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Dropbox for Apps, Box for Everything Else

One problem I have with cloud storage apps is that they are by-and-large the same core service repackaged with different branding. If there’s an actual behind-the-scenes difference in how Box vs. Dropbox vs. Skydrive works, it hasn’t been effectively communicated to consumers.

That leaves consumers to select on two criteria: price, and ancillary features such as app integration. Dropbox is the dominant player on the latter. Most apps for mobile devices that use cloud storage will use Dropbox (Byword and Drafts, for example.) But Dropbox is among the pricier cloud storage services: once you max out the various free storage add-ons, Dropbox jumps to $99 a year. Granted, some people will never hit the free minimum, but if you store your entire digital life in the cloud because of the redundancy, those photos add up quick.

Box, on the other hand, does not have the same kind of integration, but the current deal for 50 Gigs of free space to users of its iPhone and iPad devices make it currently hard to beat. Even once the deal expires, Box offers 10 gigs of space, somewhat higher than Dropbox.

I’m wondering if we will see at some point an app or service that merely does directory listing and searching for the various cloud storage services: a meta-cloud storage app that looks for files in your Box, Dropbox, Bitcasa, Skydrive storage lockers. If it exists, a quick Google search didn’t find it. Until then, my plan is to use Dropbox for apps and Box for everything else.

Don’t be so hasty in kicking Hollywood to the Kickstarter Curb

I thought the Kickstarter for the Veronica Mars movie was a great move – but this post from Ken Levine made me at least temporarily rethink that idea. He discusses the Veronica Mars movie but focuses more on Zach Braff’s Kickstarter.

The idea – and it’s a great one – is that Kickstarter allows filmmakers who otherwise would have NO access to Hollywood and NO access to serious investors to scrounge up enough money to make their movies. Zach Braff has contacts. Zach Braff has a name. Zach Braff has a track record. Zach Braff has residuals. He can get in a room with money people. He is represented by a major talent agency. But the poor schmoe in Mobile, Alabama or Walla Walla, Washington has none of those advantages.

I think Levine’s premise is largely correct: after years on Scrubs, and after making Garden State, Braff has the contacts in Hollywood to get a movie done. The problem, one that’s not mentioned by Levine, is whether or not Zach Braff has the leverage to get his new movie made. Braff’s movie, and the “Veronica Mars” movie, appeal to a fringe audience. These are not films that even dare dream they might earn the millions Iron Man 3 or The Avengers earned in their opening weekends. So, to secure funding, they need a show of support by would-be viewers: yes, this “double-charges” most members of the audience (first on Kickstarter, then at the box office), but given the choice between paying twice or not seeing the movie, Braff fans and Kristen Bell fans would probably choose the former.

Levine’s point that the “poor schmoe in Mobile, Alabama or Walla Walla, Washington” doesn’t have the advantages of Braff or Bell is correct. But reserving Kickstarter funding to only the “poor schmoes” diminishes a critical beauty of Kickstarter: letting people “vote” with their dollars for ideas they want to see turn into realities. If the Walla Walla director has a great idea and hers is better than Braff’s, Kickstarter participants can choose the former over the latter (or both, since the choice is not mutually exclusive.) Braff and Bell might have better name recognition and earn some “vote-dollars” on name alone, but they shouldn’t be excluded from a literal marketplace of ideas because they might have the ability to secure funding elsewhere.

[By Ken Levine: I won't give Zach Braff one dime]

Irish gentleman attempts to drink a 1-gallon Shamrock Shake

I haven’t finished the article, but I have a feeling that this will not end well.

For St. Patrick’s Day this year, I was trying to drink one gallon of McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes. Yes, one gallon. 128 fluid ounces. In one sitting. Why? Well, besides the obvious wiseass retort of “Why not?”(usually good enough for me) there’s also the burning urge to refute the stereotype that we Irish are all about alcohol. I’m here to prove once and for all that we can binge drink anything, not just booze.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone!

Irish gentleman attempts to drink a 1-gallon Shamrock Shake:

(Via Boing Boing)

Tomorrow

One of my new favorite books is “5“, by Dan Zadra. It’s a great book for any dreamer who hasn’t yet gotten around to doing. The book isn’t just meant to be read, it’s filled with questions and activities designed to help figure out what you want to do over the next five years of your life. Among the nice touches are inspirational quotes from people large in stature and small, including this gem, author unknown:

Each morning he’d stack up the letters he’d write…tomorrow. And he thought of the friends he would fill with delight…tomorrow. It was too bad indeed; he was busy each day, And hadn’t a minute to stop on his way; “More time I’ll give to others,” he’d say…”tomorrow.” But the fact is he died, and faded from view, And all that he left here when living was through Was a mountain of things he intended to do…tomorrow.

Why wait until tomorrow?

(Just Like) Starting Over

I’m committed to keeping a blog, but I’m dissatisfied with the way my blog is set up, and the content I currently have isn’t a best reflection of what I really want to talk about. I’m going to be re-doing the blog again and I hope bring it more in line with my real passions: Boston, wine, cooking/food, and politics, and less about science and technology.

I will most likely archive in a non-public location previous writings. While this goes against my belief that blogging is a form of journalism, and no journalist gets a chance to change the past, I feel a clean break is the best approach. I’m not issuing any retractions, just no longer making content available.

Let me be clear: I love what I do. I enjoy programming and have thoughts for new things all the time that would be fun spare-time tasks. But I just have other outside hobbies and interests that I enjoy spending time on as well. It’s not that I check my programming hat at the door: I just put on my food hat (and wine hat, and Boston hat) over it when I’m not at work.

Speaking of work, it’s worth repeating that any topics I discuss here are a reflection solely on me and not any company or organization I’m affiliated with.

RSS: not dead. More like Doritos.

Sam Diaz over at ZDNet recently posted his death knell for RSS, claiming that it was “a good idea at the time, but there are better ways now”:

The truth of the matter is that RSS readers are a Web 1.0 tool, an aggregator of news headlines that never really caught on with the mainstream the way Twitter and Facebook have. According to a Forrester Research study about the reach of social technologies, only nine percent of U.S. online adults said they use an RSS feed monthly, down from 11 percent the year before. By contrast, 50 percent are visiting social networking sites, up from 34 percent last year and 39 percent are reading blogs, up from 37 percent a year ago.
Sam kind of misses the point about RSS. RSS isn’t a technology designed or implemented for the non power-user. RSS is an aggregation tool, designed to make it easier to blow through the Top 10, 20, 50 or 100 sites you visit daily, weekly, so on. That’s not really in line with people who use the internet as a communication tool, not as an information or entertainment one.

The common complaint with RSS as a technology is a valid one. RSS is a massive firehose; the sources never turn off, the reading never ends. I’m reminded of the Jay Leno Doritos commercials: crunch all you want. we’ll make more.

Reading RSS can be disheartening, because no matter how much you crunch at it, content providers will make more. Eventually, you will get full, and sick of checking. Many RSS users (Sam Diaz and me included) dread those high unread counts because they don’t symbolize what we have accomplished (staying informed) but what we have yet to accomplish (read the ninth article in a row about duck fat).

This is a problem not with RSS, but in the readers that use the technology. RSS readers universally have one major fault: they present information like it’s e-mail. There’s subjects, tags, folders, filters, and (worst of all) those unread message counts. Here’s a popular email client side by side with a popular RSS reader:

rssreader outlook

RSS is not e-mail. Thus, the successful RSS reader will present the information in a way that does not make it look and feel like e-mail. Unlike work, or even personal, e-mail, RSS doesn’t have to be read. Sure you might miss a fun recipe, or insightful political argument, but if your blog or friend network is robust enough, and the content is “important” enough, you’ll probably catch it later. And, unlike your bosses or clients missives, if you miss it, it’s not the end of the world.

Here’s a fun thought: since it’s got the potential and ability, why not make RSS the real replacement for the daily newspaper, with emphasis not on news, but on daily. Every morning at, say, 6 AM (customizable for early or late risers), your RSS readings are generated and aggregated from the sources you define. You can print it out, read it, ignore it, do whatever you want with it, but that’s all you’re getting so don’t come back until tomorrow.

There are all sorts of tremendous advantages to this: a bit of time delay allows authors to get the story right and make those post-publish edits. You eliminate the firehose feeling and can, if you do it right, present the information in a scheme that feels more analogous to RSS’s newpaper cousin instead of its e-mail one. You could also, I suppose, have some sort of algorithm to pick the “best”/”most popular”/”for you” stories up front, instead of the chronological layout of current RSS readers.

The iPhone is beautiful.

After two years without a data smartphone, I finally took the plunge and bought an iPhone. I couldn’t be happier with my purchase! I was very sad to leave Verizon, but I am so glad with what I can do. In fact, I am writing this on it right now.

When I went out for drinks last night, I didn’t get lost on my way to a bar I’d never been to. I can listen to music, make phone calls, read books, and write blog posts all on a handheld device. So, so sweet.

(noun, Rare.) A lover of learning.