March 31, 2005
Blogging About Blawgers at TECHSHOW
This is the really cool part about TECHSHOW -- sitting in a nice strong Intel-sponsored Wi-Fi cloud, and listening to Ernie, Rick, and Sabrina talk about blogging. Half of the room is full of blawgers, the other half are keenly interested in jumping in.
What is a blog and what is it good for? Ernie says it's a great way to trap a lot of fish -- people surfing around the web using Google who stumble across blogs. Rick aptly pointed out that Google loves fresh content and links as votes -- as a result, Google knows that blogs are updated more often. Here's a key point, that I've blogged previously: Google doesn't just index sites by their own content. Google also indexes content based upon content in other sites' links to your site. It's called Google Bombing, and it was used quite expertly to embarrass President Bush. Just Google for "miserable failure" to see what I mean.
The wild thing about blogs that Rick, Ernie, and I have all experienced is that some of our most "successful" posts are ones that haven't related directly to the legal world. In my case, I've seen my blog traffic spike over the RSS vs. Atom feed debate, and most recently over how to use your 3G cell phone to get free wireless Internet access. It made it within the top 10 results (the first page) for "free cell internet access", without the quotes, on Google.
Sabrina enlightened us with how blogging has evolved into internal use, behind the firewall. It's difficult to gain inertia, to be sure. Sabrina urged that we have to plead, beg, and keep at it. As Ernie added, while we see the power of this use, the problem is that people within an organization are often too busy and don't like to share. It's ironic, and something I've experienced, that people outside the organization are more responsive and gratified by the information than those within. However, sooner or later, the word gets out, and pockets of folks start to realize its benefits.
Sabrina adds that you need Informational Omnivores within your organization -- people hungry for taking in, processing, organizing and sharing information. Many bloggers fall squarely in this category, myself included.
Rick and Sabrina covered why RSS feeds are so important, but had different experiences: Rick's blog gets twice as much RSS feed traffic than web pages served. Sabrina's is exactly the opposite. Some of it has to do with the differences in their audiences. Rick's is more tech-focused, whereas Sabrina's is more legal-focused and probably attracts more web browser-centric users than RSS feedreader users.
The discussion turned to blogging platforms for those interested in starting one today. TypePad clearly came up as the winner for newbies, based upon the number of people here who made various recommendations. While Movable Type is great, it requires a much higher level of geekiness. Monica Bay stood up and raved about TypePad, even though "it sucks on a Mac". (You gotta love Monica's style.)
Monica's pearls of wisdom:
March 29, 2005
TECHSHOW This Week
It's that time of year, when legal technophiles and professionals make their annual pilgrimage to Chicago for the ABA TECHSHOW. This year the TECHSHOW Board and support staff have really outdone themselves. The conference has attracted even more mainstream big-name sponsors, such as Intel (who is also providing WiFi network), Adobe, HP, and Microsoft. Eugene Lee, Adobe's VP of Product Marketing, Intelligent Document Business Unit, is giving the keynote. The TECHSHOW Training Institute was a smash success in its inaugural debut last year, and shows no signs of letting up.
I'm personally looking forward to the many great sessions, including the "Meet the Bloggers" roundtable. Look for many of the blawg stars to be in attendance. I'll be presenting Saturday morning with the dynamic Adriana Linares on the topic of "Best Practices—Applying the Lessons of TECHSHOW".
I'll also be moderating the "What's New in Scanners, Printers and Other Devices" roundtable, which I'm pleased to say will include several big printing and scanning players as well as fellow blawger, tech-savvy lawyer, and TECHSHOW Board member Tom Mighell. Believe me, if you haven't looked at printing and scanning options recently, be prepared to be blown away at their current capabilities.
TECHSHOW is also famous for its various dinners and bashes, and I've found the networking to be the most valuable part of going to conferences. That's where you really learn what's hot, what's not, bounce around creative ideas and build your list of interesting go-to people.
With TECHSHOW heating things up in Chicago, there are a number of other legal tech doings this week. On Wednesday, ILTA (the International Legal Technology Association, f/k/a LawNet) is having a "Law Department Roundtable" for its members at Winston & Strawn LLP. For folks like me in corporate legal departments, this is a timely value add for the trip.
In a fit of savvy yet unbridled creativity, LexThink! Chicago: Building the Perfect Firm, the brainchild of prominent blawgers Matthew Homann, Dennis Kennedy and Scheherazade Fowler, is being held Sunday at the Catalyst Ranch. Because it's an invitational-only event in its seminal year, I'm both excited and honored to be participating.
But of course, all of this wouldn't be happening without TECHSHOW as the main attraction, and I heartily recommend it. Hopefully I'll see you there!
March 22, 2005
VOIP Insecurity & Caller ID Spoofing Are Enough to Make You SPIT
If you have a perverse desire to increase your anxiety level, then you'll love Wired's report on "Scammers Snag Money on Net Phones". Internet telephony, also known as VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol), has some serious security challenges.
I've previously posted about the issues surrounding Caller ID spoofing over regular phone lines. With Internet telephony, the virtual phone lines are subject to hacking just like the rest of the Internet.
If you thought spam was bad for e-mail users, there is potential for a new form of spam for VOIP. It's called SPIT -- SPam over Internet Telephony. According to the FTC Chairman, in theory "unscrupulous telemarketers could use VOIP to blast huge numbers of voice messages to consumers". I immediately thought about the creation of a "Do Not Call" list for VOIP users, but then, what would be the point? Unless one could actually track down the origin of the Spitter (now there's an appropriate appellation if I do say so), it's probably not going to do much good. Look how effective the CAN-SPAM Act hasn't been.
Phishers are also getting into the act via Caller ID spoofing. Some wire-transfer services such as Western Union use Caller ID to verify that someone is calling from their home phone to validate the fund transfer. I was astonished to read that "the company has no other way to verify that transfer requests are valid."
It certainly sounds like there's a huge untapped market for anyone offering a better mousetrap in consumer-friendly identity authentication.
March 21, 2005
Tips for Identifying Phishing & Fraudulent E-Mails
Microsoft, in its battle against spam and online fraud, has a very good article describing deceptive e-mails. It covers how they work, and how you can spot their characteristics.
To summarize, many deceptive e-mails have the following attributes, either separately or in combination:
Say what you will about Microsoft security, but I applaud their efforts to educate people on these attacks. Protective software and security only go so far, especially when it comes to e-mail. The rest is up to the recipients, so we need to know how to protect ourselves.
March 19, 2005
(Free) Wireless Internet Via Your 3G Cell Phone
A LawTech Guru feature article by Jeffrey Beard
A LawTech Guru feature article by Jeffrey BeardWi-Fi broadband is really great, isn't it? Except when there's not a hotspot around when you need one. Or when you find it, but can't get on. What do you do on commuter trains? I've recently revisited another road warrior option worth consideration, now that third-generation 3G networks are more widely available:
A number of newer cell phones are 3G-capable, meaning they can transfer data at broadband speeds. Having faster-than-dial-up Internet access in increasingly larger cell phone coverage areas is key. If you're reasonably tech savvy, your cell phone can become a USB modem.
For more information about cellular data network providers, the recent PC Magazine article, "Wireless Without Borders: Networks for Those on the Go", is a must read. (My thanks to Brett Burney, fellow legal tech guru over at Thompson Hine, for the link.) Suffice it say, the PC Mag article validated my choice last year to sign up with Verizon Wireless. Verizon may not have been as quick to release new Treos, but their network has been phenomenal in my personal experience so far. Obviously, each person's experience may vary.
Caveat: Things change quickly in this market, and not all services are offered in all locations. It's common to get conflicting answers even from different employees of the same carrier. Do not rely upon the information presented here. It is best treated as a guide only, chronicling my individual experience, and does not provide legal advice or conclusions in any way. I cannot emphasize strongly enough the need to verify everything with your cell carrier before proceeding.
Some carriers will tell you that you absolutely need an expensive data plan to do this (possibly an additional $40-$80/month). However, like most people, I prefer using Wi-Fi connections since they're much faster. Therefore, I'm not planning to use the cell modem all that much, so this doesn't meet my needs for the cost. With some cell providers, with the right voice plans (generally the national plans), 3G phone models, cables, and software, it may be possible to have cell Internet access for free or nearly free. By this I mean some only use up airtime minutes, with no additional data plan charges. If it's used during free evening and weekend minutes, then it shouldn't cost anything extra.
So what kind of speed am I talking about? On average, with a good signal you're probably looking at 60-120kbps download speed on the low end, with 300-500kbps on the high side. It depends on the network type and location. Even at its worst, it's definitely snappier than dial-up, and believe me, it's quite usable. It sure beats the incredibly slow 14.4kbps speed common on the older 2G or 2.5G cell networks. (Been there, done that, and moved on quickly.) It's possible the highest speed networks may require a data plan subscription. But then one has to evaluate whether it's worth the added expense.
What Do I Need?
It varies with the cell provider and phone hardware, but in essence, the following is needed:
To be candid, I had low expectations for the MOK (I've been disappointed with cell connectivity kits previously), but it was worth it. While the software is somewhat basic, it auto-detected the phone, installed the phone's Windows modem driver, and created several DUN connections. It appeared I was all set in just minutes. How often does that happen? Right -- too easy. There were a few minor problems needing resolution before I could get online.
The two new DUN connections for Verizon Wireless wouldn't log in. They had incomplete login information configured. In addition, the new VZAccess Manager program kills my Wi-Fi card utility in the system tray. Each time after running the VZAccess Manager, I need to reboot Windows to get back the Dell Wireless WLAN Utility. The latter is not a serious problem, simply because I don't need to run the Verizon access software again. The DUN connection was easily solved with a little Googling for the necessary login information (see below). With that solved, to log on, I simply use my new Windows dial-up connection. This is actually much faster than launching the Verizon software.
Treo owners may want to check out PdaNet. This program enables a Treo smartphone to be a wireless modem for your PC. (PdaNet info courtesy of Brett Burney.)
Also, for select LG, Samsung, and Sanyo phones, BitPim is an open source program that lets you sync the following items: PhoneBook, Calendar, WallPapers and RingTones. This isn't for Internet access, just another option for transferring data to/from these models to a PC. I've not tried BitPim, so I can't say how well it works. As I was looking for a way to put my own pictures and ringtones on the phone now that I have the special USB cable, this has some definite possibilities. However, it occurs to me that using two different syncing programs with the phone could open the door to new problems.
How Do I Get Access?
You could do what I did: Talk to your cell provider and go Googling to confirm you received good information. I've found the following links to be quite helpful:
If you happened to wonder whether this is scamming the cell phone carrier, so did I. That's why I called Verizon Wireless -- twice -- for confirmation. I let them know exactly what I wanted to do, and asked whether I would be charged for usage without a data plan subscription. I received essentially the same answer on both calls, which corresponded with what my local Verizon rep told me: Their 1X phones (short for 1XRTT, their intermediate high-speed network) are already data-enabled for the other data services (e.g., the web browser and their "Get It Now" service for downloading games, ringtones, etc.). I noticed from this comparison of cell carriers' data plans that 1XRTT networks peak around 144kbps, while the newer EV-DO networks provide faster average speeds of 300-500Kbps with bursts as high as 2.4Mbps. From my speed tests and the 1X indicator on the phone, I'm apparently using the 1X network, but it's still very good and the price is certainly right.
Other than using my airtime minutes, Verizon Wireless stated I would not be charged for using their high-speed ISP service on my LG cell phone. Nights and weekends are free. One rep told me the only catch was that without my subscribing to a monthly data plan, they are providing the data service without tech support. So if something goes wrong, I'm supposedly on my own. If so, you get what you pay for, and I can certainly live with that as a fair trade-off.
By the way, each time I've talked to a Verizon Wireless store, billing, or tech support rep, they've been very helpful, friendly, and for the most part, fairly knowledgeable. If they didn't know the answer, they either looked it up or connected me to someone who did. Believe me, I don't ask the easy questions, and they've really tried hard to answer them all and assist me.
To all this, I cheer with a very loud "Kudos!" to Verizon for providing such value-added services. I'm seriously considering canceling my dial-up ISP, which in a short time will save me more than I paid for the mobile kit. Since I have cable broadband at home, I only kept the dial-up for backup access and for traveling when all else failed.
Verizon's cell ISP connection also works with my VPN. Which lets one do cool and useful things such as wirelessly syncing a PDA to a laptop, with the laptop simultaneously connected wirelessly via Wi-Fi or a cell phone to an office network via a more secure VPN connection to sync the data. (Okay, so there's a short cable between the laptop and cell phone. But the phone is transmitting a wireless data signal.) While it's one extra cable to carry and perhaps not as sexy as Wi-Fi, it's another useful and relatively high-speed tool in my road warrior bag of tricks.
When you're on the road, having more access options is a very good thing. Doubly so when it doesn't cost anything extra per month, especially if it's just needed for backup. After all the 3G hype these past several years, it's nice to see it finally come of age and made available closer to the mainstream.
March 17, 2005
BlackBerry Settles NTP Patent Infringement Case
BlackBerry users can breathe a bit easier. Research in Motion (RIM) and NTP "signed a binding term sheet that resolves all current litigation between them." Research in Motion's press release contains more details, as does a ZDNet report. The ZDNet article states that the settlement avoided royalties.
RIM's press release states, "As part of the resolution, NTP will grant RIM and its customers an unfettered right to continue its BlackBerry-related wireless business without further interference from NTP or its patents. NTP and RIM will be finalizing the terms of this resolution in a definitive licensing and settlement agreement in upcoming weeks."
Just makes you want to send a celebratory e-mail, doesn't it? (Darn, just as I was about launch a new side business for recovering CrackBerry addicts. I had the patches and stepdown thumb exercises all set. ;^)
March 13, 2005
A Closer Look: Legal IT Survey on Lawyers' Preferred Communication Tools
Legal IT, a UK publication, offers some insight into lawyers' use and preferences for communication methods. While the article is entitled, "E-mail overtakes phone as lawyers’ favourite communication tool", it requires a bit more careful reading.
For instance, it claims that 24% of lawyers indicated that "e-mail was their most commonly used means of communication, compared to just 10% of accountants". While that's an important comparison to another service field, that also implies to me that 76% of lawyers have a different (non e-mail) method they most commonly use.
I think there's little doubt that lawyers, as a whole, are using and relying upon e-mail more than ever before. However, looking at the other survey percentages stated, it's also clear that their e-mail use preferences are heavily dependent upon the context of the situation and the content to be conveyed.
For instance, take the following items from the same article:
". Sixty-eight percent of lawyers prefer to speak to their boss face-to-face, 16% chose e-mail and just 5% the phone.According to the above, e-mail is not the preferred medium for a number of daily personal interactions. And that makes sense to me, because e-mail is more impersonal and more easily prone to being misunderstood by the recipient.
Take also cell phone text messaging, or SMS (Short Message Service). Consider it a poor-man's Blackberry or pager equivalent. Legal IT also has an interesting article, "Survey: The Text Big Thing", which discusses whether firms are fully embracing text messaging. The reported UK survey results regarding usage are actually much higher than I would have guessed. However, it seems most of the SMS usage is ad hoc, with very few firms doing anything with it in a focused manner. But for clients without Blackberries, SMS text messages might be welcome as long as they are relevant and useful -- not spam.
March 07, 2005
Get Your Google Page Rank
If you have a blog or web site, and you're curious to know your Google Page Rank, try these two sites:
Both sites are helpful in different ways, and neither seems to be affiliated with Google. While the latter is good for returning a general GPR, I like GoogleRankings.com because it returns the Page Rank relative to various keywords. So you can run a number of queries to determine where your site is doing well, and where it might need a boost.
Disclaimer: I'm not a Google algorithm expert, so take from this what you will, as this is merely my general understanding of how this stuff works. Google's inner workings are constantly being tweaked.
Basically, Google's algorithm assigns each web site a Page Rank from 0-10, with 10 being best. In reading some of the search engine watch sites, exactly how Google arrives at the score seems to be a moving target. I wouldn't be surprised if this scale wasn't linear, as I suspect it's much more difficult to move from a "9" to a "10" than it is to move from a "1" to a "2".
After all, per the Google PankRank Calculator site, the 10's are the massively popular sites like Google and Yahoo!. Even usatoday.com ranks a "9", while nytimes.com and cnn.com only rank an "8". So I'm pretty darn satisfied with a "6". Some of the most popular blawgs seem to rank between 5 and 7 (although I only ran the query for a half dozen of them, so it's not statistically significant). Precious few got a 7, such as Bag and Baggage. Most of the well-known blawgs are at 5 or 6.
Some general rules of thumb seem to play out with Google SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for earning a higher Page Rank: Sites that update content regularly, and that are more heavily linked to (inbound links) from other sites generally receive a higher Page Rank.
So why are Google Page Ranks relevant? The raw score doesn't mean much by itself. When combined with a Google keyword or phrase search, in context, that's when the page rank makes a difference. For example, LawTech Guru is the number one result returned when searching for Jeff Beard or lawtech, but is nowhere in the top 1,000 results for the word "tomato" -- probably because I've never used "tomato" in a post before today. Now, the interesting thing will be to see if and how that tomato page rank changes within a week, since I've now changed the status quo by this post. (In scientific terms, I've changed the environment by the act of studying it.)
So Page Rank scores, by themselves, probably won't get you new business. But what they may get you, in the right context, is increased visibility in Google search results. But which results? Some of my highest rankings are from posts that have nothing to do with legal technology, at least not directly. I suspect those got there by others linking to them.
What's important to take away from this is that if you want your blog or web site to be found for various keyword or phrase searches, it's helpful to know where you're starting from, and which words you need to add to your content on a regular basis. To get a bigger boost, you'll want those pages to be linked to by other high-ranking sites, as that will help to elevate your ranking, and potentially, your online visibility. I can tell you firsthand that while I don't sell anything here, not even services, professional visibility is quite valuable.
Now with that said, don't get caught in the trap that you must be found on Google or other major search engines to be found online. Yes, it's very important, but it's not the whole enchilada. Again, I'll use this blog as an example. According to GoogleRankings.com, this site currently ranks as 29 to the keyword search for "legal technology" using lawtechguru.com as the URL pattern. That gets knocked down to 49 when using www.lawtechguru.com as the URL pattern. Which means that I'm not on the first two pages of Google results for legal technology. But you know what? Thanks to the collegiality of my fellow blawgers, I'm linked on many of their blogrolls and vice versa. Which means that when they get found via search engines and their sites are read, some of those readers will invariably stumble onto my blog -- it's how the blogosphere works.
So, when the dust and smoke clears, while Google Page Ranks are important to understand and leverage, they are only one piece of the overall solution for online marketing and visibility. Rather than an end, they are an important means to achieving an overall plan.
March 06, 2005
NextGen Blogging: Podcasting at a Glance
iPod, You Pod, We all Pod for Podcasts. (Or something like that.)
Remember the first song ever played on MTV? Yup, it was "Video Killed the Radio Star" by Buggles. Well, no one can say that Podcasting will kill the radio or even Internet Radio. But it's one heck of an enhancement, and yet another way to draw audiences to your RSS feed, especially if you have a good broadcast personality. So what is Podcasting? Think of it as Blogging meets Internet Radio.
To better answer that question, Wired Magazine has two great Podcasting articles this month. First, there's the feature article about Adam Curry, the ex-MTV VJ who's a key player in the development and promotion of Podcasting via iPodder. From MTV to MP3, talk about first mover advantage.
If you're new to Podcasting, or just curious about how it works, check out Wired's "Podcasting at a Glance." This short guide covers:
No one says you have to be a Howard Stern to push the media envelope. But I think it's fair to say that people are hungry for media. People with iPods and MP3 players -- even more so. Combining audio broadcasts through the simplicity of RSS feeds is a powerful combination.
While not every Podcaster is going to make it big (just like bloggers), there's still time to get in on it during the first wave. But just like blogging, a commitment to Podcasting should not just be a knee-jerk impulse. A good theme/market is helpful (whether it be mainstream or niche), as is the ability to keep it going after you start. Consider the additional time it takes to provide both text and audio feeds. It's also helpful to have a certain broadcast quality. Here's a thought: If you don't feel you've got "the right stuff", consider a Tonight Show format. Bring on lots of guests over time and let them tell their story or share their expertise and guidance.
Will your blog wither away if you don't Podcast? If you're providing compelling content, I seriously doubt it. So don't feel bad if you're not Podcasting (I'm not). Remember, while iPods are all the craze, far from everyone has one. Everyone with a PC has a browser, so that's a much, much larger audience. However, Podcasts can be used to draw in new audiences in this "nichestream" (as opposed to mainstream), simply because you're offering it. Now once it gets saturated, the dynamics could change a bit. Again, there's a LOT to be said for first mover advantage in this space.
Compelling blogs + compelling Podcasts = One powerful media streaming source. It's another value add if done well. As to what format or content you should provide, that's what you'll need to figure out. The best blogs are the ones that come from the heart -- what that person or group is passionate about. I'd say that goes double for podcasting. Also, I think this is an area where big business can redeem itself in the blogosphere. Remember all those publicity-stunt blogs that were started just as a gimmick and fizzled overnight? Well, putting some value-added commercial grade broadcasts (not just fluff) into a Podcast is likely to gain a much more positive reception.
Perhaps it's just me, but Podcasting gives bloggers and others a much more intimate connection with their audience. It's one thing to read what I've written. But consider how much more powerful it is when you listen to what I say.
March 01, 2005
True story, good fodder for an SNL parody: Over the weekend, I was testing the WiFi coverage in the living room. When I pointed my WiFi detector in my wife's direction, it lit up. Without missing a beat, she kids me that I have the latest in Wifey seekers. Wow, this thing is good! (Now, if it could only keep me out of trouble when I leave the milk out.)
With a little brand "repurposing", I can see it as a new dating fad: Go into Starbucks, point the thing around and introduce yourself to the person who appears to peg the meter. Gives new meaning to the phrase, "You light up my life." (Thanks Honey. To my savvy readers, if you haven't guessed by now, I have a really cool wife.)