Hello is Broken.

For those of you trying to use Hello. . .it appears to be broken. However, the dev team claims they are working on a fix, so maybe it'll be back up soon.

In the meantime, I was planning to add a couple photos of my own to this space, but I guess that will have to wait.

This brings up an important question:

Is software a tool or a subscription service?

Programs like Hello blur the line.

As an example of the most extreme type of 'tool' type program, I have a stand-alone .exe called "timer.exe". It's a simple minute timer, like a kitchen timer, with three buttons. When the time is up, it makes your computer beep.

Handy for remembering to take cookies out of the oven, or reminding yourself that you should get offline in an hour and call a friend.

As a single, stand alone program, it's not hooked into any external servers at all, and can be transported from computer to computer as a single file with no need for internet access.

On the complete other side, you have something like, say, Myspace. Myspace is a subscription friends list/IM client/Blog/Storage space/Catchall built into a web interface. Technically, it's still (at some level) software, but without it's internet connection, it's about as useful as a piece of driftwood.

In between are programs like Gnutella and Hello. Technically you have to be able to sign into hello to use it, because it requires an internet connection to sync with the main servers. However, the issue at hand with Hello at the moment is that it's throwing an 'unverified address' error and demanding I verify an e-mail address that's already verified. Simply put, if that check wasn't in place, I could probably log in (since the account already exists) and still use the service. But in their enthusiasm to secure a database of contact points for their users (likely to be sold to the highest bidder, no matter what their privacy policy says) they demand that address, and thus inconvenience their users.

A more severe example of this was the America's Army game. Maybe some of you remember it. A free military combat simulation meant as a recruiting tool, completely free, providing you could afford to spend your time downloading a 600+ megabyte file.

The problem with AA when I downloaded it was that the registration servers were overloaded and unresponsive. So I downloaded an full self-installing program, installed the entire thing, and when I went to register recieved no e-mail to which I could reply to validate the registration. This was, frankly, frustrating as hell. It nearly turned me off to the entire experience. In fact, I didn't bother opening the game again for over a month, until friends asked me to get it running at a LAN party. Had they not asked, I probably would have uninstalled it later that month without ever having played it. Because I only wanted to playtest the game, I had no intention of taking it online and didn't need an online account, but because the army was using it as a recruiting tool, they demanded my information and validation of that information before I could unlock the 'free' game already installed on my own hard drive.

On the other hand are programs like Gnutella, that are decentralized and so open that despite the fact that they need you to connect to an online network, they build an architecture that makes that possible even if the primary servers go down! Literally, the decentralized structure makes the tools useable whether they are registered or not, because there is no server against which the system attempts to run any such check.

Personally I feel that whenever possible, software designers should strive towards a gnutella model. Rely as little on the company's servers as possible. This will build the most powerful, reliable client for the end user and ensure they have a better computing experience, which should build brand loyalty.

On the downside, you don't manage to get hold of e-mail addresses for all your users, but frankly we're all feeding you spam catchers anyway, so it's not like the benefit is that great, now is it?

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


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