All posts by David Gitonga

I am a freelance web developer with a passion for writing. My online projects are a labor of love and caffeine. I am a avid reader and writer and student for life. You can follow me on G+ at https://plus.google.com/101405562807454400127?rel=author

Your internet activities aren’t as safe as you thought

NSAThe idea of snooping on undersea cables is not alien in the world of counter-intelligence. In fact, it was in use by the US against the Soviet Union as early as 1970s. Even though such an escapade in the early 70s would only yield specific information, tapping into the current undersea fiber optic cables gives access to streams of highly valuable information. This is an opportunity that one of the most powerful agencies in the world, National Security Agency (NSA) might have found too lucrative to forego.

How your data can be captured

PRISM

The information regarding how NSA pulls out this alleged massive data “theft” remains hazy. While some sources claim that the agency makes use of a “prism” (hence the program’s codename) to split the light beams in the fiber optics cables into two , one for their own use and another to continue with its journey, experts argue that this is too complex a procedure to effectively sustain.

According to a Deutsche Welle report, it would be easier to do the tapping at regeneration points and sometimes landing stations since at these points the data is split out and more easier to tap into. Nonetheless, all sources seem to concur with the fact that probes and prisms are used to create a replica beam of the light without disrupting the “flow of the original Internet traffic.”

NSA collaborators

collaborator spys

Just like anything else that has ever been associated with NSA, the details about the scheme remain closely guarded with none of the allegedly associated entities accepting the responsibility. Many claim that NSA collaborates with internet service providers and landing country authority to gain access to the data trunk, allegations that most of these players vehemently denounce.

With no one accepting responsibility, not even Google or Facebook who allegedly collude with the agency to deliver detailed user information, it is hard to figure out how deep the intrusion is. There is the probability that NSA does not go through all the information it diverts. Nonetheless, experts like Tim Stronge from TeleGeography believes that if the PRISM is real, it has the power to tap into large amounts of data from different sources since data over the internet will take “the least congested route that is available to their providers.”

The way forward

The NSA internet backbone breach, if true, will not really get many internet users off guard. Even though NSA vehemently denounces the allegations and claims that it cannot even search its own emails, many internet users know that all the information they transmit online is bound to be stolen by one counter intelligence agency or another. Some argue that it makes the internet a safer place to be in; others believe that this is a direct violation of the fourth amendment of the United States constitution.

Music discovery app Shazam raises $40 million in preparation for IPO

Shazam

Shazam, in an effort to prepare itself before going public, recently hired a new CEO.  The company, which is well known for its music discovery app, has more good news to share before finally going public. The company has raised $40 million from America Movil, and enters into a business partnership with the company, which is seen as a move to bring its media products to the carrier’s subscribers, and in turn, boost its user base.

Shazam’s growth has been astounding, currently standing at 350 million users, which is twice the number of users it had just two years ago. Active monthly users have also increase, up from 22 million two years ago, to 70 million.

According to the executive chairman of Shazam, Andrew Fisher, the company is growing incredibly quickly prompting the need to purchase more capacity to support this growth as people spend more time using the service. He also said that the company is looking to innovate much faster as a result of this growth and the funding should give it the needed boost to move in this direction. Some of these innovations include the introduction of notable updates in its television product which should enable users discover ads and programs playing on screen. Other notable improvements include the application of emerging technologies such as audio and image recognition, which should make it much easier for people to engage with media and brands that they are interested in.

According to Fisher, the new funding will not change the company’s IPO timetable. While not disclosing more details as to when it will go public, he gives the assurance that the company will be ready once it goes through another phase of growth.

Shazam was founded in 2000. In 2011, it launched its Shazam for TV service which shows specific mobile-optimized content including social features. Shazam is currently in use in more than 200 countries.

An introduction to developing software for Google Glass

glass development

Now that Google Glass is quickly becoming a mainstream product, have you wondered how you can develop for Glass? Well, you don’t have to wonder anymore because Google has made available the Google Mirror API to help developers build web-based services that interact with Google Glass.

The developer guide gives a detailed explanation of how to develop timeline items, menu items, create subscriptions, enable location data, access to contacts and enable authorization. However, despite the ease of development for Glass, Google has also published developer guidelines to ensure that developers create applications that offer the desired user experience.

Timeline Items

Timeline items or cards, display content on Glass and can either be swiped forwards or backwards to reveal more cards in the past or future. The guideline shows how to insert, attach update, read, and delete timeline cards.

Menu Items

In order to make your services interesting, you need to allow users to interact with timeline cards. This can be done through menu items where users can tell glass to read a card aloud, navigate to a location, share the card contents, or reply to a message. Menu items can populated from a list of built-in items or custom created.

Subscriptions

When a user takes specific timeline actions or changes location, you can subscribe to such notifications. There are different notification types for different events. Some of these notification payloads include Shared timeline item, a reply,  a delete notification, a custom menu item selected, or a location update.

Location

User’s location be requested using the Google Mirror API including their last known location and periodic location updates. The API can also render maps and overlay makers and lines to signify important places and paths.

Contacts

The Glass API can allow users to share your timeline items with other contacts by allow them to tap a share menu item which displays a list of possible contacts to share with. It can also allow users to share timeline items with Glassware where you create a contact that represents Glassware and allow users to share with this contact. This can be declared to limit sharing for only specific cards.

Authorization

All requests to the Google Mirror API must be authorized using OAuth 2.0 credentials. When users load applications for the first time, they are presented with a dialog to grant permission to access their Google Glass account.  This one-time authorization is all that is needed even when your app is being used offline.

Developer Tools

Google has made available developer tools to help you get started with Glass Apps. The Google Mirror API Playground lets you experiment with content display while the Subscription Proxy can be used to subscribe to notifications in a production environment.

Qwiki becomes Yahoo!’s 11th acquisition under Marissa Mayer

Yahoo-acquires-QwikiYahoo! recently announced that it has acquired the New York startup Qwiki, bringing the total number of acquisitions under the tenure of Marissa Mayer to 11. Originally a video search engine web platform since 2010, Qwiki shut down its web platform early this year and launched a social mobile video app after its iPad version of the app got about two million downloads.

After moving migrating back to New York from San Francisco, the company adopted the new focus in an effort to work with media brands such as ABC News. Qwiki works by organizing your photos and videos by date, location, and time of day and clumping it all together. It selects a song from your iTunes library based on your listening behavior, adds media, and allows you to edit the filters and captions before rolling a minute-long Qwiki with all of your iOS device’s camera roll. According to the founder and CEO, Doug Imburce, Qwiki was never intended to be a video-sharing app, but rather, a storytelling app.

What The New Acquisition Brings to Yahoo!

QwikiAs it has done with most of its acquisitions, Yahoo! will not kill off the brand. Instead, it will continue to support the app while the team joins the company in New York to reimagine the company’s storytelling experiences.

The mayor of New York city, Michael R. Bloomberg was also kind enough to comment on the new acquisition saying: “Qwiki is a great example of the momentum in New York City’s booming tech sector. While the company was started out west, they relocated here to be a part of our surging tech community… We congratulate them on their partnership with Yahoo!, and hope they continue to grow and thrive in New York City.”

Since taking over as CEO of Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer has spearheaded the acquisition of nearly a dozen startups that cost less than $100 million. These include Alike, Astrid, GoPolloGo, Jybe, Loki, Milewise, OntheAir, Snip.it, Stamped, Summly and now Qwiki.

What’s next for Yahoo!? As of this writing, Yahoo!’s Tumblr blog was updated with the news that the company had acquired Xobni, an address book app creator, bringing the total number of acquisitions by Mayer to 12.

Prepare for the upcoming Google Reader shutdown with 5 alternatives

Google ReaderIn an effort to consolidate its services, Google Reader shuts down on July 1, 2013. The rise and growth of Google+ has seen a bunch of shutdowns and we can expect to see more as the company looks to focus more on its key products.

With Google Reader gone, it is time to look for alternatives for subscribing to RSS feeds. Here are five alternatives that should help you get everything – well, nearly everything – you got from Google Reader.

1. Feedly

Feedly, under the project called Normandy, had been preparing for a Google Reader API clone since the shutdown for announced, and you now have an alternative that should help you seamlessly transition from Google Reader to Feedly. The Feedly service is supported on iOS, Android, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome. This Feedly blog post shows you how you can make that seamless transition and ensure you do not miss any updates from your favorite blogs now that Google Reader is gone.

2. NetVibes

NetVibes opened a new home for millions of Google Readers recently by offering a dual dashboard-and-reader combo which, unlike other alternatives, is powered by its own real-time RSS engine that is completely independent of Google. NetVibes comes with an ecosystem of over 260,000 apps and feeds, social search, syncing across multiple devices, and works on iOS, Android and desktop browsers.

3. NewsBlur

This is a personal news reader runs on iOS, Android, and on web browsers. It is a free service with premium subscriptions if you want to support growing services and unlock a few restrictions. The service offers four RSS feed views which are Original, Feed, Story, and Text. Original offers readers the original design and typeface of a given site. The Feed view is the plain old RS feed you are used to. The Story view shows individual blog posts one at a time, and the Text view shows the original story’s extracted article text, which may not be 100% perfect.

4. FeedDemon

For Windows users, FeedDemon will continue to offer its services which includes keyword tagging, Feed Watches, the ability to search feeds, and the ability to automatically download audio podcasts.

5. Google Currents

It’s not all bye-bye from Google. Google Currents is another excellent alternative available on iOS and Android devices which turns your blogs into an attractive, shareable and favoritable magazine. It is able to aggregate your content into categories to help you better enjoy your content.

There we have it, 5 Google Reader alternatives that you can use to ensure you are updated on what’s new on your favorite blogs and online destinations.

An introduction to mobile app testing

Testing Apps

By now, it should be evident that smartphones are the next big thing. The explosion of consumer apps can be seen in just about every industry. Location intelligent mobile commerce apps, magazine apps, real-time trading apps, and gaming and social networking apps are just a few of the industry verticals experiencing this shift.

Mobile adoption has been experiencing exponential growth in the last few years and the trend does not seem to be stopping. This means that mobile apps will continue to become ever more critical to the success of businesses and companies. As such, what steps are you taking to prepare yourself for this technological revolution that is already unfolding?

One way to do this is to make sure your mobile apps are optimized and ready to go when users need them.

Apps on Mobile

According to a recent study, 60 percent of mobile users will only give your website or app three seconds to load otherwise they will abandon you. If you thought this was tough, then consider that out of those users, 43 percent do not intend to ever return to your app or site – EVER.  How then can you ensure that your app works the way its supposed to on multiple OS platforms? Should you test in-house or outsource? Can testing increase app store ratings? What are the challenges of app testing?

Lets get some answers to these questions…

Functional Testing

This includes checking the screen real estate, finding device specific bugs, normal use test, and idle run test. Exploring the application in a number of devices will help in locating usability problems. Device specific bugs can be identified as such when they are not reproducible on a desktop browser.

It is also imperative that you test battery usage by running the application 6-12 hours using an automated testing tool.

Usability Testing

apps_v14

This includes testing the functionality, layout & design, as well as the application interaction flow. This level of testing tries to make sure the user can complete tasks easily and without becoming frustrated.  Usability testing will also include ensure that apps are not crammed with so many features that they leave the users feeling overwhelmed. The goal should be to focus on immersive use that allows users to gain mastery of the content as opposed to quick hits that dilute app usability.

Load, Performance and Localization Testing

Performance issues such as crashes and hangs are common user complaints. These need to be addressed early before consumers divert to competitor apps and services. Your app should also support features unique to specific markets.

We can be sure that mobile apps are not going anywhere anytime soon, which means that when you spend time perfecting your app through testing, you are not losing anything but investing in the future of your company or business.

Meet the new Google Maps

Google-Maps-Preview

If you were at the Google I/O (or weren’t), you are probably aware of the major redesign changes that were launched for Google Maps.  One thing you will quickly notice is the approach that Google has taken to provide a more intuitive interface that takes away the clutter and leaves you with a clean and clear way of exploring neighborhoods and other destinations.

Interestingly, we can also see a future glimpse of where maps may be going. Google has modeled a few cities around the world in 3D letting you enter the third dimension and get a new perspective of the world. This feature is similar to Apple’s “Flyover” function of its own mapping service but Google definitely know how to create buzz for it and deliver a much more intuitive experience.

Improved Search in Maps

Google Maps Screenshot

Of course, the ultimate ability of maps is to be able to search locations and get the exact information you are looking for. Though not quite your Knowledge Graph experience, the new Google Maps takes search a notch higher by letting you get better results when you search for restaurants, hotels, and world attractions. However, that is not the end of it. Google wants a more personalized experience in all of its products that you use, and this includes the new maps. As you use the search feature, Google Maps will be able to learn about your likes, favorites, and destinations, and this information, yes you guessed it, will be used to recommend places and destinations.

Info Cards

Google has added a new feature to help both businesses and you, get the right information to you. When you click on a business, an info card comes up below the search box with the business’ address, directions, web URL, phone number and hours of operation. Rather than having to navigate out of Google Maps to get all this information, you now have everything you need inside the maps interface. Again, the more you use maps to search for businesses, the better the maps become at recommending places and venues with the option of writing reviews.

Images

Google seems to value the use of images in most of its products and Google Maps is one of these tools where images really shine and give you a whole new perspective in search. At the bottom of any location you search, you will see a scrolling menu of images that you can click through to enjoy a photo tour. These images are pulled from Google+, Picasa, and Android phones from owners. Google also contributes its own sets of photos. Google seems to be particularly interested in user-generated photos where it is able to pull up several photos of the same building but during different times of the year and through the eyes of different photographers to give you an amazing photo tour.

Directions in Maps

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We all love to get driving directions when looking at maps. But how about directions when using different transportation options such as public transit, walking, biking or flying? Google now brings this ability to the new Google Maps allowing you to compare the different directions and see which is the quickest and readily available.

Clearly, what Google is doing with maps is very similar to what it has done with search results – personalize our experiences. When you click on search, you are now presented with localized and highly personalized results rather than from results across the globe. Google Maps seem to be taking the same direction.

You can try out the new Maps with the following link: http://maps.google.com/help/maps/helloworld/desktop/preview/

Why Coding is the New Black

What job skill do you think will be most valuable by the year 2020? As it turns out, the world runs on code and as you can expect, coding will be a valuable skill set to have by then. In fact, so many companies and individuals are so optimistic about this that there are now a slew of startups on the Web dedicated to teaching you how to code.

Code

If you are little way past grammar school, don’t lose hope because the Web can take care of this for your. You can either decide to take specialized education programs or teach yourself how to code using the hundreds of websites and resources available online, most of them at no cost.

Where Do You Start?

Learning HTML and CSS can be a good foundation to learning code. These also happen to be the building blocks of web design. You can start by learning the basic syntax and simple browser animations to get you up to speed.  One of my favorite websites is Codecademy which takes the classroom approach by giving you small quizzes along the way. The website comes with a progress monitor as well as a white board that allows you to make errors, correct and re-learn, effectively teaching you what works and what doesn’t.

HTML

If you are the sort who likes to watch as opposed to reading, there is still hope for you. Treehouse, a startup that offers instructional videos on coding and programming languages is a great place to get your feet wet. The website teaches you how to build websites, create iPhone and Android apps, code with PHP and even start a business: all using video. You get over 1,000 videos in the different areas of web technology, take quizzes and interactive code challenges, as well as earn badges as you monitor your progress along the way.

According to the co-founder of GonnaBe, a location-based app, “Understanding data at any scale requires a computer to run numbers, not a calculator. In today’s big data world, that means coding.” The CTO of Osurv Mobile Research, a smartphone survey company, echoes similar sentiments regarding big data by saying, “A new coder better understand what that means and how to handle it. Every company has access to a gold mine of consumer insight in the form of analytics, social networks, activity logs, etc. The challenge in managing that information is developing a process to extract high-value bits and act on the quickly.”

Learning the basics of coding is a skill set that can last a decade despite the complex and dynamic world of programming. Coding is the new literacy and will separate those who are tech literate and the tech illiterate. It can make you a better leader and business person and make you marketable in a more tech-oriented world.

If you can learn to code, do it. You won’t regret it.

Updates from Google I/O – What is New on Google Play and Chrome

 900M Androids

Once again, the Google I/O event was an opportunity for Google to showcase what magic and innovation they have been cooking up in their labs. This year, they did not disappoint and came through as usual. Here is my take on what I loved about the new developer tools.

900 million Androids activations as of 2013 was probably the big opening news during the event. The android ecosystem is truly amazing and continues to grow. Another notable addition was Cloud Save when gaming which allows you to pause a game and continue playing on other devices.

 Google Play

I0 Public View

 Optimization was also a big deal during the event. Google now offers optimization tips to help you see where you can improve your apps. This includes giving you such services like App Translation Services and tablet usage to help you determine where your users are coming from and how you can make their experiences better.

Referral tracking is another new feature to help you determine which ads are most effective. By showing which channels are bringing you most traffic, usage metrics will also be available together in the same place without having to navigate to Google Analytics.

Revenue Graphs now allow you to see revenue streams at your fingertips down to specific countries and time. Beta Testing & Staged Rollouts were also introduced to help you manage app rollouts.

Chrome

I0

Chrome was created to make the Web a better place. Google announced that the Chrome user growth has now reached 750 million active users. With most of this increasing new growth is coming from mobile, Google showcased a demo of Web GL which comes to Chrome that was not available just last year.

The browser is a means and not an end in itself, and Google seems to be concentrating on bringing Chrome capabilities to mobile by increasing JavaScript speeds. The introduction of WebP image format was also showcased with an animated GIF of a cat.

Video formats encoded in H.264 and VP9 were also showcased, with the later being 69 percent smaller which would translate to less bandwidth costs. To enable adoption of these new technologies, Google introduced data compression on Chrome for Mobile to enable web pages load faster. It was also announced that YouTube will soon be offering support for the new VP9 video format.

Autocomplete for checkout has also been simplified to make shopping on mobile phones much easier. One you do an initial checkup, Chrome saves up all of your info. The next time you come to fill out the checkout form, it is automatically populated saving time.

You can also build your own HTML tags with the introduction of web components which is where Google wants to take web development.

A nice demo of a game using Web sockets to keep different devices synchronized during gameplay was also showcased.

The rise of personal assistant apps

Google Now Personal Assistant
Google Now Personal Assistant

Mobile personal assistants like Siri and Google Now have changed the capabilities of our mobile devices.  They have allowed us to experience the web in a new way by simplifying how we organize our contacts, meetings, travel and even personal information. While these two assistants are probably the most popular, they are not the only ones that offer the service. A new breed of personal assistants is on the rise.

If you are looking for alternatives to Siri or Google Now, you will be spoiled with options. As mobile apps get better at pulling our personal information and analyzing it, they are able to let us quickly and efficiently locate what we need, and even predict our next steps.

Innovative new personal assistant apps

2013-05-09_09h52_52One of these recently launched apps is Osito (formerly known as Sherpa), created by Bill Ferrell, a former Google Adwords product manager. The app brings a new approach to “predictive assistance” by anticipating your next step and pushing that information to you. Osito is able to pop up tasks from your calendar based on your location. It will, for example, bring up hotel reservation information as soon as your flight has landed as opposed to digging for that information when in a taxi. If it is expected to rain soon, Osito will bring up that information 15 minutes before it starts raining, letting you make the necessary choices before you are caught unawares.

A wild Siri clone appears!

We are also seeing a number of Siri clones appearing on mobile devices. The Optimus series smartphones from LG, for example, now sports the LG Q Voice (formerly Quick Voice), which is an intelligent voice recognition software. Aisha is another voice recognition app which helps to query your contacts and make calls, send messages and know the nearest pizza outlet among other details. BlackBerry users also have their own personal assistant by the name of Vlingo, which is also available on iOS devices as well as on certain Android phones.

Some personal assistants can be quite interesting and offer unique interactions. Iris for Android, for example, allows your phone to talk to you on topics ranging from stock prices to music. Skyvi, on the other hand, is able to pull information about local businesses and even tell jokes. Have you ever wanted to access Facebook and Twitter via voice? Skyvi now allows you to do that. Voice Answer is a robot that answers detailed questions and can assist in many tasks.

Even Windows desktop users have also not been left out. Mitini is a voice over control app, similar to Siri, that runs on the platform.

Donna is another personal assistant that is basically designed to help you get where you need to be. It estimates the time and distance to get to your destinations, taking into account transportation methods like walking or driving and other stuff such as parking and getting to the building. Over time, it gathers your personal habits such as your favorite places to snack. It will even dial straight into conference calls or Skype if you are scheduled for an online meeting.

Conclusion

We are seeing more personal assistant apps coming out nearly every day. When one app doesn’t work for you, you now have a list of options to choose from.  Since its difficult to make an app that fits the lifestyle of everyone, we can expect to see personal assistant apps to start coming up for different niches and lifestyles.

Are you using a personal assistant app? Which is your favorite?