Cloudy Day: Review of Jolicloud Alpha 2b “Robby” Release

A few days ago (on a cloudy day, when I began writing this post), I received my Jolicloud private alpha 2b developer version invite. After creating a Jolicloud account and downloading a 600MB .img file, I copied it over as a bootable USB thumb drive and was off to the races. Loading it was hassle-free — Jolicloud is based off of Ubuntu; the install process is nearly identical.

On my Asus Eee PC 901, I have a fast 4GB solid state drive, and a slower 8 GB solid state drive. I decided to manually partition my drives, mounting root (/) on the 4GB and my home directory (/home) on the 8GB. Since I have 2 GB of RAM, and all storage in the 901 is solid state, I decided that a swap partition wasn't necessary or ideal in my scenario.

On my 901, it takes 31.6 seconds to boot from power button to log-in prompt. Fairly impressive for the underpowered hardware, but I was honestly expecting it to be quicker. It appears to boot slightly faster than my previous install of Gentoo (and is certainly less hassle to configure), but I neglected to time this before installing Jolicloud. We'll just have to resort to my concept of time and space on this one. Keep reading after the break to see my first impressions on this much-hyped OS.

First Impressions

The application installer is pretty neat, and definitely a plus for those with little to no Linux experience. Turning web pages into full screen applications is definitely the biggest offering I see on this platform so far - that said, I'm not too impressed with the way the OS interface interacts with the Jolicloud application. Leaving Ubuntu's netbook remix interface on OS-level controls seems incomplete to me, and I would opt to simply run Ubuntu as my sub-notebook OS. The icons haven't even been skinned to differentiate the two.

Operating System as a Social Network

It's an interesting concept, and the main focus of Jolicloud. Interacting with other Jolicloud users and sharing information (such as "Eric installed the Skype Application") is seamless and automatic, but I'm not sure I see the value in this. Additionally, while the Jolicloud network has a growing number of ported applications, the offerings are still too slim to suit my needs. Sure, I can add applications through the Ubuntu interface, but that's kind of self-defeating.

Things I Like About Jolicloud

  • As a concept, Jolicloud is leading the integration between OS and the web - other than Google's announcement of Chrome OS, there isn't another quasi-mainstream release (that I'm aware of) that has stated their intention to enter this market arena - especially as its main focus.
  • It's based on Ubuntu, and comes pre-configured for popular netbook models.
  • "My Jolicloud" settings and states are saved and synchronized between multiple sub-notebooks.
  • Full screen web applications launched from the application menu. Think Facebook chat.
  • Out of the box 3G card support.
  • If I had a touch screen, I would fully appreciate their one-click application installer interface. Even easier than the App store on the iPhone.
  • I like light blue and clouds. This makes their logo appealing to my taste. That said I wouldn't mind a more ominous, less cutesy cloud. Like a nimbostratus.

Things I Don't Like About Jolicloud

  • It relies too heavily on Ubuntu's netbook remix interface, to the point where it seems to still be Ubuntu. I'd like to see the overall functionality integrate further before I'd call this its own markedly different initiative.
  • Webcam on the Asus Eee PC 901 doesn't work out of the box with Cheese or Tinychat.
  • Limited UI - I have the same complaint with Ubuntu's netbook remix. While I understand the principle behind full screen only views, it'd be useful to split view once in a while, like ratpoison does, but for non-command line users.
  • Social network based around an OS doesn't do enough for me. What kinds of value or efficiency add is there to this? Seems to benefit Jolicloud, but I'm not quite sure where my own personal return is.
  • Switching back and forth between the Ubuntu netbook remix interface and the "My Jolicloud" page within the Jolicloud app is cumbersome and non-intuitive. I'd like to control many of the OS settings without switching out of the Jolicloud interface.

Touch Screen

I don't have a touch screen hacked into my 901, but the Jolicloud application interface is definitely touch screen ready. Most actions and navigations are handled by a single click, the most intuitive interface action on touch screen devices. If they integrated the OS controls and applications launcher from the Jolicloud interface, it'd be a great way to go for touch-and-go interaction between user and device.

This is Alpha

Please remember that this software is still in an Alpha release, and is likely to become much more mature before we see a system worthy of release candidate nomination. No official judgment from this side of the table until that happens.

An update on my thoughts come Beta release is sure to come. Your thoughts in the comments, please.

More Mobile Broadband Subscribers Means More Video

The future of video could be right in your hands. Literally. Mobile video is on the grow with no signs of slowing down. As Om points out over at GigaOM, there could be more than 250 million wireless broadband subscribers by the end of 2009.

And those subscribers aren’t just getting faster connections for sending txts 2 thr frnds. A new generation is growing up with mobile video. Nielsen recently found that teens make up more than 20 percent of the mobile video market and watch more mobile video than the average user.

YouTube has said that mobile video is an “exponentially” growing part of its site, thanks, in part to the release of Apple’s iPhone 3GS.

And there has been some funding activity in the mobile video space lately, with QuickPlay raising $12 million and Qik getting $5.5 million.

GigaOM Pro: Smart insights at the pace of the digital media market. Get the latest research on trends and tech shaping the future of entertainment. Learn more »

QuickPlay Raises $12M for Mobile Video

QuickPlay Media today announced it raised a $12 million investment, led by GMP Securities and including previous investors General Catalyst Partners, JLA Ventures and Ventures West.

Toronto-based QuickPlay powers the Wi-Fi video download service for ABC, CBS and NBC and other content on BlackBerrys (see our scoop and review). Liane called the company’s PrimeTime2Go for BlackBerry “the best video quality I’ve seen on a cell phone.” However, deciding what program you want to watch, then downloading it over a solid Wi-Fi connection isn’t exactly the heights of mobility.

QuickPlay’s OpenVideo platform delivers video for more than 150 content providers, 15 major mobile operators and over 100 million subscribers. Its newest service is the SIRIUS XM radio apps for iPhone and iPod Touch.

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Vid-Biz: iPods, Watchmen, Nielsen

iPod Lineup to Get Video? Whispers of a video camera and pictures of a new case with a camera-friendly hole have blogs buzzing. (TechCrunch) Speaking of i-video, check out this Guide to Video on the iPhone 3GS; exposure, focus, and the “jelly” effect are some of the sample topics discussed in this comprehensive breakdown of video on the device. (the automatic filmmaker)

Watchmen Director’s Cut Leaked to Torrent Sites; version for the upcoming DVD and Blu-ray release now online, but since the movie basically bombed, does it matter? (io9)

Nielsen: Video Stats on Tots; among kids ages 2 to 11, 5.1 million boys and 5.2 million girls watched online video in May, but boys watched more streams and spent more time watching videos online. (emailed release)

ViralHeat Comes Out of Private Beta; social media measurement tool scans sites like YouTube, Vimeo and Twitter to see what brands are being discussed. (TechCrunch)

Mobile DTV is One Step Closer; the Advanced Television Systems Committee raised the ATSC-Mobile/Handheld standard to “proposed standard” status, which should keep it on track for being approved by the end of the third quarter. (Broadcasting & Cable)

Jay Leno Wins Cybersquatting Case; a U.N. agency finds Texas man misused “” to direct traffic to a real estate site. (The Hollywood Reporter)

GigaOM Pro: Smart insights at the pace of the digital media market. Get the latest research on trends and tech shaping the future of entertainment. Learn more »

Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia all Over 100 Million Strong – What Now for Online Communities?

Guest post by Alan Haburchak

The morning of day two here at the Personal Democracy Forum conference was all about online communities, what they mean, how they can be used and what they say about culture and global culture and society today. Randi Zuckerberg (the other Zuckerberg), Facebook's head of marketing was up first and talked a little bit about how communities have arisen on on Facebook that have lead to real-life movements like the anti-farc protests that occurred in Colombia last year. But other than pointing that that that group had used social media to organize, she didn't have much more to say.

Next up was Alec Ross, who serves as Senior Advisor for Innovation in the Office of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Ross explained how Sec. Clinton is re-imagining the idea of diplomacy to not just be able "white guys in white shirts with red ties" talking to each other, but rather a citizen-to-citizen approach. As an example he touted the State Department's SMS-based Pakistani-relief initiative that they pioneered earlier this year.

The really amazing highlight of the morning however was Michael Wesch, a cultural anthropologist exploring the impact of new media on society and culture. Wesch gave a shortened version of a presentation about YouTube as a cultural phenomenon, which he and 200 students at Kansas State University created. There is video of Wesch's talk at PDF09, though the quality is not ideal. The amazing thing was the collective joy in the room as everyone felt the hope that Wesch expressed for what online communities like YouTube might be able to create in the face of the pessemistic attitude that according to Wesch, had been cultivated among a lot of young people since the 1990s. Highlights from Wesch's presentation were his clips from the Free Hugs and MadV - The Message memes.

Finally the morning closed with Mark Pesce, know as a digital futurist, who talked about the inherrent potenital danger of what he called "ad-hocracies" on the web. As evidence, he pointed to the fight between Wikipedia and the Church of Scientology. Pesce's talk was intersting, discussing how because of their size, the members of the church were able to break the social contract of Wikipedia, ultimately leading to Wikipedia banning them from editing the site. Speaking after Wesch's emotionally charged YouTube presentation, Pesce's point came across as too academic, although important as internet communities reach critical mass.

Ultimately what I and I think most people will take away from this look at web communities is the sense of hope in was Ross and Wesch had to say. Diplomacy can be as simple and effective as sending $5 to someone in Pakistan who needs it from your cell phone, and while YouTube comments may be the worst thing on the internet, the ability of that community to be incredibly personal AND to inspire positive action en masse is amazing.

Spoiling the paid party (again)

Paid Content reports today that The New York Times Companies’ Martin Nisenholtz is talking about charging for the paper’s mobile app.

On the face of it, this seems to make sense: People are paying for mobile content and functionality (ring tones vs. earth-shattering news, ferchrissakes!) and for mobile apps. The New York Times iPhone app is downright wonderful. It’s far better than The Times’ Kindle app (no fault of The Times; all the Kindle news sites are sucky). I’d pay for the app – once.

But would I pay for an ongoing subscription to it? Well, here’s the problem: my iPhone brings me the web and I can read The Times there without paying. Damn, that genie; doesn’t know his place (in the bottle).

Nisenholtz says, quite rightly, that one problem with the iPhone app is that there are fewer opportunities for advertising. And even so, the few ad avails I see are all filled with free house ads for The Times itself; obviously, the sales staff hasn’t taken seriously the opportunity to sell this prime audience (why is it always thus?). So The Times’ app makes bupkis. Even the house ads are irritating, so I might pay for an app without ads. But then I’d be paying for less irritation rather than for the content.

What’s the solution? I haven’t the faintest idea.

Apture, An Open Window into the Web of the Future

First of all, I want you to know that the purpose of this article like others I wrote recently or those upcoming, is not to promote a company or a product although indirectly they are of course. When I sit at home and think about cool things to write about I try to ask myself what is good for me, what really works for me. If I like it I certainly feel more comfortable and inspired to make a review. In other words, what’s good for me may be good for you.

Today I want to talk about Apture, a fine little tool that has been around for some time on the web but a little unknown so far. I say so far because there is some sort of silent tidal wave which I am certain will hit the shore sooner or later. Well known main actors in the news world like The Washington Post and The New York Times or Reuters have implemented Apture. As it happened to me with Glue which I recommended in the previous post, I had my doubts about Apture when I first got in touch with it. I only had my Blogger photoblog back then and was having too many problems with the site (Blogger was not always as user-friendly as it was supposed to be). But due to the recent buzz plus a little intuition, I decided to enhance the experience on this one, my brand new site, by giving those curious popping windows a second chance. I was lucky there’s a wonderful Apture plugin  for WordPress . I had registered the service about a year ago, so that part was covered. You need to sign in to start editing but don’t worry you will only follow a few steps. The result is so great that I also included Apture in Barcelona Photoblog recently, where it ended up being much more helpful due to the obvious image-oriented nature of the site.

But let’s not waste more time. What is Apture anyway and who is behind it? What can it do for you? How does it help your visitors? Is it obstrusive? Is it worth the trouble? A lot of questions need to be answered before you decide to partially commit your site to a certain program as you do for example with sharing applications or whatever tool not included in the basic structure of your blog.

Apture is a line of Javascript code, that’s the first thing you should know, although due to the nature of its activity it is a whole communication platform in itself. If you were to install it manually as it happens in the case of Blogger you would have to insert the code near the end of your template just before the body tag (before other script tags that appear at the end ). If you are not familiar with editing your template there is a browser plugin which will guide you out during the installation among other things. I had to try placing the script twice before it started to work but now it is running smoothly. With the WordPress plugin it is even easier. You first download the zip file, browse for it to upload, install and activate. Don’t forget to tune up the settings the first time!

Now that you got it all working, go to your text, call the editor with just one configurable keystroke and start selecting words or phrases in your article which you think might need further explanation or rich content support. Before getting into details, why don’t we go and answer some of those questions above now that you’ve had the appetizer?

Apture is, rephrasing the company’s definition, a communication platform that allows to link and incorporate media items into a dynamic layer above pages. So, you have a layer on top of your text, you can’t actually see it, but it is like adding some transparent slide over the article. On top of that layer you are going to highlight with your mouse, those relevant words you suggest and will instantly create windows to new “subfolders” of information. It’s like the entrance to another dimension. Now your ideas will no longer be linear. In part this is the essence of the web of the future, call it web 3.0, the next web or whatever term you feel like choosing. Although the window is precooked somehow because you are offered some services there’s the possibility to add your own links or embedded content. Summing up, these are resizable windows popping up from custom links that enrich the context with multimedia resources without you having to leave the site. Apture also has an auto mode which may automatically capture reference links like Wikipedia for example.

Apture has a lot to thank to Stanford University as all of its co founders studied there. Such is the case of Tristan Harris, CEO who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science; Can Sar, CTO, with a BS and MS Degree in Computer Science and Jesse Young, Chief Engineer, BS in Electrical Engineering and MS in Computer Science.

Last month Apture secured $4.1 Million in Series A Funding led by Clearstone Venture Partners.

The recent introduction of a Twitter viewer has played an important role in making the tool even more solid due to the enormous success of the “bird” lately, but this is just my opinion of course.

But what are the pros and cons of using Apture? Cons there are some but they don’t overweigh the positive indicators proving Apture is a must-have.

The way I see it, the main obstacle is the fact that any link, any media, any reference that’s inside Apture windows is some resource I might have included directly on the page and thus would have been crawled by spiders and affect my SEO in some way. Those internal links or those videos you would have embedded are not indexed, except for the very first one of course. But that basic contradiction may be controlled by properly administering this utility. One good thing Apture has is that you won’t have to cram pack your site with embedded videos. That will save you some space. Your visitors stay on your site longer. There’s no need to go for a map  or checking that video on YouTube. It opens up here and on a separate small box if you like. In seconds you may display all the content on top of your article as if you were playing cards. Too much info, a crazy ordeal of popping up windows on mouseovers, can be noisy and scare away your visitors so use it wisely. Another apparent nuisance is that any editing you do is post publishing. That means that the more it takes you to go back and add the information, the less people will notice as the posts leave the frontpage for example. A good thing is that should you forget to highlight any idea, you may go back and add the link without republishing!

According to my opinion this wonderful app is a major advance in itself. It is not a one-day flower. Apture brings change to the system in the sense that we are given a tool to reinterpret the web, to surf along a different path. It is a vertical application. It is semantic web. More than a simple glimpse on the web of the future. It is the future.

Other sources to consult:

Apture Offers The Next Generation in Contextualizing Websites by Jason Falls at Social Media Explorer
Apture: Web 3.0 is Now by Rory O’Connor at The Huffingtonpost
Top 5 Ways to Use Apture like the New York Times at Apture’s blog.


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