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Cover art for "Corrupted Nerds: Conversations" episode 3: click for podcast web pageI’ve finally posted a new episode of my Corrupted Nerds podcast, a wide-ranging conversation with Peter Coffee, vice-president and head of platform research at Salesforce.com.

Cloud computing is inevitable, says Coffee. “Processing power has grown at about 25% per year, and compounded over a period of 30-some years that’s a lot. But bandwidth has grown at about 45% per year over that same period of time.”

So whatever the application, no matter how complex, eventually it’ll be cheaper to process the data somewhere else, and your device — desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone — only has to manage presentation and interaction.

I’d been wanting to catch up with Coffee for two or three years, and we finally managed to arrange being in the same room at the same time. I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation, and I think you’ll enjoy it too.

Rydges contact form: click to embiggenThis week’s award for daft user interaction design goes to Rydges, the chain of hotels and resorts, for their incredibly silly website contact form.

Web contact forms can sometimes be useful, I suppose, if a business receives a lot of standard enquiries, because they can capture the structured data and put it straight into the customer relationship management (CRM) system. But most of these forms just dump the form data into an unstructured email, and dump that into some poor soul’s inbox. Why not just publish an email address? Are your spam filters that shoddy?

But when contact forms have badly-worded multiple-choice options, ill-thought-out data validation code, or unworkably small data fields, they make things difficult for everyone — and this one’s got the lot.

According to Rydges, you must have a title, but it can only be “Mr”, “Mrs”, “Ms” or “Miss”, not “Dr” or “Rev” or anything else. Your name must consist of two words. Your phone number cannot start with the “+” that comes before the country code, odd for an international business, nor may it contain spaces. And the “Type of enquiry” drop-down has only two choices, “Business” or “General”.

Is a question about the hotel restaurant’s opening hours, for example, “Business” or “General”, I wonder?

But the pièce de résistance is that the body text is limited to just 200 characters. That’s about 30-odd words of standard English text. Good luck with that.

Look, I’ve been thinking about this stuff all week and I can’t decide. So over to you. Scroll down for a Proper Scientific Poll on the Internet! What media stuff would you like me to do?

I last wrote about this in January, in Five questions and no answers about my media work. Read that before proceeding if you like, but it’s not absolutely necessary.

My regular media commitments currently stand at: a weekly column for ZDNet; a twice-a-month column for CSO Online; around one column a month for Technology Spectator; and a variable number for Crikey. Add in the occasional piece elsewhere, and it looks a little like this.

Media objects produced 2011–2013

The main problem is that the base level of material isn’t high enough, and in recent months it’s started getting a little wobbly. So, how can I build on what I’ve got? And how can I have a bit more fun?

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NetSuite Suiteworld logoI’m heading to San Francisco and San Jose next Saturday 11 May 2013 for NetSuite’s SuiteWorld 2013 conference. Yes, as their guest.

I was at their first SuiteWorld event two years ago, where we had dinner at Larry Ellison’s house overlooking San Francisco Bay and came to the conclusion that not every business has to “go social”.

I’ve had lunch and other events with NetSuite’s people a few time since, and written a couple of articles:

NetSuite is an interesting company. They just seem to get on with the job of making good software and expanding into new markets. So I’m looking forward to catching up with them again — particularly as I’ve been writing a lot more about security that this sort of enterprise software lately.

I’ll arrive in San Francisco on Saturday 11 May, and then on Monday we head to San Jose for the conference proper. That kicks off Monday night with a welcome reception and NetSuite CEO Zach Nelson’s opening keynote first thing Tuesday morning, and runs until Thursday 16.

I’ll be hanging around in the Bay area until Sunday night — which is a hint, yes — and then I arrive back in Sydney very early on Tuesday 21 May local time. Unless someone decides to extend my stay in the US, of course — and that’s also a hint.

ABC logoOn Wednesday night I ended up having a long, rambling chat on the radio about Twitter’s new advertising deal and the arrest of an alleged hacker who apparently claimed to be the leader of LulzSec.

This conversation was broadcast on ABC Local Radio around NSW, the presenter was the redoubtable Dom Knight. We begin with Twitter, and then move on to the alleged-hacker’s arrest at around 12 minutes 50 seconds in.

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The audio is of course ©2013 Australian Broadcasting Corporation, archived here because it isn’t being archived anywhere else.

So my January was a bit of a failure. I didn’t do much reassessment of the journalism and other writing I do. The cancellation of the Patch Monday podcast and my Linux.conf.au coverage killed off income. And I spent too much money. Sigh.

If you’re not interested in my personal thought processes, skip this post. I know I would.

Linux.conf.au first. While I did think about ways to generate funding for coverage at the same level as last year, the time was too short. If I got to Canberra somehow, I could still pitch stories to editors as usual, but cashflows were tight. Then Pia Waugh invited me to interview Sir Tim Berners-Lee for iiNet as part of their sponsorship of the TBL Down Under Tour. Two nights accommodation were offered. So hey, I went to Canberra for a couple days.

I ended up filing just one story. Instead of a solid income-generating week to counteract the December-January slump, it was a loss-maker.

Want a picture? I’ve added January to my chart of stories written, and I’ve changed the title to “media objects” because I’ve added the Patch Monday podcast to the ZDNet total. I’ve also added a mysterious black line. The recent slump is clear.

Chart of media objects produced 2011-2013

So, the current status of my thinking-about-writing thing since my last update?

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With a blog post to write, I now have everything I need: click to embiggenAs my first full working week for 2013 draws to a close, almost, here’s an update on how I’m thinking this year might unfold for me. At least as far as work goes.

(If you’re not up to speed on this, please read Doing the business on Stilgherrian’s journalism and Death of a Freedom Fighter, a writing challenge before continuing. The second one includes an explanation of my focus on how the internet is changing power relationships.)

First, there’s a tidy-up of my arrangements with mastheads I currently write for. That’s already delivered two changes. Crikey has given me a pay rise, to a level they now describe as “slightly less pathetic”. I’ve started pitching more stories, and that’s resulted in three stories this week. And there’s this as-yet unnamed sky-shouting column in the works, which will start soon.

Second, I’m thinking of doing a few self-funded projects — or at least projects for which I directly arrange funding — rather than through someone else’s masthead. There’s all sorts of ideas rolling around in my head, though I haven’t reached any firm conclusions yet.

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As 2012 draws to a close, it’s become clear to me that many aspects of my life should be reassessed for next year. One of the more important is my work — that is, what I do for who, how often and for how much.

Last night I made a couple of pictures to help me understand the issues I’ll need to think about. This first one shows the relative importance of each masthead, at least in revenue terms, based on the gross income they generated in 2012. I’m surprised.

Stilgherrian's income from journalism in 2012 by masthead: see story for the numbers

I knew ZDNet was my biggest earner. What I didn’t realise was that my written stories for them, either ad hoc commissions or as conference coverage, when combined with the weekly Patch Monday podcast, represent roughly five times the revenue of the second-place holder, CSO Online.

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ABC logoBy the time I got to doing my third radio spot about the Instagram saga, the issues were clear in my mind and I had a few well-rehearsed sound bites. So my final spot on ABC 666 Canberra was smooth.

I don’t think I need to provide any more background. My conversation with Louise Maher stands for itself, I think. We didn’t speak for as long as we’d originally intended, but they also had to update their listeners on the progress of some bushfires and that does have priority.

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This audio is ©2012 Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and is an unedited copy of what went to air, though the ABC has not posted it online as far as I know.

At some point in the next few days I’ll post further thoughts about this Instagram incident. Stay tuned.

ABC logoWith ABC Radio National Breakfast out of the way, I settled down to write my Crikey story about the Instagram saga.

By that stage my understanding of the story had evolved.

I was becoming increasingly cranky with so many people, including many who should know better, pushing the “Instagram wants to sell your photos” line. Failing to distinguish between selling a license to use a photo in various ways and selling the ownership of the photo itself was a massive failure. The difference is as clear at that between selling a house and renting it out to a tenant.

There was also a clarification from Instagram, making it clear that they weren’t seeking such ownership, admitting that they really hadn’t figured out precisely what it was they wanted to do with users’ photos, and agreeing that the language was open to misinterpretation.

I incorporated this into my Crikey piece, which was given the headline: Users snap over Instagram, but should have seen it coming.

In hindsight, and had I know this was to be the headline, I wouldn’t have been so blunt in my final paragraph.

The core lesson here is that services like Instagram aren’t free. You pay for them by licensing the operator to use your content and other data in various ways. If you don’t like that, well, pay for your goddam internet hosting yourself.

All I meant by this was that internet hosting is pretty cheap these days, and there’s plenty of low-cost providers to choose from. It’s not as if Instagram is a public service that owes you anything.

In any event, I filed the Crikey story before midday as usual. It seemed to me that Instagram was responding appropriately, and I’d always thought they were at the responsible end of social networking. My thoughts were now moving to the future. Would Instagram be able to prove they were worth their billion-dollar price tag? How would they behave if they didn’t start generating revenue?

But on the way to a lunch in the Sydney CBD, I ended up discussing the issue with a journalist for ABC TV’s 7.30 and a producer with ABC 666 Canberra. It was becoming clear to me that for most people in the media this was a brand new issue. Further media spots were being organised.

The next to be recorded, though not the next to go to air, was with ABC Radio’s national current affairs program PM. What pleases me about this piece, I think, is that the “tape ID” — the bit at the front of a recording where you identify who you are so there’s no confusion later — was included as part of the story. Because I used the word “arsehattery”.

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This audio is ©2012 Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and is an unedited copy of the original audio posted on their website. There’s a transcript over there too, where they spell arsehattery “ass-hattery”. The journalist was Will Ockenden.

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