Monday, May 09, 2005

Review: Blogger To Go

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So, Blogger.com introduced a new service this week called "Blogger To Go," which allows you to send multimedia entries straight to your blog from your mobile device, without the need of a mobile web browser. Regular readers already know, of course, that I'm actually doing 100 percent of the maintenance for this particular blog (writing, editing and posting) via my mobile device (Palm Treo 600) right now, so I would naturally be thrilled by the news and want to know every little detail about it. I've been playing around with BTG for about 24 hours now, and thought I'd file a review.

Okay, so the first and most important thing to know about BTG is that it currently only works with four US cellphone carriers - Verizon, AT&T/Cingular, Sprint and T-Mobile - and that you have to use the carrier-approved address that that company gave you as part of your account; in other words, no posting through Gmail or Hotmail, et al, even if you can access these accounts through your mobile device. So for example, I'm a T-Mobile customer, and the account T-Mobile provides us is yourphonenumber@tmomail.net. The problem in this particular case, though, is that this is not a "true" email account (that is, where I could receive and send full-length emails if I wanted), but simply an SMS email-based "avatar" (that is, it's an address people can email if they want to send me an SMS-based instant message; all I can do, though, is receive the message, and send an SMS back, not a full email). The result for T-Mobile customers, then, is that their Blogger entries can only be 255 characters long, or the maximum length of their SMS messages - which kinda sucks, but is not a complete dealbreaker for BTG, in that many entries being posted on the fly are naturally going to contain such a small amount of text.

The insanely cool tradeoff, though, is that you can then also send whatever kinds of attachments your account and phone let you normally send, which will then be uploaded to your site and displayed in the entry, either as an image or a link. So if your phone can snap photos and attach them to SMSs, then boom - you got a photoblog you can instantly update while on the go. If your phone's even cooler and can record full-motion videos, then you suddenly have a videoblog on your hands. If your device can record audio files, then you've got a podcast as well. Which is cool enough if not exactly news anymore, but the killer thing is that you no longer need a desktop or laptop as a conduit; you can literally take a photo, video or audio recording from your phone while on the go, and literally send it straight to your blog from your phone thirty seconds later.

This is amazing, I think, and instantly adds a new complexity to the whole "citizen journalism" argument going on around the web these days. Now not only is every person with a cellphone a potential reporter, with a chance to record audio interviews and take live footage, but now they've all become potential transmitters as well - instead of a van full of gear with a giant antenna on the top, all you need to broadcast live now is a damn mobile. Think about how different certain situations in the world are going to be from now on, now that the people involved not only have the opportunity to record damning evidence in a sneaky way, but to actually transmit it to the public before the authority figures have a chance to even catch them. Think not only dictatorial countries with tight controls over the media, but also high-schoolers getting verbally abused by the faculty, your a**hole boss dumping on you when he normally denies it to superiors - any situation where one group is trying to control the information another group has, and to prevent them from sharing this information with others.

Not to mention, I think it's going to make both evenings out and tourist travel much different things. Blogger members can set up multiple Blogspot pages for free, for example - so why not set a special one up the next time you go on vacation? Along the way you can record random photos, videos, audio files and text entries - and with the coverage these four companies have, most of the time you can instantly post them from anywhere in the US you happen to be. Post not only the photos from your destination, but the one of the random gas station in the middle of nowhere at which you happen to find yourself, or an MP3 in the middle of the afternoon while you're bored on your roadtrip, of you and your companions just gabbing randomly. It changes the entire nature of vacation documenting: instead of the focus falling primarily on the destination and the touristy things you did there, the journey itself becomes part of the eventual story, and you're encouraged to document not only famous landmarks but also the small, sometimes instantaneous magical moments that happen along the way. And meanwhile, all your friends and family members get to follow along in real time as well, and to share these small moments at the same time you're experiencing them.

Getting started couldn't be easier; simply SMS/MMS/email your first entry from an approved phone address to go@blogger.com . Blogger then sets up a new randomly-titled Blogspot page for you, and emails you the entry code for it. If you don't know anything about blogging and don't want to know, you're literally done - just point your friends to that URL and Blogger does the rest, including automatic archives, an automatic RSS feed, and even a pretty nice minimalist template for displaying your posts. But then of course you can actually log on at go.blogger.com with that entry code if you want, at which point you can then do anything any other Blogger member can do - rename your blog, change the display, customize the archive settings, etc. And if you already have a Blogspot page to which you would like your mobile entries sent, simply tell it when you're logged in and Blogger will send the posts there instead, and completely get rid of that new page it set up for you. (As you can guess, there is also a new field in your Blogger account settings, where you can maintain this mobile address, change it, delete it, or have it point to yet another blog if desired.) By the way, if you're on one of these four systems besides T-Mobile and already know the SMS email avatar your company gives out to customers, I encourage you to post it as a comment below so as to inform other customers that might not know it.