Thursday, June 28, 2007

LinkedIn and Facebook

The press loves a food fight, good vs. evil, Microsoft vs. Netscape (Netscape? Remember them?), Microsoft vs. Linux, Microsoft vs. Google. Okay, enough already. The one I'll talk about today is LinkedIn vs. Facebook.

For those of you that have been living under a rock and use neither, LinkedIn is a social networking site where people can post their online resumes and search for jobs or business connections. I have been a member for several years and have several hundred people whom I have met over my career. I have used LinkedIn for doing research on companies and finding sources to interview for stories or leads to new story ideas, as well as a place where I can collect references for previous work that I have done for my consulting clients. It is also a great place to keep track of people when they change jobs, or about to. (The recent CMP layoffs were presaged by a flurry of connect requests, for example.)

Facebook is a social networking site that formerly was the exclusive domain of college students, and seems like the successor for MySpace when kids want something more grown-up. Its scope has been expanded twice recently: first to allow members from the general population to join, and most recently with a series of REST interfaces that developers could build applications on. It is one of the quickest growing sites around – according to the WSJ, they have added three million users since this latest development. I was one of them and joined a few weeks ago and now have 100 or so "friends." One of my motivations for joining was to communicate with my daughter, who used the site to do research and figure out where she wanted to go to college this fall by joining several groups and messaging people that eventually formed a group of entering freshman in her particular dorm.

Both services have their own messaging system so you never have to leave the service and use your regular email identity and you can also get info about your correspondents by clicking on their picture. This seems less useful to me – but then I already do too much email anyway. I see my daughter using email less and less because she lives in Facebook and doesn't want to check her email box.

The Facebook open application ploy is a smart one, and there are now close to a 1,000 different applications that people have put together. As the Journal points out, a popular music sharing app called iLike gets more revenues from Facebook users than from its own home page. I am sure that there are others that will be moneymakers in the near future too. What is interesting about the applications is that you can see what your friend network is using and this way get a lead on the more interesting ones that you might want to fool around with.

Up until now, LinkedIn was its own closed universe. They offered several different plans from free to several hundred dollars per month to make use of their services. I know a few people who have coughed up the cash but most are satisfied with the free service. They have begun their own developer program too, at least according to Techcrunch, but I couldn't find any details on their site. The details on the Facebook API are easy to find and seem well thought out.

Facebook is easier to build networks, easier than LinkedIn to set up your own groups (see if you can find my group called frosh dads), and easier than LinkedIn to customize your own home page with a lot of silly applications. There is even a group for LinkedIn users, where I got a lot of useful information and links to write this column. [And there is a discussion thread on LinkedIn about Facebook here.] But more importantly, it seems the people on Facebook you ask to be your "friend" are choosier and have somewhat of a higher threshold than on LinkedIn. I took the easy way of bulk uploading about 200 of my Gmail contacts to get started on Facebook, and I should have been more selective: Several people messaged me basically saying who the heck are you and why should I want to be your friend. That brought me back to thoughts of junior high and I don't want to get into that period of my life, believe me.

One person that sent me a "who are you" request turned out to be someone that I exchanged emails with 12 years ago and haven't heard from since. At least, he kept better records than I did, but it was nice to reconnect.

With LinkedIn, I get all sorts of requests to be connected with people that I honestly don't know and don't think I ever met or corresponded with. I mean no offense if you are one of those. When you write a weekly newsletter, you the reader know a lot more about me than I about you. Depending on my mood, I have either accepted them or denied them, with no real rationale.

Granted, the two networks serve vastly different audiences and purposes: I don't have any incentive to hide my true identity on LinkedIn, indeed, I want to be as specific as possible about my credentials and professional affiliations, because you never know what work might come in as a result. That is the opposite on Facebook, where you don't want unknown stalkers coming by, and where you might want to have multiple identities (if you are a teenager or college student) to see how to take your "friends" to "friends with benefits" level.

Alex Iskold has done an excellent analysis back in January about the two sites, showing traffic stats and their different approaches to their networks and content:

A more recent post by Ed Sim on this blog talks about the different rationales and audiences and has some insightful comments by his readers.

I'd be interested in your comments about both services. You can either send me an email directly, post a comment on my, or message me from within Facebook or LinkedIn. I'll tally all the replies and let you know across the board what happens.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

MS Home Server review

Here is a question for you: when was the last time you backed up your home's digital files? Maybe never? Bad answer.

Microsoft has been working on a solution, and it went into its final production throes this past week. The product is called Windows Home Server, and it is a stripped-down version of its Windows Server 2003 that normally costs a thousand bucks or so. For the time being, you can download a timed-version (it will work until December) freely from this link. You do need to sign up and answer a few questions to join the Connect service, which also has other pre-release software from Microsoft.

You need to install the software on a new machine: it will wipe your disk clean and boot up automatically with the Home Server running. The software is designed to run "headless" which means that you don't need to attach a monitor or a keyboard, once you get beyond certain basics that I will talk about in a moment. It will install the operating system, split your hard disk into two partitions (one for system files, one for data), and set up a bunch of shared drives for pictures, videos, files, and so forth. Think of this as layering a simple set of controls on top of the standard Windows server platform.

To access these shares, you will need to run another piece of software called Home Server Connector Software from each computer to set up the network connection. There are basically two different levels of access – "remote control" for the administrators that gives them access to the server control console, and ordinary file and printer shares for everyone else.

I tried it out on my home office network to mixed results. I liked a few things:

First, getting to the reason for this column, it is very easy to backup your PCs with this product, provided you have a big enough disk on the server's PC. You can choose what you want to backup, and it automagically does it in the middle of the night, when traffic is lightest (and presumably your PC that is to be backed up is still powered on). You can set up a different schedule if you are pickier.

Second, Home Server can also automatically synchronize its shared folders with ones on your local PC – that is a neat trick and something you might consider for say sharing your pictures or videos across the network, and something that has been standard with the Windows server line for some time.

Finally, you can control the server from outside your home, if it can figure out how to open up your home gateway ports. It uses UPnP to do this. Sadly, my 2Wire DSL gateway doesn't support this (it doesn't support a lot of other things, but that discussion will have to wait for another day). It would be nice if there were another alternative to UPnP, but there isn't.

Here are some things that I didn't like about the software.

First, you initially need complex passwords to set the darn thing up, meaning something with seven characters, upper and lower case and numbers too. That seems a bit onerous for the average home network. This can be loosened up once you get the first user going.

Second, when the install was done, it didn't recognize the Intel network adapter that was in a fairly recent Dell. Once I installed the right driver, I was good to go. Third, despite its headless installation, you will still need to be sitting in front of the server to set up a shared printer. Next, the only clients for this server are Windows XP with Service Pack 2 or Vista – if you have got anything older on your home network, and chances are good you do – then don't even bother with the product.

Is this a good deal? It is hard to tell until Microsoft sets pricing. There is still talk that it will be available both as a bundled piece of hardware from the usual suspects and as a software download, but we'll see.

If it does come as low-cost software and you have an older PC and can upgrade the storage, it might be worth it. But if you have older Windows and Macs, then no: you are better off buying either a Mac mini or a network-attached storage box and saving yourself the trouble.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

How to do your next teleconference

If you are like me, you probably spend a lot of time on teleconference calls. And like it or not, these calls rarely have everyone joining at the same time, so you end up spending a lot of time waiting at the beginning of the call for everyone to dial in. A new Web-based service is trying to fix that and make these calls more useful.

The service is called, and while it isn’t cheap, the productivity gains could pay for the cost of the calls. Here is how it works. You sign up on the company’s Web page with your email address, and you get an account with 100 free minutes to try out the service. You enter your participants names and phones numbers using your browser, and set up when the call is to begin. Then the service calls everyone and joins them together for the conference.

NOTE: As of 9/1/07, they are redoing the service and rebranding it under So not sure if it is still working at the moment.

Since the service is making outgoing calls, they charge you for each minute that everyone is connected. So if your call last ten minutes and has five people – including you – then that consumes 50 total minutes. You can buy minutes in bulk (250 minutes for $30, 1000 minutes for $80) to recharge your account when you run low.

There are a lot of Web-based free conference calling services out there that work the old-fashioned way: you email people a dial-in number and a password, and you have to wait for your parties to initiate the calls and connect in. (I have a list of them on if you are interested.) Gaboogie is the first one that I know that initiates the calls. You can create teleconferences in Skype, but it isn’t as simple and you are limited to a maximum of five participants.

So I like the idea behind Gaboogie, but the service still has some quirks. The Web control panel for the moderator is somewhat terse. If you want your conference call recorded, you can set this up ahead of time but then you have to listen to a recurring beep to indicate the recording during the call. That is somewhat annoying. Once the call is done, however, the recording can be downloaded as an mp3 file or as an RSS feed for others to listen to. (It would be nice if the mp3 file could remove the beep indicators from the recording, then these could easily become nice podcasts.) And the recording includes about a minute of music on hold at the beginning and about another minute at the end of the call.

All in all, Gaboogie is an interesting twist on an old idea. And maybe it will save some time on your next teleconference.

About Me

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David Strom has looked at hundreds of computer products over a more than 20 year career in IT and computer journalism. He was the founding editor-in-chief of Network Computing magazine, and now writes for Baseline, Information Security, Tom's Hardware, and the New York Times.