Application of the Week: WaitList

George: Should we tell him we’re leaving?

Elaine: What for? Let’s just get out of here. (They all leave) …

Restaurant Host: Seinfeld, Four?

Episode 16, Season 2. Seinfeld. “The Chinese Restaurant”

If this describes your usual experience at a bar or restaurant on any given night, you’ll take comfort in knowing that The Onion AV Club has solved some of your dinner problems. WaitList for the iPhone is a free application that lets you know how long you’ll be waiting for nearby restaurants, bars, or clubs.

WaitList uses the GPS feature on your phone to show you local restaurants in your area. Once your name is on the seating list, you log into WaitList, find the location and update the wait time that your hostess has given you. Once you update it into the application, when someone else logs in to check out the location, they’ll see the time you’ve indicated. You can also send wait time updates directly to your Twitter account.

Popular location related se rvices like FourSquare are being used by companies to update local markets on current conditions. With WaitList, local vendors are going to be able to update their own wait times. With active Twitter accounts, restaurants can push out their updates and help people know how long they will be waiting for. This lets them be ahead of their customers, so that no one comes into a restaurant unprepared for how long they may be waiting.

One problem with the application is that you don’t have any restrictions to which location you can update wait times for. Let’s say there are two bars across the street from each other, one bar might update the others wait times to much longer than they actually are to drive business across the stree.

Now you just have to decide where to eat. 

Cyber Security Pressing Issue of UN Elections

The Secretary-General of the United Nations and head of the International Telecommunications Union, Hamadoun Touré, has targeted cyber security as a pressing issue. At a discussion in London on Thursday, he proposed a global cyber security peace treaty, stating, “A cyber war would be worse than a tsunami – we have to avoid it.”

The world has already been taking steps to protect itself from possible cyber attacks, but as more and more infrastructure, like banking, energy, and utility services begin to become tied to the internet – a cyber attack could be more devastating. In 2007, Estonia suffered attacks that attacked banking and government sites.

The ITU is hoping that a “common code of conduct against cybercrime” can be reached and that each country will pledge that citizens can connect to the internet as well as protecting against cyber criminals.

The need for a Geneva Convention like cyber security treaty continues to grow, with Touré adding, “We’re in a new world order today.”

If you’re a history nerd like me, you might find it interesting to note that this is not the first time that advancements in technology have spurned concerns over international cooperation.

In 1899, little known negotiations began in The Hague.  These meetings between nations were known as the Peace Conferences, the first being held in 1899 and the second in 1907, and their purpose was to define the rules of war.

Ironically, the third Peace Conference had been planned for 1915, but with the start of World War I in 1914, the third round of conferences never came to be. The Peace Conferences were first proposed by Nicolas II of Russia, who knew that with the growth of modern technology, there needed to be clearly defined rules regarding weapons technology, and what was acceptable to be used. (It’s interesting to note that Nicolas II was the one who approved the mobilization of Russian troops in 1914, and began the steady domino fall into WW I.)

Tsar Nicolas II was able to recognize that the change of weapons and the Industrialization of the modern world required new rules to be put in place. Technology has come a long way since before WWI and there are new kinds of weaponry to be addressed. 

Chinese Smartphones Go Global

Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant, released a Google Android equipped smartphone called the Idoes, a move that signals China’s first foray into the global smartphone market.

The Ideos goes on sale in China next week, but Huawei, which is already one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world, plans to market the phone in Europe, Latin America, and—yes—North America too.

Though this is not the countries first smartphone, it is the first smartphone that will be marketed globally.

And if any of the Chinese companies are currently suited to do it, it’s Huawei. The company has made its fortune as one of the world’s largest telecom equipment suppliers, and it is known as the most technologically advanced companies in China.

Huawei teamed up with Google to create the Ideos, which has a body and shiny screen similar to the iPhone, but boasts a Google logo on the back.

According to the New York Times, the company has spoken with several network providers worldwide, and several companies are interested.

The phone will be marketed as an entry-level smartphone and will cost somewhere between $100 and $200.

Huawei is the same company that riled congress members when it tried to broker equipment supplier contracts with American telecom companies earlier this month. The company is privately owned but has reportedly received funding and support from the Chinese government.

Despite this and the controversy between Google and Chinese-government censorship, the two companies remained undeterred.

Americans should expect to see the Lenovo, which will be offered in several color choices, sometime before the year’s end.

Free National Broadband Dropped by FCC

The Federal Communications Commission has decided to abandon the project that would have provided free national broadband services.

According to recent reports from the likes of Gizmodo, the FCC decided that the project, 10 years in the making, would be too costly to implement. The project would have taken an additional ten years to implement and would have required a heavy investment from M2Z Networks. This money would have been paid back through advertisements.

Ruth Milkman, the FCC Wireless Bureau chief told Ars Technia, “We gave careful and thorough consideration to the proposal, but ultimately determined that this was not the best policy outcome.”

She adds that they “remain vigilant in our efforts to facilitate the universal deployment and adoption of broadband, especially through the much needed reform to the Universal Service Fund.”

The proposal M2Z was presenting offered free broadband services of 768Kbps, one of the slowest speeds available to be considered broadband. M2Z urges understanding that their proposal wasn’t about providing top of the line services, simply allowing for those who have not had the opportunity for broadband speeds to keep up with the digital age.

With more media publications and television coming online, broadband services could be a requirement in the future to keep up with the breaking news across the world. 

There’s no word yet on what the FCC will be presenting in the failed proposals place, but I would imagine that it has something to do with their current discussion of the USF. 

Bedbugs in Hotels

In an analysis conducted by USA Today on TripAdvisor, traveler reviews including complaints of bedbugs in hotels have jumped 11 percent nationwide.

The study was prompted because of repeated headlines in New York City regarding an influx of bedbugs in hotels there. In fact, the study found a 12 percent jump in bedbug complaints in Big Apple hotels.

The nationwide analysis took a snapshot of TripAdvisor hotel reviews for the first eight months of 2009 and 2010 and compared them to find the 11 percent jump in bedbug mentions.

Bedbugs are tiny parasitic insects that feed preferentially on human blood, and though they were thought to have been largely eradicated by DDT in the developed world, they have lately been resurging. And, in the New York area at least, they seem to have expensive taste.

In July, the creepy crawlers invaded the Manhattan offices of CNN, and they infested a Hollister clothing shop in SoHo, causing the shop to close down.

In another incident, Pop Singer Lauren Hildebrandt complained of painful, itchy bumps after staying in a posh, $500-a-night NYC hotel. Upon examination they were discovered to have been bedbugs, which had plagued her during her sleep.

Hildebrandt was so put-off by the incident that she instructed her public relations team to issue a statement warning travelers about the bugs. She would not, however, release the name of the hotel.

In July, the USA Today ran a poll via their Hotel Check-In service that surveyed 4,200 people. Of those surveyed, 47 percent said they don’t fully unpack their bags, many citing fear of bringing bedbugs home.


Hurricane Earl to Disrupt East Coast

Late Thursday, Hurricane Earl will be within striking distance of North Carolina.  Earl is expected to turn northwards right before the coast and not make landfall, but that remains to be seen.   When predicted to make the turn, any delays in as little as a six hour time window will determine if the Hurricane will cross onto land or not, and at what force.

Earl had been classified as a Category 4 hurricane, but is now Category 3.  However, despite being downgraded, it is still a major storm.  Hurricane warnings are in effect in North Carolina, with tropical storm warnings up the coast.

Airlines have made announcements preparing travelers to expect delays or cancellations.  Continental Airlines in particular is offering penalty-free changes to itineraries affected up to and through September 5th.

Evacuation orders have been issued for islands along the eastern seaboard.  Coastal residents in general need to prepare for Earl, as even without landfall the hurricane’s effects will reach the mainland.

A fully charged cell phone is a necessity, and a smartphone can have multiple emergency uses.  It can be used to stay informed of Earl’s progress through weather websites with up-to-the-minute tracking.  Two-way, push-to-talk radios and cell phones are good to have as communications alternatives.  And some smartphone models even have a flashlight app.

Have an evacuation plan ready for the family, including rally points, and communication contingencies.  A Google Groups or similar collaboration site is perfect for emergency family planning and communication, and in case of separation can be used anywhere with internet access.

Hallmark Moment

This morning, the news came down the wire that AT&T U-Verse customers would no longer have access to Hallmark Channel programming. Crown Media has stated via press release they are happy to re-start negotiations with AT&T. Talks broke down over new carriage agreements sometime last week, and as of 12:01AM ET, the Hallmark family of channels went dark. We’ve all seen these stories before, where renegotiations are going on, and both sides are urging customers to contact the other company to demand they do not lose programming.

This situation has been no different except that the Hallmark Channel has found a way to use social media to their benefit, even though they negotiations have still fallen through and the channels have been blacked out. They sent a very powerful message through Facebook and Twitter, both on their sites, and the AT&T U-Verse site.

Starting with the Don’t Take My Hallmark Site, Hallmark drove traffic both to their site as well as the AT&T pages, urging customers to comment and share their concerns. The results have been impressive:

  • Over 1500 comments urging AT&T to keep the family programming channels.
  • 4,580 FaceBook likes to the U-Verse related posts on the HallMark Channel fan page.
  • Multiple tweets and conversations with current fans of Hallmark.

Despite the failed negotiations to continue carrying programming for AT&T U-Verse customers, Hallmark more than doubled their traffic to their social sites and web site, and all since August 26th when they started the campaign. The number of likes they have gotten from the campaign and the comments on their pages will undoubtedly remain, and the Google search for “Hallmark Channel” have their Twitter, Press Page, and FaceBook on the first page of results. What can you learn from Hallmark Channel’s campaign?

  • Call to action. Not only did Hallmark tell their customers what was going to happen, they told them what to do about it – go to the AT&T U-Verse fan page and let their thoughts be known.
  • Monitoring. From the looks of things, Hallmark was prepared for social media to hit the ground running. Not only were they looking for mentions of their company, but they were directing their people to use it to get the message out.
  • Gave a reason why or why not. Every couple of months, battles like this arise, but Hallmark was quick to state what the negotiations were NOT about, taking to Twitter to clear up rumors they wanted more money. “It wasn’t Hallmark demanding big $$$ that got the networks taken off. We’re actually very disappointed that this happened. Thank you”.

What do you think? Did Hallmark hit a homerun here, even though they are no longer carried on U-Verse, they did get a HUGE turn out through social media and can show their results right on their Facebook page. Did they win or lose?

Note: You can check out the individual press releases from Hallmark and AT&T.

iPhone App Earns You Free Plane Ticket Today

Loopt Star is an iPhone app that gives you local and immediate rewards when you “check in” at certain locations.  For example, if you were to check in at a Starbucks, you might have a 10% discount waiting at the counter.  For today, if you check in at select locations in San Francisco or Los Angeles, you will receive a two-for-one plane ticket deal from Virgin America Airlines to Mexico.  Not only that, but you can get two tacos for $1 as well!

Checkins and check in rewards are fast becoming available in many places.  It was only recently that checking in at a location would simply get you in-game points or rewards.  But now businesses are realizing the potential of people with smartphones in their shops.  Using actual real-world rewards to encourage people to stay and buy, or return again is the natural and powerful next step.

Loopt Star is the real-world rewards version of Loopt, a previous iPhone app that used GPS positioning for users to check in and get points usable only within the app itself. Loopt Star is also one of the first apps to base itself on the new Facebook Places location sharing program.

Other GPS-location sharing, checkin apps not far behind with real-world rewards and discounts for their players are Foursquare and Gowalla.


MagicJack Blocking Conference Calls

In the last week, we’ve had a high number of MagicJack customers being unable to connect to our service. Magic Jack is a phone device that utilizes VoIP technology (PDF link) to make phone calls. After talking to some customers, we‘ve learned that MagicJack is blocking our conference number. We’ve done some research and wanted to share with you our findings.

Here are some things we know:

  • MagicJack is blocking only direct dial/non-toll free numbers.
  • A message is heard advertising MagicJack conference service.
  • MagicJack is not just blocking AccuConference, it is blocking most providers who have non toll free numbers.
  • We’ve been instructed to send an email to MagicJack to request that our services to be unblocked.

We are in the process of sending this email, but there is a limit to what we can do to get MagicJack to unblock our numbers. Unfortunately, we cannot provide an ETA on when these numbers will be available again, or, honestly, if at all, because this is in MagicJack’s hands.

A similar situation happened a few years ago with AT&T and Qwest blocking free conference services and the FCC ruled that they could not do that. Since VoIP services like MagicJack are new and grew quickly in popularity, rulings on these kinds of practices are still pending from the FCC.

Until the FCC rules on these issues, we here at AccuConference cannot force MagicJack or any other VoIP provider to unblock conference numbers. All we can request is that they do not block their paying customers from using conference numbers. Until they do this, our hands are tied. When possible, use a land line or cell phone that can connect into a direct dial/non-toll free number. If that’s not an option, you can try another VoIP provider and see if your call will go through.

We will continue to do everything on our end to resolve the issue with blocked numbers, but in the meantime, you can call us to see if there is anything we can do to help. As I learn more, I’ll keep you updated on the situation.

India Temporarily Extends BlackBerry’s Lifeline

The Indian government delayed a ban on Blackberry services, which was threatened for Tuesday, allowing the wireless company, Research in Motion, to continue operations pending a 60-day security test.

This is the latest development in an ongoing tug-of-war between RIM and India, who are debating how much access the country’s government should get to Canadian-based BlackBerry’s encrypted data services.

The Indian government says access to email and data services are essential in maintaining the country’s national security; meanwhile, RIM is reluctant to turn over peoples’ private correspondence to the government.

It appears that the parties reached some sort of agreement, though it remains unclear what consensus was struck.

In a statement, the Indian government said Blackberry allowed access to certain portions of information, which would be operationalized immediately. However, the government showed some skepticism saying, “The feasibility of the solutions offered would be assessed thereafter.”

The Indian government, along with several others, says terrorists exploit the encrypted data services, using them to correspond clandestinely. The government says terms of use agreements obligate wireless phone companies to divulge information as it is requested by law enforcement agencies.

RIM says that it can’t provide unencrypted messages and e-mail. The only servers that can decode the messages are owned privately by RIM’s corporate customers. So, messages are encrypted automatically by the phones and reach RIM’s servers in Canada in encrypted form.

The battles between RIM and countries like India and the United Arab Emirates have caused skepticism among investors, causing the company’s shares to drop significantly. On Monday shares closed at $45.59, down .88 percent.