Disrupting the roaming mobile data market

Whenever I plan travel outside of the U.S. I’m thrown back into this archaic and ridiculous world of international mobile data rates. AT&T is perhaps the most notorious with their ludicrous fees of $19.968/MB unless you buy into one of their pre-paid packages, but even then the prices aren’t much better. This means that just watching a single YouTube video could cost you upwards of $50.

Practices like this hurt our technology companies. Consider a company like Foursquare, that could be extremely useful for restaurant and entertainment recommendations when you visit foreign cities. Their service is rendered useless without mobile data due to these high roaming fees. On a recent trip to India I tried out the Lonely Planet iPhone apps on my service-less iPhone. It worked well enough for the big tourist spots or the few restaurants that the guide book had reviewed, but this practice doesn’t scale well, and the information they contain is quickly outdated. We could have much better recommendations while on the go if we had access to the same data as we do at home.

So I have a question for discussion, and a challenge. If companies like Boost mobile can re-sell domestic calling and data plans for so cheap, what’s keeping companies from coming in and offering competitive international roaming? Why does AT&T charge completely ridiculous rates for international roaming? And finally, what can we do as entrepreneurs to disrupt this market and provide travelers with a useful service?

Post your thoughts at Hacker News.

Flash is dead. Long live the internet.

When I was in high school I didn’t own a computer. I used to read the occasional Popular Mechanics magazine and would linger for a while on the articles about the internet or HTML, fascinated by this new technology that I had barely even used. I don’t know why, but for some reason I’ve always been drawn toward computers, but more specifically, computers connected to other computers. Whether it was playing a video game online or browsing through the millions of websites, I could always spend hours every day in front of a computer soaking up information and experiences, interacting with people on the other side of the world.

Soon after I bought my first computer I started building simple websites. I had all of the best animated gifs you could find, along with those awesome water ripple java applets and whatever other bells and whistles I could find. It was awesome. I wanted to push the boundaries of this new thing. To make something unique that nobody had seen before. This led me to Macromedia Flash 4. My new hobby slowly taught me how to program, and over time I got pretty good at it. Eventually I landed in New York City and found a job at a tiny little web design shop, building websites for big corporations and loving every minute of it.

During this time the internet was recovering from the big crash at the end of the 90’s and as browsers slowly evolved, so were the websites we were building. But browsers were slow to update back then, so Flash filled a need to move faster and give us more options to explore and new technology to use (and abuse!). Around this time I wrote a little javascript utility to detect the presence of the Flash plugin and conditionally inject Flash into a website or not, and I watched as it grew over the years and became one of the most used utilities on the internet.

Flash was huge. Everyone wanted a flashy website and the only way to get one that any meaningful number of people could see was to use Flash. As browsers struggled to keep up, Flash charged ahead allowing us to build some truly amazing websites. Admittedly, there was some abuse of this technology, but we still charged ahead, trying to discover and build the next generation of user interfaces. Most older companies still thought of the internet as just another medium to advertise on. They wanted a flashy website to show off to their investors and clients and cared less about building something useful. The ubiquity of the Flash plugin made it an easy choice to build these new kinds of websites. We weren’t held back by the limitations of HTML any more, and that let us all explore wild ideas and try things that wouldn’t be possible with HTML or Javascript for years to come.

But now, years later, the browsers are catching up. Mobile devices are becoming more important than desktop computers (a trend I expect to continue for years to come). As more people use the internet in their day to day lives, businesses have realized that having a useful website is more powerful than just a flashy animated advertisement.

A few months ago I noticed that SWFObject usage on the top 10,000 websites was declining for the first time ever (I believe usage peaked in the summer of 2010). Last week, Adobe announced that they would halt development of Flash player for mobile devices, and refocus their efforts on HTML. Since this news was announced, I’ve seen many sad and nostalgic tweets from friends and colleagues. Some seem to be taking the news better than others, and it’s understandable that some people are sad to see Flash go. But it’s important to remember that no single technology is responsible for this awesome thing we call the internet.

This brings us back to my younger self sitting at home in Arizona playing with Flash and Photoshop, building new things. I’ve always loved making things, and I suspect many web developers feel the same. The pleasure of making something great is what drives us, not a specific technology. So don’t be too sad about Flash evolving, or even dying. Just keep making awesome things with whatever tools you have at your disposal.

Discuss this post here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3227994

Flashbelt 2009

With Flash on the Beach Miami being canceled, you may be asking yourself “Where do I get my Flash and design conference fix now?” The answer, of course, is Flashbelt! It’s in June, on the 7th to the 10th. You should come!

Tickets are on sale now to this awesome small-ish Flash and design conference. This will be the third year in a row I’ve given a talk here, and it’s easily the best conference in North America.

My talk will be about building and maintaining the YouTube video players, and some lessons and tricks we’ve learned along the way, so if you are interested in very high usage/high performance Flash apps, this should be a good talk for you.

Flash on the Beach, Miami (CANCELED)

UPDATE: The Miami conference has been canceled due to lack of attendees. This is very sad news, but in an economy like this it’s not really surprising. Guess we’ll just have to wait for September for our dose of Flash on the Beach.

If you are still looking for a Flash/Design conference to attend this summer, I highly recommend Flashbelt.

The best European Flash conference is heading to the states this spring. Flash on the Beach has been happening in Brighton, UK for the last few years and is such a good time, I think everyone should go.

I’ll be heading down to Miami this year to talk about YouTube type things, so if you are curious about using YouTube for a project, or just interested in hearing some stories about a very high performance Flash application, you should come to my session :).

Flash on the Beach Miami

In case you are interested, there’s tons of pictures and writing about past FotB events all over the place. So check it out, and hopefully I’ll see you there.

SWFObject now available on Google AJAX Libraries API

I’m happy to announce that SWFObject (version 2 of course) is available from the Google AJAX Libraries API.

What does this mean to you, the average user of SWFObject? It means you no longer need to place a copy of the SWFObject script on your own web server, and can instead link to the copy hosted on Google’s servers.

If you are unfamiliar with the AJAX Library API, you can find more information on the Google code site, or continue reading below for some simple examples to get you up and running quickly. SWFObject may not be in the docs on the AJAX Libraries API site yet because it was just added recently, but the team is working on the updated docs now, so check back later if you don’t see the SWFObject specific information.

Now for the business: I imagine that most SWFObject users most likely only use SWFObject and none of the other libraries hosted on the AJAX Libraries site. So here’s a direct link to SWFObject v2.1 that you can simply place on your site, and that’s it:

http://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/swfobject/2.1/swfobject.js

Yep, that’s it. Just replace the path to your local copy of swfobject.js with this one and you are done.

Another option is to use the google.load call which is documented here.