» Archive for the 'Review' Category

In the Briefing Room: SenderOK

Thursday, March 12th, 2009 by Cody Burke

In the Briefing Room: SenderOK

We recently took a look at SenderOK, an e-mail sorting and management system.  SenderOK uses algorithms to sort e-mails according to a variety of criteria including how often the sender’s e-mail messages are answered, if the e-mail originates from a domain that the user has recently been to, and the recipient’s e-mail reading habits (i.e. deleting without reading or manual importance designation).  If a sender’s e-mail is always opened or answered by the recipient or others using SenderOK, then the system will place the e-mail in a folder for important messages.  Conversely, if the sender’s email is answered less frequently or often deleted without being opened, then it will be placed into the routine inbox.  E-business card information is presented as well for each e-mail, in a box located on the upper right of the Outlook inbox, in a style similar to xobni.

SenderOK also allows companies to insert logos onto e-mail that appears in the inbox.  For a monthly fee, a corporate logo will appear as the sender in the inbox, and the e-mail itself will be expedited to the inbox in an attempt to avoid the junk folder.  To qualify for the logo, companies will have to comply with the Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM), which assure the recipient that the e-mail is from a reputable source.  Simply put, this aspect of the offering is designed to help senders stay out of the junk folder.  SenderOK believes that the presence of a logo will dramatically increase the likelihood that the e-mail will be opened, a premise we sincerely doubt.  In discussing this, my colleague Jonathan Spira suggested that replacing sender names with logos in the inbox may turn out to be as useful as third brake lights, which were found to be effective only when they were found on relatively few cars.  If most e-mail arrives with logos, it will, similar to the third brake light, just become part of the scenery.

SenderOK addresses two different areas: e-mail sorting and management on one hand and adding corporate logos to expedite e-mail delivery on the other.  However, we are a bit confused as to which direction SenderOK is focusing on.  The most important area of opportunity for SenderOK (in our opinion) is the ability to intelligently sort e-mail and reduce information overload in the inbox.  SenderOK shows promise in this respect, analyzing inbox behavior to determine the importance of e-mail and float the most critical to the top is a great idea, and SenderOK’s system seems to work rather well, albeit with limitations (it only analyzes behavior of others using SenderOK for example).  Solving that problem for the end user and bringing discipline to the inbox would address a huge pain point in the enterprise.  Unfortunately, SenderOK seems more focused on creating a corporate branding opportunity for e-mail rather than solving e-mail overload.

SenderOK also bills itself as a spam reduction mechanism, but we feel it falls short of the effectiveness of an appliance sitting on the edge of the network, such as IronPort.  In addition, we think this may be a short lived opportunity, once everyone else figures out how to get their branding onto email, then whatever advantage there was will be rendered moot.  SenderOK promises to keep “good” e-mail from being “spam-filtered” but “good” e-mail turns out to be a message coming from a company that is willing to pay the monthly fee.  The benefit to users in terms of managing one’s e-mail inbox and spam seems specious at best, a real pity because a tool that actually delivers on what SenderOK promises would be of great benefit.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Cloud Content Management with Salesforce Content

Thursday, March 5th, 2009 by Cody Burke

Cloud computing, for better or worse, is a hot topic right now.  We recently took a look at Salesforce Content, an integrated content management system (CMS) for sales teams using salesforce.com.

In an effort to make knowledge workers more efficient, Salesforce has created a unified workspace where the user can access content from multiple sources, including a cloud-based repository that is part of the Salesforce.com platform.  This keeps the knowledge worker from having to open  other applications when he needs to locate a piece of content.   Integration with Google Docs, for example, allows documents to be created and opened from within the Salesforce user interface without having to leave the environment.  In addition to the content residing in the cloud, the system can also access content from other repositories via  pointers.

When searching, users have the ability to view results based on factors such as high ratings by their peers or numbers of downloads.  The results can be further refined though custom fields that sort content based on relevance and user defined parameters.  Additionally, the knowledge worker can subscribe to content based on a variety of factors, including authors, topics, and tags.  When new content that fits the parameters is added, the knowledge worker receives an e-mail notification linking him to the content in the repository.

Salesforce.com has added other new content management functionality to the platform that increases knowledge worker efficiency.  To facilitate the assembly of slide presentations the knowledge worker can search through existing slides from across the organization to find relevant material.  Once the slides are found, they can be assembled into slide decks through a drag-and-drop interface, without having to download or copy and paste.  Salesforce Content also features a preview option for PowerPoint, Word, and Excel documents that allows the user to see the content without downloading it.  Additionally, the content can be sent via e-mail as a hyperlink, without the actual file being attached.  Once the material is sent out, the sender can track it to see when the link was opened, when and if the file was downloaded, how long it was viewed for, and, if need be, even discontinue access to the material.

The addition of CMS functionality to the Salesforce platform is a big step in the right direction towards building a true Collaborative Business Environment, a workspace for the knowledge worker that supports access to all applications and resources under one virtual roof.  Enabling knowledge workers to stay in one environment, create linkages between disparate repositories and Web services, and assemble and distribute content with no downloading or bulky file attachments is laudable, and organizations looking to gain efficiencies for knowledge workers who need to track interaction with multiple parties should give this due consideration.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Review: Amazon Kindle for iPhone and iPod touch

Thursday, March 5th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira
The Amazon Kindle for iPhone Reader

The Amazon Kindle for iPhone Reader

On Wednesday, Amazon.com released Kindle for iPhone and iPod touch, a program for reading electronic books on those devices.  The software is available free from Apple’s App Store and allows users to read books purchased on the Web or via a Kindle eBook reader.  I downloaded it to an iPod touch shortly after it became available.

Based on what Amazon has mentioned publicly, the company doesn’t believe that the free application will cannibalize sales of the dedicated Kindle device but sees it as complementary.  After using the app to read several books, I am not sure they are right.

As regular readers know, I was not a fan of the original Kindle and I haven’t yet tested Kindle 2 , although its design does appear to address a few of the shortcomings I noted in the original.

If you already own a compatible Apple device, however, the new Kindle app may be the best eBook reader for you.  Indeed, if you don’t already own one, you still may wish to consider an iPod touch for your eBooks.  Text is clear and navigating from page to page is simply a matter of touching the screen.

The app makes excellent use of the iPod touch’s small screen and I found the books I purchased very easy to read.  You can change the font size to get more text on screen or to make the text easier to read.  To flip pages, swipe the screen with your thumb or other finger.

I found the iPod’s backlit screen to be a vast improvement over the original Kindle’s; the Kindle 2 uses the same E Ink screen technology and is reportedly sharper than the original model.

The app lacks direct access to the Kindle store and does not support newspapers, magazines, and blogs (despite reports in the media to the contrary), however the devices themselves support Web access and thereby provide free access to almost all of the very publications Amazon.com sells, plus many more not available at the Kindle store.

Two major flaws, which one hopes will be remedied in future versions: there is no search from within the book and graphics can’t be resized.  In addition, there is no landscape reading mode and the software does not support annotations.

If you do own a Kindle, Amazon’s Whispersync service will keep track of where you are on either device and synchronize the two.  Books purchased on the Kindle are automatically available on the Apple device as well.

There are other eBook options for the iPhone and iPod touch. Shortcovers allows users to purchase and read books on the iPhone and iPod touch and Google supports eBook reading on a Web site optimized for the iPhone, although the books available from Google are out-of-print.

If you are looking for a good eBook solution, the Kindle for iPhone and iPod touch merits strong consideration.  The reading experience, while not book-like, is pleasant, the software is free, and the books themselves are far less expensive than the original paper versions.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

FiOS Follies

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

First announced in July 2004, Verizon FiOS couldn’t come to my neighborhood in New York City soon enough. Using fiber-optic connections instead of copper wire to bring telephone service, Internet, and television into the home, FiOS (which stands for Fiber Optic Service) was certainly worth the wait. So was the pain of the installation process and problem solving that followed.

After five hours plus, and a call for a more experienced installer, my FiOS service was up and running – more or less.

The installation consists of bringing the fiber-optic connection into the home and terminating it in an optical network terminal (ONT), which serves as an interface to inside wiring for telephone, television, and Internet access.

The TV service itself is superb, with better picture quality than our cable company (Time-Warner) had ever provided. The multi-room DVR (digital video recorder) system allows streaming of recorded programs (HD and standard) to other TVs in the home. Widgets provide local traffic and weather and local and national news on the top of the screen while programs continue in a slightly smaller size below.

The FiOS Interactive Media Guide has an easy-to-use tabbed interface and allows searching for words that appear anywhere in the description. One can remotely program the DVR via the Web (or using a Verizon mobile phone). The service features over 100 HD channels, 500 all-digital channels, and 14,000 video-on-demand titles (8,500 are free).

The Internet service is lightning fast. It consistently measures close to 20 Mbps, about seven times faster than my DSL service ever was. It’s so fast that my partner and I can each watch a different streaming TV show on our respective computers without any problem (with DSL, one show was frequently more than the service could handle).

It was the plain, old telephone service (known in the industry as “POTS”) that turned out to be the big problem. The day after installation, I noticed that many of my calls were not going through; instead, after dialing, I would hear an ACB recording (“We’re sorry, all circuits are busy…”). After weeks of investigation, this turned out to be a software error; my phone line was coded as an account disconnected for non-payment. I also found that I couldn’t place a call a few times a day; pressing the number pad would simply not break the dial tone. Then a reorder tone (sounds like a fast busy signal) would follow, then a message stating “if you’d like to make a call, please hang up and try again.” I told the repair bureau it was a bad line card but they didn’t seem to believe me. This problem took over two months to resolve and involved dozens of phone calls and the implementation of odd fixes at the phone company’s suggestion (twice they had me unplug all of my phones and they replaced the ONT and also sent a technician to check the inside wiring). Two months later, the problem was determined to be a bad line card in the Nortel softswitch.

A few small glitches remain to date. The remote set-top box loses the connection to the main DVR several times a day and it also has trouble playing recorded programs longer than 30 minutes. In such cases, it loses track of where it is. (Verizon promises a fix for the first problem shortly and advises that the second problem is being worked on.) In addition, the problem in placing a call mysteriously returned for two days recently and then disappeared again.

By this time, you are probably wondering if getting FiOS is worth it – and my answer is a resounding “yes.”

The clear sharp television picture and the lightning fast Internet connectivity are simply head-and-shoulders above any other service I have seen and I saved the best for last. Even with faster speed and sharper picture, I’m saving money. A bundle including TV, Internet plus telephone service is $99.99 per month plus taxes and fees (previously I was paying 60% more for inferior service).

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Rekindling the Flame – Amazon Introduces Kindle 2

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

When the original Amazon Kindle was introduced, I tried very hard to like it.  While there were many things that it did well (see my original review), the reader experience was ultimately unsatisfying.  At the time of its introduction, however, the Kindle was certainly the latest and probably greatest eBook reader, a concept that goes back to Sony’s introduction of the Bookman in 1991 and the Sony Data Discman in 1990.

The original Bookman weighed two pounds and could play full-length audio CDs.  It was, essentially, an 80286-based, MS DOS-compatible computer with a 4.5″ monochrome display.  Even before the Bookman, Sony had introduced the Data Discman Electronic Book Player.  The Discman weighed only 1.5 pounds and books had to be created using the Sony Electronic Book Authoring System.  Its three-hour battery life, relatively low resolution, and limited content greatly limited its utility and, ultimately, its lack of success.

All of these designs, including the newest Kindle, overlook the rather profound question of what makes for a satisfying book-reading experience.

It all boils down to the fact that reading a book is just that, something one does with paper.  No amount of searchable text, clickable links, and video wizardry will replace that experience, and putting a table of contents, page numbers, and an index around words that come to the reader electronically is a different reading experience.

Books also have other advantages, including a drop-proof, shock-proof chassis, extremely low power consumption, and a bulletproof operating system.

What we read from did migrate once before. By the end of antiquity, the codex had replaced the scroll.  The codex user interface was improved over time with the separation of words, use of capital letters, and the introduction of punctuation, as well as tables of contents and indices.  This worked so well, in fact, that 1500 years later, the format remains largely unchanged.

With the original Kindle, the reader experience, while light-years ahead of reading a book on a laptop, was still greatly lacking compared to the pleasure readers continue to derive from paper books (it appears we are at the cusp of having to create a retronym, “paper books,” to describe the non-eBook variety).  My 1996 “invention” of the Lazerbook , an in-home device that printed books on demand on reusable paper, has still not yet been built but I suspect that, were it to arrive on the scene today,  readers would still prefer paper.

This week Amazon introduced Kindle 2.  Although units are not yet available for purchase (although Amazon is accepting pre-orders now) or for testing, I suspect that I will like this Kindle a whole lot more.  In addition to the new Kindle, Amazon said it would start to sell e-books that can be read on non-Kindle devices including mobile phones.  It also announced an exclusive short story by Stephen King.

Kindle 2, sporting a new design with round keys and a short, joystick-like controller, has seven times the memory of the original version, a sharper display, and it turns pages faster.  Despite these improvements, the price remains the same: $359.  At the launch, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told the audience that “our vision is every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds.”  Amazon also announced Whispersync, a feature that allows the reader to start a book on one Kindle and continue where he left off on another Kindle or supported mobile device.

Apple and Google, not traditional book publishers, represent the greatest challenge to the Kindle beyond, of course, the codex.  Google has, to date, scanned millions of books, many out of print and hence not easily available in traditional form.  Readers can find several e-book programs online for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

What will the future hold? Check with me in, say, 1500 years.

You can order the new Kindle from Amazon.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

The Flip MinoHD

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

I am having way too much fun with the high-definition version of the Flip Mino video camera (Flip calls it the MinoHD and says it’s the “world’s smallest” HD camcorder).  It weighs only 85 g and can store 60 minutes of high-quality video, supports Windows and Mac (including QuickTime and iMovie), and is inobtrusive, as those you film will think you are holding your mobile phone.  Image quality is greatly improved over the original version, which wasn’t at all bad.

Here are two clips, a ride on the S-Bahn in Vienna and my attempt to conduct the virtual Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic) earlier today at the Haus der Musik museum in Vienna.

It’s good for quick product demos as well and you can easily publish an edited video to YouTube or distribute it privately via a greeting card or e-mail sent via Flip’s servers.

Virtual Wiener Philharmoniker

S-Bahn from Vienna to Stockerau

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Conference Call

Friday, December 26th, 2008 by Cody Burke

At 3:25 a.m,, the mortgage calculator tool on the FSK Bank Corp website crashed for 2 hours and 9 minutes, causing a minor inconvenience.  The next morning, a conference call is scheduled to get to the bottom of the problem.

This is the set up for the short film Conference Call made by former Basex analyst Andy Maskin and released last week.  Maskin wrote, directed, and produced the seven minute film, which gives the viewer a glimpse of the people on the other end of an utterly pointless conference call.

Conference Call is an inside joke, the kind of film that if you’ve been there, on that kind of call, is funny and all too true.  There are six participants on the call, led by smarmy Nick, who not only joins late, but interjects himself in the conversation mid sentence, interrupting a question about heavy network traffic with “Heavy traffic, where? 2-85 looked clear to me.”  Awkward small talk ensues.  As people join the call, it becomes apparent that no one really knows anything about what happened, and the attempt to investigate the mortgage calculator crash is a formality at best, as Phil, the one who will ultimately make the final decision, never actually joins the call.

There are some genuinely funny moments in the film, most involving Nick.  He hits the mannerisms of a self-absorbed and clueless manager perfectly, mistaking Kevin the Australian of being British multiple times, and spouting vague requests such as “When will you know when you will know?”.  A hungover and barely conscious Cindy also brings some great comic moments, including the classic escape technique involving “another call.”

A really enjoyable aspect of Conference Call is the pacing, Maskin manages to capture the feeling of watching time tick away as you wait for someone to join, find something, or exchange meaningless small talk.  Luckily, the film is a funny seven minutes, unlike the awkward real life calls it reminds one of.

Conference Call is presented by Flight Risk Films, and can be viewed here.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Book Review: The Status Seekers

Friday, December 12th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

The Status Seekers
Vance Packard

With so much concern about the “Digital Divide” which may occur in the United States between the Net-haves and the Net-Have-Nots, I dusted off my trusty 1959 copy (older than me!) of Vance Packard’s The Status Seekers, which is a very accessibly written book by a sociologist about class differences in the United States in the 1950′s.  Vance Packard first made his name in 1957 with his best-selling work, The Hidden Persuaders, which discusses how marketers influence and manipulate consumer thought and perception.

It’s very difficult to write about class and class differences and still come off sounding non-judgemental.  This is something which Packard does handily.  Packard starts off with a look at what many in the United States believe to be a classless society.  Of course, this is not the case, and is an impossibility in any society, as members of each class need each other.  Packard is at his best when he examines “Behavior which gives us away” – an honest and revealing look at habits and traits of different folk from different stratas of society.  He has his own vision of the American Dream: family, community, individualism, etc.  Today, we might call this “family values,” but Packard’s come without the right-wing extremism.

Granted, Packard is anecdotal and cites colleagues and stories far more than statistics.  Academics looked down on him in his day as a “pop sociologist” and marketers (thanks to The Hidden Persuaders) denounced him as a “morality huckster.”

In his later years, Packard was treated with greater respect.  He was the subject of a serious 1994 biography (by Daniel Horowitz).  And historian Jackson Lears, in a New Republic review of his work, wrote that Packard “deserves a place alongside more formidably intellectual figures in any history of twentieth-century thought.”  Packard articulated what others were afraid to say.  And he did so in a book that reached the very audience that needed to hear it.

Order American Social Classes in the 1950s (selections from The Status Seekers) (the original is no longer in print) online right now from amazon.com.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

BlackBerry v. BlackBerry

Friday, December 5th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

Some of my favorite mobile devices of the past few years have come from Research in Motion, including the BlackBerry Pearl (which we named our 2006 Product-of-the-Year in part thanks to the innovative pearl-like trackball that simplified navigation) and the 8800 series.

Now Research in Motion has introduced two new BlackBerry smartphones: the Storm and the Bold.  The Storm is the latest smartphone resulting from the touch-screen hype that started with the Apple iPhone and it is also the first BlackBerry without a physical keyboard.

It’s also the first BlackBerry I can’t recommend.

Touch-screen mobile phones suffer from a unique set of problems: the bigger screens are a drain on the battery and the user has to look at the screen to do even the most simple task of placing a call instead of getting to know the device’s buttons by feel.

RIM made the display into one big button so that pressing a button on the screen gives the user a satisfying click and you actually feel that you are pressing a button.  That’s where the innovation both starts and stops and it’s about the only thing that is satisfying when using the device.

In using the Storm, I found that pressure from my cheek would regularly turn on the speakerphone during a call.  Also, the device would occasionally slow down or freeze and then function normally.

Web browsing was much slower compared to the Bold (we’ll look at the Bold next week) – what took me 1 min. to accomplish with the Bold took over 12 min. with the Storm.  There were delays of several seconds in moving from portrait to landscape mode.  And did I mention that the Storm does not have Wi-Fi?

To select something, you highlight and then click.  Highlighting was tricky.  In a list, the phone generally refused to acknowledge my selection and preferred either the item above or below.  Scrolling was equally maddening.  Instead of starting to scroll, the phone seemed to think I was highlighting and selected a random entry before scrolling.

Once you get past these glitches, the phone itself isn’t bad.  Calls on GSM networks in Europe were crystal clear as were the few calls I made in the U.S. on Verizon’s CDMA network.  It paired immediately with the new BMW 730d I was driving and transferred the phonebook perfectly.  The built-in speakerphone was excellent.

The Storm supports editing Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents.  And the display itself is dazzling.

Unfortunately, the phone’s glitches will keep you from using some of the best features in the phone until (hopefully) RIM fixes them via a software update.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Collaboration: Let’s Make Some Music

Friday, October 17th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

When companies speak of collaboration, they usually think of team rooms, workflow, and instant messaging.  What they don’t think of is a philharmonic orchestra.  But not every company is Sony.

Technology companies such as Sony usually make technology.  In some cases, they even make music players (Walkman, iPod).  But it’s rare that the employees of such companies make music.

The orchestra is, however, a perfect example of collaboration and in Sony’s case it’s one of collaboration across the company’s divisions.  Founded in 1995 by then CEO Norio Ohga, a former opera singer who had conducted professional orchestras, the Sony Philharmonic is made up of Sony employees from different parts of the company (Sony Corporation, Sony Computer Entertainment, Sony Music, Sony Life Insurance).  60% of the musicians are engineers.  Since its inception, the orchestra has mostly performed in concerts in and around Tokyo.  Indeed, Japan has a strong tradition of amateur orchestras at companies; tech firms Pioneer and Ricoh also have their own orchestras.

Ohga-san’s successor, Sir Howard Stringer, evidently wanted to address the age-old question, “how do you get to Carnegie Hall?”  So the orchestra practiced and practiced and made its United States debut this past Tuesday at the iconic concert hall with cellist Yo-Yo Ma (a Sony recording artist) and conductor Daniel Harding in tow.  Proceeds from the concert are being donated to the Harlem School of the Arts, Midori & Friends and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s Arts Education Program in support of arts education.

The program featured Dvorak’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in B Minor, Op. 104; Berlioz’s Le Corsaire Overture, Op. 21 and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64.  The playing was competent and even graceful at some points although some of the playing was lackluster.  The orchestra did come alive in the second movement of the Tchaikovsky symphony as well as with the encore, Tchaikovsky’s Polonaise from Eugene Onegin.

Maestro Harding conducted with vigor and by the middle of the Dvorak concerto he figured out how to ensure that the crowd did not applaud at the end of movements (which it did after the first movement, quite loudly and enthusiastically).

Contacts made by orchestra members have led to new products including noise cancelling headphones and home theater amplifiers.  In fact, Sir Howard himself is a great believer in getting different workgroups together for meetings, according to a recent interview in the Financial Times.  So if you are looking for new ways to collaborate, the example of Sony is worth looking into.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.