Text messaging is not dangerous, get over it

cell phoneThe people who create violent video games must be breathing a sigh of relief at the moment – text messaging is the new enemy. Increasingly the media has been publishing fluff pieces about the apparent danger that text messaging poses. With news that the train engineer at the centre of the crash in California last week was text messaging at the time of the accident, things are only getting worse for the technology.

Maybe it’s just the natural progression of things – become popular enough and you’ll undoubtedly gain enemies. Text messaging is more popular than ever, with over 75 billion messages sent in the US in the month of June alone. That’s an awful lot of messages! In fact, Nielsen Mobile estimates that more Americans send text messages than make phone calls. I would guess the numbers are similar here in Canada and elsewhere in the world.

Of course, there are no facts that prove text messaging is dangerous:

Though there are no official casualty statistics, there is much anecdotal evidence that the number of fatal accidents stemming from texting while driving, crossing the street or engaging in other activities is on the rise.

β€œThe act of texting automatically removes 10 I.Q. points,” said Paul Saffo, a technology trend forecaster in Silicon Valley.

I am sure Saffo is completely qualified to make such a statement as a “trend forecaster” so let me make a few statements of my own. I would venture to say that you lose I.Q. points while using the good old fashioned voice functionality of your phone. You probably lose 10 I.Q. points while rocking out to music on your iPod. You undoubtedly lose I.Q. points while stirring your Frappuccino as you cross the street too.

My point is that text messaging is no different than any other distraction. You’ve always got to remember to pay attention to the task at hand.

Why Messaging via Facebook Rocks

facebook Facebook has a ton of interesting features, but one of the most boring is increasingly becoming my favorite – messages. The wall is what most people think of when communicating via Facebook, but private messages are the way to go when you’d rather not have everyone reading what you have to say.

Here’s why I like messaging via Facebook:

  1. There’s no need to remember someone’s email address. There are lots of reasons that people get new email addresses, such as when they graduate, switch jobs, or switch ISPs. Unless you converse with someone regularly, keeping track of their email address can be a bit of a pain. On Facebook, all you need to know is a name.
  2. There’s no need to manage an address book. One solution to the above problem of remembering email addresses would be to create and maintain an address book. That can be quite a bit of work though. On Facebook, everyone is responsible for keeping their own information up-to-date, so you don’t have to worry about it.
  3. Receiving a message via Facebook is contextually appropriate. When you receive an email, it shows up in your inbox alongside messages for work, bacn, and spam. With Facebook however, you’re there specifically for communication, so you’re in the right frame of mind to be receiving messages from others. And so far, there’s no spam.
  4. It works on your mobile phone. You can setup Facebook to send your messages to you via SMS. You can also send messages to others by prefixing your text message with “msg firstname lastname”. Sure you can do something similar with some email providers, but it’s never simple to setup, and you often need a smartphone of some kind.
  5. Profile information is just a click away. When you receive an email from someone, you see their name, address, and message. If you’re lucky, they’ll have a signature with other information, but don’t count on it! On Facebook, simply click on the person’s name and you can see all their relevant contact info, their status, friends, and more.

It’s often the simplest features that are the most useful!

Happy Valentine's Day with a text message

heart phone Holidays are always a good time for interesting statistics. How many phone calls were made? How many packages delivered? Or perhaps more interesting to my generation, how many text messages were sent? According to AT&T, Valentine’s Day is the most popular holiday for text messaging. Evidently there’s a 33% spike in texting traffic! That’s a lot of text messages.

I wonder what people are sending? A simple “I love you” or something more complicated, like FTBOMH IWALU (which translates to “from the bottom of my heart I will always love you”). Gizmodo has a handy list of these crazy combinations if you’re so inclined. Seems like more trouble than it’s worth to be honest, especially with the T9 functionality that all phones have.

I thought New Year’s Eve was the most popular holiday for text messaging, but maybe “drewheyman” has the right explanation in his comment on the Gizmodo post:

sending ‘happy new years’ = 1 message per friend. send txts to sig other for the sex = as many messages as it takes.

What will you be texting tomorrow?!

Happy Valentine’s Day πŸ™‚

Read: Gizmodo

Txt Msg on New Year's Eve

Post Image This shouldn’t really be a surprise, but apparently text messaging on New Year’s Eve is a big deal for Canadians. According to Virgin Mobile, we send an average of 31.5 million text messages per day.

Canadians are expected to send a record-breaking 50 million text messages on the evening of Dec. 31, according to Virgin Mobile Canada.

Last year’s New Year’s Eve text message tally was around 25 million.

The article goes on to say that those of us aged 18-30 will send an average of four messages each. That seems like a really small number to me, but who knows. It is an average after all. I probably send that many an hour!

So happy new year, and happy texting!

Read: CBC News

Tracking Tweets at Twitter

Post ImageTwitter launched a killer new feature last week, the very aptly named “Track.” Sometimes when I am thinking about something, I wonder how many other people are thinking about that something at the same time. With Twitter and the new Track feature, there’s a way to find out:

You can follow friends on your phone through Twitter, but what about concepts? What if you wanted an update anytime anyone mentioned your name, your favorite band, “NYC,” “earthquake,” or “Steve Jobs?” In real-time? What if you were attending an event and wanted to know who else was there?

That’s what Track lets you do. It’s dead simple to setup – just send “track mastermaq” to Twitter, and you’ll start receiving all messages that mention my nickname. This is really powerful stuff. In addition to the usual ego-tracking, I am also tracking edmonton and podcasting. It’s like a whole new world has opened up!

If you’ve been holding off on trying Twitter, I strongly encourage you to do so now. Especially if you’re in the marketing industry. Where else can you get notifications every time someone mentions your product or service? This is the future, today.

Now if only Twitter was more reliable…

Read: Twitter Blog

Yahoo Mail gets better

Post ImageI haven’t used Yahoo! Mail in ages, but two bits of news caught my eye today regarding the service. The first, is that Yahoo! is going to start offering unlimited storage in May:

The unlimited storage will begin rolling out globally in May, and Yahoo expects to have all of its customers covered within a month, except for China and Japan. “We will continue working with these markets on their storage plans,” Kremer said.

Yahoo! is the first of the big players to launch unlimited storage. I can’t imagine Google and Microsoft will be far behind.

The feature is important for further development, as Om Malik reports:

What it shows is that the company is beginning to think of Yahoo Mail as a platform, leveraging cheap storage and a mega audience.

I think the other shoe is going to drop tomorrow when Yahoo in all likelihood is going to announce a Yahoo Mail API, which would open up the service to third party developers.

Really?! An API for a mail service? That would be pretty darn cool, I have to admit.

Read: Yahoo! Mail

My love-hate relationship with Twitter

Post ImageI have a love-hate relationship with Twitter going on. Actually, in a lot of ways, it’s quite similar to my love-hate relationship with Outlook 2007. They’re both extremely useful, yet both horribly slow. Let me explain.

Twitter is great for quick status messages, or jotting down thoughts that don’t deserve an entire blog post. I love that Twitter allows me to use it however I want to. For example, I went to get my free coffee from Starbucks earlier, and wanted to Twitter it. Except I couldn’t. The first problem is that for some reason, Twitter seems to ignore my cell phone. Then it will magically start working, only to stop again a couple days later. Worse still, the Twitter website is inaccessible far too often. Like right now, I can’t get the site to load. It totally sucks, I hate it.

The question of whether Twitter would be useful during an earthquake makes me laugh – it can’t be useful if it’s not up! And thus far, it seems to have a hard time accepting my random coffee-related messages, let alone important messages sent during a disaster.

I would use Twitter so much more if it actually worked as expected.

Presence: Pipe Dream?

Post ImageI got thinking about “presence” today, after reading a comment from Dan Gillmor in light of today’s eBay-Skype deal (hat tip Larry):

It’s official, and eBay will now be adding something to its portfolio: customers’ presence online. The possibilities are endless. I didn’t get this at first, but now I do.

Unfortunately he didn’t “get it” enough to elaborate in his post. There are of course a few “gotchas” associated with eBay acquiring presence – eBay users need to be Skype users, and somehow the two need to be associated or perhaps merged (like Yahoo and Flickr recently started to do). I disagree that the possibilities are endless though. Adding Skype doesn’t give eBay users any capabilities they didn’t already have with other IM systems. Of course, if the two companies can integrate auctions with Skype in a new and interesting way, that may change, but there’s still only so much presence information can give you.

The Holy Grail of Presence

There has long been a goal among technology companies, business people, and many others to have “presence” information about users. That is, knowing when someone is online or offline, available or unavailable. The idea works best when combined with location – are you online at home or at the office? There are many supposed benefits to having such information, not the least of which is greater productivity and efficiency. That being said, I think presence is one big pipe dream – at least for the forseeable future.

From Wikipedia:

Presence is defined as the “availability and willingness of the user (presentity) for communication”. Presence information is published by individuals to other systems users, known as ‘watchers’ or ‘subscribers’, to indicate their communication state. Although not limited to IP communications, it has become synonymous with IP applications such as VoIP and Instant Messaging.

The problem with presence is that it’s inaccurate at best. I have two MSN Messenger accounts. One is online 24/7 unless there’s a problem with my connection or with MSN itself. The other one is for my tablet, and I sign in as “Maq@Location” to try and share both presence and location information. But even back in the days of ICQ, my “always on” connection is usually set to Away, even when I’m here. That’s not really accurate! What users really want is to be able to say “Jack can contact me at any time, regardless of my status, but Mary can only contact me when I am Online”. Unfortunately, almost no one is going to take the time to manually set those restrictions.

And what about when you get up from your desk to grab a cup of coffee or use the washroom? Unless you remember to switch your status, your presence information is no longer accurate! How about moving from the computer to a different device, like your cell phone? You’d likely have to sign out of the computer and sign into the cell phone. Not the best scenario in the world is it?

Presence needs to be seamless for it to work. My devices and applications should all work together to know where and when I am available. In the best case, my devices should know that if I am out and about with only my cell phone or PDA, I might not be able to respond, and could then share this information with contacts. Let’s say I am working on a specific project in Outlook – my devices and applications should adjust my presence so that I am available to people related to the project, but maybe not to others.

Can we get there? I think one day we will, as much of the technology needed to achieve “true” presence exists today; things like wireless communications, RFID tags, web services, and other base technologies. For now though, presence remains a pipe dream.

Google Talk

Post ImageGoogle has certainly been busy as of late. They launched another new program recently, this one called Google Talk:

They say talk is cheap. Google thinks it should be free. Google Talk enables you to call or send instant messages to your friends for free-anytime, anywhere in the world. Google Talk is in beta and requires a Gmail username and password.

Another instant messaging client? Last thing I need, let me tell you. But curious as I am, I downloaded it tonight and tried it out (Dickson did too, so I’d have someone to chat with). Interesting enough, and simple to install, but largely a waste of my time. Here’s why:

  • This has got to be the most basic IM client in the world! Dickson created a better one for his class project last year.
  • You can’t change anything. Not your display name, not your font, not your font color, nothing.
  • No emoticons! Just colored text instead.
  • The application looks and feels like a web page – no doubt by design.

The program also has voice chat, and that feature appeared to work quite well. Essentially what it boils down to though is that it’s not good enough for me to replace my main IM client. I use MSN Messenger (feel free to add me, mastermaq@hotmail.com, just don’t email me there). Google Talk is an interesting experiment, but it doesn’t come close to being good enough to replace MSN, nor does it look like it will anytime soon. Heck, Skype and Yahoo Messenger are both light years beyond Google Talk. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that all of my contacts would need to have Google Talk too.

I suspect the only reason this program was created is so that Google staff can talk to one another using their own network, nothing more. Unless the second beta looks amazing, you won’t find me on Google Talk anytime soon.

Read: Google Talk