All entries for Monday 22 September 2008

September 22, 2008

Nokia Open Lab 2008 – Social Media Workshop

Follow-up to Nokia Open Lab 2008 – Overview from Steve's blog

This was the first workshop, and, at least in the group I was part of, the least forward-looking of all the workshops. Most people used several social networking services, including some I’d never heard of. Almost everybody (except me, maybe, which apparently means I’m no one) was a twitterer. But people also use flickr, qik, seesmic, jaiku and others for sharing information in text, photo and video formats.

As a result, much of our discussion was about aggregators (like friendfeed) and broadcasters (like twitterfeed) so that people have fewer places to look and fewer places to update. Also, though, people deliberately use different services for different communities so that not everybody sees the same information about an individual. Some stuff is just for friends, and not for colleagues. There’s no concept yet in any of these services of levels of friendship, and so no way of presenting different views of yourself to different communities. The reverse is also true, of course – you don’t always want the same level of detail about all of your friends. You want more information about closer friends. Again, social networking services don’t seem to provide that either. Well, Facebook used to, but it doesn’t any more.

There was also a big discussion about data portability. When you switch from one service to another, which early adopters tend to do at frequent intervals, you want to be able to get your data out of the old service and put it in the new one. That’s generally not possible. You also want to be able to take your community with you, and that’s even harder. Many people talked about using aggregators just as a way of dealing with old accounts left lying around because of a few friends that are still using the service.

There was one dissenting voice in that discussion, though. Micki thinks most people (i.e. not the techies & geeks) don’t care. They use social networking sites for now stuff, and the history really isn’t important to them. I can relate to that when talking about twitter and similar services. For others I’m not so sure. I can certainly believe most people don’t care now, but maybe they should? Maybe in the future they’ll realise they do? What if Facebook went away today and everything in there was lost?

One final thought is that many people at the workshop were already into this stuff in a big way, twitter in particular, and there was clearly a virtual community overlaid on the physical community of people at the meeting. There was a build up as people travelled, a bit of a twitter buzz in all the breaks and during the evening entertainments, and there were people not at the meeting that were following it anyway through various social media sites. It has encouraged me to explore these things a bit more and see if I can “get” them. In particular I’m going to have another go a twitter and see if I can go from a nobody to a somebody!

Nokia E71

Writing about web page

My latest trial device from Nokia is the E71. This is one of their “enterprise” range, intended for business use. Consequently it has Exchange email support, office apps and other things your average business user would need from a mobile device. Given how I use mobile devices, and the things I was looking for in a PDA when I was looking a while ago it should be a good fit. Except of course I’ve now got a new mobile device. I’m afraid I’ve been “spoiled” by the iPhone, and while I would have written lots of complimentary things about the E71 3 months ago, now I just can’t. Sorry Nokia.

Physically the E71 is just a shade smaller in every dimension than the iPhone, and a little lighter, but there isn’t really a lot in it. The other obvious differences are that the nokia has a screen half the size and uses the space for a physical keyboard. Both have 3G, WiFi and Bluetooth, although the nokia does BT properly including the ability to use the phone as a modem. Both are nice to hold but the nokia feels more solid and robust through being a mostly metal case. And it does look nice. Nicer than the iPhone, even.

In use I was expecting to hate the Nokia’s keyboard because the keys are very small. In fact it works quite well. There’s enough key travel to give positive feedback and they are shaped well enough to help avoid mis-keying. There are some characters missing from the keyboard though, some of them quite irritating. Plus, it doesn’t have the same auto-correct feature that the iPhone keyboard does and I’ve got so used to that that I miss it. Typing is slower on the nokia as a result. Neither are great devices for mass text entry but the iPhone is marginally better.

The support for Exchanges works well enough. Pointing it at our Exchange server quickly populated the phone with contacts, calendar entries and emails. It even has a concept of “peak” and “off peak”, so you can keep up to date in real time while at work but shut it off (or slow it to a trickle) at home. I’d love the iPhone to have that. Also, the big button in the centre of the scroll pad has a nice, subtle heartbeat when there are unread messages. No need to unlock the phone to see if there are things to attend to. A really nice usability touch. Apple take note!

From here, though, things go downhill a bit. The Nokia’s screen just isn’t big enough. A few months ago I was giving serious consideration to getting an N82, and the E71’s screen is better than that, but after having used the iPhone there’s no going back. And it isn’t a touch screen. That is just so infuriating! The number of times I had to stop myself from stabbing my finger at the screen to press a button, or flicking the screen to scroll. And at the Nokia Open Lab, I wasn’t the only one. Again, once you’ve used a touch screen, anything less is just annoying. I even find myself wanting to do it to my laptop, so the E71 is in good company.

Those are my major comments, really. I have thoughts on lots of the details of the device, but for me the small screen and lack of touch makes the device uninteresting. It is a bit of a cliché, and probably lots of people disagree, but I think the iPhone has changed the game a little.

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