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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Vodacom injecting a banner into mobile sites

Bannerized Twitter

This morning while I was in a doctor's waiting room, I thought I'd pass the time by checking out twitter and some other mobile sites. To my surprise I found Vodacom has started injecting code for a banner into sites I visit with my standard phone browser.

Link expired!

What is worse, sites that require logging in (such as Twitter and every single Google mobile site I use) are broken by this meddling, this is the error page displayed when trying to log onto any of these pages.

This is (in my opinion) a really unethical practice on Vodacom's part. Mobile screen real estate is limited enough as it is, without having extra text and images wasting more space. It would be understandable (not the broken logins, of course) if I didn't pay for data, but I pay per meg (and 3g data isn't cheap to start with) so this is really unacceptable.

Fortunately the industrious guys on the MyBroadband forums have already picked up on this and found a solution, just remove the proxy on the phone's internet connection. The following step-by-step instructions posted by joelus do the job on his Nokia E61, my Nokia N95, and presumably all Symbian Nokia models:

Cleared proxy Non-bannerized Twitter

1) Go to 'Tools' on the menu
2) Go to 'Settings'
3) Go to 'Connection'
4) Go to 'Access points'
5) Open the vodacom access point - On mine it was called Internet.GPRS
6) Go to 'Options' - 'Advanced Settings'
7) Remove the Proxy serv. address
8) Viola, no more banner!

Alternatively, using Opera Mini bypasses the problem altogether.

[Update 26/06/2008]

It turns out this is part of a Vodacom effort to make browsing easier for users by reformatting sites designed for desktop browsers, similar to Opera Mini. Apparently Vodafone already does this elsewhere. Unfortunately they didn't have the foresight to warn developers of this (see the thread linked above, at least two mobile app developers complain about the effect on their products).

There are some other nasty side effects as well. Nigel Choi and Luca Passani describe the effect this proxy level reformatting has on sites that automatically redirect to mobile versions, essentially bypassing the mobile redirect and rather serving up a mangled version of the desktop design. The discussion regarding the 'service' is getting rather heated, with the general feeling being that this should be an opt-in system, or at least have an opt-out option.

[Update 27/06/2008]

This is spreading to a couple of different threads (here, here and here) on MyBroadband, and it seems certain applications are affected as well. Simondingle reported on Twitter that Fring is broken thanks to this ballsup and Zandberg on MyAdsl reported at least 14 sites and apps that are broken as well. Last but not least it seems that all downloads over 1Mb in size fail as well.

The bog slow SA press has started picking up on this at last, ITWeb mentioned the customer complaints and concerns in their article on it yesterday.

This really is shocking, Vodacom is essentially using the public as subjects for an alpha test of their technology. Apparently even their support staff are now suggesting the droves of irate customers that complain to disable the proxy setting on their phone if they can (some models don't allow manual modification of connection profiles).

[Update 30/06/2008]

And the issue continues to draw attention! FMTech are carrying an article about customers' unhappiness regarding this fiasco (this blog even got quoted, though not directly credited). It seems from the article and a letter posted on the nicharalambous blog that the Internet Society of South Africa (ISOC-ZA) are getting in on it as well, and have condemned Vodacom for the move. Interestingly they note that Vodacom may well be 'blocking' sites and applications that may be offering services which 'threaten it's business' and are calling for Vodacom to disclose all sites which they block.

On MyBroadband's ongoing thread about the topic (13 pages as of writing!), Vodacom's online representative admits that they "did not expect so many 'problematic' sites". He admitted "In speaking with the other Vodafone countries who implemented this first, they pretty much had the same experience". Surely it would have made sense to include these other company's 'white lists' from the get go? I'm pretty sure many of the major problem sites (such as Twitter and Facebook) would already have been identified by them?


[Update 10/07/20080

This whole issue seems to be slowly cooling down, with Vodacom having made a concerted effort to deal with users' complaints. This is case-by-case though and I do have to wonder how many less-savvy user have just been assuming they are doing something wrong and just not reported site problems. In the same thread mentioned above on MyBroadand, Vodacom's representative claims that "first results that came back from the lower-end handset user surveys gave a 88% 'improved' browsing experience". I'd love to know how frequently their respondents make use of anything other than the VLive site though. I did particularly enjoy his comment hon how they (Vodacom) have been hit by this problem:

I think we can now officially declare Vodacom to be properly beaten up, sh@t out, kicked in the groin, spat at, made out to be idiots and general achieved status slightly lower than snail poo on how we deployed this thing......

Made out? I'd prefer to think they were idiots about how they handled it and stubborn ones at that. At least there seems to be steady progress.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Due to a recent combination of a lack of focus on a Friday afternoon, the temptation to optimise Natz' always-in-contact behaviour and some gremlins in Twitter's systems I recently tried out a couple of microblogging services and tools. I thought I'd write a quick summary of each of them with pros and cons as I see them. This list is by no means comprehensive, there are loads of similar services and tools out there, but these are the couple I tried. I'll leave the debate about the value (or lack thereof) of microblogging for another time ;)


Twitter is a microblogging service. Arguably the most popular service of it's kind, and probably the one to bring microblogging into the mainstream, Twitter is the epitome of simple. Type in a message of 140 characters or less, hit enter, and all your followers see the message. Replies and direct messages to specific users are possible too.

+ Simple as it gets.

+ Supported by loads of external apps and extended by third party service to add things like pictures and location mapping.

+ Integrates well with existing habits (SMS and IM)

- Stability over the time I've been using it is hardly impressive.


Plurk is a microblogging service. Similarly to Twitter, Plurk allows users to submit short status messages, but maps these on a graphic timeline and adds the concept of a conversation, as well as a karma score for activity on the service and a verb system.

+ Groups related messages in conversations.

+ Having a 'score' encourages users to be active and social.

+ Integrates with IM.

- Support from related services is limited, and application support is nonexistent.

- Replies in conversations are initially hidden, making a quick overview impossible and overcomplicating the service.

- Verbs really seem like a pointless addition and further complicates things.



HelloTXT is a social networking update service. The service aims to remove the pain of updating all your social networks, including microblogging services. The dashboard allows quick submission of updates to various services for non-members. Members can customize the services displayed on their dashboard and store the login details for each of their services.

+ Non-members can easily test out the service before signing up.

+ Support for a wide range of networks.

+ Mobile version of the site.

+ Support for sending images.

+ Individual services can be enabled and disabled for each update.

+ Email submission of updates.

+ SMS submission of updates.

- No IM integration.



A social network updating service. This service is very similar to HelloTXT, and has very similar network support. It is currently in limited beta, with beta codes available on request.

+ Support for a wide range of networks.

+ Mobile version of the site.

+ iPhone optimised version of the site.

+ IM integration.

+ Custom triggers to easily direct updates to specific networks.

+ Email submission of updates.

+ Multiple posting profiles to control which networks updates are sent to.

- No image support.


Twibble is a mobile twitter client. Twibble displays tweets from friends as well as submitting tweets. It has an interesting focus on location information, making it a good match for a phone like the N95 with an integrated GPS.

+ Easy to post tweets and view friends' tweets.

+ Easy integration of location data, including realtime GPS data.

+ Stable and quick.


Also a mobile twitter client. In the same vein as Twibble, TinyTwitter's distinguishing feature is that it downloads friends' profile pictures.

- Easy to post tweets and view friends' tweets.Friend profile pictures.

- Unstable and buggy.


Shozu is an excellent all round content submission tool. In addition to all it's other cool features (some of which I've covered here), it supports both Twitter and TwitPic. You can submit updates to Twitter and view friends' recent tweets. IF only it had a complete, integrated feed of your and your friends' tweets it would be a great option.

+ Easy to post tweets.

+ Twitpic support

- Clumsy separate views of your and friends' updates.



To round up, if it's not obvious from the above my choices would be Twitter, Twibble, HelloTXT or Ping.FM (they each have their advantages) and of course Shozu. Plurk really just overcomplicates things and TinyTwitter is inexcusably buggy.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

We (apparently) don't need no biodiversity

Dot Earth has an extremely sad story about two species that are now officially considered extinct. These are not some obscure insect or microbe, but rather the Caribbean Monk Seal and Yangtze River Dolphin. Specifically in the case of the dolphin, a letter from government biologist Robert L. Pitman points out that this Chinese water mammal was wiped out not due to being hunted for food or some other need, but simply because of human lifestyle. The following quote is eye-opening and saddening:

Sorry if I got a little emotional here, but the disappearance of an entire family of mammals is an inestimable loss for China and for the world. I think this is a big deal and possibly a turning point for the history of our planet. We are bulldozing the Garden of Eden, and the first large animal has fallen.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Listen to this!

If you're bored of your looping MP3 playlist (those are all legal, right?), here's some interesting listening material for you.

Lay off the stuff

I've posted about The Story of Stuff before, and also about Colin Bevin aka NoImpactMan. Well recently Rebecca Clark, a Methodist preacher from the states gave a great sermon preaching the same lose-the-stuff concept and emphasised the advantages. She also mentioned Colin's project and challenged her congregation to try abstaining from some of their stuff for a couple of days. Whether you're a Christian or not, this is a great sermon to listen to, and if you are a Christian you'll find it interesting to hear the Bible does indeed back up the 'less stuff' mantra. The sermon page can be found here, or stream the MP3 below.

Gamasutra Podcast is back!

After the GDC Radio Gamasutra Podcast had to be put on hold for a while for personal reasons, Tom Kim is back in the saddle at last. For this edition he's interviewing Gamecity director Ian Simons, and I have to say it sounds like an awesome event and I wish I could attend it! Ian also has some interesting views about the industry and how we continually compare ourselves to cinema. Check it out on GDCRadio or stream it below.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Climate doubters insert

This is a video I picked up on NoImpactMan. It's an insert from a Canadian TV station on the misinformation campaign funded by big energy companies. It  unfortunately doesn't reveal much, but it's nice to see the media is catching on to this FUD from the energy corps instead of propagating it.


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