Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Awards, a stark warning for O2 and a lesson to be learnt by all you budding Web developers feature this week

Monday 26/9/2005

O2 has launched its i-mode service. It's everything that the Japanese iMode is — colourful, wide-ranging, easy to use and attractive — except more expensive. In Japan, many services are free or low-cost: here, it's £3 a megabyte regardless. In Japan, it was first and thus kept contenders such as BlackBerry out of the market, has 42 million subscribers and makes billions in profit for NTT DoCoMo even though a lot of the revenue is passed on to content creators. Here, the first reaction of most people is "How much?" "Oh, it's very reasonable," says O2, somewhat missing the point that if Sir has to tell us, we can't afford it.

It's fun to speculate where the costs come in. Networks distributing i-mode — or any mobile data — look exactly like networks distributing broadband data over most of their extent. In a good month I can easily download five or six gigabytes of information from my broadband connection for a cost of £20 — if I were to do that over mobile data at £3 a megabyte, it would cost me £18,000. Blimey, Maud! Who knew that spewing radio waves out from a small transmitter cost so much?

It doesn't, of course. Base stations aren't that expensive, even with site rental, power and other costs. Billing systems are expensive — a surprising amount of the money you pay a telephone company goes to paying for the privilege of paying — but that's not much of an excuse either. I don't recall BT ever managing to charge more for data over the phone lines in the good old days of dial-up modems, even though I'm sure it would desperately have loved the idea. The only place the money is going is onto the bottom line: fair enough, if O2 never wants to make very much of it.

So we go around the same old cycle — telco adopts a technology in the expectation that it will make tons of cash because it has in the past while ignoring the differences in environments. i-mode here will have to contend with many more established services and access options, and a market more than used to affordable unmetered broadband. The real fun will come when the networks start to provide streamed video in earnest — there's no way that can be provided on a £3 a megabyte.

In the modern world data is cheap, it's the services that make money. Throw open the doors, O2, and take a cut.

Tuesday 27/9/2005

Y'all know the standard marketing acronym EMEA by now — the curious monster born of a belief by Americans that Europe, the Middle East and Africa are in some way bound together in an homogenous whole. (Yes, these are the same Americans who get sniffy if you make Arkansas rhyme with Kansas or vice-versa). However, the lie is given by the guaranteed fact that any major EMEA event will be held not in ME or A — heaven help us, not in A — but in E. Preferably as far away from the realities of ME and A as possible.

And so, Dell's EMEA press event today tees off in the genteel and extraordinarily agreeable surroundings of the Turnberry hotel on the Ayrshire coast — think picturesque rocky islands, Championship golf course, butch men in kilts. Drawn by the scent of heather and peat, preferably with a strong toffee finish, ZDNet's Reviews supremo Charles McLellan despatches himself there on your behalf to check out Dell's new tech goodies.

If only it were that simple. The invite sets the tone — "wear outdoor clothes on the first day" — for no good reason except that it's the done thing, Activities are to be undertaken. 4x4 vehicles must be driven off-road, quad-bikes piloted through muddy ravines, clay pigeons blasted from the air, quivers-full of arrows dispatched and — this is Scotland remember – a 'bothy' built from sticks and sheeting, and bagpipes wrestled into submission.

You may suspect that for all their muscular prose, your average tech journalist is more at home behind a keyboard or in front of a bar than battling the Scottish elements. So it proves. One hack fails to make the event at all due to a nasty attack of gout; another mistakes the jar of brightly coloured ear-plugs (for the shooting) for sweets and pronounces them "a bit rubbery"; while yet another manages to prang himself in the foot with bow and arrow. Our own hero — as his name suggests — wouldn't look out of place striding firmly along a burn clutching a gnarled stick, but even he is caught out. During one mishap, a clueless hack peppers the clay pigeon hut with a blast of ill-directed shot: "My goodness," shouts Charles towards the hut, "Are you all right in there?" "It's all right, sir" says the ghillie, "it's all done by remote control".

The whole thing resembles nothing so much as a Carry On montage scripted by the Python team, and by the end the PRs are smiling as much through stress-related psychosis as their natural jollity.

But the UK press pack comes triumphantly into its own, as ever, at the 19th hole, where challengers from all parts of E (oddly, few from ME or A) are beaten into submission in the small hours by a superb Anglo-Saxon display of synchronised elbow-work. What better way to prepare for the following day's-worth of 'death by PowerPoint'?

Wednesday 28/9/2005

There's a breathless hush in the office this morn, but it's nothing to do with cricket. Last night was the CNET Networks UK Technology Awards — for which no cute name exists, least of all the CNet UK New Technology Surprises — and with the bonhomie and general excitement that comes with 500 dressed-up industry figures in one place comes the inevitable butcher's bill the morning after.

Graeme Wearden reported that an ebullient chap on the T-Mobile table took one look at his business card and said "Excellent! Excellent! Yours is the only site I don't delete. Look forward to reading it every day. It's fantastic, you do a really good job." "Oh thank you," said Graeme. "Very kind of you to say so."

"Not at all, not at all" said the chap. "I love silicon.com."

"Is that so?," said G. "Well, they do a very good job of serving the CIO audience. Have another look at the card."

He did. His face fell. "Ah. ZDNet. Hey, I enjoy that almost as much as Silicon. It's very nearly as good"

"Almost good enough not to delete", thought G, making his excuses and leaving.

He was not the only man disappointed that evening. "What happened?" I ask editorial bossman Matt Loney, who slid into his seat at a very respectable hour of the morning looking remarkably chipper.

"Mm." he said. "Well, I was trying to mollify one of the shortlisted finalists who hadn't won, when B_____ appeared at my elbow. He insisted that he was a duck, and that he'd given birth to me."

"That's atrocious," I said. "Doesn't the man know that ducks are oviparous?"

"I tried to calm him down," said Matt, "but he was most insistent. All we could do was send him home in a cab — but it took me an hour and a half to get his address out of him. By then, the bar was closed."

"Hence your notable state of health," I said. "Hence."

If only the rest of the office had taken on such responsibilities. One member of the editorial team's sole contribution to the online leader conference this morning was "it hurts too much to type", and that was more than some managed. But by common consent the event was a rip-roaring success: expect more tales from the years to come.

Thursday 29/9/2005

It was the usual sort of call.

"Hello? I'm Sarah from Lewis PR. Have you got a moment?"

Uh-oh…

"Er, yes…"

"Good! I have an opportunity for you…"

…uh-oh times two…

"… our client Pllr Data Systems is coming over to EMEA. They're funded by Larry Ellison and…"

"Sorry, how do you spell that?"

"What, Larry Ellison?"

Beat.

"No, I know how to spell his name. The company name? I didn't quite catch it"

"Pillar Data Systems. As in pillar to post. Now, they're coming over for Storage Expo and the CEO may be available…" and on she went.

The reason I asked, y'see, is that it's frequently most efficient to work out whether you want to avail yourself of such wonderful opportunities by Googling while the PR is going through the spiel. Not this time.

Pillar Data Systems' Web site is a Rich Internet Application using Macromedia Flex. Version 7 of the Flash Player/plug-in is required to view this site and was not detected on your computer.

Click here to download the latest version of the Flash Player now.

If you feel you were directed to this page in error or you have already have Flash 7 installed, please click here to go directly to pillardata.com.

If you experience problems with the Flash installation, try refreshing your browser. If that does not work, please go directly to Macromedia's Web site to download the latest version of the Flash player.

Some companies require Administrative privileges to download new software onto employee's desktops. If you continue to have problems after following the above directions, contact your IT Department's Systems Administrator.

If you do not wish to download Flash, please feel free to access Pillar's text-only site here

What impresses me the most isn't that people still think it's a good idea to have the default version of their Web site in Flash, nor that they felt it necessary to tell me about their development environment instead of just letting me read about their company.

It's that someone got as far as paragraph five of what is basically an error message — a paragraph that says you may need to involve your fricking sysadmin to bypass your company security protocols before we'll let you see our sales pitch — without a big warning klaxon going off. No realisation that somewhere someone had taken a very, very wrong turning. At no stage did the wet kipper of awareness get slapped across the stubbly cheeks of designer cluelessness, no, not even by paragraph five.

These guys could have saved all that 'Rich Internet Application' development money and a whole slew of intensive client/agency meetings by just writing a cheque for $30 to the nearest Internet registrar and asking for www.wearewretchednewbies.com, please. And in case you think I'm being harsh, click on the link to see their text-only site. Marvel at my moderation.

All this went through my mind as I listened to the PR. For all I know, they could well have spent Larry's dosh on making the world's most exciting storage solutions — but they didn't do so well on the Web.

Friday 30/9/2005

Look away, Fun Police, it's iPod nano time again. You may be aware that there's been a fuss lately about screen problems with this tiny yet desirable device: some fail altogether, while a larger number seem more prone to scratches and abrasion than is quite right. Apple went through the normal deny/admit/fix cycle with some rapidity: these affairs can blow up and calm down in a matter of hours, these days. But like the Labour Party apologising to a Jewish octogenarian survivor of the Nazis for giving him a free reminder of the old days, an extra reserve of prickly annoyance is retained for those who dare to suggest that all is perhaps not well even after official contrition has been dispensed.

In Apple's case, this has shown itself in a particularly rugged response to any reference to the problem on the official iPod nano discussion areas. Readers of our sister site in America say that in some cases, messages that fall foul of the official moratorium are deleted within three minutes of posting. Old threads that had been tolerated prior to the official acknowledgment of the problem were removed and references to critical Web sites deleted, leaving many people furious that some form of official cover-up was in place.

Which of course there was. Perhaps Apple was hoping that would-be nanobots would visit only the Apple forums in looking for evidence about the robustness of the toy — ignoring the while every other iPod hangout on the Web, newspaper archives and Google caches. Perhaps there will be one or two who will be comforted by the good news they find there.

Most, though, will find that the coverage of Apple's spin control will stick longer than the good news. It's not as if there's going to be some great surge of anti-nano feeling out there; it remains a tempting proposition and I've already recommended one as a present for a family member. But Apple's already strong reputation as an imperious and uncaring power baboon will only be strengthened, and that sort of perception can come back to bite in the future, especially when things aren't so buoyant. Why act so aggressively on a matter that doesn't matter? These are the seeds of self-destruction which grow in the humus of hubris into the thickets of tragedy.

I think it's time for my lie down now. See you next week.

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