Business as usual

It seems ages since I last opened up Live Writer last time. This is not because I stopped loving it, but because the blogging rhythm on this blog (and on I Blog Mustang) have been very slow lately. It seems like the only times I get to do some writing lately is when traveling. The last posts were all (or almost all) written on trains and planes.

While I see people writing about how Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, … or whatever other service has taken over from their blogging, that is actually not the case with me. I am indeed more active on Twitter than on this blog, but that is because of the short and instant nature of the service vs the time you need to spend writing blogposts. I do still dedicate the time I need to reading my RSS, luckily enough as I’m addicted to news – couldn’t do without.

In the meantime we’re working hard on releasing some new campaigns for Windows Live and MSN in Europe (more on these at Live In Europe) and we’re also gearing up in the planning for next year as our fiscal year starts at July 1st and not January 1st like with most companies.

For now, I’ll just try and write some more posts about things that I’ve been meaning to write now that I am on my way to Stockholm. Share your travel via Dopplr if you want ;)

Six degrees of separation

I stumbled upon this fascinating research done by Microsoft Research about a year ago (disclaimer: I work for Microsoft) after Mashable picked it up this weekend.

“We present a study of anonymized data capturing a month of high-level communication activities within the whole of the Microsoft Messenger instant-messaging system. We examine characteristics and patterns that emerge from the collective dynamics of large numbers of people, rather than the actions and characteristics of individuals. The dataset contains summary properties of 30 billion conversations among 240 million people.”

“All our data was anonymized; we had no access to personally identifiable information. Also, we had no access to text of the messages exchanged or any other information that could be used to uniquely identify users.”

And while these are only MSN/Live Messenger users during a period in time in 2006, and miss data from the competitive services, it still gives a pretty solid idea of the ‘inside’ of the social aspect of an IM network. Here are some of the key findings.

When you compare the world population to the Messenger population you will see that ages 18-30 are over represented, and ages 10-14 and 30-34 are fairly comparative to the world population. This tells me that IM is indeed linked mostly to youth, but definitely not youth alone.

MessengerPopulation

This here is another interesting finding:

“We investigate on a planetary-scale the oft-cited report that people are separated by “six degrees of separation” and find that the average path length among Messenger users is 6.6. We also find that people tend to communicate more with each other when they have similar age, language, and location, and that cross-gender conversations are both more frequent and of longer duration than conversations with the same gender.”

The full report can be downloaded here.

Photozoom

One of the most fascinating technologies showed at MIX08 was Deep Zoom, which was used in during the Hard Rock demo of their new Memorabilia site. It was a demo done right and the technology itself is pretty fascinating as well. Later during MIX the LiveLabs team opened up Photozoom, a new web service that allows you to create the same experience with your own fotos… and embed to you site/blog if you want.

Just like many other projects based on LiveLabs technology, this is a research project for now and not officially supported yet:

“PhotoZoom is an experimental project developed by a small group of Microsoft developers, and it is definitely not an official, supported Microsoft product. Also, I cannot make any guarantees that it will be operational at all times, that it will support a large number of users, etc. This is not an official Microsoft press release and I am not a spokesperson. I can’t make any suggestions about future Microsoft product releases related to this technology or concept. In other words, I hope people will have fun with it, but please set your expectations accordingly.”

Still an interesting evolution though so make sure you check it out. I can’t embed an album here (because WordPress.com doesn’t allow me) but here’s an album I just created with some pictures of the Grand Canyon. You will need Silverlight 2 beta 1 to make it work. Oh and by the time Photozoom is rolled out more publicly, I’m pretty sure the ‘logo’ will change as well ;)

Surface spoof

During the pre-conference we had at MIX08 there was also a presentation from one of the guys that works on the Surface team. To give an introduction of the Surface for those who wouldn’t have seen it he showed a video about it. The funny thing though was that he didn’t show the original video, but a spoof made by SarcasticGamer.com. Apparantly it’s around for a while but I hadn’t seen it before. Kudos to the guys who created it and also to the Surface team for using it in their own presentation!

WorldWide Telescope at TED

Yes, what made Scoble cry. Yesterday this project from Microsoft research was presented (as expected) at TED and a lot faster than usual, the video is already online. This was the first I got to see about the WorldWide Telescope as well and I must admit it looks stunning indeed. It’s quite fascinating to see someone move into the dark universe to end up zoom in on some star or other… pretty cool. Can’t wait to get my hands on this, might have to pull some strings when it goes in closed beta soon.

But first check out the TED video:

wwtelescope.jpg

Getting ready for MIX08

Within a week we’ll be on our way to Vegas again for the MIX08 conference. I quite enjoyed last year’s MIX conference with the announcements of Silverlight and Expression Studio, but also for presentations such as Lou Carbone’s for instance (who will be back this year by the way).

What I like about this year’s agenda as well is that there will be a bit more presentations and workshops that aren’t all 100% tech, as that was probably my only wish after last year. With people like Steve Ballmer, Lou Carbone, Guy Kawasaki, David Armano and obviously also Hugh MacLeod and Loic Le Meur (and many others) it looks indeed like that is happening. Anyway, a lot of presentations these 3 days so to make sure I don’t miss anything, I’ve fired up the schedule builder on the MIX website to make sure I scheduled everything I wanted to see (and added that to my Outlook which is an option within ‘my schedule’). Small note on the schedule builder, you need to be registered for the event to be able to use it. And unfortunately, if you aren’t registered already, the event is sold out since last week.

MIX08sessions

So if you’re going to MIX as well (and you’re reading this blog) then let me know so we can connect in Vegas (maybe in the Blogzone). I guess that relates immediately to the one big thing I’m missing on the MIX website and that’s the social element. Now I’m not waiting for the next social network, but since I’ve got a login after registration anyway, it would have been nice to be able to use that some more. Who do I know that is going? Which sessions are they going to? It’s like adding a bit of LIFT08 to MIX08 :) That said, it was interesting and fun last year, I’m sure it’ll be so again this year.

PS: Oh yeah, and thanks to David Armano, I now known in Vegas as ‘Two Slice’

Improving online video

I’m not such a big fan of predictions like we see them all over on the web at the start of the New Year. There are a few good ones like those of John Batelle for instance, but other than that many predictions sound more like acknowledgement of something that’s already happening today or a wish-list for something we would like to see happen.

One good example is mobile for instance. It’s going to be the year of mobile since 2005 I think and as I said before, 2008 is not going to be the year of mobile either. Or talk about video, I had a discussion with someone recently about online video after a statement that 2008 would be the year online video will get big. That’s just not true, 2007 was that year already. As a counter argument I did say I believe 2008 will be the year in which online video will become more useful, of better quality, with better metrics, better advertising, … you name it.

And that’s what is happening today indeed. Yesterday Read/Write Web reported on the launch of Dailymotion HD upload & playback, including automatic bandwidth detection which allows easy switching to lower quality versions. Check out the HD example in their post. Now I can see how HD quality might not be on top of everybody’s wish-list for online video, but I do believe it’s a must have for future development of online video.

About a week ago, MIT AdverLab reported on a new innovative technology related to video advertising. The technology developed in Microsoft’s AdCenter Labs included tools for content analysis and speech recognition for advanced contextual advertising. (again disclaimer: Microsoft is my employer). Definitely take a look at the video below to get an idea of what they exactly mean with that:

Now as I am in advertising, I’m interested in this but not only for advertising purposes. If you watched the video you will understand that there are also opportunities for websites for instance to relate archived content to in-video content (think news sites) or how the technology can create automatic chapters in a video for more useful video browsing for instance. There are quite a few exciting technology usages you can think of with this new development.

A last improvement will be about making video more searchable. The technology mentioned before will definitely be able to help in that area, but quite a few startups are working in that area as well. A few weeks ago at the LIFT Venture Night we saw Viewdle showing off their approach on this, including face recogniation etc. Neat stuff as well.

Content analysis, speech recognition, chaptering, contextual advertising and content (based on the video – not on title or tags), HD, … Yes, online video is big already, 2008 will be the year in which it will get better.

My mobile life

Sometimes I think I live on mobile. If there’s a device I really couldn’t miss it’s my mobile phone. Ask my wife, if on occasion I don’t take my mobile phone with me, she’ll wonder how it’s possible I forgot it. It’s just too odd for me to be without. According to my mom, it’ll grow on my ears one day. Whatever ;)

Anyway, it’s true that mobile is important for me, ever since I got my first mobile phone some 10 years ago. Every year I hope that mobile will really breakthrough, but unfortunately also this year won’t be the year of mobile, just like 2007, 2006 nor 2005 were the year of mobile. It’s that one prediction that I wish it were through, but you know it won’t be.

It’s not even in our hands. I think the devices are there, thinking of the N95, the iPhone and some Windows Mobile devices that are all capable of doing amazing things for such a small device. The iPhone has the interface to love, my HTC is less slick but comes with 3G, built in GPS and all the power of Office and Exchange on mobile. Or the N95 with it’s superb camera. And now I’m not mentioning a ton of other great features these phones have.

Apart from all that greatness, I’ve been a very active user of the mobile web for the last 6 years or so as well. First on WAP on my old Nokia 6310i for instance, later on Vodafone Live with a Sharp GX30. Back then I was still working on Kinepolis‘ new media strategy and we invested in this back then already. Today Kinepolis is still one of the very few Belgian companies with a decent mobile site, for which you got to give them credit. But even outside Belgium, there aren’t many mobile specific sites, which already resulted in a shout-out more than a year ago.

The mobile sites I currently use are: BBC, Bloglines, Gmail, Hotmail, Messenger, Dopplr, Facebook, Google Reader, Live Search, Kinepolis, MSN, Twitter, Technorati, Wapedia, Flickr, Yahoo and WordPress. I don’t really know many more that are of use to me, or that aren’t in a walled garden like Vodafone Live.

I also use client versions like Live Messenger (which you can download for all kinds of devices), the Live Search client as well as the Google Maps client, Yahoo!Go, … as well as apps that run in the Java environment on mobile like Gmail and Opera Mini. On the N95 I also tried the Widsets, but whatever the phone, the browse services still top them all.

Today, with the iPhone’s browsing capabilities, or other mobile browsers that enable better viewing of ‘normal websites’ on mobile we will probably skip the further development of mobile specific sites. With Skyfire for instance (see announcement) or Deepfish I expect to see more ‘regular’ browsing in the future.

Still, the problem remains, now even more than ever I guess. We will have access to every site we want, with great browsers but at what cost? There’s a good explanation why I use so much mobile: I can use it obviously but more important is that I don’t have to pay for it. The day I have to pay for it, I’ll cut back for sure, need or no need. How much I love the Wifi on these phones, that’s not truly mobile for me. It’s when in a taxi, or before checking in a plane, while waiting on someone, … that I love to use all my catching up. Not only in my sofa at home for instance.

So unless operators change their models on data costs, mobile will never really breakthrough and that’s sad. And yes you can discuss devices etc aren’t ready yet either, allow me to say they’re well ahead of the game when you compare them to operator attitudes. And I’m afraid they won’t change that soon either. There’s too much money to be made with TXT messages to allow you to use IM on mobile instead for instance. What’s your take?

PS: Also check out the upcoming FF for Mobile now we’re at it ;)

PPS: And Twitter, for god’s sake, at least add a replies tab to m.twitter.com will ya!

 

His last day & more

You got to admire it when a man can make a bit of fun of himself, don’t you think? You might have seen it already as it has been all around the web, but here’s a little video of Bill Gates’ last day as showed during his CES keynote this weekend in Vegas. Especially the work-out scenes were hilarious (at least that’s what I found).

LastDay

Both Engadget and Gizmodo also have interviews up with the man that are good to watch/read. They talk about the historic sit-down with Steve Jobs (remember?), the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, differences between Apple and MSFT as well as Gates’ changing public image. Whether you like Microsoft or not, you got to admire what the man has accomplished.

(disclaimer: I work for Microsoft)