SpinVox Through uReach A Suitable Replacement For Ribbit Mobile

By Mike Maddaloni on Thursday, March 01, 2012 at 09:59 AM with 5 comments

The blue skies and green pastures of Ribbit Mobile are no longer, but if you can’t live without mobile voicemail to text, you can get it from SpinVox through uReach.

screenshot of Ribbit Mobile home page in grayscale

(Note the above image of the Ribbit Mobile home page was changed to grayscale by me)

Ribbit Mobile was a service for translating voicemail messages to text and delivering that text message with an audio file of the voicemail message, and those messages would be delivered by email and SMS. For myself, I have used similar services for over 4 years, and having the luxury of reading the text of a voicemail when you don’t have the opportunity to dial in to listen (e.g. when you’re in a meeting), not to mention the ready-access archive of messages, was priceless.

And that was just the case with Ribbit Mobile – they were not charging for “beta” this service for the 2+ years I used it. Near the end of last year I recall getting a survey from them on how much I would be willing to pay for the service. Then in January of this year I got an email saying Ribbit Mobile would be shutting down altogether the end of January, and there was no alternative. Ribbit itself as a company would still be around as they offer other services, like an Android app for voicemail and an add-on to Salesforce.com. The service was still running for a couple of weeks after the announced date, and went down altogether on February 16.

As I said, this was a type of service you could get used to. I also have a similar voicemail to text service through Vonage which I use for my business phone. Prior to Ribbit Mobile I was part of the SpinVox consumer beta program which I talked about previously here at The Hot Iron. Interestingly, around the time SpinVox announced they were dropping their B to C service (they power Vonage’s voicemail to text) Ribbit Mobile came on the scene, and I was able to switch over with very little time without this type of service.

In between SpinVox and Ribbit Mobile I briefly used SpinVox through uReach, a company offering virtual voice, email and office solutions used by many small businesses. When Ribbit Mobile went away, I looked into see if it was still offered, and it took a call to uReach to find the “hidden” URL for the service (they offer it, but it’s not linked from their main Web site), and by visiting ureach.com/spinvox one can sign up for the voicemail to text service for $9.99/month plus usage fees for large volumes of voicemail. The uReach offering is not as robust as Ribbit’s, and for some reason breaks up voicemails when sent by SMS into several messages of 30 second lengths. But you can still get an email with the message text and audio file attached.

Am I the only one who will miss Ribbit Mobile? Am I the only one who uses voicemail to text? Please let me know in this post’s comments, as I know nobody else personally who uses, and loves, this type of service.

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This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni, Founder and President of Web consulting firm Dunkirk Systems, LLC.

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Google Reader Wants Your Favicon To Brand Your Blog

By Mike Maddaloni on Monday, December 19, 2011 at 07:04 AM with 0 comments

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. But can something that is barely a quarter of an inch square make the difference in whether people read the words of your blog?

Among the recent changes to the user interfaces and experience of Google applications over the past few weeks, favicons are now showing up next to the titles of blogs in their feed reader, Google Reader. Favicons, as I have talked about here on The Hot Iron before, are a 16 pixel square icon that is displayed in the address bar and bookmarks of most all PC/Mac and mobile Web browsers. Their real value is when scanning bookmarks or scrolling thru the history in the address bar as they provide visual cues to which site is which, providing enhanced differentiation from plain text Web URLs. For years I have always added favicons to sites I build in my Web consulting business and I continue to evangelized about them.

Google Reader blog list screen shotWith the addition of the favicon to Google Reader, not only a reader can leverage this visual cue convenience, but brands of all form – personal and business – can gain by adding a visual where previously there has been just text in the list of blogs available to be read. Pictured here is a screen shot of my own Google Reader, where you can see a selection of blogs I read, along with their favicons. For most of these, the favicon extends their branding very well, such as with this blog and Active Travels, which is a client. One example here that does not leverage any branding is ChicagoBusiness.com from Crain’s. Where the Web site itself has a favicon, the RSS feed, which is aggregated with others in Google Reader, does not. I cannot say why specifically, but it must be related to how its Web server and RSS feed is configured. I did nothing unique or specific to add the favicon to The Hot Iron's RSS feed.

Another observation I made is that some blog feeds had the “default” favicon for the Web server or Web hosting provider. Many blogs – and I will spare them embarrassment buy not mentioning them by name – have a 3 by 3 grid of squares, which is the favicon for Web host BlueHost. If you don’t change the default favicon that is in a root folder on the Web server, then whatever is there will be “discovered” and used.

Favicons are a small but mighty file that can go miles to extend your brand. Does your Web site have a favicon? Let myself and other readers know by commenting on this post, as well as any questions you may have on favicons.

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This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni, Founder and President of Web consulting firm Dunkirk Systems, LLC.

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Nokia E6 Unboxing And Thoughts

By Mike Maddaloni on Friday, October 28, 2011 at 04:00 AM with 0 comments

Granted, the talk this week has been on the announcements coming from London at Nokia World about new Windows Mobile devices as well as new devices specifically designed towards emerging markets. However, a few months back I had the opportunity to evaluate a Nokia E6,which is still alive and well and selling in the US and other countries.

Thanks to the folks at Nokia Connects (formerly WOMWorld/Nokia) I was able to use this device for a few weeks. But first I had to open the package, and here’s my initial reaction to the E6 – view the embedded video below or watch the Nokia E6 unboxing video on YouTube.

It wasn’t until I watched the video that I realized the heavy comparisons I made between the E6 and the Nokia E72, which is my primary mobile device, or my “workhorse” as I like to call it. This was due to the form factor, which are very similar. Besides that and the quality of the construction, these devices are different. On the hardware front, it has a touchscreen, something I miss from my days as a Palm user. The camera is a mixed blessing – taking 8 megapixel photos but with a full-focus rather than auto-focus camera. With some of the tests I did – mostly of my kids so I won’t post them here – the full focus worked great when they sat still (rarely) and was a disappointment when they were moving or I wanted to get a close-up shot (usually the case).

In my evaluation period I did not completely switch to using it, namely a time issue for me. But I did carry the 2 devices with me at the same time and tried similar tasks and did put my SIM card in it and used it for calls. I was pleased with its usability and liked the Symbian^3 features that I am still getting used to. The main reason I still use the E72 – the physical keyboard – is also a selling point for the E6. Granted I could probably get used to an on-screen keyboard eventually, but for how I use a device, it’s nice to have the physical keys to bang on.

Where the E6 will fit into the mix of Nokia’s devices is unclear, but I guess its price may drop, which will put a touchscreen, full keyboard mobile device in the hands of many people easily, and no need to go thru a Blackberry service as you can directly connect to POP and Exchange mail!

Below is an embedded slideshow of photos I took of both the E6 and E72 – view it there or on Flickr.

The device has long been returned to Nokia Connects, but I welcome your thoughts and questions on it in the comments.

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This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni, Founder and President of Web consulting firm Dunkirk Systems, LLC.

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Dell Latitude E6320 Unboxing and Initial Thoughts

By Mike Maddaloni on Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 04:00 AM with 3 comments

As someone who has used Dell PCs over the years and not too long ago evaluated a Dell Vostro 130 - I was thrilled when Dell, through the Zocalo Group, offered a new Dell notebook as a gift. As with any piece of electronics I receive – as a gift or for evaluation – I make an unboxing video, and you can watch the unboxing of this Dell Latitude E6320 below or on YouTube.

As you can see, I initially was told I was getting a Dell Latitude E5420, and instead it was an E6320 – I still need to pour thru the configuration, but from my initial review of the models on Dell’s Web site they are similar.

Since I made the video, here’s a couple of thoughts and items to note. I found how to turn on backlighting the keyboard, and it is a nice feature, especially when working late at night at home (note that working late at night at home in itself is not a nice feature!). It also does not run hot similar to the Dell Vostro 1410 I am using now, and will be replaced by this Latitude E6320. I have also liked using Windows 7, and it will be a nice transition from Windows XP.

The plan is to now setup the E6320 with all my software, files and any special settings and use it as the primary work PC. I had one setback in doing so from a time perspective when I mistakenly installed the hard drive encryption software and had to reinstall Windows 7 and the drivers. As the DVDs were included, this was not as painful of a process as it could have been, but it took time to do so, and I am just now getting to really using this hardware.

Over time I will share my thoughts on this Dell Latitude E6320, and you can find them here at The Hot Iron as well on Twitter – follow @thehotiron and @dunkirk. Special thanks to the Zocalo Group for offering me this machine. And as generous as they and Dell have been, it will certainly not cloud my judgment of my reviews and thoughts on this PC! As always, I welcome your thoughts and questions on it in the comments of this post.

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This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni, Founder and President of Web consulting firm Dunkirk Systems, LLC.

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Mike Maddaloni Interviewed On Open Source for Web Central Station

By Mike Maddaloni on Wednesday, August 03, 2011 at 10:27 AM with 0 comments

 Web Central Station logoRecently I was interviewed by CT Moore for the Web site Web Central Station on the topic of open source development and interoperability. As I have worked with both open source and commercial software and development tools over my career, I welcomed the opportunity to share my perspective with their readers.

You can read the article here on the Web Central Station Web site, which is a Canadian Web site sponsored by Microsoft. In short, as I have always said to my consulting clients at Dunkirk Systems, LLC, it is about the right tools or technology for the project.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with me? I welcome your comments, either here on The Hot Iron or at Web Central Station.

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This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni, Founder and President of Web consulting firm Dunkirk Systems, LLC.

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QR Code Buried On Outdoor Signage

By Mike Maddaloni on Thursday, April 07, 2011 at 03:05 PM with 1 comments

QR codes are not afraid of heights. Despite this, they still tend to be placed in obscure places, and in this place, mere inches from the ground.

The following sign was up for the month of September last year in Chicago’s Millennium Park.

photo of QR code on event sign in Millennium Park, Chicago

From a distance, you can barely see the QR code at the bottom right of the sign. I saw it, but I digress. Here’s a closer shot of the sign.

photo of QR code on detailed event sign in Millennium Park, Chicago

I was able to get a closer shot, but I had to squat down to take the picture.

photo of QR code detail on event sign in Millennium Park, Chicago

The code did work at the time, but it brings up an error, now several months later.

Where it’s always nice to see a QR code in action, why implement one so poorly? The position so low to the ground makes it less likely to see, let alone scan. If you do scan it, you’d have to squat down or have to bend over in an awkward position. The description accompanying the code could be made much clearer and concise. I also encountered issues scanning the code as the protective clear plastic over the poster caused a reflection and didn’t allow me to quickly scan the code.

How could this have been improved? By simply moving it from the bottom right to the top right would have helped adoption. This would have positioned it at just above waist level, that is for someone like myself just under 6 feet. Making the accompanying text clearer may have helped as well, or simply having it say, “scan here or visit explorechicago.org” would have been all that was needed.

So, would you have even bothered to have scanned a code in such a location? Share that or any other thoughts in the comments of this post.

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This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni, Founder and President of Web consulting firm Dunkirk Systems, LLC.

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Nokia E7 Unboxing Video And Initial Observations

By Mike Maddaloni on Tuesday, April 05, 2011 at 10:09 AM with 3 comments

Thanks to the folks at WOMWorld/Nokia I have received a brand new Nokia E7 mobile device to evaluate. I made the following video of the opening of the package and unboxing the device. It is embedded below, or follow this link and view it on YouTube.

As you can see (if you watched it) WOMWorld/Nokia outdid themselves again and created a custom outer wrapper for the device with a tweet I sent and signed by Nokia’s new CEO Stephen Elop.

The E7 is a solid device – made of metal, and feels solid when you hold it. This isn’t the first time I held an E7, as I got to try a pre-release model owned by Nokia staff when I went to Microsoft TechEd last fall in Berlin, but this is the first time I got to try it out myself. As a result, I gave the slide-up of the display to expose the keyboard a good workout, for as I said in the video, I work a device to its fullest extent!

Off To The Races But With Caution

Now that I have unboxed the E7, I will charge it, put in my T-Mobile SIM card, sync the device with my contacts and calendar and use it as my primary device. I am interested in getting to know the Symbian^3 operating system, use the camera and make my own observations on it, take advantage of the full keyboard and just plain see how it works for me.

That being said, as I was charging it and I was getting a feel for device, I made an observation I hadn’t heard before – there are no holes in the device to attach a wrist strap! I say this with an exclamation, as every Nokia device I have used over the years – going back to the Nokia 105 I had in the early 90’s - had them. Though I don’t have a wrist strap on my Nokia E72, I see the need for one on the E7 namely due to how I see using the camera. As it has a full touch screen and with the positioning of the shutter button, I would want the strap for both positioning the camera and ensuring I don’t drop the device! As the E7 has a flip screen, I can’t see how a case could be wrapped around it which would have wrist strap holes.

Look for more to come on the E7. Is there something you would like me to try out on the device? Share your ideas and thoughts in the comments for this post.

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Dunkirk Powers Valcour Strategic Group Web Site With MojoMotor

By Mike Maddaloni on Monday, March 14, 2011 at 04:00 AM with 2 comments

We at my Web consulting firm Dunkirk Systems, LLC are proud to announce the re-launch of a Web site that barely looks different than before, but has a completely new infrastructure behind the scenes.

Valcour Strategic Group, LLC is a long-time Dunkirk client and we have collaborated on mutual client projects in the past. Valcour is a Strategic Growth Focused Consulting Services Firm committed to developing and launching New Technology Products that benefit the Water, Food, and Beverage Processing Markets in North America. Their Web site at www.valcourstrategic.com has been live for several years, and has been a static Web site, meaning any changes to the content of the site were a technical task to change hard-coded Web pages. This posed issues with making even the smallest of changes as soon as they were needed. Valcour needed greater content management capabilities with their Web site, but their needs were straight-forward and didn’t need a robust CMS, at least not yet.

screen of Valcour Strategic Group, LLC Web site

After making many changes to their Web site and understanding their needs, I felt a new CMS called MojoMotor would solve their needs, and it is now live powering their Web site. MojoMotor was released last fall by EllisLab, who also offer ExpressionEngine, Dunkirk’s preferred CMS upon which we have built many client Web sites, blogs and forums. MojoMotor positions itself as “the publishing engine that does less,” and the question was if less was more for Valcour. After reviewing the technology with Norman LaVigne, Valcour’s founder and president, he gave the ok for the project.

So how has MojoMotor worked for Valcour? In hs own words, Norman said, “I have made numerous text updates since going live with MojoMotor. I like the ease of doing this so I can tweak something on the site quickly and keep it aligned with my business without having to accumulate changes and do them all at once later.”

Dunkirk is now offering MojoMotor as part of our CMS offering. There are many times when a robust CMS is needed, and in some cases it is not. A great feature of MojoMotor is a built-in upgrade path to ExpressionEngine. Where a Web site may start out with basic needs, when those are exceeded, there is a path to expansion, and greatness!

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Microsoft Playfully Asks You To Stop Using Internet Explorer 6 Web Browser

By Mike Maddaloni on Tuesday, March 08, 2011 at 02:29 PM with 6 comments

Microsoft recently launched a program for “moving the world off Internet Explorer 6” called the Internet Explorer 6 Countdown, aptly at IE6Countdown.com. For some of you reading this, hearing about this may be somewhat amusing, for others, you may not know why Microsoft would want this to happen. I will try to address the reasons for upgrading your browser here, and why many – including myself – want IE6 to go away!

screen of IE6Countdown.com

A Lot Has Happened In A Decade

IE6 was launched on August 27, 2001. A lot has happened in the area Web technology since then. Web programming standards have changed, with an emphasis towards heavy use of cascading style sheets (CSS) to position content on a Web page, when previously HTML tables were used. This has made Web code “lighter” in it’s physical file size, as well as ease of maintenance. As IE6 itself has not changed, many newer Web pages may display differently, or not display at all. This forces Web designers and developers to add functionality and code to display specific code on IE6 that is different than on other browsers, which only adds to future maintenance.

As well, other browsers have entered the marketplace, including Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Opera. These browsers have been designed to render newer Web standards properly, though each has its own nuances. Not to mention newer features to the browsers, such as tabbed browsing and subscribing to RSS feeds. One feature of these other browsers is in their ability to “self-update” and apply incremental changes to the browser software, and prompt the user to download completely new versions of the browser. IE6 does not do this. Windows Update will prompt a PC user to install a new browser version or incremental browser update, but the user can opt not to install them. In some cases, a user may not even have the option – these tend to be corporate users, who centrally control what updates are made on a corporate computer.

Another reason why corporate users may not use the latest browsers is due to some corporate Web applications requiring IE6 to run. Many of these apps may not have a business need to change, thus corporate IT staff have made no efforts to upgrade the browsers. Only newer versions of Windows have come with newer versions of the browser, and hopefully by then these apps have changed for the newer versions.

So Why A Campaign?

Microsoft relied on people to upgrade the browsers themselves, and in many cases the browser never updated or upgraded. Also, IE6 was viewed as slow and unfriendly, which attributed to a migration away from them. People may use IE6 on occasion – for certain Web apps that required it – but would use Firefox or another browser as their primary browser. Thus not only did IE6 lose market share, IE browsers overall lost market share. So why not a marketing campaign to bring attention to the browser already installed on your PC?

Where the idea of a campaign around a countdown to IE6 going away is interesting, it’s just that – clever marketing. If you look at the chart on the IE6 countdown Web site, the country with the largest use if IE6 is China, which raises all sorts of questions around piracy as well as their ability to even get access to the newer browsers.

As someone who build Web sites, I have IE6 installed on a computer I use, and this is namely for testing my Web sites. My primary browser is Firefox 3, and I also use Google Chrome on occasion, both for Web browsing and testing Web sites. I agree the world would be a better place without IE6. Unfortunately I don’t think this campaign will make it go away completely.

I once had an idea about how to rid the world of IE6 – rather than have a marketing campaign, hold a contest for someone to write a virus or malware which would replace a version of IE6 with a newer version of IE. Though ethics heavily come into play, it would certainly be more effective!

What do you think of this campaign? Do you still use IE6? I welcome your thoughts and reasons in the comments of this post.

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Empty Storefront And Blank Web Page Only Signs Of New Chicago CityTarget

By Mike Maddaloni on Saturday, March 05, 2011 at 04:00 AM with 1 comments

Last month there was joy in downtown Chicago as Target finally announced it would open a small-format store in the Sullivan Center, the former location of Carson Pirie Scott, called CityTarget. I say finally as the rumors of this move by the Minneapolis-based discount retailer have been around for over a year. As someone who both lives and works in the Loop, this is very welcome news.

Yet over 2 weeks after the announcement, there is no outward sign the store is opening. As you can see in the accompanying photo, there is no sign or bullseye logo at the corner of State and Madison Streets – only an exhibit by the School of the Art Institute is in the window.

photo of Sullivan Center, Chicago

When I heard of the name CityTarget, the first thing that popped into my mind was if Target had the domain name citytarget.com. It does, and wisely registered the name back in 2004. But if you go to www.citytarget.com, there is only a blank Web page. What does the normally boastful retailer have to hide?

Though no official date has been set for CityTarget’s opening, I do hope it’s soon, and I do hope they make some effort to promote it – the long empty windows of this historic building could use a little color.

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