Content and services

Is LinkedIn dying?

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 03/02/2017 - 14:37

LinkedIn may not be entirely dead, but in the past several months, I've received nothing but "business friend" requests from sales people and consultants trolling for business. LinkedIn has enabled "lazy" sales work. Just browse LinkedIn for keyword matches for whatever you are selling, and then send a "link" request. I turn them all down.

I was a very early LinkedIn user, and have yet to find it particularly useful. I've never let it have access to my address book, and I rarely use it reach out to people I already know--email and the phone are far more efficient.

LinkedIn is basically Facebook for business people, and aside from the news feeds, it does not offer me much functionality.

Death of TV: Part LXXVII: Is it really over?

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 03/01/2017 - 12:01

I've been writing about the death of TV since 2005, and twelve years later, the body may be finally in rigor mortis, or close to it. YouTube has announced a $35/month TV service that includes Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, Disney, and....ESPN. It's ESPN that may finally break the back of the traditional cable subscription business model. We've heard very consistently that a lot of residential customers have not given up their cable or satellite subscription because they want to watch sports. YouTube seems ready to give them a viable option.

Bio-diversity on the Internet is a good thing

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 03/01/2017 - 11:53

Bio-diversity on the Internet is a good thing, just like bio-diversity in the real world is a good thing. The Amazon S3 failure yesterday caused major disruptions in a lot of Internet services, particularly on the east coast of the U.S.

As companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google hold and manage every-increasing portions of Internet content and services, the potential for an service outage to cause major disruptions becomes greater as well. Technology fails, and it is dangerous for any company (or individual) to keep all data in one "basket." There is still nothing safer than a couple of external hard drives, stored in two different locations (e.g. not your business or your home) with your valuable data. Putting it all in the cloud puts it all at risk.

The day the InnerTubes jumpted the shark

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 12/18/2016 - 10:31

This weekend, while I was busy wasting time watching a Youtube video, there was an ad for a WiFi-enabled slow cooker.

I'm not sure what bothered me more: the ad showed a guy in a car using his smartphone to turn on the slow cooker--he looked like he had just won the lottery; or the fact that a cooking pot has WiFi built in.

I suppose someone is going to buy the things, but the idea that you now have a cooking pot, subject to extremes of heat and moisture, with electronics built in sounds like a recipe for rapid failure of the circuit board. And then you have a pot that does not work. I have had the same slow cooker for more than twenty years. It has no software, has never needed an upgrade, does not have an IP address, has never been part of the Internet of Things, I can throw it in the sink to clean it, and works every time I plug it in. I've never thought, "Gee, I wish this had WiFi."

Next up: A news report that the Russians have hacked two million slow cookers and are using them to crash CIA servers with Denial of Service attacks.

The decline of the Web

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 12/12/2016 - 08:45

As our portable devices become more common and more powerful, the Web is being wrecked by the blight of ads. I see this both with browsers on computers but also and especially on the portable devices, where the pop-up and pop-over advertising not only obscures the content but is often impossible to get rid of. On a smartphone, and I don't care how big the screen is, the little 'X' or "Close ad" button is so small as to be unusable.

It is now ordinary to visit a site and then leave within a few seconds without reading anything because the ads are so difficult to get rid of.

'Free' content, of course, is not really free. The people and organizations running these sites have to pay the bills somehow, but I think we are on the wrong side of a downhill slide, where ads are about to overwhelm the content (and on some sites this is already true).

What I find most disappointing is the commercialization of the Web. There was a time, in the nineties, when creating and maintaining a Web site was easy enough for almost anyone. But the complexity of managing even a basic site is staggering. Tools like Wordpress and Drupal have become so complex that they have become textbook cases for becoming the problem they were developed to solve.

So we all go to Facebook, which has done a good job of making it easy to have a "page" for a community group or some special interest/hobby. But is it really healthy to have the entire world using a single platform?

Death of TV: Part LXXVI: Who needs a TV anymore?

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 10/02/2016 - 12:48

The CW network has released an app for Apple TV that allows you to watch all of the channel's content for free--no cable TV subscription required.

This is another crack in the wall being defended by both the content owners (broadcast channels, cable channels) and the cable TV networks. It's a drip drip drip change, but OTT (Over The Top) offerings like CW are growing. Even if we all end up with several video subscriptions (e.g. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu) the cost of video content is going to be much less in the long run, and we are going to be able to pick and choose exactly what we want to watch, rather than being forced to buy 100+ channels just to get a half dozen we are interested in.

Microsoft: The company that hates its customers

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 07/08/2016 - 10:17

I had some hope that Microsoft, once Steve Ballmer departed, might become more customer friendly. And in the past couple of years, Microsoft has made steady improvements to products like the Surface tablet/laptop--I see a lot of them in my travels.

Here at the office, we've actually seriously discussed moving away from Apple for office productivity software because Apple, since Tim Scott took over, has apparently just decided quality software is not particularly important.

But my most recent Microsoft experience has me once again thoroughly soured me on the Redmond company. I have been using a perfectly adequate copy of Office 2011 for years, and dutifully install the frequent patches and upgrades. I've never had any problems with the software until the most recent upgrade, which installed a new splash screen that tries to get me to buy Office 360 (a never-ending software rental). To actually get Word or Excel running on my Mac, I have to click on a little button on the bottom of the splash screen labeled "Use Word for free." For free. Um, I bought and paid for this software, and now Microsoft, via the new unwanted splash screen, tries to tell me that they are "letting me" use their software "for free!"

How generous of them.

If this is not annoying enough, the upgrade deactivated Word and now it only operates in read only mode. So the software I paid for has been hijacked by Microsoft.

I called tech support, and of course they wanted the serial number off the box that I bought five years ago. I can't find it. And the nearly incomprehensible tech support people (very heavy accents reading from a script) really had no idea what I was talking about. I gave up.

So good job, Microsoft. You've hijacked the software of a long time customer and made it unusable. If you think this is the way to get me to buy Office 360, you're wrong.

Email is not a sychronous communications tool

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 04/12/2016 - 09:14

Twice in the past week people have complained that I did not respond to their email. In the first case, they sent the missive to the wrong address, waited two weeks, and then wondered aloud to me if I was really busy and was unable to keep up with email. Well, yes to the really busy part, but no to the unable to keep up with email. I cannot respond to email that I have not received.

In the second case, the sender was upset because they had sent an email in the morning and I had not responded by mid-afternoon. It was a day when I was out of the office with a client, and had back to back meetings throughout the day. I was not checking my email.

The "always connected" Internet culture has created a false sense of connectivity for not just email, but also for things like texting. I travel in a lot of rural areas, where cell towers may be few and far between, so I don't necessarily receive texts a few seconds after someone sends it.

Email and texting are asynchronous services; you send the message, and it may or may not reach its destination in any given time. There seems to be a rising resistance to using the phone for business communications, even though the phone is a synchronous communications medium--if I answer the phone and are speaking to you, you know with certainty that I have received the message.

There is a certain irony at work in our culture when we all have "smart phones" but don't actually use the phone part.

Death of TV: Part LXXV: NBC version

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 11/27/2015 - 10:51

As "TV," which from here on out I will always put in quotes, since "TV" now really just means "sitting on the couch and watching video from any one of hundreds (thousands?) of sources," continues its death spiral, NBC is a perfect example of stupidity perfected.

NBC refuses to put some of its most popular shows on services like Hulu. Instead, they want to force viewers onto the NBC Web site and watch those shows using NBC's own streaming video. What is so bad about that? Well, two things.

The big one is that the NBC video service is total crap. Trying to watch "The Blacklist" is an exercise in frustration. The app is slow to start the video, but because streaming video is SOOOOOOO difficult, the app spontaneously restarts the program from the beginning...over and over again. And every time it starts over, it forces you to watch two minutes of commercials. The same commercials you just watched a couple of minutes ago before the last restart.

If it restarts and you want to fast forward to the place where you were watching before you restarted, guess what? You are going to have watch two more minutes of commercials. Fast forwarding, in the NBC world, is apparently cheating, and NBC Incompetentcy World, cheating is not allowed.

Want to switch from full screen mode back to the browser window in the middle of the show? No problem! NBC restarts the entire show for you, along with two minutes of commercials.

If you have not dozed off reading this litany of stupidity, you might be wondering what the second problem is....which is NBC lards up its streaming shows with the same kind of incessant commercials that you would see on regular "TV."

So NBC, convinced that it can do better forcing its viewers to watch its own streaming service, makes it so painful that you lose interest and go off to Netflix or Hulu, which for some strange reason, don't seem to have problems whatsoever streaming video without restarting the program over and over again.

As far as "TV" goes these days, the elbow is dead and the unlike rock, the heart stopped beating years ago. But the corpse is still slightly warm.

Death of TV: Part LXXIV: The networks start to jump ship

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 10/22/2015 - 15:48

Just as Apple is about to roll out the next version of its Apple TV box, the company has announced that CBS and NBC will be making much of their channel content available via Apple TV.

The networks are realizing that the future is on the Internet, not on cable and satellite. I do not believe that over time we will spend much less on content than we do now on a household basis. But instead of writing an $85/month check to TimeWarner or Comcast, we will be buying our entertainment in smaller bits and pieces. We might spend $30/month for Apple's package of TV, and we might end up spending another $9/month for a Netflix streaming subscription, and another $30/month for on demand and pay per view content.

We won't spend a lot less, but we will be much more satisfied with the money we are spending.

A pox on LinkedIn marketing trolls

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 10/16/2015 - 09:55

I would say that now, about half my LinkedIn invitations are coming from marketing trolls who obviously want to sell me something. I deleted three invitations this morning, from an insurance rep, a CPA, and a car repair shop. I don't know of any of these people.

LinkedIn seemed like a reasonably modest "good idea" when it started, but I can't say I have ever used it for its supposed intended use--networking.

Here is the problem. You can accept an invitation from almost anyone, but you will quickly be inundated with LinkedIn messages asking for a minute of your time, and there are only so many minutes you can give away to LinkedIn contacts you don't know.

If you are very careful about who you accept as a LinkedIn contact, then you are using LinkedIn to stay in touch with people you pretty much already know...so you already have their contact information and don't need LinkedIn at all.

It's a mess.

The decline of the Internet

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 10/07/2015 - 10:13

LinkedIn can't seem to decide what it wants to be. A while back, it added Facebook-like features that everyone (including me) used for a while, but it takes time to sit on LinkedIn and read everyone's posts. Over time, the traffic on the groups has declined to the point where it is nearly non-existent. I know that some very large LinkedIn groups have a lot more postings, but my view is that if you have lots of time to write and respond to stuff on LinkedIn, you are probably not doing your job.

I got a message from someone today, and when I tried to reply, I found that LinkedIn had again changed its interface, and unless I missed it (entirely possible), there is now an instant message style interface. It took me ten minutes of clicking around a bunch of mostly blank screens before I was able to respond to the message request.

The new interface was (is) obviously buggy. So like many other Internet-based services, as these companies fiddle with the interface and the features, the software just becomes harder to use.

Once Skype was purchased by Microsoft, we noticed a gradual and steady decline in the quality of the software. As an example, we used to use the file transfer feature all the time (i.e. several times a day). We are back to emailing files around or putting them on the shared server (both less convenient) because the Skype file transfer fails so often we now just ignore it--if you can't predict when it will work and when it will fail, it is useless.

Apple has similar problems. In their desired to make all their Mac apps "the same" on the Mac and on iPads/iPhones, they have not only removed features, screwed up a wonderful interface, and introduced bugs. And they don't really seem to care very much. Steve Jobs has to be spinning in his grave.

Did the Internet just jump the shark? Is Peeple real?

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/05/2015 - 10:52

So certain portions of the InnerTubes are all abuzz over this supposed new app and service called Peeple.

It is hard to know where to start, as there are layers of fear, loathing, intrigue, and suspicion swirling around this new service. The fact that it already has a page on Snopes.com should tell you something.

In short, Peeple is being described as "Yelp for people." So instead of posting a review about the restaurant where you just had dinner, you can post a review about your boss, your mother-in-law, the roommate that cheated you out of the last month's rent...anyone you like or don't like.

This has to be the worst idea of all time, and part of the reason some people suspect the whole thing is a hoax is because the core concept is so horrifying--is there anyone who thinks this could turn out well? Apparently the two founders do; they have a background in corporate HR, so you can sort of imagine that being able to easily check up on prospective hires might have some appeal.

But right now, the app and the underlying service seems to be vaporware, and there is much discussion that the November date for a beta version seems unrealistic.

I'm a bit jealous, as this would make a great April Fool's joke, but it is October, not April, and there are reports that they have raised several million dollars in venture capital.

Nothing works anymore

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 09/22/2015 - 07:41

Skype was a great piece of software until Microsoft bought the company. We have been using Skype chat and video for years; it is a very effective and efficient way of managing a company with employees located all over the country.

But once Microsoft started "fixing" it, it slowly became less reliable, with file transfers now so unreliable that we rarely use that feature anymore.

Yesterday, there a major Skype problem that affected many users. It was cleared up after a few hours, but in the meantime we tried to switch to Google chat/video. Two of us spent about twenty minutes trying to connect to each other and finally gave up--and we both have existing Google accounts. Google's minimalist interface design is so obscure that we simply could not tell if something was broken or if we were missing some hidden button somewhere.

In the office, this led to a water cooler discussion about how nothing seems to work anymore. The mad rush to connect everything to everything via "the cloud" has led to dumbing down of features, complicated log in sequences, too many userid/passwords to remember, erratic performance, and long delays because former desktop only apps now have to shove everything through the cloud.

Xkcd, as usual, identifies the mounting problem in one simple graphic.

Are ad blockers the death of the Web?

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/21/2015 - 16:03

Pundits all over the InnerTubes are predicting that Apple's support of ad blockers is the death of ad-supported Web sites. Maybe so, maybe not. But I have not heard anyone discuss the inverse: the proliferation of ads was killing ad-supported Web sites.

The increase in ads has been a kind of drip-drip-drip....barely noticeable until it seemed to reach a preference cascade for me. Some Web sites had so many ads popping up, over, under and around the content that the site was pretty much unusable on smaller devices like a smartphone or small tablet. So I reluctantly stopped going to those sites unless I was on a desktop.

So it is not really about ad blockers at all. It is really about how content--good content--is going to be supported in the future if there are fewer ads.

The other thing I don't see much discussion of is the supply and demand problem. That is, if there is an infinite supply of ads and ad space (on the Web, this is pretty much true), then the value of placing any single ad approaches zero--basic economics.

What the ad blockers may accomplish could be a return to sanity, with fewer ad spaces on Web sites, and advertisers willing to pay more to get access to that more limited space.

Death of TV: Part LXXIII: 21% of homes using Internet for TV

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/21/2015 - 10:52

A new report from TDG says that 21% of U.S. homes are now using Internet set top boxes for TV content. This is a 63% increase just in the past year. In the important 25-44 year old age group, the penetration rate is 29%, which matches closely an earlier report that 30% of young people have never had a cable TV or satellite TV subscription.

Trying to make money on the Internet

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 09/08/2015 - 07:35

As sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (and many many others) try to create shareholder value, the pressure on users of those sites continues to increase. But as always, it is as much about time as it is about utility.

While we use things like Twitter and LinkedIn as part of our marketing strategy for Design Nine and WideOpen Networks, we have low expectations. There is only so much time that any one person can spend on these sites. For example, LinkedIn has done a fair job of aggregating useful information, but it's the proverbial "drinking from a fire hose." You could easily spend many hours a day just reading postings on LinkedIn, and if you have take your job and your work seriously, you just aren't going to do that.

When LinkedIn first introduced the Facebook-style interface, a lot of people began posting, but over time, I watched the frequency of those postings decline until there is very little new content being added in the half dozen or so groups I joined on LinkedIn. Busy, productive people don't have time to "hang out" on Google Hangouts, LinkedIn groups, Twitter feeds, and the myriad of other Web sites clamoring for attention. It's a race to the bottom.

Is everything going to look like Facebook?

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/19/2015 - 09:01

LinkedIn has been slowly adjusting its interface to look and behave more like Facebook, and when I checked it this morning, it had changed again. It now looks almost exactly like Facebook.

On the one had, Facebook is a familiar interface, and I had always found LinkedIn features to be obscure (and I'm trying to be generous). LinkedIn started out as a kind of professional address book, and they just kept adding more stuff willy-nilly. At least they have now tried to bring some sanity to the design.

But do we really want everything everywhere to look like Facebook? Facebook has its own interface problems, starting with the infuriating "mouse around until some hidden feature appears" approach that Apple is in love with.

There is some strange and accelerating devolution of software going on that is being driven by the design constraints of smartphone and tablets. Desktop software, even Web-based software, is steadily being dumbed down (stupified?) so that it works on a 4" screen. I have two 23" monitors on my desktop here in the office, and Apple tells me to be happy with an interface designed to work well on the iPhone.

No thanks. But I fear that things are going to get much much worse.

There is still an AOL? Who knew?

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/12/2015 - 09:23

I was surprised to hear that Verizon has purchased AOL. I occasionally get a message from someone who still has an AOL email account, but I can't remember the last time I actually went to aol.com...sometime in 1999?

Verizon seems to be trying to imitate the Comcast/NBC merger. Verizon says they are after the AOL OTT (Over The Top) content. Really? I have not met or heard anyone say, "Wow, that show on AOL was really great!"

Vertical integration may work in markets where Verizon/AT&T/Google/Comcast already have a de facto monopoly via their copper or fiber infrastructure, but I remain convinced that the future of entertainment is complete separation of content from infrastructure, which is the WideOpen Networks model.

The incumbents are still stuck on the notion that entertainment is the only thing their customers want, but on open networks, entertainment will be one of hundreds of services available. And on an open network, there will be many entertainment options, including lots of entertainment bundles from new content companies that are building packages specifically to meet consumer interests as opposed to building packages to tie consumers to a monopoly network.

Comcast-TimeWarner merger is over

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 04/24/2015 - 07:53

Comcast has announced that it will give up trying to merge with TimeWarner Cable. The company has said that scrutiny from the Feds was a factor.

I never thought this was going to be important no matter how it turned out, because cable TV is dead. The body is still warm, but the rapid acceleration of Over The Top (OTT) alternatives to cable makes cable TV irrelevant. The cable giants already seem to understand this, and have been switching revenue streams to their Internet service for several years. Just like how my cable TV fees went up year after year by a few dollars, now my cable-delivered Internet goes up by a few dollars every year, even while the cost per Meg for Internet goes down (a primary expense for cable-delivered Internet).

TV is getting ever more interesting, and Netflix is leading the way. While HBO plowed new ground with non-network TV shows many years ago, Netflix is now producing some of the most interesting shows--Lillyhammer is just one example of the success of Netflix in producing high quality programming.

But despite the efforts of the cable network operators to increase Internet download bandwidth to their customers, their Achilles heel is the highly asymmetric service they offer that makes their "entertainment" service profoundly unsuitable for work from home and business from home activities.

The single biggest complaint we hear now is that "I can't work from home with my cable Internet connection." Whether we like the "always connected" business culture or not, the reality is that many of us are trying to get some work done from home at least part of the time, and the trend is accelerating. Meaningful business work from home requires symmetric bandwidth, and it is fiber that can deliver business class services. WideOpen Networks, our sister company, is now rolling out true community-owned Gigabit networks in the U.S. Want more information? Give Dave Sobotta a call at WideOpen: (540-552-2150).

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