Will You Give Yourself to Google for Plus?

Dear Google,

I am now a citizen of Plus, and therefore your humble servant.

I have been admitted into your rare realm of Circles, Huddles, Streams, Sparks, and Hangouts.

It truly is a metaphorical place, a wondrous world of social baubles designed to mesmerize me into a state of pure trust, such that I’ll share my inner most secrets with you.

This is the place you want me to abandon Facebook, turf Twitter, and toss Tumblr for.

You want this to be my internet home, the place I hang my hat online. And for that you’ve manufactured a glorious array of trinkets and toys such that I’ll never be lonely ever, ever again.

And you’ll let me stay here free.

The only thing I have to give you in exchange is my soul. And that you’ll resell again and again to whomever is willing to toss a few pennies your way.
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The Drawbacks to Toktumi/Line2 in Canada

I’ve written about the great Toktumi/Line2 (I wish they’d settle on one brand name, really) VOIP service before. It’s a cost-effective, easy-to-use way to make long distance phone calls from your mobile device.

You sign up, get either a toll-free or local number in Canada or the US, pay a flat monthly fee ($10 for a local number, $15 for a toll-free number) and then you can make calls within North America at no additional cost.

I’ve subscribed to it for a while now instead of subscribing to a long distance plan with Bell. However, I’ve never adopted it for general use. I’ve never shared my Toktumi/Line2 number with friends, family, or business colleagues.

Two things prevent me from doing this:

  1. text messaging is not supported with Canadian numbers, and
  2. your phone number is not displayed accurately on call display systems outside of the US.

Both of these shortcomings unfortunately make Toktumi/Line2 unacceptable for general use anywhere outside of the US.

Call Display

Call display is a telephone owner’s single-most valuable defense against telemarketers. Most of us depend on it to identify who’s calling us, and then use that as our primary decision-making factor in whether to answer the call or not.

There’s an unwritten rule that we all seem to subscribe to: Do Not Answer Unrecognized International Calls.

Why not? Because 9 times out of 10, it’s a telemarketer.

For example, as I wrote this, a call came in one my iPhone. It looked like this:

Would you answer that call? No, me neither. So I didn’t.

Unfortunately, Toktumi/Line2’s numbers only represent themselves accurately on call display within the US, and only when you’re using a US-based phone number.

If you subscribe to a Canadian number with Toktumi/Line2, your number will be displayed on the device of the person you’re calling as an international call, even if you’re calling locally.

For example, say you subscribe to the Vancouver number 604 800 3719 with Toktumi/Line2, when you call someone it will display to them like this:

Would you answer that call? No, me neither. And that’s my own Toktumi/Line2 number.

If you take a few moments to “parse that string”, that is, break it down into its separate parts, you might recognize the Vancouver area code. But nobody does that. Most of us would see the “+64” and instantly dismiss the number as illegitimate.

That’s a huge drawback to using the Toktumi/Line2 service in Canada: when you call people, it’s likely you’ll be perceived as a telemarketer and your call will be ignored. It’s happened to me on many occasions, in fact.

One other major drawback to your number being displayed incorrectly? People can’t call you back. If they do, they end up making a long distance call to a foreign operator who informs them that the number they’re calling is invalid.

Text Messaging

Simply put, Toktumi/Line2 only supports text messaging on US-based numbers within the US.

You can’t text to or from a toll-free numbers, and you can’t text to or from a Canadian number.

That’s a huge drop in value if you’re outside of the US.

Using Toktumi/Line2

For folks in the US, Toktumi/Line2 holds tremendous value and utility. You can call and text all you want around that country for next to nothing (you can make calls to Canada at no additional charge, too). It’s a sweet deal.

Unfortunately, the service for us folks outside of the US is less enticing. You can’t text, and your phone number is misrepresented to the recipients of your calls.

That said, it’s still a great cut-rate long distance telephone service. If the people you’re calling are willing to risk answering a call from an unrecognized international number. And that’s a big if.

The Value Proposition of Northwestel’s Internet Services

A conversation earlier today about Northwestel’s recent minor adjustments to their internet services plans (read about them in the Yukon News story, Telco selectively increases rates and bandwidth) got me playing with numbers. I was trying to get a sense of the value of Northwestel’s internet services in Whitehorse compared to other Canadian jurisdictions. I’ve established Shaw’s services in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, as my benchmark for these exercises. Dawson Creek is just outside of Northwestel’s jurisdiction, being about 400 km south of Fort Nelson, and is comparable in size to Whitehorse (actually, it has about half the population of Whitehorse).

My goal was to summarize the value of the internet services in Whitehorse compared to a similar Canadian jurisdiction outside of Northwestel’s service area. It’s easy to say things like, “Dawson Creek residents pay just $75 a month for 400 GB of data and download speeds of 50 Mbps, and we pay $130 for 90 GB of data and download speeds of 25 Mbps”. But what does that mean? What does it look like?

From my view, there are essentially two components to any internet service: data transfers allowable and the speeds at which you’re able to transfer that data. So I decided to just illustrate these two aspects of service against cost, on a 1:1 basis, then compare Northwestel in Whitehorse to Shaw in Dawson Creek. Here’s data (click on the image for a larger view):

Across both grids, everything is 1:1, so you can directly compare Shaw’s costs and data allowances against Northwestel’s. To me, this directly addresses the question of value between the two services.

Next, there’s speeds:

Again, across both charts, it’s a 1:1 ratio.

I don’t know about you, but I get a remarkable sense of a lack of value in Northwestel’s service offerings compared to Shaw’s. And it’s not a moderate difference. It’s significant.

Sober Thoughts on Online Identity

Marco Arment published a blog post yesterday, Own your identity, that’s particularly prescient as Google claws after more of our online identities with its new Plus social platform. The full piece is worth a read, but here are a few choice morsels:

If you care about your online presence, you must own it. I do, and that’s why my email address has always been at my own domain, not the domain of any employer or webmail service.

Sadly, most people don’t care about giving control of their online identity to current or future advertising companies.

He links to another article he wrote earlier this year, Let us pay for this service so it won’t go down, which is also highly topical. Again, a couple of relevant passages:

For something as important as email, I’ve never trusted everything to a proprietary provider. My email address has never ended in someone else’s domain name…

You must own any data that’s irreplaceable to you.

I agree wholeheartedly with Marco. You can’t trust advertising companies disguised as social networks (i.e. Facebook, Google) with your most important assets, like your photos, email, and documents. They’re reselling it all behind your back. You signed a legal agreement to let them do this when you opened an account with them.

Buy your own domain name (I use webnames.ca for this). Set up and pay for your own email account with an independent provider (I use 01.com for this). Set up your own blog with an independent host (admittedly, I don’t do this, this blog is hosted with wordpress.com; but I recently read their terms of service and have started the process to move to a new host where I don’t give away any rights for the content I post).

It is often argued that First Nations people gave away North America to European explorers for mere baubles and beads. Similarly, internet users are giving themselves away these days in exchange for access to social networks. We need to wise up.

Using Facebook to Organize a Major Hip Hop Event in Whitehorse

It almost sounds like an impossible story from the off-kilter mind of director Spike Jonze.

Using only Facebook, one man must organize a world-class b-boy event in a remote northern community involving over 30 youth from across Canada and some of the top performers and judges from the US.

But it’s no story, it’s a reality that Benjamin Robinson is working to bring to the Yukon from July 20 to 25th.

Robinson is an event co-ordinator for the the Breakdance Yukon Society (BYS) and a member of the local b-boy troupe Groundwork Sessions,

The “Walmart Cypher For Change Youth Forum and National Bboy Battle” is part workshop, part festival, part competition, and all social extravaganza. It’s unique not only in Canada, but in the world. Continue reading