Google’s Chrome browser will donate to several different charities just for opening tabs in their browser through the use of a Google Chrome extension. TechCrunch wrote a post about the charitable program, but the question remains: why?

It would be interesting if using tabs were new, but the tabbed web browser framework has been around for a while.  It would be interesting if Google was encouraging a socially valuable web behavior through a unique game mechanic.  Heck, it would make sense if Google just wanted to show off how fast the Chrome browser is.  But it seems like it’s none of these reasons.

Maybe I’ve grown so cynical that an effort as baldly charitable as this one invites skepticism.  Is it possible that this is purely altruistic?  I guess I will stop worrying and start clicking.

It has been over year since Palm launched the Pre, and Palm has perpetually played catch up to its peers. From sparring with Apple over iTunes integration to using under-powered hardware to choosing Sprint as a launch partner, Palm bungled their shot at delivering a good phone to a broad audience.  But that’s the past, and now HP and Palm have an opportunity to reset and make Palm a worthy competitor in the mobile space.  HP should realize that it really only has one shot at this: if the next effort is not the greatest mobile device since sliced bread (or something pretty darn close), then they would have wasted their money.  So here are some thoughts on what HP should do:

1. Go for broke on the next Palm Pre’s specs. HP being HP, they are going to be too conservative to design a great smartphone. The Palm team must step up to build something that HP thinks everyone will say “you’re crazy to build this”, and then go one step beyond that.  Only by going for broke will people be willing to say Palm Pre in the same breath as Apple iPhone, HTC EVO, and Motorola DroidX.

2. Don’t build a tablet … yet. Sure, building a tablet is sexy, and the WebOS makes great sense as an OS.  But it’s distracting.  If you make a crappy smartphone, is anyone going to care about your tablet?  Even Apple decided to focus on the iPhone first, even though the iPad was its inspiration.  Build a great phone first, and keep the tablet in R&D mode to learn the lessons from the smartphone.

3. Create a compelling case to switch. Figure out the killer functionality and make sure that you’re the best experience to steal away customers.  You’re going to get the Palm fanboys (what’s left of them) – now figure out how you’ll steal away iPhone users and Blackberry users.  Maybe even steal the Kin’s idea (not the implementation) of being a social hub device that is connected to the cloud.  Or maybe not…

4. Buy mobile app developers to build exclusively for WebOS. Palm needs to prime the pump in the App Store. It might be worth buying a few studios to follow the Nintendo/Sony/Microsoft model of creating awesome first party games, while supporting third-party developers.  Sure, it might create weird competitive dynamics, but the applications are a critical part of the ecosystem to making WebOS successful.

5. Launch the halo phone on Verizon or AT&T. If HP really wants to use its money and muscle as a tech giant, it must launch this phone on Verizon or AT&T.  While their historical relationship made sense for Palm to launch on Sprint, it hobbled the Pre’s potential.  Launch on a big network – AT&T would love a crazy hot smartphone to compete with the iPhone if (when?) it launches on Verizon.

None of these are slam-dunks, but they are all do-able, especially with HP’s resources. The question is whether HP can enable Palm to win back a decent share of the market, or will HP just get in the way by treating it as another computer hardware acquisition.

Google released the Google Apps Inventor in typical fashion with a beta launch.  The development environment allows non-developers to create Android applications using customizable “blocks” of functionality that you can mix and match.  Just pour in your creativity and then unleash your creation to the masses!  Sounds simple, no?

It’s hard to tell if this will create a torrent of useless “Hello World” applications, or if the democratizing application will accelerate the number of interesting apps available in Android Market.  Actually – probably both.  With YouTube, the ease and simplicity of uploading videos have created millions of videos unfit for human consumption (how many LOLcat videos does the world need?), but among them, you also will find true gems like Cardboard Warfare where the creativity shines through.  It’s not clear if Google will proactively curate Android Market to help the cream rise, or if they will let the users truly decide.  Time will tell if this bet pays out for Google.

Today was supposed to be ‘Quit Facebook Day’ to protest the site’s loose privacy controls. Thousands of people signed a petition to quit, and apparently about 34,000 of them did. That is a paltry number compared to the hundreds of millions that are still members.

Why didn’t millions of people delete their Facebook account to protest? I think there are two reasons (for some reason, I’m using a Biblical analogy): No Moses and No Promised Land.

No Moses: If I pull out my high-school version of The Rules and Etiquette of Cliques (because really that is what Facebook feeds from), it is because none of the ‘cool kids’ deleted their accounts. If Ashton Kutcher can acquire over one million fans to his Facebook profile and Twitter feed, then he could start the stampede of users to leave Facebook. He may not be my choice to lead me out of Facebook’s promiscuous privacy policies, but lots of people will follow him. If enough Ashton Kutcher’s leave, your friends start to leave, and then the floodgates will open.

No Promised Land: Even if you wanted to quit, where would you go? Is there a Promised Land of safe sharing where you will not have to suffer the indignity of seeing your profile picture in an ad? Not really. The alternatives are not really choices at all, according to Robert Cringley. LinkedIn might be the best alternative for professional networking, but for posting pictures of your dogs and sharing the fact that you bought a chicken coop in Farmville, there isn’t a credible alternative.

So as the Quit Facebook group discovered, being the group that says ‘No’ is not the way to initiate change. If you want Facebook to update its policies, find or build a true alternative and find a face to champion your cause. Nothing will change Facebook faster than millions of members following trusted leaders for the Promised Land.

I have been using Foursquare and Gowalla regularly to learn about the location-based social gaming trend. It has been interesting, but at the end of the day, I cannot shake the feeling that I am spending too much time for too little in return.

The check-in process takes too long.  It is not hard, but if you factor in the time to open the application, wait for the application to find you and suggest locations, then actually checking in, you have probably spent a few minutes. If you check-in to an average of three places per day AND use two location services (because not all of your friends are on the same service), you realize that you are spending a material amount of time.  In my case, I probably spend about 90 minutes a week just to check-in.

Once I realized how much time I spend, I started to feel a bit ripped off. I spend 90 minutes a week so that I might be mayor of a coffee shop or grab a virtual badge? Are there any other people who have to check-in on a regular basis? Oh yeah, parolees need to check-in to their parole officers to show that they haven’t skipped town. (Hmm… maybe there is a business model in there somewhere.)

Granted you are probably doing something else while you are checking in, like waiting for a table or hanging out. But if Google’s changes to Google Latitude take hold, then the days of actively checking in are numbered and thank goodness. I would like to have those 90 minutes a week back for something more useful – like maybe planting more eggplants in my Farmville.

(Read Josh Kopelman’s insightful post on the potential ramifications of changes to Google Latitude.)

After several months at another start-up and not succeeding as I had hoped, I find myself “on the beach”.  It’s good to have a little R&R, but I wondered how a 7-month stint would look on my resume.  I dislike the inevitable questions that it generates: “So what happened: did you leave or were you let go?” which is just a polite way of saying “Did the company screw you over or are you a screw-up?”

In this case, neither.  The company was having issues, and while I wasn’t part of the part of the problem, I was also not part of the solution.  So I parted ways along with a small raft of others.  I was told that the decision had nothing to do with my performance.  They would even endorse me if I ever needed it.

Nevertheless, I was a little blue – who likes being let go?  But I found comfort in an unlikely way: I overheard a conversation between two women sitting at a table next to me.  (Japanese restaurants are small – it’s hard not to.)  One woman said excitedly: “The misadventures are part of the adventure!”

I had no idea what they were talking about, but that put everything in context for me. In the grand scheme of things, a 7-month wrong-way turn is no big deal, and in fact, I got to do and learn about things that I might never have done or learned otherwise.  It added a bit of spice to the adventure, and I’m thankful for it.

Mark Cuban ( re-tweeted something interesting:  From wjousts” “You are not the customer of companies like Google or Facebook. You are the product. The advertisers are the customers.”

This statement is so obvious, yet I had I always thought that Google/Facebook (G/FB) would eventually up sell users from the free basic service to premium features, as LinkedIn or TripIt have.  I know that my personal information and behavioral history is used for advertising, but I did not think that would be the entire business.  (Of course, Google is trying to expand but is not there yet.)

I am certainly not begrudging G/FB their right to use the data for profit and not arguing for ridiculous privacy policies.  I benefit by using their services that are pretty good and free, so there is value being exchanged.  The question is how much value?  G/FB are presumably valuing the services they provide and the data they receive and, while the exchange is not perfect, at least they are spending the effort to understand it.

Eventually G/FB can exploit that understanding, because they know the value a lot more than the consumers do.  For example, Google knows that I fly United because I get my confirmations in Gmail: How much would American Airlines pay for that information?  Can I get a cut of that?  How will I as a normal consumer know my value?  Is there a consumer tool to tell me how much I am worth to G/FB?

Lame.  I have not posted anything for over a month.  Why?  Mostly because I got overwhelmed with the different ways of communicating: blog, Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, email, instant messaging…  It became too much to try to keep up with everyone’s updates as well as make my own.

Just like in a feed reader where you can just mark all of the articles as read so that the unread articles stop taunting you, begging you to read them.  I needed a re-boot to re-think how I’m doing everything.  So I stopped.  Everything.

The fact of the matter is that I’m still re-thinking, but am more aware of what I’m using for what.  The current line between these outlets to me are: which ones are the ones where I am primarily a ‘receiver’ and where I am a ‘contributor’?  I know one thing: there is no way you can be fully engaged across all of these communication channels, unless you have a lot of time.

This is going to be interesting.  I said a couple of days ago that Wikipedia should follow public radio’s pledge model.  But now the New York Times seems to be considering the same membership model, according to an article by the New York Observer, as well as a metered model that tracks how many free pages you viewed before asking you to pay for additional pages.

So why didn’t I single out the New York Times as something that I could live without?  I do read, so while I consider it an important source of news, it’s not my only source.  In fact, I usually read a few websites for every story that I consider important because I realize that every source has “its angle”.  I would lose a valuable source of information if went entirely behind a pay wall like the Wall Street Journal, but I feel that I have enough websites to understand a story without it.

The key question is whether the New York Times is going to alienate the frequent users who may feel that they are being asked to pay for other, “lighter” users.  Is the New York Times unique enough in the information marketplace to be able to charge a premium, or is it considered simply as another news provider by the market?  Will it be able to find out how high to set the bar between free and paid users?  The Grey Lady is about to find out.

This post was originally published on May 13, 2009.

KQED is having its spring pledge drive – and I hate pledge drives.  I wish there were a way to avoid it, but they do serve a purpose: 1) to hear the variety of reasons why you should donate and 2) to interrupt the regular programming so that you realize how important it is to you.

The pledge drive did make me think about other things which are free and that I take for granted.  I could live without most of what I came up with, but I felt that Wikipedia is an exception.  I don’t use it every day, but it shows up often enough in searches, I have a Wikipedia app on my Blackberry, it’s great for ending the never-ending debate at a bar.  And yet they only asked for money that one time in December 2008.

Unfortunately, donating does not end radio pledge drives on the spot, but I think that Wikipedia could have ‘rolling pledge drives’ that interrupt my use of its site to just remind me that I’ve been using it for free.  Say for example that I use the website a few times within 30 days, I might get a pop-up to ask for a donation.  Then I can donate what I want, and the website won’t bother me until 90 days have passed.  You can play with the model a little bit, but using an occasional guilt trip with reinforcing positive feedback wouldn’t be a bad thing.  I think this would be more successful than the micro-payments model that Rupert Murdoch wants to pursue.

Btw, I did donate to KQED and Wikipedia [I’m not being snooty – I’m just saying…].  If you use Wikipedia, why not donate too?

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