SitePoint Podcast #49: Buzz Kill

By Kevin Yank
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Episode 49 of The SitePoint Podcast is now available! This week your hosts are Stephan Segraves (@ssegraves), Brad Williams (@williamsba), and Kevin Yank (@sentience).

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Episode Summary

Here are the topics covered in this episode:

Adobe/Apple and Flash/iPad take two

Letter from vmtech: Apple’s Touch Devices and Accessibility

Letter from roddog63: Adobe Should Destroy Apple

Wired demos its iPad reader

Google Buzz is Released

Letter from Don Elliott: Chrome Bookmark Sync a Must for Business

SitePoint PDF Giveaway Winner: trauman

Host Spotlights:

Show Transcript

Kevin: February 19th, 2010. Adobe fights a war on three fronts, Google Buzz evokes Pownce’s past, and loads of listener feedback. I’m Kevin Yank and this is the SitePoint Podcast #49: Buzz Kill.

Kevin: And welcome to the show. With us today, Brad Williams of WebDev Studios. Hi Brad.

Brad: Hello.

Kevin: And Stephan Segraves from Houston, Texas.

Stephan: Howdy.

Kevin: Hello. Patrick is away today, but he’ll be rejoining us on a future episode. On the show today, we’re kind of looking backwards a bit this week. We’ll be revisiting the Adobe Flash debate because it did generate a lot of comments from our listenership and a lot of sort of back and forth between Adobe and Apple and the standards community has occurred since we last talked about it. So we’ll take a look at that a bit.

Also on the show today, we’re going to be looking at Google Buzz. We’ve all taken a look at Google’s latest boondoggle and we’ll be swapping our impressions and seeing what it means to us whether it’s worth your attention or not.

Of course, we will be hearing from a bunch of our listeners who have, as I mentioned, left a lot of comments the last time we spoke about Flash and Adobe and the iPad and so I’ll reading out several of your comments and we’ll be responding to those. As always, our host spotlights and the PDF giveaway for people who left us iTunes reviews of our last show. So let’s dive right in and talk about Adobe Flash, the future of Flash in light of the iPad.

Brad, Adobe is kind of on the defensive, it looks like, right?

Brad: Yeah, they definitely are and we’re reading of official Adobe blog and Dave McAllister made a post that kind of explained why Flash is not completely open. They’ve taken a lot of heat because of that and that’s something we’ve discussed on the show a few times. The main reason, he points out, that Flash is not open is because there is actually parts of Flash that Adobe doesn’t own, specifically the high-def video codec H.264, which is inside of Flash and it allows for the videos to be played in all sorts of different formats, Adobe doesn’t own that.

Kevin: That’s the same codec that browsers like Safari are using for their HTML5 video support as well, and that’s what some people say is wrong with HTML5 video, that it doesn’t insist on an open codec and as a result browser makers who want to support these video standards potentially will need to pay license fees in the long term.

Brad: Yeah, exactly. And right now from this blog post, it sounds like Adobe is actually paying those fees so that we can use Flash and if they were to open it they would obviously have to swap that out with an open video codec since they don’t own it.

Kevin: We’ve seen Mozilla make that move with Firefox, its HTML5 video support uses Ogg Theora, which is a completely open and free video codec but people argue that it isn’t as refined, as powerful technologically; you don’t get as much video quality for a particular bandwidth setting, so it gives you inferior video, but it’s open. So it seems clear which side of that tradeoff Flash wants to be on. They want to be on the high quality, but not quite open side.

That blog post opens by claiming that Flash is open. So my question is, how is it open?

Brad: I think they mean more like they are open standards, as far as working with Flash…

Kevin: So if someone else wants to take their file format, pay the H.264 licenses fees, they’re welcome to create Flash player of their own. They’re open in that sense.

Brad: Yeah, exactly, and they even point out that anyone can make their own Flash player, including Apple since they were specific to point that out, if they wanted based on these kind of coding standards that they’ve released or the Flash file format specifications.

Kevin: That reminds me, actually, that Apple have created their own plug ins in the past. Apple created their own Java plug in when they wanted to support Java Applets in their browsers and run Java on the Mac OS X operating system. Sun created their own virtual machine for Windows, and eventually got around to doing one for Linux as well, but Apple developed their own Java plug in for their browsers that run on the Mac. And so, it’s not unprecedented that if Apple saw value in the flash platform but thought that Adobe weren’t up to the task of building a really good Flash plug-in for their operating system, Apple has, in the past, made that kind of move where they would go in and just build it themselves.

Brad: If Apple really wanted to do it, they could certainly do it. So it’s not a very good argument just to say “we’re not going to do it.” It’s obvious they’re doing that for a different reason.

Kevin: Yeah, so Apple is not doing it because it’s not open because they’ve rebuilt that the thing themselves when they wanted to support something that wasn’t open.

Bill Hannah wrote in to the SitePoint podcast email address with another perspective on the lack of Flash support in iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. He says,

“I think you’re underestimating the importance of Flash in today’s web. First, Flash was installed in over 95% of browsers before video support was introduced. The reason was it gave developers and users abilities that weren’t available in the native browser. Second, there are huge problems with HTML5, while it aims to make some of Flash’s features native to the browser, it doesn’t replace them all. Also, don’t expect Microsoft to adopt any of these new specs until they’re finalized. This isn’t going any time soon. I wouldn’t expect any meaningful HTML5 support in IE until at least version 11. After support has been added it’s still going to be a few years for the market to adopt the new browser. On top of that, there’s no tools available to make development easy enough or robust enough for real world use. Sure you can use canvas, SVG and JavaScript to create animations, but it’s not easy. At the moment, I can spend a week doing a simple animation in HTML5 or a few hours in Flash and after only a small minority would be able to view the HTML5 version.

“Most of the commentary I’ve heard about Flash has been parotting Steve Jobs’s view. While there is some truth to the issues raised about Flash, not all of them are the fault of the platform. First, I don’t buy Steve Jobs’s claim that most Mac crashes are caused by Flash, but of the crashes that are caused by Flash, most are due to poor coding. And these same people who sell themselves as Flash developers move to HTML5 (as you purpose will happen), then JavaScript will be the leading cause of crashes.

“Also, these same people have no clue about usability, design or user experience will commit the same sins on whatever platform they use, instead Punch the Monkey will be done in a standards compliant way. In five years standards will be where Flash is now, but I doubt Adobe will be sitting still. Flash has its place and will continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible on the Web.”

What do you guys think?

Stephan: I agree with his point about Steve Jobs. I don’t think that’s the real reason, that it causes Mac crashes. I go to Flash web sites all the time and it doesn’t crash mine, so I don’t really buy that. But, I don’t know … will it still have a place? I’m torn on that. People said that Java would be around; Java on the Web would be around forever and where is it now? And that’s it’s kind of funny to me that Java is not supported on the iPhone either, like in the browser and no one complains. Why is that? Because it’s not relevant anymore. And I think that Flash is still relevant, yes, but will it be in the future? I don’t know.

Brad: I just hope by the time Internet Explorer 11 comes out that they’ve officially stopped supporting IE6. That’s what I got from that comment.

Kevin: Yeah. Please!

Stephan: (laughing)

Kevin: Call me naïve, but I’m a little more optimistic about what we’re going to see in Internet Explorer 9 as far as new standard support. I would be surprised if Canvas wasn’t in IE9. You can quote me on that.

Okay, what is Apple’s interest in supporting or not supporting Flash? They’re not in a competing business, so it seems like the only reason they would do it or not do it would be because it would hurt or improve the experience of the Web on their devices or maybe it’s just a development effort that they’re hoping they can do without.

Brad: As far as video, I mean, I think it forces a lot of developers and websites to actually look at QuickTime for streaming video across the mobile platform so that it would be supported. That’s just the video side of it, but that certainly is going to put more of a spotlight on QuickTime than anything else.

Stephan: Do you think that… I agree with that, Brad, but do you think that Apple’s maybe trying to protect the—I don’t want to say brand—but trying to protect the image of the iPhone as being sleek and fast? Because if someone goes to a Flash website that’s a game, let’s say, and it loads slowly because the phone just can’t handle the resources that are being put on it by the game. Do you think then that Apple is trying to protect that from looking bad, reflecting badly on their device whereas it could be like the person said, poorly written code.

Brad: It’s funny, that’s an interesting question, because I think the iPhone kind of looks like Flash anyways. When I’m flipping through my applications and their nice little bubbly icons and I click on them and I hit a little loading screen then I get to play this little game or an application or whatever it is, it reminds me of Flash, the entire process on the iPhone reminds me of Flash. At least to me, because I just kind of envision Flash as being this bubbly quirky little system where you can have games and different elements that a normal website wouldn’t have. But, I don’t know as far as from the slowing down standpoint, you’re right, the iPhone kind of relies on being sleek and fast and everything is suppose to work right, but it’s hard to say.

Stephan: Will people really want to buy it if they start hearing their friends say, “Well I tried to go to this website and it just crapped out on me.” I think that would start to be a turn off to people if that’s all they heard all the time. I mean, granted, it’s probably not going to happen, but maybe Apple’s looking at that too.

Brad: Is that something that Apple should be deciding or is that something that the community in the iPhone users should put pressure on. If Flash did work on the iPhone don’t you think the people that actually use it on the iPhone, if it wasn’t working for them, they would voice their concerns and opinions to Apple and Adobe and whoever is actually supporting it.

Stephan: If they knew why it wasn’t working, yes.

Brad: Yeah, if they knew why it wasn’t working. Exactly.

Kevin: We heard the news, I forget if we covered this last time we talked about this stuff, but we heard the news that Mozilla was creating a mobile version of Firefox and just before they released it, they had to switch off plug-in support because, they said, the most common plug-in, Flash, was dragging down the performance of this thing to unacceptable levels. So, I think if anyone is arguing that Steve Jobs’s points about the performance and stability of Flash, especially on a mobile platform are made up, I think you’re wrong. I think those are valid complaints right now. But I think Adobe is very much showing their willingness to work on that stuff at the moment. They seem 100% behind building the Flash player for a mobile hardware profile so that it will work and be performant. Obviously, they’re working on their Flash plug-in for Android devices and that’s going to be a really good test case. I’m really curious to see how well Flash runs on the Android platform.

Brad: I just think it should be really up to the end user whether— Don’t come preinstalled the Flash, but if I want to put Flash on my device I should be allowed to. It shouldn’t be up to Apple or Firefox or whoever to tell me what I can and can’t install into the application or into that device. If it doesn’t work for me, I’ll certainly uninstall it or stop using it, but let me make the decision on what I want to install. But that goes into a whole other argument with Apple and kind of their closed wall thinking.

Kevin: See, if the iPhone were the only phone out there and it were a make or break situation for Flash, then Adobe would have to do something like jailbreak an iPhone develop a unofficial, unsupported Flash plug-in for the Mobile Safari web browser and show it working on this Jail Broken device, but prove that it can be stable and fast. Take it to every single conference and go, “Look what we’ve got running on the Apple hardware platform. This is what Apple will not let you have.” And if they can demonstrate that Apple’s complaints about Flash on the iPhone aren’t well founded, then great, that might be their way in. But it seems to me they have an easier path because there are other phones out there. The Android platform is allowing them to develop Flash for it. And if they do a great job, we are going to have— Because it’s really shaping up to be a race between Android and the Apple mobile platform at this point, for smart phones and if all of the Android devices have a really high quality, a really well performing and stable Flash plug in on them and the Apple devices don’t that’s going to drive demand for Apple to cave. Right now there isn’t Flash worth speaking about on any really popular mobile device. Adobe is doing the right thing as far as focusing their efforts on the Android flash experience and the better job they do with that, I think, the better the chances we will see Flash come to an Apple device in the future.

Stephan: Does Palm not support it?

Kevin: I think it does, yes. Palm’s pre devices do have Flash. I don’t know how well it works, but last I heard, yes, Flash does run on those. [After recording, we looked this up and found that Flash support on the Palm pre, like Android, is slated to arrive in the first half of 2010. —Kev.]

Stephan: If you’re listening and you have a Palm device, I would be interested…

Kevin: Yeah, tell us how it works. We would love to hear from anyone running Flash on a mobile device and tell us how it works. Is it something that is more pain than it’s worth? Do you avoid loading up sites that have Flash on them because they drain your battery, for example. Would you prefer that Flash just wasn’t switched on on your device or is it something really worth hanging out for?

Adobe is hedging their bets, though, like we said last time, if Adobe doesn’t get to build Flash plug-ins for mobile devices, they’re going to refocus on their development tools and build dev tools for the standards that people are working with. So Bill Hannah made a great point saying that right now the things that are possible with HTML5 do compare with what you can do in Flash, but they aren’t easy, they are just possible. We’re few years behind in the dev tool department. I think Adobe is best positioned to build those dev tools and make a whole lot of money out these standards, whether Flash survives on mobile or not.

vmtech, who won our last PDF giveaway—so he must be a real fan of the show. Hi there, vmtech, thanks for listening! He writes,

“Unfortunately this episode missed an important Apple item. The iPod, iPhone and I’m assuming iPad have a design flaw. Due to an injury at a young age, I have no use of my hands. The touch screen technology Apple uses does not recognize the pointer I use to work with. I like Apple products. I’ve been a Mac user for about five years; however, as a web developer it’s very frustrating to see more products come out that I can’t test sites on or use. Websites have accessibility requirements, why shouldn’t all devices that access them?”

So I’ve see the kind of pointer he’s talking about. Forgive me if I’m not getting this quite right, vmtech, but often it’s a pointer that you hold in your mouth and that allows to type on a keyboard or use a track pad, but it seems like the touch technology that Apple’s using on its mobile touch displays don’t respond to that particular kind of pointer.

In the past week, in fact, we’ve seen some funny stories out of some Southeast Asian country, we’ve seen these funny stories that in the winter, because people weren’t able to use their iPhones with their gloves on, they started buying these frozen sausages out of vending machines and it just so happens that the iPhone screen responded to that and people were using frozen sausages as a stylus on their iPhone screen to use them in the winter. So it does seem like there is a challenge.

I would imagine if you got the right pointer it would probably work with these screens, but I’m interested in his point that the Web is an intrinsically accessible medium and is it a failing of a device like the iPad, the iPhone, and the iPod touch if it limits the accessibility of the Web because of the hardware that it uses. What do you guys think?

Brad: That’s an interesting point that I guess I really hadn’t thought about, but it does raise a good question because like you said, I remember what was it got sued for not being 508 compliant and they lost. And they lost a lot of money because of that I believe, I don’t remember the exact amount, but that kind of opened everybody’s eyes about how serious this was. But, yeah, I never really thought about it. If, for some reason, you weren’t able to touch the screen, it certainly isn’t going to work. I don’t think it senses, like if I hit my iPhone with a pen, I don’t think it would sense that.

Kevin: No, it doesn’t. Not unless you have a frozen sausage attached to the end of your pen.

Brad: I don’t know how it differentiates between that and a pen, but apparently it does. That’s a good point and I don’t really know if there is a good answer to it. There certainly should be some thought on Apple’s side.

Kevin: We have to give Apple a fair amount of credit for the accessibility work that they have done. I think it was the iPhone 2.0 or iPhone 3.0 operating system release, they introduced a whole lot of accessibility features. Things like the VoiceOver feature that they have on their desktop operating system where as you move your finger over things on the screen it’ll read out in the headphones or the speaker device, the labels of the buttons that you’re hovering over, so that at least in theory, a blind user would be able to make use of the iPhone. And the device vibrates every time you move over a different control and so it’s actually something that someone can use and get around on even if they can’t see the screen. At the same time, they added other features like mono sound so if you have hearing only in one ear you can flick a switch in the settings and it’ll play both channels through both ears and so you’re not missing any of the audio. It’s rare for a mobile device manufacturer to go out of their way and take time to build those kinds of accessibility features. So let’s be clear that Apple is at the leading edge of this kind of stuff. And yet, vmtech is right, if they wanted to provide full accessibility anyone who can use the Web on a PC can be able to use accessibility on an Apple device, if that was their goal, they would be producing things like these pointers. An iPointer, something, an Apple touch screen compatible pointer that people like VM Tech could buy and use with these devices and make it the complete package.

I’m not sure, I think if I were in vmtech’s position, I would be disappointed that I couldn’t use the latest hot device from Apple, as well, just because they are sexy devices. I realize I’ve taken some criticism for being a Mac fan boy on this podcast already … Okay, guilty. Nevertheless, it sounds like vmtech’s in the same position, he’d like to use these devices, but is unable to. So I would be frustrated as well. That said, in vmtech’s position, I have the choice of buying something else. Buying a PC, buying some other device that is accessible to me. I don’t think it is Apple’s responsibility and I don’t think they could be legitimately sued the way Target was for limiting accessibility on their products. I think if they choose to make a product that is optimized for people with certain abilities, so be it. There’s nothing stopping someone from making a phone that’s specifically for people who like to blow at their screen to click things. That’s a ridiculous product, but if someone wants to build it, I’m not going to complain it’s not accessible to people who don’t have high lung capacity.

I realize I’m stretching the point here. I think Apple could do better, but I don’t think they have to do better.

Brad: Does the iPad come with a pen? Or no.

Kevin: Not at all. I’m sure there’s a third party stylus you can buy for the iPhone that will definitely work with the iPad as well. It’s got a little tip that responds to these touch screens in the same way as these frozen sausages did, but for artists who want a stylus experience; the touch matrix on these devices isn’t as accurate. So what you will find is, even if you have a really fine point stylus with the screen, you won’t have the accuracy you might think you have.

But certainly it would be useable. You could…if the company that makes these styluses make a long one, as a pointer, it would certainly work.

Roddog63 writes in,

“I hope that Adobe uses their enormous leverage to destroy Apple. [hosts laugh] At the end of the day, people need Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, etc. to get their work done. They do not need an Apple product, they need a machine to run those programs. I predict the iPad to be the next Newton. Only the fan boys will buy a … what is it exactly … a giant iPod touch.”

He goes on from there about the many failings that he sees in the iPad, but really his key point is that for creative people, it isn’t a realistic device. I think I agree with him.

What do you think, Stephan?

Stephan: I agree with him completely. I can’t disagree. It’s not going to be a tool that an artist or a designer is going to be able to sit down and make stunning web pages, no, they’re still going to need a machine that can run the tools that he pointed out.

Kevin: Yeah. For our audience, let’s be clear, none of us are advocating that you should go and buy and iPad as your next web development machine.

Stephan: No, I’m not even sure you should buy it as your reading machine.

Kevin: Hmm…

Brad: You know Kevin is going to buy it.

Kevin: See, I’m going to buy it, but that’s because I’m a comic book nerd and that seems to me as the best possible device for reading digital comics. If I were not a comic book nerd, I’d be looking at this thing with some more skepticism than I am. I don’t think I’m missing a large touch screen web browsing device in my life.

Stephan: The only thing I can see this… The only think I can use the iPad for here at home is sitting on my coffee table when I come home from work where I’ve been on the internet all day to get on the Internet again.

Kevin: I would say that is a luxury application.

Brad: Would that be next in the netbook? Because that’s what I use.

Kevin: Depending how important Flash is to your web experience—if you’re a Farmville person, ignore everything I’m about to say—but if you can get away without Flash in web browsing, in casual web browsing, then for me, the web browsing experience on an iPad will be superior to the web browsing experience on a netbook. I think Apple has won there. There are a lot of people who might be considering buying a netbook that I think an iPad is a far superior device, but it really depends on what you’re going to use it for.

Stephan: It’s perfect for my mom.

Kevin: Yeah, that’s the other place.

Brad: I’m looking forward to your review, Kevin, after you’ve had it for a week or two. I don’t know it will replace an actual laptop or computer.

Kevin: No, no, no, but do people buy netbooks to replace their primary laptop or computer? I don’t think so.

Brad: No, definitely not. It’s just a lighter weight option. I use it when I’m on the couch or when I’m traveling, that’s the only time…

Kevin: I don’t think anyone making this podcast, and probably not anyone listening to this podcast is going to be able to consider an iPad as a computer replacement, even as a laptop replacement.

Stephan: It doesn’t have a file system.

Kevin: It remains to be seen, but I think you’re right.

But I think we all have people in our lives for whom the iPad is a credible computer replacement. You said your mom. I think my dad, as well, this would be a perfect thing. He hates turning on his computer just because it prompts him to install 10 updates every time he does because he only uses the computer a couple of times a week and so there are updates released more often than he uses his computer these days. And I think those casual computer users who just do email, web, photos and might want to try a game every once in a while, I think you need to move to something like the iPad. I think computers are getting too powerful, too finicky, too feature laden for that kind of use.

I look forward to reviewing it too.

Stephan: I look forward to the comments on this episode.

Kevin: The SitePoint blog has a blog post on another Adobe response to the criticism they’ve received about their stance on the iPad. This is from Kevin Lynch, the Adobe CTO. Craig Buckler has done a great job of pulling apart each of his comments and sort of reflecting on it. It’s entertaining at the very least if you’re into this kind of stuff. So do check it out.

What I stumbled across just before this show, and this is on the subject of Adobe’s other option, which is to become a … refocus on providing developer tools. Let the Flash plug-in on the Apple platform go and find other ways to provide useful, valuable developer tools for these devices. Wired Magazine has on their online site,; they have an interesting video showing off a prototype of their upcoming tablet app. It’s a video demo and it shows, they’ve developed this prototype in collaboration with Adobe. And it takes the entire Wired Magazine, an entire issue of the Wired Magazine, the full graphically rich layout, adds extra bonuses like embedded videos and product 360s—so if there’s a photo of an object, they’ll have a 360 version in the tablet version of the magazine that you can tap with your finger and drag left and right and it rotates the thing around on your screen so you can see it from every angle. We’ve kind of seen this gimmick before in sort of QuickTime 3D plug-ins, but it’s very integrated and very slick. You can browse the magazine in sort of two dimensions, you can swipe left and right to go to next and previous story and then you can swipe up and down to read down the page of a particular story; at least that’s what I took away from the video.

If you’re excited, especially if you listened to our last episode with Derek Powazek, where we were talking about publishing and his, sort of fantasy experience of rich magazines on the device, I think this is really close to what he was describing. It’s a working prototype. But it was built using Adobe AIR in collaboration with Adobe. If you know the technology behind Adobe AIR, you’re going to say, “Wait a minute. Flash doesn’t run on the iPhone, neither does Adobe AIR.” It’s really just Flash in a desktop application window rather than in a browser window. If Wired is hoping to make this application run on the iPad, why are they building it with Adobe AIR? If you read the story below it, they say that Adobe has already got ways or they’re getting ready to release a method of publishing Adobe AIR applications to the Android platform. And with Flash CS5, the upcoming new release of the Flash authoring tool, you can export a Flash movie or Adobe AIR application into an iPhone application. So, what they’re building here, and it looks like Wired is going to be an amazing killer application demo of this, is a way to use Flash, the Flash platform, to publish to mobile devices and to Macs and to PCs, this rich magazine reading experience and it looks like the kind of thing I would want to use on an iPad. I don’t know how to judge the demo in terms of performance. It feels a little jittery when their swooping around from section to section in the magazine, it’s not quite as fluid as I expect from an iPhone experience. And if anything, that has been the criticism of the early previews of the Flash CS5 Exporter for the iPhone is that the apps they generate don’t perform well and leech the battery from the device, but Adobe has continually said, “Look, you’re looking at a preview. We’ve just barely got it working at this point. The final release will be a lot more polished and useable.” I really can’t wait to try this application. It seems like Adobe, while they continue to fight the good fight about getting Flash into the browser in these devices, they found an end run here. Do you think this could be Adobe’s next big business Stephan?

Stephan: You know, I think so. I think it’s a neat concept. So, I’d like to see it take off for them.

Kevin: Yeah. They’ve got a 3-pronged attack here. On the one hand, they’re building a flash plug in for Android that may yet force Apple’s hand.

On the other hand, they’re building exporters so that you can work in Flash and still target the Apple devices using the App Store.

And third, they are building developer tools for things like HTML5 and Canvas and things like that, so if people do want to move away from Flash, Adobe, hopefully, will still be the purveyor of top quality dev tools.

Our last news show was called Checkmate Apple. And Stephan, that was your quote. I think, checkmate, yeah they may have won the battle, but the war may still go to Adobe here.

Stephan: Yeah. You’ve got a point. You never know if they keep building relationships like this, like they did with Wired, then what we’ll end up with and what devices could come out of it?

Kevin: Yeah, exactly. I got the feeling that Adobe didn’t have enough resources to fight this battle on three fronts. But if they do, they’ll win either way, anyway people jump, and they’re there. Congratulations if they can maintain that intensity.

So I think we’ve officially beaten to death the Flash iPad story. Listeners, if you think there is anything we haven’t covered, if you disagree, please do write in. I’m not opposed to talking about this again next show. There is still a few weeks before anyone has an iPad in their hands or on their coffee table as the case may be. So let us know if you think there is something else that we haven’t considered here.

But let’s move on to Google Buzz.

Brad: Bzzzz.

Kevin: Is that your one word review, Brad?

Brad: Yes. That’s my sound effect for the night.

Kevin: I went in to SitePoint Forums expecting to see a healthy enthusiasm for Buzz and what I saw was post after post of people going, “Pffff … not interested.”

Brad: Yeah, I think that kind of sums it up.

Stephan: Wait, we’ve got to give some credit to Google, it’s cool… And okay, now we’re done. Just so we don’t get completely told that we’re beating up on Google.

Kevin: Who’s played with Buzz here? I have.

Stephan: Me.

Brad: Yeah, I have.

Kevin: Brad, what’s your … sum up Buzz for people that haven’t seen it.

Brad: Buzz is basically Twitter inside of Google that allows you to share not just status updates, but also files, pictures, images, whatever else, so you can easily kind of pass. Or I should say you can easily share whatever you want to all your friends and followers.

Kevin: Yeah. And the interesting thing is that they do the aggregation thing, as well, so you give them your Twitter account, your Flickr feed, your Picasa account, your … which one am I missing here?

Stephan: Flickr, Twitter, Google Reader…

Kevin: Google Reader! That’s the one. And you can … so anytime you post something to one of these other services, it’ll go into your Buzz feed. The other thing that Buzz does, it’s a lot like FriendFeed, I find, in that they’re trying to create a comment stream separate from the site where these things went on. So if you post a photo to Flickr, people can go to your Flickr photo page and comment there or people can go to the Google Buzz announcement that got posted to your account and comment on it there. So they’re creating a new, separate comment stream and I guess the advantage there, the idea is that if everyone uses something like Buzz to converse about the stuff they do on the Web, we can get rid of the ugly and varied and spam-filled comment streams that are on all these other sites. Something like Buzz can focus on that conversation stream application and we can get rid of that on the other sites—to Google’s benefit, of course.

I’ve seen a lot of people say they don’t need another Twitter in their lives and I can relate to that.

Brad: It just feels like there is nothing innovative about it. It does what we’ve seen other services do. I mean, it is obviously very similar to FriendFeed, but it also feels like it has a little bit of a Pownce aspect to it, if you remember the pounce service that was around for a year or two…

Kevin: The ill-fated Pownce.

Brad: Because they kind of added the media sharing and stuff like that, so it has that element. But there is nothing really innovative about it, you know, it seems like they kind of matched up a few things and because they have such a big user base they’re expecting it to do well.

Stephan: Did anyone else think it was convoluted a little bit? Like, when you first started using it?

Kevin: I found it was convoluted because it is tied so heavily into Gmail.

Stephan: Yes, that was my issue. I couldn’t… To me, like when I use the service it should be easy enough that I can find, if I want to stop doing something, I could either find an answer on how to stop doing something or how to do it is so simple it’s obvious. And I could not figure out how to keep people that I don’t know from reading the things that I’m sharing with the people who I want to see it. So I just turned it off. There are certain things that I share with my wife or friends that I don’t want other people who are following me to see. So, it was a privacy thing and I stopped using it because I couldn’t get it to do what I wanted it to do.

Kevin: The common case with Twitter is that you have an open feed. There are a few people who chose to have private accounts on Twitter that you need to authorize in order to view them. It seems like, with Buzz, Google said, “Forget it, it’s all public.”

Stephan: And I’m not a fan of that, I mean, you should have the option at least, right?

Brad: You know what I see this turning in to is, do you remember the service that Google bought out, probably three or four years ago now, Jaiku? Which is basically like the Twitter competitor, I mean it was launched right about the time Twitter was launched, so it definitely had a shot at being the Twitter, obviously that didn’t work out. But that really just kind of turned into a aggregator for tweets. I mean really, everyone set up a Jaiku account, hooked in their Twitter account, so everything they posted to Twitter just pushed to Jaiku, and then never went to Jaiku again. Now that you can do that in Buzz, I think that’s exactly what’s going to happen. I’m going to hook in my Twitter feed and then I’ll never use Buzz again. It’ll just keep pushing my Twitter stuff to it.

Kevin: Are you a Gmail user, Brad?

Brad: Not really, I think that’s the other drawback, I have a Gmail account, I use it on occasion, maybe I need to send something just so I can grab it offline or so I’ll have it in two spots, something like that.

Kevin: Stephan, are you a Gmail user?

Stephan: Yeah, I use Gmail.

Kevin: Okay. Do you use Gmail or do you use Google Apps?

Stephan: I use Gmail.

Kevin: Among the three of us—because Brad doesn’t actively use Gmail, I use Google apps, you actually use Gmail—it seems like, for now, you’re the person most at risk of being seduced by Google Buzz because even if you, as Brad is planning to do, even if you just publish your Twitter alerts to it automatically, other people who do use Buzz and who see your Twitter alerts in your Buzz feed are going to comment in Buzz rather than on Twitter. And those comments are going to show up in your Gmail inbox. And that is going to lead you to go, “Oh, I want to respond to that and it’s not on Twitter, I’m going to have to use Buzz to respond to that.” And suddenly you find yourself a Buzz user.

Stephan: No, it’s going to lead me to write the little filter thing from Lifehacker to send those things straight to the trash.

Kevin: Or as you did, you switched it off.

Stephan: Yeah, and then I just turned it off eventually. I mean, I think that’s exactly their idea though, is that if you’re a Gmail user and use Twitter, it’s just going to lure you in to using Buzz. But I don’t know if people are going to be so entangled into it when they start commenting and things that they’ll actually want to keep using it. I’ll be very interested to see how this does in six months.

Kevin: I have been impressed by their responsiveness to user feedback following the launch. So many Google things are sort of soft launched and then you never hear from them again. Even if people start using them, they tend to go on the slow boil and then peter out, but with Buzz, I don’t know if it’s because they created such a strong objection in the initial days. The objection was that when you first set up Buzz initially, when they first launched it, it would spider your Gmail account, identify the people you communicate with the most in your private email and then add them to your Buzz following list and publish that Buzz following list to your profile.

So if you had a lot of private email communications with someone and you did not want to advertise that fact, if you didn’t read the fine print very closely in those initial days, that fact would be immediately advertised in your Google profile as soon as you activated Buzz and imported those contacts. They have since made two major, well kind of a minor update and then a real major revamp to the initial set up procedure to clarify what’s going to happen and also to give you more options. Congratulations on them for doing that.

I’m curious if that development effort was like an emergency, “Oh crap, we screwed up!” Or if it was they have been planning to continue live-developing Buzz in the public eye from day one. If so, that’s going to be really interesting because that’s rare to see from Google, especially on a product that has no beta badge on it.

Brad: You’ve got to wonder how many mistresses were exposed when that happened.

Kevin: Yeah, exactly.

Brad: It could’ve been a PR stunt, too, because it definitely helped get a lot more “buzz”.

Kevin: Mmm. Yes, yes, it did.

Coming back to this tying it in with Gmail, I think it’s the strength and the weakness. It’s its strength because everyone, like Stephan, who is a Gmail user is going to see a live demo of Buzz front and center and they’re going to do their darndest to get people like Stephan to engage with this service rather that switch it off. Some people will switch it off like Stephan did, but other people—they’ve got an instant user base there. Great, they don’t have to sell people on trying this new service, which is what they did with Google Wave and I think it’s had limited success. Like they went with their private invitation thing that they did with Gmail using Wave, but I don’t know if it’s just because Wave wasn’t the clear “I must have this” application, it was something new that people had to figure out. The experience goes very quickly from, “Ooh I have exclusive access to something new.” to “I don’t know what this is and no one else I know has access to it, so I’m just going to ignore it.” If they had done that same move with Buzz, I think they could’ve had the same outcome. But the fact that they’ve just given to everyone who has Gmail—good move.

But at the same time, there are people like me, who use Google Apps, which is just Gmail with your own domain name attached to it, and Google apps does not have Buzz yet. One presumes sometime in 2010 they’re going to launch Buzz onto Google Apps, but I was really surprised that they didn’t have that from day one. It’s really the same platform and I think they’re missing the critical mass of attention. In six months time when they’re ready to launch Buzz for Google Apps, no one is going to care about it anymore if it doesn’t succeed. Whereas if they had launched it on both Gmail and Google Apps on day one they might have gotten a critical mass that they haven’t gotten so far.

And then there’s all the people who don’t use Google at all for their email—the Yahoo! Mail users, the people who just use their internet service provider’s mail, all of those people are locked out of Buzz a little bit. They have to go and create a Gmail account and then they will have this whole interface that is about reading email and has one little tab for Buzz, but they just want to use and check out Buzz and it’s going to be confusing and mysterious. I think that’s a big downside. I think among us nerds, Gmail is very popular, but stats show us that in the wider world, something like Yahoo! Mail is a lot more popular and Google is really limiting the potential of Google Buzz by tying it so closely to the Gmail.

So, I too, have set up Google Buzz in my Gmail account that I don’t use for anything. I guess I’ll let you know if I use it at all, but I haven’t so far.

One last piece of listener feedback before we get to our host spotlights. It’s from Don Elliott and we were talking last episode about the Google Chrome extensions launch. I have to say there is another update there—the Mac version, the official beta version for Mac—now supports extensions. I guess they were listening, Stephan.

Stephan: Hehehe … about time.

Brad: Checkmate.

Kevin: (laugh) Checkmate, Google.

Stephan: Flame on.

Kevin: But one of the extensions we mentioned was Xmarks Bookmarks Syncing and Don Elliott wrote in because his company really relies on that extension. He says,

“As for the Xmarks bookmark syncing, it’s a major pillar of our company. Our designers and developers are scattered as our entire office is mobile. With Xmarks and Bookmark syncing, I can ensure that all our employees have access to the same resources and passwords in near real time. You can even set different profiles, so higher level employees can have access to passwords while lower level contractors can just have access to our bookmarks and resources. It’s a huge asset for us.”

That’s something that I really hadn’t considered and I’m surprised services like Delicious haven’t gotten on top of that, sort of a shared password repository for companies. That’s something we would even pay for at SitePoint.

Stephan: Yeah, it’s a needed feature. To me, it just makes sense.

Kevin: I’m filling in as sysadmin for at the moment, and we have passwords for all sorts of things. To keep things secure we make sure we have unique passwords for everything and what we do is we use 1Password on the Mac and we each have a folder of SitePoint admin passwords and every time one of us creates a new password, we have to go out of our way to send a copy of that in a secure transmission method to everyone else who has sysadmin responsibility to make sure everyone stays up to date and has the latest passwords. It’s a real pain.

If there were a centralized, secure password repository, and it sounds like Xmarks Bookmark syncing has that feature, that’s really exciting. Not to mention the shared bookmark library that you could have across a company. That would be really exciting I think.

Expect me to be looking at that a little closer, Don, thanks for writing in with that.

There’s one more thing we have to do before we get to our host spotlights and that’s to give away a SitePoint PDF. Our last show I said we’d be giving away another free PDF of your choice from SitePoint’s ebook library and all you had to do was post an iTunes review and let us know about it on the blog comments. So, we’ve got five lucky listeners who did that. I told you the odds were good. That’s 1 in 5 for a free PDF, is really good odds.

cjke.7777, trauman, jwarrentx, powerpotatoe, and roddog63, here we go. You have a one in five chance, I’m rolling a six sided die here, so if we roll a six, it’s going to have to be re-roll.

Brad, Stephan, you want to give me a drum roll?

Brad: Brrrr… (laugh)

Kevin: Here it comes. (die falls) Two. So our winner is trauman. Trauman, congratulations, you get a free SitePoint PDF of your choice. Just head over to, browse through our library, take your pick and email me at to let me know which one you’d like and we’ll get that to you as soon as possible.

So, host spotlight guys. Brad, what have you got for us?

Brad: My host spotlight this week actually ties back into a lot of different topics we’ve had in the… It’s actually a website service called backupify. So, we’ll have the link in the show notes. But essentially, what it does is it’s a really cool service, it allows you to backup your online accounts, so you can actually sign up, it’s free, they give you up to 1GB of free storage. It will back up your Twitter, any word press blogs you have, Facebook, Delicious, Basecamp, Google Docs, Gmail, Flickr, Photobucket, they have a whole slew of web apps that they will backup automatically. So you literally just add in your account, you authorize it. So I’ve authorized my Twitter account and every night it will go in and backup my most recent tweets into their service. So this fits perfectly with some of the concerns that we’ve kind of talked about on the show about how safe our data is in these external sites. I mean, it’s an awesome business. Everybody knew it needed to be done.

Stephan: Very nice.

Kevin: That is sexy. How do they make money? They’ve got a gigabyte storage for free.

Brad: You get a gigabyte, when you’re talking data, a gigabyte is quite a bit. So you can imagine a gigabyte of tweets are a lot of tweets, so it’s gonna go a long way.

Kevin: For all of the text things, definitely. I think as soon as you pointed your Flickr Pro account at this, that’s when you’d have to buy a pro license.

Brad: Once it gets to a certain point, there are pricing, they’re not really up front with what that is yet. They’re really, I think they launched last summer, but they just started getting more well known. They use the Amazon S3 services for all the data to kind of house all that data, so it’s extremely fast. There’s a lot of privacy and security stuff they use. So if you go to their site they kind of list all of this stuff out. It’s really nice because you just add your account, authorize it, and you’re done. It’s not something you have to worry about. Every night on a schedule it’s going to go to these different accounts you’ve authorized and backup your data.

Kevin: I’m definitely going to sign up for this and at least point it at the text sort of services that I use because that’ll fit within a gigabyte easy and there is no downside here.

Brad: Set it up, it does it for you. You don’t have to worry about it and worse case scenario, if something were to happen you can come back on here and read about their different restore features. So it’s definitely kind of a hands off approach to backup all of your online data whereas everyone’s very aware of backing up their computer data, but we don’t really think about all of the online data we’re pushing out there. So this is kind of, I’m sure the first of many we’re going to see over the years, but it’s definitely something you should get signed up for.

Kevin: Yeah, I like the … they’ve got a bit of a scare mongering section on their front page that I think is really kind of entertaining. The bottom right section has all of these sort of warning triangles and it’s all the things that could go horribly wrong and each one seems to be a link to a real case of this happening. Things like, your Twitter account being hacked. Gmail having a mass email deletion; 4,400 Flickr photos that you don’t have backed up elsewhere get deleted. All these sort of things, scary things that could happen and things like— I like the one, your Flickr account is permanently deleted. So many of these services, especially the ones we get for free, their terms of service are like, pretty harsh in that if they even suspect you of doing something wrong, they’ll just close your account and there is very little recourse. And in cases like that it can be really hard or impossible to get your valuable data back. So I’m not saying that this is a service for people who want to engage in risky business with services, but so often, a completely innocent use of a service can suddenly get clamped down on through no fault of your own. So, great to have separate access to your data just in case something like that happens.

Stephan, what’s your spotlight?

Stephan: Mine’s a little fun project that done by, it’s a JavaScript Commodore 64 Emulator. It uses HTML5, the Canvas element and it renders the Commodore 64 screen. They have some ROMs that you can play with and stuff. It’s pretty fun if you just want to play around with the thing. And they have it so you can download the code. It’s pretty sweet.

Kevin: I’m firing up Gallaga right now. “To start Gallaga, press return.” “One player.”

Kevin: I accidentally picked joystick and now I can’t do anything about the alien swarming across my screen.

Stephan: Yeah, there’s no tutorial, right?

Brad: I love how it drops you on the ready screen, I’m sitting here trying to remember the commands like load, star, comma-eight, comma-one or something…

Kevin: But this is amazing and it’s running client-side, entirely in the browser. My Safari process is now 96% CPU, but that’s less than some Flash movies take.

Stephan: You just can’t stop kindling the fire.

Kevin: No I can’t! Maybe we should move on.

My host spotlight this week is the SitePoint CodeBurner plug in for Firebug. This is something I’ve mentioned before. It’s a plug-in for Firebug, which itself is an extension for Firefox. So if you use Firefox for development, you must know about Firebug. It’s a pane that you can open up and you can investigate the HTML structure of the page and the CSS rules that apply to any element, do performance checks and JavaScript debugging. It’s this amazing developer toolkit that any developer worth their salt must install into their copy of Firefox. Well, CodeBurner is SitePoint’s add-on to that, which adds the SitePoint Reference to HTML and CSS tags, attributes, and properties and sort of provides reference material all throughout the Firebug user interface. So if you want to know what a particular CSS property does, you can just right click on it and open up sort of a summary including browser compatibility information and all that sort of stuff. We’ve just updated that for the latest version of Firefox, so if you had CodeBurner and you found it broke when you last updated Firefox, good news, you can install it again. And if you’ve never tried CodeBurner, now is a great time, it’s just been optimized for the latest speedy release of Firefox, so check it out at It’s completely free.

And that brings us to the end of another episode of the SitePoint Podcast.

Great episode guys, I think we defiantly ripped the Flash thing to shreds and also decimated Google Buzz, I think we’re making enemies left and right here. I think maybe next show we should have as a goal to be positive about some things.

Stephan: We’ll try.

Brad: We’ll try.

Kevin: No promises. I think it’s because Patrick is not here. Patrick always adds a ray of sunshine to any conversation.

Stephan: He’s a glimmer of hope.

Kevin: Patrick, we need you. We are:

Brad: Brad Williams from WebDevStudios. You can check out my blog, and I’m on Twitter, @williamsba.

Stephan: I’m Stephan Segraves, you can find me on Twitter @ssegraves and my blog is

Kevin: And you can follow me on Twitter @sentience and you can follow SitePoint on Twitter @sitepointdotcom. Visit the SitePoint Podcast at to leave comments on the show and subscribe to receive every show automatically.

Help us promote the SitePoint podcast. Yes, we are giving away another PDF in two episodes’ time. So that will be episode #51. If you want to win yourself a SitePoint PDF—and remember the odds are extremely good—just go to the iTunes store, whichever one you have for your country of residence and fill in a review of the SitePoint Podcast, then copy and paste that to the blog post for this episode to let us know you’ve done it.

Also, let us know which iTunes store it’s in so we can go and find it and have a nice warm glow about your kind of comments about the show. So just leave that review and in two episodes’ time, we’ll be rolling the dice again to see who wins a free SitePoint PDF.

This SitePoint Podcast is produced by Carl Longnecker and I’m Kevin Yank.

Thanks again for listening. Buh-bye.

Theme music by Mike Mella.

Thanks for listening! Feel free to let us know how we’re doing, or to continue the discussion, using the comments field below.

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