Internet


Okay, so I’ve been away for awhile.  I decided to work on my law blog and tweet on tech periodically as I found interesting articles on the net.  However, I have been seeing some very interesting things lately, and I just had to write about some of it.

One of those things is Tungle, a web-based service that synchs with your calendar and allows you to schedule meetings with others.   Anyone viewing your calendar will not see WHAT you are doing, but simply that you are not available at that time.  People can access your page and suggest a meeting based on your availability.  As a solo without a secretary, that is just a fantastic resource!   No more telephone tag with clients trying to schedule appointments.  I just e-mail them a link to my Tungle page and ask them to suggest times.  Much easier!

Tungle can synch with your calendar in Outlook and Google, while Mac Entourage is in beta and Lotus Notes is in development.   Even better, it synchs dynamically.  I make a change in my Outlook calendar, and in seconds it is reflected on my Tungle page.  You can dress up your home page with a picture and contact information (phone numbers, e-mail, web site), links to your Facebook page, Twitter feed, LikedIn profile, or Xing page, even add a note to visitors (mine says to call to schedule an appointment after 5pm).  Check it out, or even better, give it a try!

For the last few years I have been unhappy with the lackluster results of my phone book advertising; it just wasn’t bringing in the kind of business my other marketing efforts were.  This was also with me being in both major books, Verizon and the Yellow Book.  At the same time, I had been reading and hearing about how much more successful Internet and Web marketing schemes have become, and as a result I have, in the last year, ramped up my web presence significantly, while cutting back on my phone book ads.

The first sign that there was “trouble in paradise” (i.e. that the phone book was not the “gotta have” advertising for lawyers) was when Verizon sold the rights to its phone book to Idearc Media (you don’t sell the cash cow while it is still giving milk).  I also realized that I myself was not using either book.  If I was looking for a product or service, I would Google it; if I was trying to nail down an address for someone (or some business) I already knew about, I would use yellowbook.com, switchboard.com, or superpages.com.  But then, when I market, I am not looking for the person that already knows me; they will find me no matter what.

The next sign was Idearc Media filing chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 31, 2009, in the Northern District of Texas (Case # 09-31828-BJH-11, for those of you interested).  Now as a bankruptcy attorney I know the difference between a chapter 11 reorganization and a chapter 7 liquidation, so I am not sounding a death knell here.  Many businesses have successfully emerged from chapter 11.  However, this does come under the category of “this can’t be good.”  From what I have read, this situation was brought about by a huge amount of debt inherited from Verizon and not a cash flow crunch (although one blogger linked the filing to “tanking sales”), so the company may well regain its health once it restructures.  On the other hand, as one blogger put it, perception is everything:

“In this headline driven world, everyone is going to hear only that the yellow pages is bankrupt. And everyone will think they ran out of money because no one is using it anymore. Then people will think they now NEED to use the internet to get information when making a local purchase decision. Then the yellow pages will be bankrupt for real.”

Even if this is a temporary setback for the company, the stigma of the filing, in this fast-paced tech world, may well make it more difficult for it to get back on its feet.

It is still my belief that people are going more and more towards Google and other web search engines to find businesses, rather than using the phone book, and that even if Idearc survives, it is only a matter of time.  This should spur all of us on to a better presence on the web through vibrant web sites, blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter streams, if we haven’t done so already.  We need to be ahead of the tech curve on our marketing if we are going to succeed.

Although I have been a gadget freak for many years (more than I care to admit) I have acknowledged in the past that many tech solutions just don’t have it over pen and paper.  Interestingly enough, Google recently wrestled with this in the Tasks app of their Gmail Suite.  They realized that “despite dual-core CPUs, 30″ monitors, and high speed internet connections, many Googlers still found themselves using paper to track their tasks.”  Their solution is set forth in a February 2 posting to their Gmail Blog that states:

“We set out to fix this by making Tasks available from your phone with a version optimized for the small screen. And starting today, you can manage your task list from your iPhone or Android device, and access it from any xhtml enabled phone.”

If you have an iGoogle page, there is a Gadget for that, so you can add your tasks there.  What would also be great is if there was an iPhone app as well.    They are looking for input, so feel free to post any ideas you might have for this.

This is also in keeping with what I have been reading lately on “cloud computing” and the use of web based services by the mobile lawyer.  One benefit that was pointed out to me was that many of these calendar/task/e-mail net services (like Google Apps and Remember the Milk) sync wirelessly with your phone from anywhere.   Sam Glover talks about this on his Lawyerist blog in a post on how he uses these apps in his office.   It’s an interesting read.  Note also that the web task-list app Remember the Milk DOES have an iPhone app.  All of this is certainly well worth looking into.

UPDATE (2-13-09): For another example of how Internet based apps can help the road warrior by sync’ing calendar, contacts, and to-dos wirelessly to mobile devices, see this post on the Linux Law Office blog about Yahoo’s Zimbra.

Many tech gurus have sung the praises of “Cloud Computing,” a web-based approach to getting things done that is OS-independent and provides  access to data from anywhere (thus making collaboration easier) because the information is stored on an Internet server.  Companies like Google (Google Apps) offer computing staples like word processing and spreadsheets, while Apple (MobileMe) helps to synchronize e-mail, contacts, calendar, and the like on all devices connected to it.  My biggest concern with online apps has been confidentiality (I don’t like letting this type of information out of my control).  However, there is another risk as well.

What if the “cloud” dissipates?  What if the company goes under or no longer supports that product?  What happens then?   An interesting post on PCWorld Online talks about a recent event that makes this concern all the more real.   It turns out that Google is discontinuing or killing some of its online services.  For example, there is Notebook.  I have been using this little gem to take notes on interesting information I find on the web.  I can access these notes from any computer where I have the plug-in installed.   Google, however, says,

“Active development for Google Notebook will be stopped . . . No more features will be added and no new users will be accepted. However, already registered users will be able to maintain their online notes using the service’s web interface.”

Hmmmm…..  Notebook’s features will be absorbed into other Google Apps, but now they are no longer in one place.  Even if I can still use it, what if Google later decides to get rid of it altogether?

Certainly Google Apps aren’t going anywhere in the near future.  However, other companies like Microsoft will be competing in this area, and if there is an industry shake-up on this (and those of us who have been around long enough have seen a few and know what I am talking about), the losers’ apps may well disappear from the computing landscape.  If this happened to an app on your PC, you would still have the data (although you may have to go through a file format change).  But what about data in the cloud?  I’m not trying to be Chicken Little here by saying that the clouds/sky are falling, but this announcement by Google is just an example of the risk that may be out there for this data management strategy.  This incident should have you thinking about a Plan B should something happen.

Microblogging, a system of communication in which people communicate through posts of no more than 140 characters, has been very popular in the past couple of years.  Sites like Twitter and Jaiku have certainly led the charge as two of the most well-known providers of this technology.  So much so that the act of posting a microblog entry has become known as “tweeting.”  You can “tweet” yourself as well as “follow” others on your Twitter or Jaiku home page.  Tweets can also be received through texting, e-mail, or instant messaging.  This has been expanded by sites like Pownce to things like file sharing and event invitations.

Although it has been popular among the youth and high tech crowd, I have been rather skeptical of its practical uses, especially in business.  It always seemed to me to be the height of conceit to think that other people really need (or are interested in reading) short, periodic updates on what you are doing  at any particular moment (on the way to work, eating lunch, reading a book, etc.)  The content of these tweets should be of some importance or interest, as Sam Glover notes on his Lawyerist blog.  I certainly agree.  Sam also noted in another post about Jon Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing publishing a paper on Twitter for Business.  However, it was not until I heard about the September 8 roll-out of a service called Yammer that I started to see the potential for microblogging in the small firm (see reviews and comments on Yammer here and here).

What Yammer does is create a closed system microblogging network for businesses.  A company sets up an account under its domain name, and employees with legitimate e-mail addresses with that domain can then create accounts based on “Invitations” from the person who created the account.  A custom web home page is then created with the company’s domain name at the top.  Users can create profiles (including photos), and the Yammer network can set up an organizational chart showing for each user the e-mail address of his/her supervisor, subordinate, assistant, etc.  Messages can be sent or received using applications for the iPhone or BlackBerry (so it is useful for the mobile lawyer),  e-mail, instant messaging, or SMS texting.  You can see all of the updates on your home page, just those sent or received, or those that you are Following based on the person or Tag assigned to the message. Yammer also provides a tour that showcases features.

There are many uses for this application in the small firm.  An attorney handling a large matter involving several staff and associate attorneys can be kept informed of what the status is in real time.  Partners can supervise associates more easily, as the latter Tweet to their bosses on what they are doing.  Administrative communication in general can also be much improved.  It is often more flexible than e-mail, but users must bear in mind that updates are broadcast to everyone, so a targeted message would be better off in an e-mail.  Much has been said about micro-blogging as a marketing tool.  However, I think that Yammer works much better as an inter-firm communications tool.  Check it out; it’s free.

I had blogged the other day about the release of Firefox 3.0 amidst the announcement of Microsoft’s IE 8.  I also mentioned that Google was coming out with their own browser called Chrome.  Well, Google has it available for download.  The features are discussed here.  Many bloggers have noted this as another major salvo fired by Google against Microsoft in an effort to protect the supremacy of their browser engine.  In other words, in order to make sure that Google is the default search engine in users’ browsers, make sure they are using your browser.  Also, as more apps are available in online equivalents, the browser becomes more important.  Is this browser worth it?   I posted recently about Google and their online apps, and the first thing I noticed on the Google download and features page  for Chrome was the word “Beta.”  Why is it there?  If this is a major release, why is it being released to users as a beta version?  Hasn’t it already gone through testing?  I then ooked at other Google apps, such as GMail.  Why is it still in beta when it has been around for so long?  This then begs the question: is anything from Google really “ready for prime time”?  But the real question is, does the world need yet another browser?

PC users have Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Opera as the major contenders, while Apple Mac users have Safari.  Do we need another one?  Does Chrome bring anything new to the table?  I took a look at their features page, and I must say I am not all that sure that it does.  Take for example the YouTube video featured on the Google site touting the URL address bar and how it suggests sites based on search terms you type in.  The problem is, Firefox already offers this feature.  The same is true for “Instant Bookmarks,” “Dynamic Tabs,” and warning messages about malware and phishing.

In a video explaining the backstory for Chrome’s development, the programmers talked about making a browser that was faster, more stable (self contained browser tabs that will not crash if another one does; a Task Manager just for the browser), and better able to handle what people use a browser for these days, which is often more than just reading static text.  They also wanted an interface that was minimalist, so as not to detract from the content of the browser itself, the so-called “invisible browser.”

There are some cool features, such as an “Incognito Mode” that prevents the browser from storing info about the session in that tab on your computer.  However, it does not prevent sites from gathering information about that session, so its usage for privacy is limited.  Also, in keeping with their promotion of Google Apps, there is an “Applications Shortcut” feature that makes it easier to launch web apps.  It also sports a “New Tabs” feature that is kind of interesting.  When you create a new tab, instead of giving you a blank page, it displays a summary of your most recently visited pages, recent bookmarks, closed tabs, and the search engines you use.

In summary, Chrome may well be worth using once it comes out of beta (if it ever does), if it provides enough innovative and new features, along with better stability and security, to make it worth switching from your current browser.  If you already use Google Apps, this browser may be better for you to the extent it complements that package with the Applications Shortcut feature.  My best recommendation: download it and try it for yourself on a test machine.  Just keep in mind, Google makes no guarantees, since this is a beta version.

UPDATE (9-5-08): Information continues to come out about Chrome.  Read an interesting and informative post on first impressions here and some information on Chrome’s disturbing end-user licence here.

If you are like me, a Firefox user no longer tied to Internet Explorer, there has been some exciting news lately. Mozilla has recently started pushing to users version 3.0 of the browser, which includes many new features that make it worth the upgrade.  Consider some of these:

  • Instant Web Site ID. Assuming the web site provides the information, which isn’t always the case, clicking on an icon to the left of the URL in the address window allows you to “check up on suspicious sites, avoid Web forgeries and make sure a site is what it claims to be.”
  • One-Click Bookmarking. An empty star now appears at rhe right end of the URL window.  Click on it once to bookmark the page; double click to choose the folder to put a bookmark in.
  • Smart Bookmark Folders. These are customizable folders that organize your bookmarks dynamically, such as Most Visited, Recently Bookmarked, and Recently Tagged.
  • Smart Location Bar. This is Browser History on steroids.  “Type in a term and the autocomplete function includes possible matching sites from your browsing history, as well as sites you’ve bookmarked and tagged.”  This makes it much easier to find that site you forgot to bookmark!
  • Improved Password Manager. You can save a site’s logon information through a bar that appears at the top of the screen rather than a pop-up  window.  This allows you to save the info after you have confirmed that you typed it in correctly!

There are many more that have been added that are worth a look.  Microsoft has also released Internet Explorer 8, and Google is going to release Chrome.  This is a great time for browsers, and if you use Firefox, this upgrade is definitely worth the download.

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