technology

The Anti-Kindle-Blog Round Up

As my own post might indicate there's been a lot of mixed feelings about Amazon's new feature to allow subscriptions to any blog to be sold on the Kindle. Levi Asher signed LitKicks up saying "Amazon appears to be showing conviction, focus and flexibility in the way they are evolving the product" while Ed Champion lambasted the program saying "I cannot possibly give away so many of my rights for a mere 30% of the cut." This lead to an intense debate between the two of them on Twitter (@asheresque and @drmabuse respectively). Follow the Reader probably offered the most in depth criticism of the service. After consideration of the arguments, I have decided not to offer this blog on the Kindle. Not that I think there would have been any great demand for it.

Blogs on the Kindle

I'm extremely torn about Amazon's new service that allows you to sell a subscription to your blog to Kindle users. On the one hand, more readers is good and an extra revenue stream is always welcome (Fun fact: Wet Asphalt doesn't usually even make back its costs in hosting/domain fees). On the other hand, I'm reluctant to ask people to pay for something they can get online for free (even online using the Kindle's own web browser). Furthermore, the terms are like this:

[Q:] Do I get paid for making my blog available on Kindle? [A:]Yes.You will get paid 30% of the monthly blog subscription price for every subscriber to your blog. Please see the terms and conditions for details. [Q:] Can I set the price for my blog? [A:] No. Amazon will define the price based on what we deem is a fair value for customers. [Q:] Can I make my blog free? [A:] No, Amazon will define the price based on what we deem is a fair value for customers.

So 1) only 30% for my content? What a ripoff! 2) Amazon will define the price based on what we deem fair value for customers? What does that mean? It seems like your giving up a little too much control over your content to Amazon, without any input. It would be MUCH better for both bloggers and Kindle users if Amazon allowed you to set your own price including offering blogs for free, like Apple does with the iTunes App Store. (And like the iTunes App Store, this would be more about adding value to sell more products than making money from the service itself.) It's possible that Amazon is just desperate for any way to make more money with whatever they have to pay for always-on 3G service. But whatever the reason, these terms are not great.

So what do you, my faithful readers think? Should we offer Wet Asphalt on the Kindle or not?

Will Twitter Scale?

Recently, Twitter caused some grumbling by limiting the number of API calls to its service from third party applications. This means that the Twitter apps people use most, like TweetDeck or the various iPhone applications, have to throttle their own users in order to use the service. (TweetDeck, for instance, introduced a maximum number of API calls per user per a specific time period.) Now, Twitter has caused a much bigger uproar by making it so users can't see @ replies to users they don't follow. That means if I follow you, and you tweet at someone else, I don't get to see your tweet. No one's really sure why they did this; they say it's a "reponse to user behavior" (whatever that means), and at least one person has suggest it's in response to people tweeting celebrities that don't tweet them back. However, as most of Twitter knows by now, this is a terrible, terrible idea. Most of the people I've found to follow I've found because other people were having interesting conversations with them. And I suggest an alternate theory: Twitter is doing this to reduce the number of tweets it has to serve to users (fewer tweets served to fewer users) and thereby reduce their load on the system. Because with Twitter growing at such an alarming rate, it seems like their system might be getting taxed.

Which begs the question: Will Twitter scale? If Twitter gets much larger (and it's getting bigger by the day) will it soon get to the point where their infrastructure simply won't be able to handle the traffic. And if that happens, Twitter will very suddenly go from the hottest thing on the planet to dead as a doornail, ala Friendster. In any case, if they don't do something quick to accommodate users cranky about limited API calls and replies not working like they want, someone else is going to come along with a Twitter replacement and kill them. Again, ala Friendster.

EDIT: new blog post from Twitter supports my theory about scalability

The engineering team reminded me that there were serious technical reasons why that setting had to go or be entirely rebuilt—it wouldn't have lasted long even if we thought it was the best thing ever.

Read: We don't have the infrastructure to support all those tweets.

Kindle Sucks Part Whatever

Amazon is now charging by the megabyte to put your personal documents on the Kindle. Or, you know, you could buy a Sony Reader and do it for free.

Show Us the Numbers

To the public at large, as to me, it seems like a no brainer that ebooks should cost much less than print books. You don't have to pay for printing, after all, nor do you have to pay much for distribution, and you don't have to give the same kind of cut to ebook stores, who, after all, don't have to pay things like rent. And yet, there's been some rumblings from the industry about how lower costs of ebooks will hurt publishing (via @RonHogan), and that ebooks still cost money (via @bookavore); "We still pay for the author advance, the editing, the copyediting, the proofreading, the cover and interior design, the illustrations, the sales kit, the marketing efforts, the publicity, and the staff that needs to coordinate all of the details that make books possible in these stages."

Really? Because it seems to me that the amount of money the publisher has to spend on printing, distribution and the cut given to the bookstore are a HUGE percentage of the cost of a book. (Especially considering the paltry advances and marketing budgets publishers seem to have these days.) And the one thing I haven't seen from anyone is hard numbers. Listen, publishing industry, you want me to believe you that ebooks should cost more than $10 a pop? Show me. How much does it cost to print books in various print runs? How much is distribution and how much does the bookstore get? How much do you lose in returns from the bookstores when they don't sell the books. (A non-issue with ebooks.) All that isn't enough to give me a steep discount? Alright, convince me. I'm listening. Because right now it sure sounds like bullshit.

Edit: The first link did not say what I thought it said. Apparently the author was complaining about Amazon demanding the same discounts (to them) on ebooks that it gets for print books. I agree with the author that this is crazy. Ebooks cost much MUCH less to store than print books, and so the bookstore should get less money for them.

Amazon Buys Lexcycle

The breaking news is that Amazon has bought Lexcycle, creators of the Stanza iPhone app. Readerville offers some comentary. As pointed out in that post, the big questions here are will Stanza continue to be able to read open ebook formats like ePub (unlike both the Kindle app and the Kindle itself)? Will it still be able to buy books from B&N-owned Fictionwise? Or will they cripple it so that it's just a watered-down version of their Kindle app (or perhaps fold some of its features into the Kindle app and scuttle the Stanza app completely)?

Stanza is, in my mind, one of the best things about the iPhone/iPod Touch and may be the best ebook reading software I've ever used. (It beats out my beloved Sony Reader mainly because it supports PRC (Palm Doc) files, though I still use the Sony Reader for its e-ink screen.) I will be very sad if Amazon destroys it, but if they do I suppose it just leaves a void for other companies to fill, in the way that the destruction of Napster allowed the rise of Bittorrent. Time will tell.

The Real Usefulness of the Kindle

Review: T-Mobile G1

I'm really enjoying telling you all about my new gadgets.

My old, crappy cell phone has been needing replacement for some time now, and given how enamored I am of my iPod Touch, an iPhone seemed like the logical choice. However, I balked at the 2-year service contract with AT&T. I've been without a yearly service contract for most of the time I've had cell phones— that is, since I got hit with an early termination fee in 2003 when I was going to Europe for a few months and decided it didn't make sense to keep my phone. It's a philosophy that's served me well; for example, when I moved to Vermont a couple years ago, I discovered T-Mobile didn't have any service in the state, so I simply canceled and got a month-to-month contract with Verizon. Then, when I moved back, I canceled the less-favorable Verizon plan and got T-mobile again.

So when I discovered that T-Mobile's Google Android powered G1 phone was available with my current, month-to-month plan, and I only had to add $25 a month for unlimited Internet, I was pretty well sold. Incidentally, my plan—called "FlexPay"— is only $40 a month for 1000 daytime minutes and unlimited nights and weekends, so with the $25 a month Internet it comes out to only $75 dollars a month total. This is significantly less than similar plans for the iPhone with its two year contract. (Though they don't seem to be offering my plan anymore, instead offering $40 for 600 daytime minutes and unlimited nights and weekends, which is still pretty good.)

Review: The Sony Reader

For Hanukkah, my father called me up and asked if I wanted a Kindle. As I've discussed here before, I think the Kindle is too expensive, too locked into its own proprietary, DRM'd ebook format and too goddamn ugly. I told my father that if I was going to get a book reading device, it'd be the Sony Reader PRS-505. (Not, mind you, the newer PRS-700 model, which has Internet,* touch screen (allowing for a keyboard) and horrible, blinding glare that negates all those features.) So I am now the proud owner of one of these:

Sony Reader 1 - Scarlet Citadel

It sure is pretty. And small, and light, and easy to read off of. There's just one major problem with it. The software with which you put books on it from your computer only runs on Windows.

Now, if this device had just been released I might be able to excuse this, since they might just have Windows available for the release and be working on a Mac (and perhaps Linux) version in the future. But the Sony Reader first came out in 2006. They've had years to port their software over, and it seems glaringly stupid to cut out a huge portion of their market this way.

Not a Hologram

According to Wikipedia, a hologram is "a technique that allows the light scattered from an object to be recorded and later reconstructed so that it appears as if the object is in the same position relative to the recording medium as it was when recorded".

What CNN did on election night was take an all around picture of someone and put it on a TV screen. There was no 3D image in the room with Wolf Blitzer. There was no flickering Princess Leia you could stick your hand through. This is not a hologram. This has no relationship to a hologram.

I don't know why anyone thought that it was a big deal to put a picture of someone on a screen. We've been doing that for a very long time now.