Nokia Talks More (Much More) About US Service Problems

Nokia Conversations Blog
Nokia’s Conversation Blog has launched an extended discussion on its myriad US service problems.

I’m happy to report that there has been some progress (small, but real) from Nokia in terms of addressing it US service problems, which I’ve written about extensively.

First, here’s their most concrete step forward so far: Today, Nokia announced that the long-awaited firmware update for the US N95-3 should be available by early June.

Note that this does not mean Nokia has improved its firmware update process — which (as Beth Kanter, Robert Day, and I noted) is PC-only and very cumbersome, confusing, and annoying. And, in my experience, Nokia’s firmware update process is also risky — it’s what bricked my N95 in April.

…But still, a lot of US N95-3 users have been waiting (and waiting) for this firmware update. News that it’s coming soon appears quite welcome in that community, judging by the initial comments to the announcement.

Also, I’m encouraged to see that Nokia’s Conversations Blog yesterday launched a series of posts on its myriad US service problems. So far, there’s been:

I think the fact that Nokia has made this discussion so public, and is respecting and addressing concerns raised by users, is a very positive step. Frankly, this is far more than most major companies are willing to do. Nokia is willing to publicly acknowledge its significant problems, and doesn’t seem to consider this inherently risky or bad for business. Many, many companies and organizations could take a lesson from Nokia on this front.

That said, Nokia’s blog does try (understandably) to put as positive a spin as possible on its US service problems. As far as I can tell, they’re not painting a specifically inaccurate rosy picture — but so far they haven’t directly tackled the hardest issues.

Therefore, it’s still up to current and would-be US users of Nokia N-Series phones to keep pushing for clear answers to our most pressing questions and concerns. This is going to take time, folks.

Here’s what I mean…

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My weird iCal/Leopard problems: Help!

I love iCal, but it’s driving me crazy lately. Help!

As you might have guessed, I’m a pretty busy person. If I didn’t have a good electronic calendar program, with alerts and reliable backup, I’d be totally lost. That’s why I’ve been a devoted user of Apple’s iCal program for about 10 years.

A few months ago, when I upgraded to a Macbook Pro with the Leopard OS (original install, not a Leopard upgrade), iCal started getting weird on me. I’ve been to the Genius Bar at my local Apple Store twice about it, and have yet to find a problem. But I’m getting concerned, because I depend so heavily on this program. If it totally flames out on me, moving to a new solution will be a big hassle.

So I’m hoping some of my readers, or someone in the iCal support forums, is smarter or luckier than me and the folks at my local Apple Genius Bar.

Here are the iCal problems I’m experiencing, and what I’ve tried (unsuccessfully, so far) to diagnose and fix it. Your ideas and suggestions for further measures are most welcome…
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Sneaky Spammers and “Clickthrough Cloaking”

As I mentioned earlier, it appears a spammer has hacked this blog again. This time they were especially sneaky about it. You won’t see the spam when you visit my blog, or when you get my feed or e-mail alerts. But search engines see it, and display it in my search engine results. Which can do serious damage to my search ranking, and eventually get me banned from Google and other search engines if I don’t put a stop to it.

Judging from how this spam hack is exhibiting, the most likely explanation seems to be something Tom Vilot turned up with a bit of research. (Thanks, Tom!)

It appears that this hack is using a technique known as cloaking, which serves one page to search engines crawling the site, and another to visitors’ web browsers. This means the search engines are not actually indexing the same content that people see when they visit your site. Nice for the spammers, bad for the site owners.

Microsoft published a 2006 technical paper detailing this technique and what to do about it. From the intro:

“Search spam is an attack on search engines’ ranking algorithms to promote spam links into top search ranking that they do not deserve. Cloaking is a well-known search spam technique in which spammers serve one page to search-engine crawlers to optimize ranking, but serve a different page to browser users to maximize potential profit. In this experience report, we investigate a different and relatively new type of cloaking, called Click-Through Cloaking, in which spammers serve non-spam content to browsers who visit the URL directly without clicking through search results, in an attempt to evade spam detection by human spam investigators and anti-spam scanners.”

…Coincidentally, I just updated all my WordPress plugins yesterday. Also, Google just re-indexed me a few hours ago. The spam is no longer showing up for my site in Google’s results, which indicates that by updating my plugins I may have closed this vulnerability, for now. We’ll see.

Dammit, this blog has been hacked again!

MSNlive
Despite what MSN’s search engine thinks, I am NOT hawking drugs on this site…

(UPDATE: Since initially posting this, I’ve learned a bit more. The plot thickens…)

My friend the SEO maven Brett Borders just alerted me to some disturbing news. Apparently, Microsoft’s search engine thinks this blog, which I’ve run since 1998, is drug spam.

Brett got tipped to this by a Mar. 25 Search Engine Journal story, Hackers Forcing Sites to Cloak Search Engines with Link Spam. The screen grab illustrating that story showed Contentious.com near the top of a list results from a “linkfromdomain search on MSN so I can prove that, indeed, there are over 2,000 links FROM Twitter pointing TO pages about Viagra.” I just repeated that search, and sure enough my domain is on that list — showing spam content that somehow has been hacked into my site.

I also just searched Google for references to Viagra from my domain, and saw that Google is caching that same spam content for my home page as well.

As far as I can tell, this spam content has been inserted my home page as well as at least three recent posts. Obviously, this WordPress blog has been hacked again. Like I didn’t have enough troubles with this last fall.

This is annoying, and could be potentially damaging to me. I’m on a deadline and don’t have time to delve into why this is happening, but would appreciate tips for Contentious readers about why this might be happening and what, if anything, I can do to stop it. I’m getting really tired of this, and hate that I only find out about it via third parties.

Got any suggestions before I can dive into this myself? Please comment below.

Thanks!

What are your favorite interactive news maps?

ePodunk.com
Even a very simple interactive map can tell a powerful news story.

Tomorrow I’m being interviewed by Adena Schutzberg for the Directions on the News podcast, which I’ve mentioned before on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits. We’ll discuss some of our favorite news maps and why they’re cool, engaging, and useful.

I need your help: What are some of your favorite recent online news maps? These could be produced by news orgs, or simply offer news value. Also, which online news maps have you created that you’re particularly proud of? Please comment below with your examples and links. I’m sure that collectively Contentious readers have seen many more cool news maps than I have.

I tend to be more intrigued by simple maps using simple tools that offer real insight or value — maps that almost anyone could put together with a few basic tools and skills. Here are a few examples I’m considering discussing…

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Preview: Sex, Journalism & Trust

RabbleRadio, via Flickr (CC license)
Prudishness and journalism were never a good mix.

Today I started pulling together a bunch of stray threads that have been nagging at me for some time. Anyone who reads my work knows that I have longstanding admiration for quality journalism — and growing frustration with the culture and attitudes of professional journalism.

It occurred to me that a lot of the things that frustrate me about journalistic cynicism, idolatry, and sanctimony are remarkably similar to what frustrates me about sex negativity in American culture.

So I’m writing an essay to connect the dots. There are a lot of dots to connect, it’s going to take me a while. And I’m still thinking it all through.

One think I’ve learned is that my readers can always help me think tough things through. So in that spirit, here are some excerpts from what I’ve drafted so far. Bear in mind that this is JUST a draft, I WILL be refining it. I know it sounds more preachy and strident than I’d like. Also, I need to make it more fun and flow more. All that will be worked on

With that said, here’s the draft…

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VOIP telephony: Getting frustrating

Hey, VOIPyourlife: I’m not smiling…

A couple of months ago I signed up for an internet-based (VOIP) phone service called VOIPyourlife. I’d growing increasingly dissatisfied with the high cost and lack of key features from my landline provider.

There are several things I like about VOIPyourlife — a good web-based interface for configuring the features on my account, and sending my voice mail messages as .wav files to my e-mail totally works for me.

However, I’ve been having connectivity problems. I’ve noticed lately that whenever I make a call, it takes up to 20 seconds fromt he time I dial to when it starts ringing. About 25% of the time it doesn’t connect at all and I have to redial. Even more frustratingly, sometimes I dial, it starts ringing, and then it disconnects or gives me a busy tone. What’s THAT all about?

Features aside, one thing I definitely need from phone service is that it just works. I’m now seriously considering going totally mobile, if I can find an affordable plan with an short-term contract (1 year or less) and understandable billing. Recommondations? Please comment below.

Twittercasting on AIR: Snitter & Spaz

Snitter (top) and Spaz (bottom): Two AIR-based apps for using Twitter that I’m trying out.

While I was “Twittercasting” (part of my ever-expanding online media vocabulary) the Total Community Coverage in Cyberspace seminar in Los Angeles a few days ago, I found myself repeatedly tripped up and annoyed by the Twitter.com posting interface.

As I mentioned earlier, I set up a second Twitter account (amyliveblogging) to use for live event coverage via Twitter — so as not to overwhelm my regular Twitter followers at agahran.

I learned during my most recent Twittercasting foray that when you have two Twitter accounts, the regular Twitter.com interface tends to log you out of one account and into another at random times. I’d be Twittering away on amyliveblogging, and then all of the sudden my Tweets would be posting to agahran. So I’d have to log out of Twitter and then log back in again under the correct account. Meanwhile, people following my main (agahran) account were probably puzzled by seminar-related tweets.

So this morning I finally installed Adobe AIR, a cool platform for web-enabled applications (kind of like Mac desktop widgets, but more powerful.) Then I installed two popular AIR apps for posting to Twitter: Snitter (which I’m using to post to my agahran account) and Spaz (which I’ll use for posting to amyliveblogging). I’ll post more about how I like/dislike these apps as time goes on.

However, what I’d really like would be a single application (AIR-based or otherwise) that would allow me to manage posting to multiple Twitter accounts without getting randomly logged out.

Have you seen something like that? Please comment below.

Post-travel catch-up: How do you do it?

Amy Gahran
Barcelona was fabulous, especially the living statues. Now it’s back to real life. (Cringe!)

I’ve just returned from a 2-week trip that mixed business, vacation, and family. It was quite a whirlwind, but it was also fun, exciting, and important in many ways. While I was gone I was able to keep E-Media Tidbits going, but not much on Contentious. Due to laptop problems (now fixed, all I needed was a new power converter), I was mostly on other people’s machines and didn’t want to hog them.

Now I’m back home, in regular life again. Fortunately I feel rested — I managed to get adequate rest while on the road, and when I got home yesterday I went straight to a fabulous massage and then took it easy all evening. Today I’ll go for a bike ride to get some exercise.

However, I really need to hit the ground running to prepare for a workshop I have to give in L.A. next week. Of course, I have backlog — bills and billing, touching base with clients, responding to correspondence, cleaning house (it’s a bit chaotic, which makes it hard for me to concentrate), and finding a way to do an adequate brain dump so I don’t lose the insights gained on this trip.

How do you manage your post-trip catch-up? Any tips I might benefit from? Please comment below!

I Need a Smart Phone, or Something….

My trusty Tracfone just ain’t cutting it…

It’s getting embarrassing. Mobile content is increasingly part of what I cover in my media consulting work and blogging, yet I have the most bare-bones, behind-the-times cell phone imaginable. It’s an ultra-basic Nokia, and my carrier is the pre-paid service Tracfone. No web browser, and not much else. Currently I really only use it when traveling, although I’m starting to use it with Jott.

But I hate waste, and I’m starting to find little reason to pay for a landline plus cell phone (even a pre-padi one). I’m not really a phone person, and I barely use either one. But I need to have some kind of phone, because, well, that’s just life. So why not just pay for one that does all the main things I need?

Plus, I’m absolutely terrible about listening to voice mail. I generally do so only about once a week. Now that I’m managing all my tasks via e-mail, I find myself just wishing that my voice mail could automatically be routed to my e-mail as an audio attachment. There are services like CallWave and K7 which do that, and SimulScribe offers a message transcription service. Trouble is, these services don’t work with landline voice mail — only mobile providers.

I’ve resisted getting a regular cell phone not just because I generally hate talking on the phone, but because I’m very wary of mobile providers and their billing practices. Those bills are some of the ugliest, most cryptic documents I’ve seen, and somehow you keep getting charged for indecipherable and poorly documents services. My goal right now is to reduce stress, and just thinking about cell phone bills is a stressor.

But I know ultimately if I make a good choice, it’ll be good for me. I’m just starting my search, so if you have recommendations for phones, providers, and deals, please comment below. Here’s what I want:

MUST HAVE

  • Easy-to-understand bills without a lot of unexpected charges
  • Easy-to-understand, reasonably priced plan for calls, text messaging, and web/data access
  • Intuitive user interface for all basic functions
  • Good coverage throughout US, especially in Colorado
  • A decent web browser, e-mail interface, and feed reader
  • Must synch with Mac iCal (and generally be Mac-happy)
  • A keyboard that won’t tie my fingers in knots
  • Decent camera (for still and video/audio, at least short movies)
  • Good battery life
  • Screen that’s easily readable in sunlight
  • Reasonably priced optional data plan for my laptop (tether the phone as a broadband modem)
  • Customer service that doesn’t make me want to become an axe murderer.

Ideas? Tips? Please comment! Thanks.