The mouse is dead. The touch interface is here to stay.

I was sitting in a restaurant today and noticed a middle-aged man and an elderly woman sit down behind us with a brand-new Toshiba laptop. He was helping her unbox and start it up for the first time and it was clear that she was not an experienced computer user. On first boot, Windows 7 immediately began asking basic account questions, just as Mac OS X and Linux do, but she was stymied by the input method. It took several minutes for her to figure out how to make the Toshiba’s trackpad work so she could move the cursor to the correct data fields to complete the forms.

Once the machine completed its setup, it began popping up a series of dialog boxes, the text of which she had trouble reading on the Toshiba’s high-resolution screen. And when she could read it, she needed her friend’s help deciphering it.

The entire exercise fascinated me. Any other day, I would have been making snide Windows remarks to myself, but today – after having spent some time yesterday with an iPad – I was struck by just how unintuitive and bad most computer interfaces really are.

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What can news orgs learn from content farms?

There’s been a lot of discussion over the last year about so-called ‘content farms.’ These companies – Demand Media, Answers.com, Seed.com, etc. – produce large amounts of content based on reader demand, as determined by search and social media trends. In a nutshell, they listen to the questions and search requests of the global internet audience and try to provide answers. Of course, they don’t try to answer every question or search query; just the ones that appear to have enough interest around them to generate a solid return from ad dollars or syndication fees.

It’s a smart business, but calling it journalism is a stretch. Let’s learn from them to create better journalism. What can we learn? How to be better listeners.

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What’s wrong with the Nexus One?

I picked up a Nexus One to have an Android device for testing our mobile products, and decided to try it out as my primary device for a few days. I’m not unfamiliar with the Android OS; my wife has been using a Droid Eris for the last few months and I’ve had a plenty of opportunity to work with it. The Eris runs Android 1.5, a very outdated version of the OS, and doesn’t have a lot of processing power. Using it has been interesting, but I wanted an Android 2.1 device for testing.

One aspect of the Eris that has bothered me from the beginning is the sensitivity of the touch digitizer. To be blunt: it’s pretty awful. Calibration is not great and it requires what I believe is far too much physical force to complete a touch action. As a result, the Eris’ on screen keyboard is pretty bad, too.

I was hoping, based on reviews, that the Nexus One would be nearly as good as the iPhone. I was wrong. The N1 suffers from a very bad digitizer and very poorly designed keyboard software. As you can see in this test video, the N1’s digitizer is considerably less precise than the iPhone. In daily use, that translates to frustration when trying to click on icons, type, or use the four silkscreened buttons at the bottom of the screen.
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Cloud backup service arrives: Backupify

If you work in the cloud (and who doesn’t these days?), then Backupify is for you. I stumbled on to the site last week and it’s very close to what I’ve been looking for.

Backupify lets you select from a list of cloud service, login, and set a backup schedule. It works with the big-name services like Google Docs, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress. It even works with some lesser-known (to non-geeks) services like Basecamp and FriendFeed.

The service runs on top of Amazon’s S3 storage service and even lets you use your own S3 account for greater privacy.

In my early testing Backupify worked well enough, though not all of my selected services have been backed up after a week with Backupify. I like the status emails and the ability to look through your backup history and archive.

Unlike desktop backup services like Carbonite, Backupify does not yet encrypt your backup data (though their feedback page says it’s planned) and there’s no standard way for you to log in to your various accounts.

This isn’t the fault of Backupify. Online identity and authentication are an industry-wide problem and, despite some good efforts, there’s no fix in sight. I’m always wary of sites that need my username and password in order to access my data from another site, and Backupify requires this for some of the supported services. For example, I was able to use Google Docs’ oAuth support but Gmail required my login credentials. An ideal cloud backup service wouldn’t need to ask for my info.

Finally, as much as I like Backupify so far, I wish it’s features were part of my primary online backup service, Carbonite.

UPDATE: It appears that Backupify is running a free account promotion through January 31, 2010. All accounts are free forever, with unlimited storage. Even if you decide not to use it, why not go grab a free account now?

Putting social media to use in and after a crisis

The analysis reports are starting to come in on the Pacific Northwest’s media coverage of the Lakewood police executions and, from what I’ve read and from what I experienced, my fellow journalists set the bar high. What I found interesting is that this tragedy caused many of the Puget Sound’s more traditional news organizations to wade deeper – much deeper in some cases – into social media.

Many of the area’s news orgs have been using the ‘core’ social media tools (Facebook, Twitter) for a year or more. Some have even won awards for their early adoption of the tools. Some local media seems to have been born with iPhones in their hands and Twitter accounts. For them, this is old hat – Twitter’s real-time updates are part of their regular routine. But this was not so at the staid Seattle Times.

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