Baby is, and start being nice when he’s in viewing range. Or something.

Merry Christmas, y’all!




Easy to see how Charlie Sheen’s Twitter snafu happened

Bet he never tweets his phone number again, as long as he lives.

Had to have been the tiger’s blood, h’mmm?

For the record, I don’t give a hang about most celebrity news. I’d rather not waste valuable blog space and bandwidth on such twaddle, and I’d prefer the dumb masses that dig that kind of stuff just stay off my blog. But this is too good to pass up.

Seems Charlie Sheen, while sending a private message to Justin Bieber (still can’t picture those two as buds), except he hit the wrong thing on his screen. Easy to do. Except it went out live to all of TwitterWorld.

“310-954-7277 Call me bro. C,” Sheen tweeted.


Sheen, who was last seen boasting about his personal habits and getting fired from his job as a result, has about five million followers on Twitter, so you know this went out to a bunch of people. And of those followers, many retweeted the message to their followers. Sheen ended up deleting the message and changing his phone number.

That’s how things go viral on the Web. It’s a tough guess at how many followers the average active user has. HubSpot reported that the average tweeter has 27 followers as of April 2011, but that number is next to useless. This includes all the folks who ever took out a Twitter account, tweeted once, followed nobody, and went on to other things. There are a lot of ghost accounts, abandoned accounts, too-new-to-matter accounts, bot-driven accounts, and placeholder accounts. So let’s forget them for a moment.

Considering active tweeters, the number of followers is in the hundreds or thousands. For now, call it 2,500 followers, a number I pulled out of my pants. But not totally. My personal account has a modest 953 followers, and my Twitter activity is purely in dribs and drabs. But you get the idea how this runs, and taking either number you can see how quickly something goes out on the Internet at the speed of a few mouse clicks.

Even if I was to put my phone number out on Twitter, I’m courting danger. There are a few folks out there that I may not want to call me. Simple enough, right? And not near as many people are as interested in my phone number than they are a Charlie Sheen’s.

I guess the point to this whole exercise is, be careful out there. But you already knew that. There are funny folks on the Internet, and it’s impossible to come up with a ratio of decent normal people and those who type with no pants on.

Whatever you type could go out to thousands, maybe millions, in just a few minutes.

Don’t be that guy.


Breaking stuff, bringing it back up

Thought I’d play around with this blog a few hours ago and install a new theme. Everything was fine until …

… until I blew the whole thing up.

Had a server error pop up, and could not get into my WordPress installation. Couldn’t fix it, couldn’t get in.

But Google is my friend. The WordPress Codex is likewise my friend. Filezilla became an even bigger friend.

  1. Downloaded Filezilla.
  2. Fed in the parameters to the blog. This took a few attempts until I got the syntax right.
  3. Stared at the list of files within the WordPress directory stored on the server.
  4. Scratched head.
  5. Refilled glass of sweet tea (doing this at a Mickey D’s, using their wireless signal).
  6. Found the directory of the theme I had just installed (and where the problem began).
  7. Hit Delete.

This coming just hours after my last post on heart pacemaker batteries and DIY surgery, I had this sick feeling I was doing it wrong. That I had completely b0rked the process, that I was doing surgery with a chain saw using myself as a guinea pig again.

Fired up the blog — success!

I’m back up.

So if you couldn’t get into the site for a couple of hours, try ‘er now. (Gee, I sound like the aircraft mechanics at New Bern Airport in North Carolina … try ‘er now!)


Breaking stuff is fun.

Fixing stuff is even more fun.




Smartphone does everything, but how do you make calls?

I’m not sure at which point telephones ceased to be telephones, but for me it happened a year ago. That’s when I tried to go swimming with my old talk-and-text phone, killed it, and opted to upgrade. I went with a Samsung feature phone with slideout keyboard, perfect for this text messaging thing I found myself using more and more.

This does everything except pay my phone bill for me.

The transition was complete a couple of weeks ago when I treated myself to a smart phone, an Android. This thing completely does everything. Goes on line. Handles text messages. Has all these cool apps that automatically sync from the Internet and suck my battery dry. Even a link to my Google Music interface, giving me access to my entire music collection (once I finish uploading the rest of my 2,500 songs). Serves as a USB drive so I can store my text files and work on them anywhere. Shoot, the thing is a computer, plain and simple.

Hey, if y’all insist, it even makes phone calls. Really. What a deal, right?

Back in the early 2000s when I used cell phones for nothing but voice calls, I’d average between 300 and 600 minutes a month. That’s not a lot in the great scheme of things; many people use their phones for a lot more than that, but it’s still a goodish amount.

Since then, my needs have changed. My usage has changed. My friends’ means of communication have also changed. I use text messages a lot more, and even with my geezer fingers I’m still able to snap off a text quickly and accurately, with a lot of style to boot.

But what’s really telling is how I used my old Samsung feature phone. Keep in mind, it was kind of limited for online work. In the one year I had it:

  • Home Outgoing – 113 calls 03:21:56
  • Home Incoming – 89 calls 5:23:40
  • All calls – 202 calls 8:45:36. In cell phone billing language, that’s 525 minutes, give or take.
  • Data Transmitted: 403,248 kb
  • Data received: 867,516 kb
  • Total: 1,270,764 kb. That’s about a gigabyte, so it appears I’ve been an Internet-surfing fool.

The phone’s log didn’t give an inventory of how many text messages I sent and received, but I would usually clean out the queue when it tops 30 messages. That would be at least twice a week, so you can do the math there. It’s a lot o’texts no matter how you look at it.

So now I’m carrying a computer instead of a phone, and whatever I need to do, there’s probably an app for that.

First thing I did after hooking up the Android was to grab all the apps I needed:

  • Remember The Milk: This is my go-to calendar/to-do list system. For full functionality I needed to upgrade to the Pro version of Remember The Milk, at $25 per year. Considering the use I get out of that service, it’s worth it.
  • WordPress: So I can manage this blog.
  • Google Voice: This gives that service true functionality, and turns my phone into a two-line monster.
  • Evernote: A great notekeeping program that, instead of keeping those loose scraps of paper and index cards in a jumbled mess in your pocket, keeps your notes in a jumbled mess online. Or something.
  • An Android smartphone with MessagEase.

    MessagEase: I can’t stand the on-screen keyboard that comes with the ‘droid, which is why I opted for a slider phone anyway. But if I’m entering text real fast, MessagEase is the ticket. Got used to it back in my Palm days. One finger, tap for some letters and slide for the rest.

  • Mint.com: For balancing my bank accounts. For a geezer, I’ve bought into the idea of doing everything online, including my banking.
  • Jota+: A text editor so I can do something with those documents I keep on the SD card. Now if I can actually type on the mini keyboard with those bricks I call hands, I’ll be in good shape.
  • Google Reader: So I can read my news.
  • FB Reader: A generic program that can read .epub-format ebooks. Think Nook here. I think it can also handle the Amazon counterpart, though I haven’t checked.

All that done, I was good to go. That is, until the phone rang.

There’s something about those Android phones. There’s a power switch on the top, a volume control on the side, and four labeled buttons on the face. That’s it. I about tore the thing apart looking for the green button with the telephone icon on it, and forget about finding a SEND button. But a readout showing the number pops up on the screen, along with that green telephone icon. You need to drag your finger across the screen to answer the phone. I hadn’t figured that out yet, and the phone call blindsided me.

My apologies to the friend who tried call. It’s hard to explain that, I’m not ignoring you, I just don’t know how to work that phone yet.

It’ll take some time to sort all that stuff out. But in the meantime, I’m having fun with this new toy.




Video game gets blame for football loss

No wonder the players couldn't see the ball anymore.

It’s the video game, I tell you!

The Lousiville Cardinals lost their game to Pittsburgh last weekend, and the coach has an idea why: Half the squad was bleary-eyed and strung out after a marathon session of the brand-new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 game.

From TG Daily:

“(Louisville Cardinals coach) Charlie Strong said the team could have had a shot at making their way to a bowl game at the end of the season, but instead they wanted to play the game that millions of others are losing sleep to … Louisville is now 5-5 after losing to Pittsburgh by 7 points. The team had managed a three-game winning streak up to that point … Strong told his players, “In about a week or so, you’re going to be throwing that video game away, but we let a video game take control of us.”

I’m not terribly familiar with the Call of Duty franchise, but I understand there are some similarities to the Risk board game and Sid Meier’s Civilization. Yeah, I’ve had lengthy overnight Risk challenges with friends, and I’ve spent many hours at the terminal playing Civilization.

So I can see it happening.