Things the iPad won’t kill.

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The blogosphere has been abuzz over the past few weeks trying to predict products the iPad will make obsolete. Daniel Eran Dilger has a great post that summarizes all these predictions. I think a lot of his points are quite probable, but for the sake of counter-argument, here are the things I think the iPad will not kill:

Flash. While, HTML5 is a great standard with promising graphics capabilities through its canvas control, it is still a markup language, primarily for the purpose of structuring content on web pages. Flash, on the other hand, is a platform rooted in video and animation. It is optimized for graphics rendering and provides a powerful object-oriented programming model. Frameworks like Flex do provide a markup language for Flash-based apps, but this markup is purely syntactic sugar that compiles to actionscript. Developers who are fluent with Flash and actionscript will continue to provide unique and fully platform-ubiquitous experiences to their users for a long while even if some Flex developers jump to shiny new HTML5 IDEs.

Windows Phone 7. Let me put it this way: Windows Mobile 6 was crap, and the iPhone didn’t even kill THAT. Windows Phone 7 seems to be a major improvement over 6 in every possible way. iPad OS is simply iPhone OS stretched out to work on a bigger screen. While it has a lot of momentum going forward, it is still not likely to completely obliterate Windows 7 if Microsoft doesn’t totally screw up.

Chrome OS/Android. Both of these platforms have tremendous potential by tapping into the open source community and leveraging more distribution channels than a single app store. The convenience of Apple’s app store is undeniable, but new players will enter the market and innovate the mobile app sales/download process. Perhaps, this will happen vertically, perhaps in ways we don’t yet know.

In any case, it is unreasonable to think the iPad will be the only tablet device with its hardware specs. Motorola, Samsung, and HTC have learned a lot from apple, and are bound to release competitors. Plus, Apple has now entered the territory of Toshiba, Dell, Acer, Asus and Sony, some of which are bound to release solid alternatives. These devices will need a solid OS to compete, and so Android/Chrome/Windows will be in demand.

Printed Books. Wait…really? Isn’t even Barnes and Noble jumping on the e-reader bandwagon? Well, call me old-fashioned, but I have this theory that the physical form of a book continues to carry value relative to an electronic device. The ability to just flip a book open on a random page, stick a finger there, and flip to another page, then glance at the cover while keeping both pages open is not easy to let go of. It’s a tactile interface that I think computers haven’t caught up to yet.

Now, I’m not a retrograde, and I do not believe printed books will be in demand in 50 years. But neither will the iPad. The iPod was a revolutionary device, but it is now nearing extinction at the hands of its own progeny, the iPhone. I believe that technology will move beyond the iPad before a printed book sees its last reader.

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Takeaways from the Boston Globe Travel Show

February 27, 2010 1 comment

I spent the last weekend at the Boston Globe Travel Show and here are some thoughts:

1. Unemployment is actually helping some travel agents. Lots of tour operators I’ve talked to told me that their 2-week and longer tours have gained tremendous popularity with people in between jobs looking for a getaway. The price-points for these tours do tend to be on the mid-high side, but not high enough to appeal solely to self-employed business people and executives.

2. State-subsidized travel websites  run by Tourist Bureaus and Chambers of Commerce have come to be highly effective content portals, with a lot of traffic and great click-through rates for advertisers. More importantly for us at WaySavvy, such travel content portals are indeed looking to complete the missing piece in their offerings – itinerary planning booking capability.

3. Travel suppliers are going social. This isn’t really a new trend, but it hasn’t caught up to traditional travel agents and tour operators in the way that it has for online travel companies. Now, however, tour operators are on twitter and facebook, and they recognize the importance of building a community online to generate leads and make sales offline.

4. Digital tour distribution platforms like RezGo, have a long way to go to penetrate the market (and they are deeply needed). Some tour operators have signed on to distribute their inventory at various online outlets, but few I talked to were aware of ubiquitous solutions to distribute their inventory to any online travel agency willing to sell it. RezGo is one of my favorite new travel technology companies, because they are pushing innovative distribution channels for travel products other than hotels, cars and flights. If you’re a tour operator, they’re a must-see.

Using Posterous and Google Reader to build a content hub.

January 31, 2010 4 comments

Recently, I came across a great post by Mike Troiano on building a basic content hub. So, I built one around the WaySavvy blog using his advice. The end goal is to build a portal for all things travel, where we can both broadcast our original travel content and syndicate interesting things from the web. There’s still lots of tweaking to be done as we’re experimenting with various services so this is not production-ready but I thought I’d share our progress so far.

The building blocks:

1. WordPress.com. Since we’re not hosting our own WordPress blog (yet), WordPress.com seemed like the second best thing. It has a good selection of features and themes, automatic SEO, and a nice selection of widgets you can add to your page. Auto-broadcasting to Twitter is one of my favorite ones.

2. Google reader. Reader has earned its reputation as the best feed aggregator, but the feature we are using most here is “Send To.” To set it up go to settings > reader settings > send to. What this does is let you broadcast any entry you find interesting in reader to other sites.

3. Which brings me to Posterous. Posterous is an incredibly simple blogging platform that allows you to post content by emailing it to post@posterous.com from the address you registered with (or you can select Posterous in the “send to” menu in Google reader). One of its best features is autopost, which propagates the content you sent to Posterous on to pretty much any other platform: in our case: WordPress, Facebook, Flickr, and Youtube. With simple prefixes to the email address you can choose to propagate content everywhere or selectively. What’s more, Posterous allows you to add multiple emails to the account so multiple people can use it as a funnel to post to all of your company’s content outlets without having an admin login into each one.

There are two alternatives here:

a. skip a step and “Send To” some of these networks directly from Google reader. Problem is, reader doesn’t support all of the features Posterous does, such as posting directly to a Facebook Page (not a Facebook profile)

b. Use Ping.fm, which can propagate content to even more places than Posterous but does not create another blog in the process. The issue here is that Ping (for now) does not have the group posting feature – though I’m keeping an eye out for when they might offer it.

4. Facebook page – you can create one for free from your personal account. For now, our page simply mirrors the WordPress blog, but to quote someone very famous “we’ll find something to put here soon.” Kudos if you get the reference.

5. Flickr/Youtube/Yammer – once you create an account with each of these, connecting them to Posterous is very easy – media content gets filtered automatically and sent to the right place (i.e. videos to YouTube, pictures to Flickr).

So, to track a sample post: Find something interesting in google reader, click “send to posterous” and it automatically gets posted on WordPress and Facebook. WordPress, in turn updates Twitter. If there are images in the original post, they get sent to Flickr.

To publish original content, write it in your text editor of choice and send by email to post@posterous.com

Magic!

Now that the basic building blocks are set up comes the hard part – figuring out the best content to syndicate, generating lots of original content, and starting a community. More posts on that as we go along.

Florida Destination: The Kennedy Space Center

January 13, 2010 Leave a comment

This winter marked my third time in Florida and my first time at the Kennedy Space Center, an attraction often overlooked by visitors to Orlando.

The KSC One of NASA’s main launch facilities is located in Florida in part due to its relative proximity to the equator. (The Earth is not perfectly round, so the equator is further from the center than either pole. As a result, the linear velocity there is greater – in fact, if you do the math, it turns out a rocket can fly 1,036 miles/hour faster once it reaches orbit if launched from the equator, so less energy is needed to launch it). Florida and Texas are as close to the equator as the US gets, so our satellites, rockets, and shuttles are launched there.

The Kennedy Space Center is open to visitors through a large, theme-park-like complex with various shows and museums. From the complex, a 3-hour bus tour takes you to three designated observations spots across the space center. Interestingly, the space center compound is also a designated wildlife preserve (it’s very large) and you can see an occasional alligator, boar, or an exotic bird walking right across the road.

The first stop of the tour takes you to a catwalk about 5 miles away from the shuttle launch platform. If there aren’t any launches that day, there is not much to see there except an 8-minute informational movie on a pretty small screen in a makeshift shed. Bring binoculars, because that way you can actually make out details of the launch pads in the distance.

The second stop takes you to a pavilion where you can see various informational films and a reenactment of the first Moon landing and launch. The third stop, to me was the most interesting one – you arrive at another museum which contains life-size replicas of parts of the international space station, as well as an overpass which takes you to an observation area above an actual assembly facility. I was there on a Sunday so we didn’t actually see people at work, but apparently on weekdays, you can meet with actual NASA employees and sometimes even astronauts.

Some of the things the tour guide explains on the bus are also interesting – for example, the building where astronauts are housed when they come back to earth has no stairs to the first floor, because while in space they develop osteoporosis. You also drive by a shuttle preparation plant, which is taller than the Statue of Liberty, but has not floors, which makes it the largest single-floor building by volume in the world,

The entire visit takes about 5 hours, but if you can plan in advance I highly recommend going on a day when there is a scheduled launch – I think the experience will be even more interesting. Some of the visitor pavilions, while informative are not the most engaging, and a lot of the info you get there is freely available on the web. While I’m glad taxpayer money isn’t being used excessively here, the pavilions are badly in need of some upgrades, so seeing a shuttle launch here is the real treat.

Florida Trip stop number 2: Hilton Head Island, SC

December 30, 2009 Leave a comment

My family has come to sort of a tradition to travel over New Year’s and this year we went to Florida. We prefer car trips to flying because there are usually a lot of really interesting things along the way a plane glides over.

On this trip, the first stop we made was in Washington, DC, but we’ll stop here again on our way back so more on that later. The toughest ride of the trip was from Washington to our second stop in Hilton Head Island, SC – about 10 hours with breaks, but in the end well worth it.

Hilton Head Island could be the best seaside resort you’ve never heard of. Tucked away between Georgia and South Carolina, across the intracoastal waterway from I-95, Hilton Head Island is a little sub-tropical paradise for those who find Florida too raucous and Cape Cod – too cold. The island is small enough to bike around its perimeter in a day – along the endless beach that encircles it, if you want. In a stark contrast to skyscrapers that abut the beaches of Miami, and clam shacks on the beaches of New England, the beaches here underline that the ocean is the primary attraction. A flat, gently sloping 100-foot-wide beach stretches as far as the eye can see. The beach is sandy, but the sand is nicely condensed which makes walking and biking on as easy as if it were a boardwalk. The back of the beach is lined by trees, stately villas and an occasional resort, but buildings are separated from each other by dense patches of greenery and are mostly no more than 5 stories high.

Nothing about Hilton Head Island is sedentary though – the interior of the island is lined with shops, malls, restaurants and sprawling new condo developments. Hotels and resorts here are aplenty from motels to luxury resorts, but what sets all of them apart is that the prices here tend to be a lot more reasonable then those in Florida. One reason for that is that peak season here is somewhat shifted to be comfortable for most travelers – the winter here is not as warm as in the Palm coast (temps in the 50s now), but the summer is still too hot for most people. As a result the best times here are fall and spring, which do not coincide with major family vacation seasons. South Caroline’s beaches are popular with college students who go here on spring break though.

I’ve only spent one night here, but I’m impressed – and highly recommend visiting on your next trip Down South.

Blogging from Florida and other places Down South next week

December 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Happy Holidays everyone! (belated for some, early for others)

Next week, I’m going on a family road trip from MA to Florida and back and will try to post regular updates both here and down at WaySavvy blog.

See everyone next year, and look forward to exciting announcements from WaySavvy!

Safe travels!

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Great week for office hours

December 17, 2009 Leave a comment

This week, I’ve gone to two of the events under the new “office hours” movement: at Alphabet Arm Design and Fresh Tilled Soil. Both were free, had founder-level executives sitting down with visitors, and generous with their time.

Alphabet Arm is a Boston graphic design firm that made logos for popular Boston startups like BzzAgent and DailyGrommet among many others. I met with Aaron Belya, the firm’s owner who educated me on the process of working with a designer, the pros and cons of freelancers vs. agencies. vs crowdsourcing, and provided a couple of useful contacts to graphic designers he knows. One particularly interesting point he brought up was on crowdsourcing: the main disadvantage of it, in his opinion, is not that it allegedly devalues work of designers as some have stated, but that most designers who work though mass internet channels work from templates, which limits the uniqueness of your logo. Alphabet Arm’s official time allotments for office hours were 10 mins per person, but they were open to continuing the conversation beyond that as necessary.

Today morning, Fresh Tilled Soil, a Waltham web dev/SEO company with a very impressive roster of clients, also opened its doors for office hours. I met with CEO Richard Banfield and Biz Dev manager Matt Boynton. We spoke about the earliest-stage SEO efforts a startup can take, and the consensus was inbound link-building, mainly through interaction with bloggers and basic html optimization such as matching up the page title with the keywords of every particular page on your site. Having a lot of static content is of course a key to being indexed well, which is going to be a challenge for us at WaySavvy since our application is written mostly Flex (Google’s indexing of Flash files is just not as deep at this point). A cool idea Richard sounded was to build an entire website on the WordPress  platform – and take advantage of its automatic SEO benefits.

All in all, big thanks to both companies, and for those of you looking to get in on the office hours before the end of the year – Scott Kirsner will be holding his Coffee For No Reason hangout at Cosi in Kendall Sqaure on Dec 23.