Twitter, Buzz, Diaspora and more …

Recently I have been looking into alternatives for the microblogging service Twitter. I was a huge Twitter fan until lately Twitter has shown its evil side by basically telling 3rd party client developers that they are not needed anymore.

The first service I checked out was identi.ca. Identi.ca is powered by the open-source Status.net software and has many similarities with Twitter. If you have been using Twitter for a while you’ll feel right at home there. One additional feature I really like are groups. You can create groups and when you write a status update with !groupname in it, the message gets send to the group, too. There are already thousands of groups on identi.ca and quite a few are very active, like the linux, ubuntu and gnu groups.

I have been using Google Buzz for a while now, but for some reason I am still not really comfortable with it. Usually I am a great fan of Google’s services but I have a hard time getting into Buzz. One reason might be the fact that Buzz is integrated with Gmail. I would prefer a standalone Buzz site. Finding people to follow etc. also seems to be much easier in other services, but perhaps that’s just me. Buzz may be a good alternative to Twitter if there was a standalone web app and some user interface improvements to make it more accessible.

Diaspora Last week I got an invitation to try out Diaspora*, an open-source social network which can be described as the Anti-Facebook. In Diaspora everything is private by default and you decide who of your friends can see a certain update and who doesn’t. The project is currently in its Alpha phase and changes and updates are made on a daily basis. I have to admit I like Diaspora a lot. Of course it’s too early to judge it, but I think it shows a lot of promise. Diaspora could definitely replace Facebook for me when it’s finally opened for the public.

There are still a couple of microblogging services I haven’t tried out yet. Google’s Jaiku looks nice but it is not using a Google account and I fear it might be abandoned at some point in the future. Posterous has some nice features and I have been using Posterous Groups for a while, but it’s not exactly what I have been looking for. It is more like a regular blog hosting service instead of a Twitter alternative. Tumblr might be worth a look, too.

For the time being, I will probably stay on Twitter (and Facebook) for a while longer while I experiment with identi.ca, Diaspora and Buzz. What microblogging and social network sites aside from Twitter and Facebook are you using and why? Every comment is highly appreciated!

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Playing LAN games over the internet

My girlfriend and I love playing computer games over LAN. We only see each other on the weekends, so being able to play our favorite games over the internet would be awesome. Alas a lot of especially older games lack a proper play-via-internet mode or use services like GameSpy which are usually more hassle than its worth.

For a long time we used Hamachi if we needed a VPN to play some game over the ‘net. But for some reason it doesn’t work that great under Windows 7 and has caused quite a few problems on my PC lately. For example it totally messes with the network connection of my virtual machine. So we looked for an alternative.

Among the products we tried were Tunngle and Lanbridger. The first one was very easy to use but felt a bit like overkill for what we intended to do. While it worked great, its user interface felt a bit too complicated for our taste and we didn’t really want to use all the features.

So I had a look at Lanbridger. Feature-wise its close to Hamachi but its interface is much clearer. Setup took only a few minutes and it worked like a charm. We tried it with several games and had no problems at all. Luckily it doesn’t seem to cause any issues with my virtual machine like Hamachi did. So Lanbridger looks like a great way to setup a VPN without any hassle and its free to boot.

RIFT – First Impressions

ss121-fullA few weeks ago I was pretty much oblivious of the existence of this upcoming MMO. Then Zakharov on the #stargazersworld IRC channel on sorcery.net told me about it. RIFT is a self-proclaimed next-gen MMO which is set into a fantasy world. From the outside it looks pretty much like your garden-variety MMO but if you delve a bit deeper, you get to realize that it actually tries to do some things differently. By the way, if you want to read up on the world, the classes, races, etc. check out the official site.

When it comes to graphics RIFT looks very sweet. On my PC I can run the game set to “Ultra” quality and it looks just awesome. Textures and models are much more detailed than World of Warcraft’s for example. I’ve included a few screenshots in this post which I took from the official site. I haven’t made my own screenshots yet, but I’ll post them as soon as I have any.

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The first thing I actually noticed when playing the beta was that everything already looks pretty polished. The designers of RIFT also made sure that the game’s UI is fully customizable and has all the nifty features you come to expect from a modern MMO. Overall the UI reminded me a lot of WoW’s with some addons thrown in. This is actually a good thing. WoW’s UI is already very good and a lot of players are comfortable with it. This makes giving RIFT a try much easier, since you already feel quite at home.

RIFT has two warring factions. The faithful Guardians and the technology-using Defiants. While the Guardians fight for the gods, the Defiants have defied them and turned to use technology. The Defiants are currently my favorite faction. They basically had me the moment one NPC mentioned “magitech”. And trust me, the Defiants tech is pretty cool. I’ve heard you get to ride mechanical mounts later. Yay!

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Both factions defend the world against the rifts. Rifts are tears in the fabric of reality that open portals into the elemental planes. These rifts open randomly all over the world and all kinds of nasty creatures pour out. The players have then to fight these monsters and cause the rift to close again. If they fail to do so, the creatures from the rift may roam the world, create strongholds and even overrun quest hubs. While I haven’t encountered any rifts yet – I am still in the tutorial area – the concept sounds quite interesting. Although I fear that on servers with low population, rifts might become a problem. Let’s hope the spawning of rifts takes the current server population into account.

The class system is also pretty cool. At character creation you pick one of four classes: warrior, mage, rogue or cleric. During the first few levels you can then unlock “souls” – basically subclasses – which allow you to customize your character. And there are a lot of possible souls per class and countless combinations. And when I not mistaken you can unlock more than three souls later and change your “build” later according to the task at hand. Very cool!

From what I’ve seen so far, RIFT looks pretty nice and I am tempted to buy it when it’s released later this year. In a way it plays like a better looking WoW with some nice additions here and there to set it apart. I also like the more serious, mature tone of the game. But I also think the developers have to think more about how to immerse the players into the game. For some reason I felt a bit detached from what happened on the screen. The gameplay was quite enjoyable, but I missed that certain “oomph” that WoW sometimes has. But we’re still in beta, so this may be part of the problem.

Overall RIFT is a surprisingly well made MMO that probably won’t push WoW from its throne, but it might stir up the MMO market a little.

No more ICQ for me

icqnomore Today I decided to finally stop using the ICQ protocol. There were only a few of my friends left who weren’t using at least one alternative chat protocol. There are quite a few reasons why you shouldn’t use ICQ, but the most important for me are the following:

  • When agreeing to the ICQ Terms of Service you surrender all your copyrights on the information posted. Basically ICQ Inc. can take everything you talked about on the network and publish it, if they wish to do so. Even if it was meant to be private.
  • ICQ is changing the protocol constantly to lock out alternative clients. Since I wouldn’t even touch the original ICQ client with a ten foot pole, this is another reason to stop using it. I don’t want to rely on a network that can lock out my favorite client software any time.
  • I am sick of fake Russian girls who try to add me to their contact lists. ICQ has always been used for spam but recently it has been getting worse. 

The fact that ICQ is now owned by a Russian investment company doesn’t improve things. I don’t want to give all my personal information and everything I send over ICQ to some Russian company. I would have loved to delete my ICQ account, but alas that’s impossible. That’s of course a violation of current EU law, but as if ICQ ever cared about that…

Newspapers on the iPad

I just cancelled my newspaper subscription. I didn’t do so because I am not interested in reading it anymore, but because their iPad edition is more appealing to me. The content of the iPad edition is pretty much the same as the print edition but it makes full use of the capabilities of Apple’s tablet computer. They also added small videos or photo galleries to the articles and sometimes the articles feature popups with additional background information.

Although the “Frankfurter Rundschau” has adopted the tabloid size some time ago, it’s still a bit unwieldy sometimes. And the second problem is waste paper. When I am done reading the iPad edition, I just delete it. It’s unfathomable how much waste paper a daily newspaper produces. Another advantage of the iPad edition over the regular subscription is that I can buy the issues I am really interested in and still the price is much lower than what you usually pay for a print issue at the newsstand.