28 October, 2010

Cool Android app, turn your phone into a tiny wifi network mobile web file server

I recently purchased my first smart phone, an Android based Samsung Captivate. I've been having a blast exploring the new paradigm of touch enabled UI and the many orthogonal dimensions of sensation (eyes..via cameras, ears via microphones, location via GPS, accelerometers and attitude sensors) that the mobile device presents for application development that doesn't exist on a desktop. One cool app. I downloaded today is called File Share. The reason requires a bit of back story:

So last week I downloaded an app called "Sketcher" to doodle on my Captivate using the touch screen, I quickly created a few bits of art that I want to share on Facebook. I could plug in the phone via micro usb and set it as usb storage but that doesn't always work as seamlessly as it should...thankfully Samsung packed removable ram via the tiny mmd flash slot, I could take that out and pop it in my adapter and into a USB stick ..instant files ready to upload to Facebook...that works reliably but still required that I unmount the flash in the phone and then remove it...too much work. My next thought was "if only I could just share files on the phone like files on a windows network share" ...I took the phone and entered the Android market to search for "share file" within seconds I found this app. It goes one better than my idea, instead of going through the complexity of windows file share mappings (which won't work on a linux/unix/mac network without some help) they simply coded a tiny *web server* into the phone and opened a port "9999" on the dhcp IP address that the phone gets when it connects via Wifi to my network! So I simply browse *to my phone* on any other device connected to the network (mac,pc,unix,linux...another phone!) and pull the files I've added to the share directly as I wish. It's a very beta product and is perfectly useful ...some issues to watch out for:

1) If you set a password, be aware that it is not encrypted..this means that if you are connected to a non trusted AP you would be flying your authentication plain text over it...if you connect to a foreign AP that has sniffing software enabled , it would then get your credentials (and people are usually using the same "golden ticket" password for *all* their services (bank, social networks, cc...etc....bad practice!) So I'd use this only on trusted networks that you know for sure aren't sniffing the line with a packet analyzer for clear text credentials.

2) You have to select the files to share on your phone one at a time, it would be nice if a multi selector option could present instead.

3) I use the default "gallery" file browser on my phone to select items to share but I also have the more full featured "astro" file browser app, unfortunately astro failed (with a cryptic error message) to share files that "gallery" did just fine...so be aware of that if you use astro.

4) You can also set the server to enable file UPLOADS, this sounds totally awesome and makes a ready way to upload files to the phone without having to do anything more than connect to the network...but it also opens your phone up to an attack where a too big file or files are stuffed in your folder until your phone memory is full...of course, you'd be impervious to this if you use a strong enough password (but then the caveat regarding the clear text nature of authentication still remains)

The points mentioned above aside it is going to save me some time copying stuff to and from my phone from my pc's on my home network so I think it is well worth the price.




13 October, 2010

Why Facebook + comment ratings = a big F-ing deal.

Facebook has been quietly but consistently creating tools that enable the service to know normally difficult to capture metrics about what people are doing, who they know, what they know and now with comment ratings, how well their knowledge is valued by their peers. Prior to this upgrade Facebook was able to provide excellent data for their ad targeting algorithms to enable highly coupled ad placements to the desires of those users shown them. The use of user submitted information regarding their geographic location, their likes in movies, music and other interests enabled Facebook to target large swathes of users to show relevant ads that target to those particular topics...this in itself was a pretty big deal as no one before Facebook had as large an audience to mine for this data and ad targeting and no one had as many points of information from the users base. Google has a much larger user base arguably but their ability to infer the interests from those users is much less focused as they have to use search data gathered by user submitted opt in to determine if an ad would be likely to be clicked by a particular person. By having direct access to an individuals expressed interests and more importantly being able to query a users comments and postings for key words enabled them to create highly targeted ads.

Enter the comment ratings, this expands the landscape of discoverable data points about users by now allowing Facebook to let the user community vote on the merits of other users comments, this is important as it allows Facebook to isolate those people that are deemed by their peers to exhibit key influence, these highly influential people are the people who's recommendations are likely to spawn a wave of similar activity in their friends and friends of friends, the comment system shines a light on this activity that has been going on and remained invisible to the previous social data points that Facebook was mining. The combination of comment ratings and the ad targeting system now allows Facebook to simulate something much like what is possible on Twitter. Many major and minor Celebrities , Sports stars and Politicians are making a little change selling sponsored tweets..these celebrities usually sign up with a service that manages the bidding of the ad tweets made available by the celebrity and then they sit back and rake in cash as businesses bid to buy those tweets from the various celebrities. Imagine an air conditioning retailer that sells GE exclusively getting the ability to by sponsored tweets by retired head of GE Jack Welch and you get the idea.

Facebook comments invert this by taking the actual influencial person out of the monetary loop, the influential person does not get paid a dime for their "services" rendered to Facebook other than continuation of the "free" service. However, I gather the gains coming Facebook's way from differentially pricing advertisements to particularly influential people will be beyond anything that we are seeing today as earned by Google using their Ad Sense or by the Twitter services like Magpie and the Celebrity sponsored tweet services. An ad buyer will be able to bid on influential people anonymously it would be in Facebooks best interest to keep this part of their mined data private as if those with influence discovered just how influential they were they might try to extract a cut of the profits from Facebook or forfeit the service. The latter option becoming increasing unlikely as users build up influence and a network that they would be loath to leave, so Facebook has them by the hook. They get to measure the influence by noticing how people comment rate their posts and writings but they earn no share of the resulting visibility for the ad targeting system....this is the holy grail of ad targeting now being born.

Facebook will probably gather metrics on the comment ratings for a time before actively feeding that data into the ad targeting system to refine the results and we can expect a revamp of the ad tools to include some option to purchase ad space on influential persons pages (without naming who they are)...this is when Facebook's ad revenue goes from the current Mach speed to Light speed.