Thursday, July 24, 2008

Knol isn't Wikipedia, it's Squidoo

Google, who also own and run Blogger that hosts this blog, launched their entry into the information collection market. Knol (the name comes from Google's invention of the 'knol' as a unit of knowledge).

This is the same space occupied by such people as Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia and Seth Godin's Squidoo. All collections of information with various ways of creating, linking and editing.

After the announcement there have been a large number of people comparing Knol to Wikipedia. Frankly, I wonder why. My first thought when I read about and visited Knol was that it appeared to be a less laid back version of Squidoo.

Knol is going to be a collection of pages devoted to a single topic authored by one person (though the can choose 'collaborators'). Authors can choose to get a share of ad income or not show ads. Squidoo is a collection of pages devoted to a single topic authored by one person. Authors can choose to get a share of ad income or not show ads. Hmmm, seem to quite similar.

Wikipedia, on the other hand, is a collection of pages where anyone can edit the page and nobody owns it. A totally different concept.

I'm not saying that Knol should not be welcomed into the market. I'm just saying that it shouldn't be compared to Wikipedia alone. It's not a totally original idea either, Squidoo have been doing something similar for quite a while.

There are always big questions with projects like this. First, what will the feel of the collection be. Squidoo, for example, is laid back and full of a lot of self-promotion and marketing. Squidoo encourages authors by promoting the possibility of making some money off your contributions. Wikipedia has a more factual feel and relies on public interest since it is all anonymous.

I'll be watching with interest to see where knol goes.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Website hosting

I just read a post on another blog (I'm not mentioning names) which was a thoroughly confused and misleading post about types of web hosting. Having personally used many types and advised a fair number of friends and clients I think I can do a better job.

The first thing to remember is that if you just want a nice little vanity web log like this one with some customization of appearance and a few ads to earn a couple of dollars then you don't need web hosting. Blogger, TypePad and WordPress are more than happy to host your blog and share some of the ad revenue with you. With the assistance of other free services such as image and file hosting you can even use these services to host quite good small web sites.

If you want more control over the software you run and to tie in other things such as a wiki or forums for your blog then you need to go to real hosting. You'll also need your own domain name.

At the bottom level of hosting is shared hosting. For a couple of dollars a month (and often purchased cheaply at the same time as your domain name) you get an account on a computer that allows you to upload web applications and do some configuration of the web server.

Most of these hosting services offer a "control panel" that allows you to change some of the configuration, manage files and even install a fair range of software easily. My web host offers Wordpress, Joomla, MediaWiki, phpBB, a guest book, picture gallery, Ruby on Rails and a site engine all installed easily and quickly, often with just one click and a single web form.

You may find it difficult to install some software as you cannot change such things as the Apache or Perl modules installed as you are only one account on a computer. You also are at risk of another account on the computer tieing up the system - a web application hitting a race condition in Apache, for example.

For just a little more some web hosts offer a virtual server. This uses virtualization software on a computer to offer a virtual computer that you control yourself. This is the best system for almost everyone to start with. You have almost total control including all the Apache, Perl and PHP configuration. Most still install some sort of control panel for you to use. The underlying virtualization software significantly reduces the risk of your "server" being over run by one of the other virtual servers. In fact they do such a good job that even large server farms will run multiple boxes running multiple virtual servers.

All of these three levels offer advantages such as high availability and automatic backups. Both shared and virtual server hosting offer excellent customer support at exceptionally low prices.

This level of hosting will be perfectly acceptable for almost all small to medum businesses. You can even have quite large online stores and popular sites using large amounts of bandwidth on a virtual server. I've known sites that have mutiple virtual servers, one for the web site, one for the store and another for the database back end.

Oh, one final note. My favourite web hosting company is WestHost, good service, good prices. If you click on the link and order I'll even earn a dollar or two.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Why I'm not buying an iPhone (yet)

So I'm going out on a limb and saying for an Australian outside Sydney and Melbourne now is certainly not the time to buy an iPhone.

Now picking up a second hand iPod Touch, that's another matter. I have a Touch, putting the 2.0 software on it has improved the base software, added the ability to connect to the 802.1x based wireless net at work and opened up Apple's App store. I expect within the next few days that I'll be able to unlock it and then all the neat applications developed outside the Apple wall will be available as well.

The list of applications available from Apple's store is growing fast. There are already a few I'm finding essential - an Evernote client and Zenbe lists just to mention two. All the useful applications seem to be pushing out updates at a fair pace as well.

So why not buy an iPhone? Well, it comes down to two things - the iPhone 3G only covering two of the three frequencies used on our 3G networks and the terrible state of competition in the Australian mobile phone market. If you live in the one of the big cities then you might be well served by Optus or Vodafone (who use one pair of frequencies, only one of which is used by the iPhone) while Telstra (may they rot in hell) who use both the iPhone frequencies have the worst range of plans with the worst data charges.

I'm expecting that as the iPhone's share of the 3G phone market climbs more people will want better plans at the same time as the stock shortages disappear then we will see some competition between the carriers and rates improve dramatically - particularly for people like me who make few phone calls and will mainly use an iPhone for SMS and web browsing. So don't buy now. January might be the time, wait and see what the Steve says at Macworld and make a buying decision then.

The second large reason is that the software Apple is shipping with the iPhone still has large holes. The quality of information syncing between your computer and th iPhone is still far from ideal. The Bluetooth functionality leaves a lot to be desired - it doesn't support stereo headsets, has poor support for sending, receiving and archiving SMS messages from the computer. I thought the lack of MMS was a shortcoming but after discussions with several teenagers feel they only need the ability to send and receive pictures via Bluetooth.

So wait and see what the next move from the carriers and Apple will be.