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More on iYomu, the social network for grown ups

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 24-Jul-2007 16:57

This week I had a meeting with Frances Valintine and David Wolf-Rooney, directors of iYomu, a social network website that is targeting adults, and which I blogged about before.

During this meeting I had a chance to explore more about the service and ask questions raised n my previous blog post.

To start with the site is still in beta (the password to access the registration page is iyomubeta), but both David and Frances tell me the feedback has been very good so far.

The whole idea is to create an easy to use web site with social networking features accessible to "grown ups", who are in the 30 - 50 age segment. Frances, who is also responsible for the user experience and interface, tells me that most of the people in this age bracket are not interested in some of the "gimmicks" found in more teen-oriented sites such as myspace and bebo (this the largest social network in New Zealand).

I questioned the use of a Flash-based interface and France replied that it's a "standard" in most web browsers, and it could be used to make the whole experience easier for the people that want a piece of social networking action but are not worried about browser compatibility, AJAX support, and other things.

The site name iYomu stands for "I, you, me, us" and you say it as it's written ("I Yo mu").

David is the founder and doesn't have a technology background - hence the idea of creating something easy for people like himself to use. The service is fully backed by some investment rounds from local and international investors.

Their business model does not include advertising, rather relying on "upselling" features. For example people will be able to upload up to 1GB of files for secure storage and sharing with friends and family. If more than 1GB is needed then iYomu will be happy to sell you more space. They see this as an important feature for professional users who could have documents secured stored on iYomu, for later use during travel or meetings.

The "iDNA" allows users to create a profile based on answers to a questionaire covering different aspects of personality. This "iDNA" can later be used to find potentialy compatible friends in the network.

You can create and join groups, but those groups don't have discussion forums or postings. I asked about this and Frances reply was that "the feedback we received is that most people are interested in finding others in the same interest group, but not necessarily have a group-wise discussions, rather having one-on-one discussions".

I also asked if they have plans to make this an open platform, such as Facebook, which now allows third party developers to create plug-in applications. They think this is something that can happen, but not from the start.

iYomu will be launched in Auckland 13 August 2007 with a "large promotion" that Frances and David promise will draw a big deal of attention to the service. I wasn't told what is happening, but I will be in Auckland on the date (for the Microsoft Tech Ed), so I might find out more then.

It is indeed an interesting concept, although I am still not convince of the benefits of the Flash-based interface, but they certainly have invested a big deal of time in their research and development, so let's see how it goes after the official launch.

Digg and Slashdot spreading FUD... Oh wait...

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 23-Jul-2007 09:30

There you go, the "wisdon of crowds" shows its face again. One of the top stories on Digg and Slashdot this weekend is how the "US Government is checking up on Vista Users"...

So what's the FUD, I mean story? Someone noticed "lag" on his Internet connection and ran a sniffer program to see the traffic on his network. He was horrified to find out incoming connection requests from other computers connect to the Department of Defense and other organisations.

Wow! It never occurred to this person that the DoD could be infected with bots? Or perhaps there are Torrent users on these networks and his IP address was last used by a Torrent user, so those machines are just trying to reconnect?

No, the first thing in his mind was "Quick, bring the tin foil hat! The government is looking at my machine and Microsoft is participating on this!"

Now, let's give it... At least the more technically minded people on Slashdot pointed out that this could be the "background noise" he was seeing in the network, while the Digg users were quick with intelligent comments such as this:

What a surprise.

When are you people going to finally wake up and realize what's going on?

We're at war alright, only it's about us vs. the "terrorists"; it is about us vs. the corporate imperialists. They are the ones who own the terrorists AND our governments.

Oh, I forgot. Good stories about Microsoft are buried at Digg, only bad Microsoft stories and good Apple stories go up on the that site.

Silverstripe, a New Zealand made open-source CMS

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 22-Jul-2007 12:22

Last week I had the chance to "experience" Silverstripe for a couple of hours, guided by one of the founders (and now Chief Marketing Officer), Sig Magnusson.

The company has just released an updated version of their Content Management System (CMS) tool and is working hard adding new features by the day.

The core team is only 16 people, but the company is currently "hosting" ten interns brought in with their participation in the Google Summer of Code. The Google SoC allows students from all over the world to participate in projects with companies that have been approved by Google and provide mentoring during the process. Companies list their projects, and Google will match students with companies - sometimes in a competitive environment where students look for projects in their area of expertise.

Silverstripe is written in PHP and very modular. During the preview Sig installed a demo version in about three minutes - including the explanations for each step. I saw a test website up and running in no time. Modules can be added at any time, and work as plug-ins, adding features to the core functionality.

Sig told me the new version is much quicker to production, with a default theme that will get new users up and running in no time, while they customise the site to their look and feel.

Currently using PHP 5 and MySQL, one of the Google SoC-sponsored projects is the support for a broad range of database platforms, using the PHP 5 Data Objectes (PDO). Other projects included OpenID support, extended reporting, Google Maps support, localisation features and more.

The platform can be used for any type of CMS-based website, and includes plug-ins for forums, Flickr picture streams and more. One of the new features, also result of this year's Google SoC is the addition of web marketing promotions tools making it easy to create Sitemaps and automatically generate Google AdWords campaign to promote the site with Google's advertising solution.

You can download Silverstripe free. The company offers consulting services. Silverstripe is one of the applications nominated for the New Zealand Open Source Awards 2007 (and Sig wouldn't mind you voting for them).

The Apple iPhone in New Zealand

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 22-Jul-2007 10:35

I am reading the New Zealand Herald story "Tech disciples await 'Jesus' phone" and I am worried about this poor people who can pay $1100 for an iPhone here in New Zealand, without knowing all the limitations.

Let's see: a company is importing those devices into the country, and even though people are buying an iPod with phone, they can't connect it directly to the local GSM (for now) operator Vodafone New Zealand. Why? Because it's locked to AT&T's network in the U.S.

So the options are:

a) buy an iPhone and use it as an iPod only and browse the Internet through Wi-Fi (which is not available everywhere you know) therefore having an iPhone without the phone, or

b) buy an iPhone and use it as an iPhone but with an AT&T number, paying to roaming fees to place and receive phone calls, paying four times the normal SMS prices and forcing your friends to place long distance international calls to reach you on an American number (did I mention you'd be paying to receive those calls as well?)

Now, what the article (and the importer) fails to mentions is that AT&T policy is that if the network detects more than four months of usage outside their "home" location, the cellular connection is cut:

An obliging customer service agent explained that if AT&T's computer sees four months of chitchatting in Alaska (or elsewhere out of AT&T coverage area), service will be automatically canceled.

But if you call AT&T ahead of time and explain to them that you'll be on an extended trip, you can avoid service termination -- at least for a little while.

In a second phone call, Siegel testily confirmed the four-month figure.

The importer also confuses EDGE with GPRS: "Surfing via wireless broadband network is fast; web access via EDGE on Vodafone is much slower" but fail to let users know that there's no Vodafone EDGE network in New Zealand, it's all GPRS - and patchy performance as we know. Of course the New Zealand Herald doesn't mention this in the article either.

In the meantime, kiwis could look for the cheap Chinese knock off on Trade Me, the "iPhone inspired" tPhone.

iYomu, a social network for grown ups

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 20-Jul-2007 08:35

There you go, you can't beat the power of the web for finding things... This week I got an invitation to meet with the folks behind a new social network site (yes, another one), called iYomu.

To start with I didn't know the site's name, but a quick Google search on one of the owners revealed a LinkedIn profile. In that profile there was this word out of context - iYomu, so I just had to enter this in the browser to find the website - still protected by a password, which I was supposed to get during the meeting with the owners.

It just happen that this morning I read one of the blogs in my vast collection of RSS feeds and found that the password to create an account is iyomubeta (thanks Sandy). Go on, you know you want to try. And you will be in to win US$5,000 (hey, I am just diluting the chances to everyone else now).

The first thing that caught my attention was the tagline - Socia Networking for Grown Ups. Seriously, it just looks like placing every other social network services in the same "for teenagers basket", but I really think LinkedIn and FaceBook have their merits, and are not for young kids only, au contraire.

And why use Flash for the most interesting things? It means I can't browse my communities from my mobile device, which I can happily do on FaceBook Mobile.

I will be getting some more information next week when meeting with iYomu and will be able to post more.

I am in both LinkedIn and FaceBook, feel free to add me as a friend. And I am on Geekzone Friends as well, of course.

UPDATE: I have posted a follow up now, after the meeting with iYomy directors.

The Ooma telco revolution

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 19-Jul-2007 22:07

I am reading about the Ooma service and box, just being released in the U.S. Om's got more details but here is the summary:

So how does Ooma manage “free” voice calls? Say you call Manhattan. Ooma routes the call to an Ooma box to the 212 area code, with the local carrier accepting it as a regular outbound call. It works even if the destination number lacks an Ooma box.

It’s free to you, though it does cost the Ooma box in far-flung area codes, but most of the local call plans are flat rate and come with unlimited calling. Ooma piggybacks on existing phone services, bringing all the things you expect from a traditional phone service, like dialing 911. (Walt Mossberg gives his thumbs up to this service.)

In telecom lingo, this is called distributed termination. The more boxes on the Ooma network, the more termination points - and , more voice calls the system can carry to the public switched phone networks.

Think of it another way: What the PC did to the mainframe, Ooma is doing it to the telecom switch.

I cannot overstate the wrath Ooma will feel from incumbents. Since Ooma threatens the carriers’ core business, they’ll do their best to crush it, arguing Ooma bypasses the local access regulatory structure.

Well, this is incredible indeed. And while simple in its essence, it is probably a lot of technology crammed into the Ooma box.

While this happens there, here in good old New Zealand we are still trying to unbundle the local loop, have naked DSL and a decent broadband service...

Symantec Internet Threat Meter on your PC

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 19-Jul-2007 11:13

Here is a tip: you can have the Symantec Internet Threat Meter on your PC, free from Symantec. It's a Yahoo! Widget that will run on your Windows XP or Mac PC (what, no Windows Vista Sidebar Gadget yet?).

If you don't want to install Yahoo! Widgets (previously known as Konfabulator) then you can always visit the Symantec Security Response page for updates.

I just read on their Security Response Blog that their ITM system is being update, and it looks good.

Now, I don't run Symantec software anymore. A lot of people complain it's bloated, hard to uninstall, sometimes requires reinstallation because it loses its configuration, and it may be all true.

But the information they are giving away for free is interesting. So go check it out.

Patch your Flash Player and Java Runtime

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 17-Jul-2007 11:41

According to F-Secure both Adobe and Sun have released patches covering several critical vulnerabilities for their software Flash Player and Java Runtime Environment.

If you have those installed (and who doesn't in these days of YouTube?) then download the patches here and here.

Many of the vulnerabilities are cross-platform, and between them, they have most OS-browser combinations covered. You are vulnerable until you install the patches. Read the advisories from the vendors and grab the patches here and here.

The OECD Communications Oulook 2007 is available for download now

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 14-Jul-2007 10:30

If you have any interest in the state of telecommunications, you might want to read the OECD Telecommunications Outlook 2007 report (store link).

Voice continues to be the key driver in OECD telecommunication markets which have now attained revenues of USD 1 trillion. However, voice services, and the structure of telecommunications revenues, are evolving. Mobile services now make up 40% of all OECD-area telecommunications revenues, and mobile subscribers outnumber fixed subscribers by a ratio of 3 to 1. At the same time, technologies such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) are exerting strong downward pressure on prices for voice services. The impact of VoIP is apparent in prices for international fixed-line calls, which many VoIP operators now bundle into flat-rate subscription plans. As a result, the future of voice revenue streams is unclear.

The number of high-speed Internet connectyions is one of the main reasons why technologies such as VoIP have had such an impact on the market. Broadband is quickly becoming the dominant technology for Internet access throughout the OECD area; 60% of the area's 256 million Internet subscribers now have a broadband connection.

UPDATE: As noted I had the link to the document, when it should be to the bookshop. It wasn't my intention and the link is now corrected.

How hackers planted trojan code into the Vodafone Greece network

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 13-Jul-2007 21:52

Just now I was alerted to an interesting story that has been happening on the other side of the world, involving hackers, ministers, and Vodafone Greece.

The spying case, where the calls of around 100 people using Vodafone’s network were secretly tapped, remains unsolved and is still being investigated. Also complicating the case are question marks over the suicide in March 2005 of a top engineer at Vodafone Group in Greece in charge of network planning.

This is just an introduction. The juicy bits are available on IEEE Spectrum, the flagship IEEE publication:

The victims were customers of Athens-based Vodafone-Panafon, generally known as Vodafone Greece, the country's largest cellular service provider; Tsalikidis was in charge of network planning at the company. A connection seemed obvious. Given the list of people and their positions at the time of the tapping, we can only imagine the sensitive political and diplomatic discussions, high-stakes business deals, or even marital indiscretions that may have been routinely overheard and, quite possibly, recorded.

Even before Tsalikidis's death, investigators had found rogue software installed on the Vodafone Greece phone network by parties unknown. Some extraordinarily knowledgeable people either penetrated the network from outside or subverted it from within, aided by an agent or mole. In either case, the software at the heart of the phone system, investigators later discovered, was reprogrammed with a finesse and sophistication rarely seen before or since.

A study of the Athens affair, surely the most bizarre and embarrassing scandal ever to engulf a major cellphone service provider, sheds considerable light on the measures networks can and should take to reduce their vulnerability to hackers and moles.

We now know that the illegally implanted software, which was eventually found in a total of four of Vodafone's Greek switches, created parallel streams of digitized voice for the tapped phone calls. One stream was the ordinary one, between the two calling parties. The other stream, an exact copy, was directed to other cellphones, allowing the tappers to listen in on the conversations on the cellphones, and probably also to record them. The software also routed location and other information about those phone calls to these shadow handsets via automated text messages.

We still don't know who committed this crime. A big reason is that the UK-based Vodafone Group, one of the largest cellular providers in the world, bobbled its handling of some key log files. It also reflexively removed the rogue software, instead of letting it continue to run, tipping off the perpetrators that their intrusion had been detected and giving them a chance to run for cover. The company was fined €76 million this past December.

We have so far being led to believe mobile communications are secure and encrypted. But what actually seems to happen is that the links between handsets and cell sites are safe - but what about the inside of the companies?

How is the New Zealand security going? Is our government evaluating this? Are individuals safe from identity theft and other things that can happen when people interfere with communications?

freitasm's profile

Mauricio Freitas
New Zealand

I live in New Zealand and my interests include mobile devices, good books, movies and food of course! 

I'm the Geekzone admin. On Geekzone we publish news, reviews and articles on technology topics. The site also has some busy forums. Also worth visiting is TravelTalk NZ, a community for travelers!

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