T(w)eens Don’t Tweet? They May Start Soon

October 7, 2009

[For the original article from ReadWriteWeb, click here]

“Teens don’t tweet.” Over the past few weeks, this fact has been reported time and time again from analysts, bloggers, and even mainstream media. Why the obsession with the teenage crowd on Twitter? Perhaps it’s simply because adults can’t believe that, for once, they’re the group responsible for the birth of an internet phenomenon and not the other way around. But before all you adults get too comfortable with your Twitter dominance, take a look at the recent data from comScore. It appears that the youngest Twitter users – those in the 12-24 bracket – are now the fastest growing segment of Twitter’s population. So the kids don’t tweet? Looks like they may start really soon if this new data is to be believed.

Kids Don’t Use Twitter

According to a recent article in the New York Times, teens are more likely to use text messaging than Twitter for keeping up with their friends. Today’s teens feel somewhat uncomfortable with the public nature of the communication that takes place Twitter, and, besides, they just don’t see the point in broadcasting what they’re doing to the whole world. Yet even without this age group’s participation, Twitter has seen amazing success, proving the point that a new technology does not have to be adopted by this young group of users in order to make it big.

Twitter’s Youth Sees Growth

Although Twitter didn’t attract the teens from the onset, that could still change. In fact, it looks like that change may already be underway. A newly released chart from comScore breaks down the age groups of Twitter users and plots each group’s growth over time, relative to audience. The most surprising revelation from this chart is the steep incline seen in the age group 12-24. Over the past few months, this group’s participation levels have been increasing dramatically.

In reading the chart, a score of “100” means that the age group on Twitter is represented in perfect proportion to how much that age group uses the rest of the Internet as a whole. Go over 100 and that means the age group is represented more heavily on Twitter than they are represented on the rest of the web. In July, those aged 12-24 scored a “121” – a score that was only in the mid-70’s a mere six months ago.

Statistics Can be Misleading

But wait – a quick glance at these statistics can be misleading. At first, it appears that the chart simply shows the increasing participation levels of the teens (and young adults) on Twitter. While that may be true, it’s important to note that the actual number of younger users on Twitter is still much lower than those of their adult counterparts. In fact, the New York Times recently reported that only 11% of Twitter users are aged 12 to 17 according to comScore.

Plus, there’s the fact that the age group 12-24 represents an odd way of breaking up the demographics. Why not 12-18 instead? With this particular slice of Twitter’s user base, there’s no way to tell how many users are teens versus how many are young adults in their 20’s.

Finally, what the chart is showing is audience growth as compared to the rest of the Internet as a whole. That’s also a an interesting way of charting the demographics of Twitter, to say the least.

All that being said, the data seen here is still valuable to some extent. It’s interesting to see this market segment’s growth, even if it’s sliced and diced in this odd way. But does this mean that teens are going to start tweeting sometime soon? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Google Opens Up Its EPUB Archive: Download 1 Million Books for Free

September 15, 2009

[for the original article from ReadWriteWeb, click here.]

Google just announced that it will now allow users to download over 1 million public domain books in the EPUB format. Google had already made this archive available to some of its partners, including Sony and Barnes and Noble, but until today users weren’t able to download these free EPUB texts from Google directly. Google will continue to make PDF versions of these books available for download as well, but users with eReader’s will find the new EPUB files far more useful.

If you don’t have an actual hardware eReader but still want to read these EPUB versions, you can install Stanza or a similar desktop reader to read these books.

EPUB: The One eBook Standard to Rule them All

EPUB is a free, standardized format that almost every hardware eReader or desktop software understands. Amazon’s Kindle interestingly, however, cannot read EPUB texts without using some intermediary software that converts these books into a format the Kindle can understand. While there are a few competing formats, EPUB has turned into the de facto standard for eBooks. Some vendors, like Sony, wrap a digital rights management (DRM) solution around these books, but others just publish completely open, non-DRMed versions of their books. The EPUB files from Google Books will not be locked down by a DRM solution.

It is important to note, however, that these EPUB files were run through an optical character recognition (OCR) system and weren’t edited afterwards. While this software has greatly improved over the last few years, there are still quite a few mistakes in most books. This post on the Google Books blog explains the conversion process in more detail. The PDF versions of these books don’t suffer from this problem, as they are just copies of the actual pages. This also means, however, that these PDF files are far larger and that users can’t, for example, adjust the size of the books’ fonts according to the size of their screens.

The Rise and Fall of Thinking Machines: How Mismanagement and Bad Business Brought Down a Company that was Ahead of its Time

August 20, 2009

For Gary Taubes’ original article, click here

A close-up look at a doomed-yet-brilliant start-up computer company that never quite grasped the basics of business.

Some day we will build a thinking machine. It will be a truly intelligent machine. One that can see and hear and speak. A machine that will be proud of us.

— From a Thinking Machines brochure

* * *

In 1990, seven years after its founding, Thinking Machines was the market leader in parallel supercomputers, with sales of about $65 million. Not only was the company profitable; it also, in the words of one IBM computer scientist, had cornered the market “on sex appeal in high-performance computing.” Several giants in the computer industry were seeking a merger or a partnership with the company. Wall Street was sniffing around for an initial public offering. Even Hollywood was interested. Steven Spielberg was so taken with Thinking Machines and its technology that he would soon cast the company’s gleaming black Connection Machine in the role of the supercomputer in the film Jurassic Park, even though the Michael Crichton novel to which the movie was otherwise faithful specified a Cray.

In August of last year Thinking Machines filed for Chapter 11. It had gone through three CEOs in two years and was losing money at a considerably faster rate than it had ever made it.

What caused this high-flying company to come crashing to earth? The standard explanation is that Thinking Machines was a great company victimized by the sudden cutbacks in science funding brought about by the end of the cold war.

The truth is very different. This is the story of how Thinking Machines got the jump on a hot new market — and then screwed up, big time.

* * *

Until W. Daniel Hillis came along, computers more or less had been designed along the lines of ENIAC. In that machine a single processor completes instructions one at a time, in sequence. “Sequential” computers are good at adding long strings of numbers and at other feats of arithmetic. But they’re seriously deficient at the kinds of pattern-recognition tasks that a two-week-old puppy can master effortlessly — identifying faces or figuring out where it is in a room. Puppies can do that because their brains — like those of all animals, including humans — are “massively parallel” computers. Instead of looking at information one jigsaw-puzzle piece at a time, a brain processes millions, even billions, of pieces of data at once, allowing images and other patterns to leap out.

While a graduate student at MIT’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Lab, Hillis, whom everyone knows as Danny, had conceived of a computer architecture for his thesis that would mimic that massively parallel process in silicon. Hillis called the device a “connection machine”: it had 64,000 simple processors, all of them completing a single instruction at the same time. To get more speed, more processors would be added. Eventually, so the theory went, with enough processors (perhaps billions) and the right software, a massively parallel computer might start acting vaguely human. Whether it would take pride in its creators would remain to be seen.

Hillis is what good scientists call a very bright guy — creative, imaginative, but not quite a genius. He is also an inveterate tinkerer, whose work has always been more fascinating than practical. On the fifth floor of Boston’s Computer Museum, for instance, is a minimalist computer constructed of fishing line and 10,000 Tinkertoy parts. Hillis built it to play and win at tic-tac-toe, which it invariably does. His other work includes a robot finger that can differentiate between a washer and a screw but is flummoxed by a piece of gum; a propeller-driven jumpsuit that allows its wearer literally to walk on water; and a home robot constructed of paint cans, lightbulbs, and a rotisserie motor.

At the AI Lab, Hillis had become a disciple of legendary AI guru Marvin Minsky. The two were determined to build a connection machine as a tool with which to develop software programs for artificial intelligence. Because the cost would be prohibitive for a university laboratory, they decided to form a company. They went looking for help and found Sheryl Handler.

Handler had participated in the start-up of the Genetics Institute, a Harvard-based genetic-engineering firm. Her background was eclectic: she had studied interior design, held a master’s degree in landscape architecture from Harvard, and at the time was pursuing a doctorate in city planning at MIT. She was also running her own nonprofit consulting firm, specializing in third-world resource planning. She had a taste for classical music and a fine appreciation for style. She’d even been the subject of a Dewars Profile that ran with the quote “My feminine instinct to shelter and nurture contributes to my professional perspective.”

Handler also had a talent for cultivating friendships with brilliant and famous people. One of her Genetics Institute colleagues later called her a “professional schmoozer.” She quickly proved her usefulness by connecting the people who would build the Connection Machine with CBS founder William Paley. Hillis, Minsky, and Handler pitched the idea to Paley and CBS president Fred Stanton in a meeting to which Hillis wore his customary jeans and T-shirt. Still, he managed to impress the television moguls, who with others eventually agreed to kick in a total of $16 million to the venture.

In May 1983, despite the lack of a business plan, the company was founded and took up shop in a dilapidated mansion outside Boston that once was owned by Thomas Paine, the author of the Revolutionary War pamphlet Common Sense. Hillis and Handler called their new company Thinking Machines because, says Hillis, “we wanted a dream we weren’t going to outgrow.” As it turned out, there was never much danger of that.

Read the rest of this entry »

How to Handle Rapacious Clients in an Already Busy Workplace

July 29, 2009


[Disclaimer: This is a repost of an article originally from WebWorkerDaily. For the original article click here]

Being a web worker can mean learning to handle many facets of running a small business, including dealing with difficult clients, which can often be one of the biggest frustrations that come with the territory.

But how do you know if your clients are abusing you? Here are a few telltale signs and tips for how to fix and avoid these situations.

The work keeps creeping in. Scope creep is the bane of many freelancers’ lives. You start with one description of what is to be done and end up doing something entirely different, or something that’s way more involved than the original task.

How to Fix/Avoid It: Have a contract and a clear and agreed-upon scope and schedule for each and every phase or project. Outline exactly what is to be done and when it’s due.

The client expects immediate responses or complete availability. Occasionally, you’ll come across clients who want 100 percent undivided attention. They expect emails to be responded to within an hour and work to be completed at an unrealistic pace.

How to Fix/Avoid It: Set expectations from the start. Explain when you’re available to clients, how quickly you tend to reply to communications, and how you prefer to communicate. You may also wish to explain how you work. For example, do you generally devote a set amount of time to each project or client per day? If so, explain this to clients up front so that they know what to expect.

The client expects to be able to chat with you frequently. Some clients prefer to communicate by phone, others expect to chitchat at the start of each call, and occasionally, you’ll even find those who expect to have multiple calls per day. In any case, these clients can be a serious drain on your time, making it next to impossible to stay on schedule with your work.

How to Fix/Avoid It: Make it part of your policy to limit phone communications altogether. It may seem harsh, but phone calls and excessive meetings are actually counterproductive. Keep all phone calls to 15 minutes or less and require all calls to be scheduled in advance. Finally, let clients know your preferred communication methods so that they know what to expect.

The client frequently goes back and forth over decisions or nitpicks with minor changes. When a client is indecisive, it can make working with him a nightmare. He wants things one way one minute, the complete opposite the next. Round and round you go, until you are completely confused and way outside of the original scope.

How to Fix/Avoid It: Clearly specify the number of revisions that are included in the project, as well as the deadlines for each set of revisions. Then communicate frequently about pending deadlines so that clients understand that they must turn in all changes by that point and that any subsequent changes will fall within the next set of revisions or will require additional revisions (at a predetermined and contracted rate).

The client expects free consulting and advice. Many times, this type of client has “friends” working on things for him or her for free, so if you hear this hint early on, you might want to consider this a red flag and run the other way. Unfortunately, it’s quite common to come across bargain hunters, so you’ll have to be firm and stick to your guns if you don’t want your bottom line to suffer.

How to Fix/Avoid It: Again, the contract and scope can be a real lifesaver here. If you clearly outline what’s included in a project or job (including the number of phone calls), it will be much harder for clients to negotiate freebies.

By preparing for these common situations in advance, you can often avoid them altogether, saving yourself time, profit and sanity. Put your policies in place and then stick to them without fail so that your clients know exactly what to expect.

How do you handle difficult clients? What techniques do you use to stay on track

Balancing Website Design and SEO: How To Make A Good Website Work For You

July 10, 2009

One thing that every web-marketer is constantly conscious of is its position on the major search engines, most notably Google and Yahoo. While search engine optimization (SEO) can be an important tool for a marketer’s back pocket, it’s also crucial to consider one’s priorities when marketing online. Basically, you should be asking yourself, do I want a website lots of people are going to see, or do I want a good website that those people are going to want to buy from? A large portion of web developers and marketers make the mistake of overemphasizing SEO while losing focus on the functionality and conversion potential of their site. In a retail sense, this is the equivalent of having a flashy and attractive sign outside the store, with a bare, unappealing, and unorganized interior.

The most common mistake in this area is designers sacrificing use of coding systems other than HTML, as HTML is the easiest for Google’s bot to crawl and analyze. However systems like Flash, CSS, AJAX, and more, while used intelligently and not overbearingly can really spruce up the appeal of your site, making customers more likely to make purchases. Even more problematic is when a web-developer is creating content on a site with more concern for the inclusion of high-return keywords rather than actual quality content.

Omniture, Inc., an online business optimization firm released their “Conversion Optimization Benchmark Survey” this week. The survey is designed to

…offer online marketers best practices in on-site conversion and an opportunity to gain insight about how their online marketing efforts compare to industry peers.

Essentially, the survey helps web-marketers by focusing on monitoring conversion events on your Web site and identifying areas of weakness and strength.

Omniture’s SVP of Marketing, Gale Ennis says,

Industry research indicates that for every $92 spent online to acquire site traffic or build awareness, only $1 is spent to proactively convert this traffic

As a business attempting to not only market, but sell on and through the internet, it’s vital to understand that exposure is a means to an end, not the end itself. Where is your money coming from? It’s through the conversion of potential customers into paying customers through the concrete appeal of your website. Still, don’t take that to mean that SEO should be entirely disregarded. It’s necessary to attract those customers in the first place. The savvy web-marketer will find a way to balance their design and functionality with their SEO, truly optimizing the business potential of their website.

And as always, an article for reference.

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