Thursday, August 27, 2009

Found on the Web Dept.: Gmaps Pedometer

If you can think of an idea for a Web application, chances are it’s already out there. This might be frustrating if you're an aspiring Web entrepreneur, but for the rest of us: fabulous.

I’d been trying to figure out a way to check the mileage on routes I bike and jog - without getting in the car and using an odometer (and gas). I was pretty sure I’d find something on the Web, and pretty sure it would be something built around Google Maps. I was right.

A simple Google search turned up a few sites offering map-based tools that looked like they'd do the trick, including Gmaps Pedometer, built by Paul, a marathon runner, using Google Maps. Paul calls it “a little hack” but in fact Google welcomes this kind of hack and makes it easy to incorporate the mapping system in Web sites and Web-based applications.

Gmaps Pedometer presents Google Maps in a large section on the right of the screen with the pedometer control panel on the left. You can enter your starting address in the search field to zoom in on your locale. Then you plot the route by double clicking along the way you went, or intend to go. The program draws blue lines to mark the route and posts flags at each mile or kilometer. A running tab of the distance also appears in the Total distance field.

Gmaps Pedometer will trace routes along streets even if you double click at a point around the corner – or around a few corners – from the previous point. But if you jog through parks or other places that only pedestrians can go, you’ll have to use the Manual mode. It only draws straight lines, so you have to click at each turning, however slight. This could get tedious, but you can switch to Manual mode in mid-route, then switch back to Automatic when you move onto the street again.

If you’re going and coming back by the same route, click the ‘Complete there and back’ link when you’ve reached the furthest point. Gmaps Pedometer automatically plots the return route and calculates the final distance. If it's a loop route, just keep double-clicking until you're back where you started. You can then print a map of the route, or save it to your Favorites. Very cool.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Pet Peeves Dept.: Opting In - or Out

Everybody has had this experience. You’re signing up for a new online service or installing a program, and as part of the process, filling in a form with vital information the company claims it needs.

At some point, the form asks if you want to receive e-mailed "information" (read: advertising) from the company, or sometimes from its partners. Or download and install a browser toolbar, or some other useless piece of software. Or make the company's page your home page.

Are the check boxes already checked so that you have to uncheck them to stop the company sending you spam or installing unwanted software? Or are they left unchecked?

It’s important. If you’re rushing through the sign-up process – and who doesn’t rush on their one-millionth online form - you may not notice and click the Next button without unchecking the boxes. Result: spam attack.

Companies that have thought through the kinds of relationships they want with customers – or, in the case of free online services, hoped-for customers-to-be – always leave the boxes unchecked. They know that to do otherwise is exploitive and, more to the point for them, may royally piss off prospective future customers.

But some don’t get it. They present the check boxes already checked. In hopes of what? Snaring the unsuspecting? Now there’s a customer service philosophy to live by.

I came across one recently: ooVoo, an online video conferencing and chat service. Let's be clear: ooVoo appears to be a good company with a very impressive service. But if I hadn’t learned from bitter experience to pay attention when filling out these forms, I would have ended up with more adware cluttering my computer and spam flooding my mailbox.

OoVoo also wanted my birth date. It claims it needs this information so it can enforce a policy barring those under 14. As if any 12-year-old who wanted to use the service couldn’t just select a bogus birth date. (I am now officially 109 years old btw.)

I’ll be writing about ooVoo, along with similar cloud-based video conferencing services, for SmallBusinessComputing. I interviewed the company's CEO, Philippe Schwartz, today. He comes across as a smart and sincere guy. So we’ll be generous for now and say that the way the ooVoo install program is set up is a minor lapse.

But our recommendation to ooVoo: change it.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Canada Computes in the Cloud

IDC Canada, Canadian subsidiary of the Boston-based IT market research and consulting firm, released a study recently in which it profiles 10 Canadian Cloud Solutions to Watch (IDC #CA4TIW9).

The report profiles some interesting companies with interesting products, including Rypple, which offers an online service for gathering instant and anonymous feedback on just about anything from networks of friends, employees, clients, suppliers, etc.

Cloud computing is of course enormously important, not least because everybody believes it’s important. Never mind that it may raise dire security and privacy concerns and that some of the supposed economic advantages may prove illusory over time.

IDC estimates that by 2012, 9% of spending on IT services worldwide, “including business applications, application development and deployment, system infrastructure software, storage and servers, will be in the Cloud.”

Note that the cloud has now been dignified with capitalization – at least by IDC.

Most of the 10 Canadian Cloud Solutions I’ve checked out so far appear to have some merit, but Rypple stands out. It’s simple, elegant, well presented and – at least to my knowledge – innovative.

The first thing journalists want to know about ground-breaking products like this one is, who if anyone is actually using them and do they deliver the claimed benefits. Rypple can actually answer those questions. It recently posted a bunch of testimonial videos from customers at Vimeo, a – hmmm – cloud-based video distribution service.

Heck, if AfterByte had any followers, I might Rypple them to ask for suggestions on how to improve the blog.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Annals of VoIP Dept.: Selling IP Short?

I’m currently researching a story for VoIP Planet about home cleaning franchisor MaidPro. Cleaning ladies on the cutting edge of technology? Not quite. (The story has now posted at VoIP Planet here.)

Two years ago MaidPro signed a preferred supplier agreement with TalkSwitch, a maker of small business IP PBXs. The idea was that MaidPro would recommend TalkSwitch’s phone systems to its 100-odd franchisees. So far, over 40 have purchased TalkSwitch systems.

What’s striking, though, is that few are actually using them as IP PBXs. The TalkSwitch products support POTS lines and analog phones too – and that’s how most of the MaidPro franchises are using them.

MaidPro is not pushing IP because it believes owners will be intimidated by what to them is a radically different approach to telephony. It also worries about call quality with VoIP – and what customers might conclude about the company if quality is occasionally poor.

Even TalkSwitch recommends a POTS/analog configuration to most MaidPro owners because it simplifies the sale – eliminating worries about having to tune or possibly upgrade a franchisee’s LAN.

Recently, the more technically savvy owners have chosen to go with IP, and both companies believe most will eventually follow their lead. But in the short and medium terms, it seems, the old ways will prevail.

I’ve been writing about the IP revolution in telephony for over ten years. This is not the first time I’ve slipped into thinking that IP had finally wiped out the last pockets of resistance - only to be reminded that it just isn't so.