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December 31, 2010

2010 Internal Year In Review (Month by Month)

With almost 400 posts in the year, you no doubt missed some, and January probably seems like ancient history. That's why at the end of each year, I try to summarize the 12 months that just went by on the blog to see if we all can remember the big news and opinion that passed through this place. Interspersed with the day by day updates, the product launches and feature enhancements, I did manage to expand the family and the house and get more embedded in Web startup land with a new role.

Maybe I blogged about all these changes and maybe I didn't. 2010 saw a resurgence in tech startups after a poor economy shelved many ideas in 2008 and 2009, leading some to even claim there was a bubble. To be honest, I don't think there is one, but a few late stage companies that deserve it got funded at big levels. Now let's make sure to recap.

Reviews for the year 2009 and the year 2008 are of course available for those of you who just stopped by this year.

The word of 2008 was "launched". The word of 2009 was "Twitter". The word of 2010 was probably "Android".

January

I started the year saying computing would get thinner, mobile and connected... noted Apple tablet reruns... discussed iPhone owners first considering Android... begged for OS neutral data... checked Technorati's pulse... got a MacBook Air... said the iPad would sell like crazy... and said you should be driven and never compromise.

February

February reported on Apple's growing chip division... saw Siri launch for artificial intelligence... the introduction of Google Buzz... which validated FriendFeed... based on open standards. Cadmus launched for Twitter relevance... and BuzzGain was acquired by Meltwater.

March

In March, TiVo launched the Premiere line of DVRs... SocialToo protected against Twitter phishing attacks... Google Reader hit Play... while Blogger added templates... and Twitter's Ev Williams bombed in a SXSW interview. Qwotebook launched... my6sense launched an Attention API... and my wife and I announced we were pregnant with baby #3.

April

In April, I belatedly started using Foursquare... I was annoyed with my iPad... but noted confusion from developers in terms of focus... Rick Klau left Blogger to head Google Profiles... I joined the MyLikes advisory board... Twazzup launched a Twitter client... Fabulis launched... Steve Jobs became an e-mail machine, and Facebook started pushing "Like" activity to third parties.

May

I mocked Apple's focus on Flash when AT&T was a bigger enemy... Scout Labs was acquired by Lithium... I expanded use of Google Buzz... I grew tired of the echo chamber and attacks and attended Google IO, which saw the introduction of the Chrome Web store... the Google Buzz API... Google TV and argued iPhone users were in for it. I tested Android for the first time... and said mobile choices came down to your focus.

June

By June I reported Android was pretty good and hit 5,000 tweets. Spotify went social... I joined Qwotebook's advisory board... fell in love with Redfin... tried to be pragmatic... heard rumors of Google Me... and saw Brizzly roll out picnics.

July

July saw Blogger add stats, my kids take to the iPads... a call for data independence... I goofed up and thought Foursquare would buy Brizzly... saw Kosmix introduce a cool Twitter extension... I officially switched to Android... saw the launch of Flpboard and Friendly for iPad... and moved across town where I suffered without broadband for a week.

August

August saw me misinterpret internal Twitter accounts as new features.... I had some dingbat fraudulently use my identity... the storage world got hot with acquisition mania... I announced joining my6sense... and Braden was born the next day.

September

In September, Spotify and Sonos teamed up... while I predicted the future of search... my6sense came to Android... people debated the future of RSS, again... and Google Me rumors had us investigating social layers or networks. By end of month, OneTrueFan launched... and AOL purchased Brizzly.

October

By October, I got the new Apple TV... Tweetbeat launched for real-time Twitter events... Yobongo launched for location chat... Marissa Mayer was moved to location... the attention crisis accelerated... I visited the new Google campus store... and rumors about Apple looking to buy Spotify were false.

November

In November, Lazyfeed launched Lazyscope... and Sonos sent me a wireless iPod dock... I predicted the third wave of the Web would be personal... Blekko and Rockmelt launched... I switched to the Samsung Epic... as did Path... and Hotpot... while Cliqset shut down... and new iPad competition from Android emerged.

December

As the year wrapped, Google Reader came to Android... while Facebook expanded friend discovery... I was featured on CNN to discuss privacy, which led to phone calls... Gawker's database was compromised... and Delicious looked to be dying. I bought the NOOKColor... saw the launch of Beluga... argued iPhone fans were discounting Android... summarized Quora's growth... got hooked on the Samsung Galaxy Tab and tried out Google's Chrome OS laptop, the CR-48.

So that was our year. Launches, new gadgets and new operating systems galore. Discussion of openness and data portability, success and failure. If you've just bumped into the blog, now you'll get a solid idea of what we do here. Even with all these links, the hardest part was making sure I caught all the big stuff. On to 2011.

Batting .400 For My 2010 Predictions in the Tech World

At the end of each year, it has been something of a tradition to make wild predictions that few others are making, and then mock myself for those I got wrong. This year should be no different. At the end of 2009, I made concrete predictions for the world of tech, which assumed a strong IPO market, increased acquisitions and some specifics from the big players, including Apple and Google. As usual, I got some right, and others wrong. Let's see how I fared.

History: Predictions for 2010, 2009 and 2008. Results for 2009 and 2008.

1. Twitter Manages to Complete 2010 With No Major Hacking or Security Incidents

Right. After a shaky start to the company's life in terms of both scale and security, Twitter really held its own in 2010. They didn't get hacked and for the most part, they stayed up. There were no large-scale hacking incidents for major users and no strategy docs leaked to TechCrunch. It's the little things.

2. Seeing Android and iPhone, Windows Mobile Will Aim for Parity, and Fail

Right. Fail is a strong word, so maybe I'm presumptuous here. But Windows Phone 7 is absolutely an approach to take on Android and iPhone, and early reports haven't been great in terms of sales. Given the late launch of the product, I would have to take more of a wait and see attitude to see the final result, but thus far, it'd be a stretch to see them in a strong #3 role in the smartphone race.

3. Apple Will End Exclusivity With AT&T, Adding T-Mobile and Verizon

Wrong. Another year went by with AT&T acting as Apple's boat anchor. Rumors again are flaring up around Verizon, but not in time for 2010 to be counted.

4. Facebook Will Announce a Migration Plan for FriendFeed Users

Wrong. FriendFeed is still there, just as it always was, with a dedicated community, not going anywhere. Facebook keeps it alive even though many of the acquired FriendFeed team have since left.

5. Google Wave Will Exit 2010 Still In Beta

Wrong. I expected Google Wave to not be ready enough to consider a solid product, but I certainly didn't anticipate the product being axed outright. Even by Google's standards, that was a very short-lived product.

6. Facebook, Zynga, LinkedIn Will All Go Public

Wrong. Not even close. One thing I hadn't anticipated relative to historic activity was the strong role played by Russia's DST, who has made hundreds of millions of dollars available to late-stage companies like Facebook, Zynga and others. The increased demands of going public at a time when rewards for late stage investment are so high has reduced the need to go public early in a company's life cycle.

7. Chrome OS Netbooks Will Be Available from Major Retailers

Wrong. I may have a Chrome OS Notebook, but it came straight from Google in an early trial. It's too early for this product to be sitting at Best Buy or Fry's, but maybe this changes next year some time.

8. Many Social Media Experts Will Launch Mediocre Agencies

Right. I am sure this is true and don't even have to go back it up. :) Even in looking at some of the lesser-read tech blogs that infiltrate my Google Reader, I can see a lot of folks took side jobs as independent consultants focused on social media, and it doesn't seem they are all that differentiated. Feedback from companies I have worked with in various roles indicates they are pitched often by SMEs with sleazy tactics.

9. Google, Facebook and Apple Will All Make $1B+ Acquisitions

Wrong. Not that it was Google's fault of course. The company made very visible overtures to Groupon and allegedly to Twitter as well, with no success. Facebook remains cheap, while Apple did its spending on Quattro Wireless and Siri early in the year, at prices less than a billion bucks.

10. The Real-Time Search Market Will Consolidate

Right. Very much so. OneRiot got out of the real-time search game altogether and launched an ad network. Twazzup's founders launched a Twitter client and later the Facebook iPad app Friendly instead of focusing on search. Collecta and Topsy are still out there, but I would venture a guess that most users will just turn to Twitter and Google for real-time search instead of going to the lesser-known startups.

Total score? 4 out of 10, just about where I usually bat, not because I am a bad guesser, but because I don't like guessing the obvious and would rather have some fun with each year's predictions. In 2009's predictions, I scored 4 1/2, and only 1 1/2 for 2008. Maybe I'll break 50% next year and maybe not.

The Top 15 Stories on LouisGray.com in 2010


With almost 400 stories in 2010 posted on the blog, some definitely rose higher than others in prominence, due to breaking news, interesting insight or simply sharing my personal experience, as my view on the technology landscape changed, as did my preferences. While total posts on the site were down almost 30 percent year over year, thanks to the addition of baby #3, a new job that sees phone calls as likely at midnight as any other time, and greater filters on my side, to avoid feeding the echo chamber of repetitive tech bloggers, there are a number which gained more traction than any other. From a quick visit to Google Analytics, it seems my move from iPhone to Android gained the most attention, by far, as did discussion of Apple, Google, Facebook and social media strategies.

To see last year's results, catch: The Top 15 Stories on LouisGray.com in 2009

The Top 15 stories authored in 2010, in order of highest traffic to least:

1. Why I Turned In My iPhone and Went Android
July 10, 2010

Despite this being far and away the biggest story on the site in 2010, I didn't expect that to be the case, nor did I do anything useful to hype it. Having made the choice to go Android, turning in my iPhone earlier in the week, I felt it made sense to explain my choice. About 20 minutes to midnight on a Saturday, when nobody should be reading tech blogs, I summarized my thoughts. Robert Scoble, an hour or so later, said he couldn't kick the Apple iPhone habit. Bizarrely the post hit Techmeme and for much of Sunday, was the 2nd biggest story on the Tech Web. I was inundated with comments from Apple fans telling me I was a fool.

But that wasn't the end of it. John Gruber of Daring Fireball linked to the story on Monday, and said the piece was "thoughtful" but assumed Android would eventually be better than iOS, not that it is now. That kept traffic flowing, and I honestly couldn't read every comment as it hit my e-mail. I moved them all to archives, and later caught up.

2. While Apple Slept On Their Hobby, Google Executed
May 20, 2010

Second in the Apple vs Google discussion was a recap I made of the Google TV unveiling at Google IO. Since the post, Apple TV reloaded with a new stream-oriented box, and Google TV has had a slow start, but at the time, Google seemed to be making a lot more headway and noise about its product while Apple had been remarkably silent.

3. iPhone 4 Is Nice, But It's Not Enough to Slow Android
June 7, 2010

A clear tilt in my thinking of iPhone vs Android before I made the full switch, I looked closely at the iPhone 4 unveiling, with some glimmer of hope that Steve Jobs and team would do such a grand invention that I'd be a fool to switch sides. Unfortunately, the iPhone 4 looked very nice - the best Apple had ever done - but it was hardly revolutionary. Combined with the market forces behind Android, it seemed clear to me where momentum was headed.

4. 50 Startups Worth Watching
June 9, 2010

Showcasing Symbaloo, a Paladin client, I organized my thoughts on 50 top startups mid-way through the year that I was watching. Foursquare and Spotify topped the list, with others, like Blippy and Quora also featuring prominently. Interestingly, I had posted my6sense at #14 overall, more than two months before taking a fulltime role with the company in late August.

5. How to Bring Your Google Buzz Entries to Twitter
February 11, 2010

With Google Buzz just having launched under much visibility, many folks wanted to make their Buzz posts synchronize with other services. The addition of Google2Twitter made it simple.

6. Unfriending, Unfollowing, Unsubscribing... Less Is More
November 29, 2010

The multitude of connections we all have in our many social networks can at times become overwhelming. In the interest of getting more signal and less noise, I dramatically reduced the number of connections I had on both Facebook and Twitter, and even started trimming Google Reader feeds.

7. iPhone Armageddon: A Week With Android & EVO
June 1, 2010

Having gained the HTC Evo from Google IO, I opted to give the device a fair shake, rather than be dismissive of it, as I had anticipated I would. What I found was surprisingly good, and led to my eventual switch to Android, helped by the minor upgrades of iPhone 4.

8. Why I am Using Google Buzz as An Alternative to Facebook
May 8, 2010

While Google Buzz has been slammed by a number of tech sites for the gulf of what it delivered against their overhyped expectations, I found the site very useful, bringing the aggregation I always liked of FriendFeed to a new place. I outlined how I could use Buzz as an alternative to Facebook.

9. Should Social Profiles Live On When People Die?
July 3, 2010

One of the creepier things about Facebook was my often seeing the site request I reconnect with people who had passed on. Clearly, they hadn't updated their profile in some time, but the catch was they couldn't. Michael McKean, my example, had died due to leukemia and would never post a status update again. But Facebook suggested we talk more. Algorithm fail.

10. Facebook Starts Mandatory Profile Linkage to Public Pages
April 29, 2010

Facebook underwent many different updates to one's profile during the year. In April, those things you liked couldn't just sit as text on your profile, but were automatically connected to public fan pages of those items, be they bands, brands or products. It seemed a little pushy to me, and something that benefited the network moreso than its users.

11. Author: Zuckerberg has "Total Control" over Facebook
June 23, 2010

Speaking of Facebook (3 in a row!), after I attended a presentation from The Facebook Effect's author, David Kirkpatrick, I highlighted his comments, which said Mark Zuckerberg had "total control" over the site. This key quote was enough to gain the interest of Huffington Post's Technology section, who linked it up and drew a good amount of traffic.

12. Friendly: The Best Facebook Experience for iPad
July 24, 2010

One of the biggest successes on the iTunes store for iPad apps was Friendly. Friendly replicated the Facebook experience on the big screen, and in the absence of Facebook having an official iPad application, the company's developers had a gold mine on their hands. I knew it was a big deal and was first to write about it. It's leading the pack more than five months later.

13. The Third Wave of the Web Will Be Uniquely Personal
November 7, 2010

Working at my6sense, I think a lot about personalization and prioritization of content, so the best things come to you as an individual, not as a demographic. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed we were on the cusp of a big wave - one toward personalization, following on the founding of the Web to share information and the ongoing movement toward social. Shortly after my post, stories written by founders at Gravity and Trapit, both posted on TechCrunch, echoed my views.

14. New Apple TV Extends Fragmentation, Cupertino Style
October 1, 2010

Once the new Apple TV came into our home, I was excited to see what it could deliver, but soon found myself wanting, as the channel lineup on the device was dramatically reduced from its predecessor. With a focus on streaming, Apple was unable to sign enough deals that made the entertainment options on the product similar to what one could expect. This kind of fragmentation was annoying, and reminded me of the many similar complaints that critics would through at Android and its array of devices.

15. We Apple Fans Are In Mac Tablet Rumors Reruns
January 2, 2010

If 2010 was all about tablets, and specifically the iPad, we were already buzzing about it by January. For this longtime Mac fan, it seemed like deja vu all over again. Unlike year after year of previous rumors, however, this one came true.

I would like to say that 2010 was the fifth year in a row with more than 500 posts, but it wasn't. Every day I go without posting I feel guilty, but it is just as important for me to drive quality through the site and share with you what I'm thinking, sitting in an interesting intersection of the Web, from the big tech giants and the smallest startups. Already curious what the top 15 stories of 2011 will be.

The ChromeOS CR-48 Experience: Fast, Promising, Early


While the tech elite gained notifications early in the month that their Google ChromeOS-powered CR-48 notebooks were on their way, and thousands of others flocked to submit their names to become one of the lucky chosen 60,000 few to get access to what could be the first version of the next big operating system, my e-mail box remained empty. I must have groused about it enough that my wife finally took to her blog to lodge complaint with Google (somewhat tongue in cheek). Come Christmas morning, the last surprise for me was that she had subsequently conspired with some well-thinking Google staffers to make the device available for the holiday (along with some fun Android figurines). While I had to scowl at her end-run which delayed my access to the notebook, I finally put my ego aside and have been using the CR-48 intermittently for about a week, and have found it to be filled with intriguing promise, even if this is clearly not the final package.

The major hypothesis of the ChromeOS plan is that the future is the Web. Web sites, Web services and Web applications. As such, the main differentiation between the ChromeOS powered notebook and that of more traditional laptops running Windows or Mac is that there is very little of the desktop metaphor, with a local hard drive to save all of your documents and run your software applications. Running ChromeOS is much like a terminal that only runs the Web browser. Like the Hotel California, you can try to quit the app, but you can never truly leave.

First impressions with the Chrome OS are very smart. After taking a photo with the bulit-in Webcam to take your profile photo and finding the nearest WiFi point, you connect with your Google ID, and the service pulls in bookmarks you may have synchronized across your Chrome browser. If you are a person who lives on the Web, you're practically set. Theoretically, all your e-mail, your social networks, your favorite Web sites, and even your documents (if you use Google Docs) are right there. What more could you possibly want?

The hardware, the less revolutionary but still nice to have, half of the equation, is extremely minimalist. Black all the way around. Quiet. Very quiet. It wakes up quickly from having the screen closed, and is quite smooth. After years of seeing my keyboard YELL AT ME with letters in full caps, the Google CR-48 is soothingly lower case. Even the CAPS LOCK key is gone, replaced with a search button - not that I found myself using that any more than just typing a word in the browser bar and hitting return if I truly wanted something. The trackpad is not the best in the world, but you can get used to it.

For someone raised in the desktop metaphor with applications, the feeling that I can't get out of the browser and "get to my files" is a bit disconcerting and takes some rethinking. Jokingly, I saw it as if a person had been placed on house arrest. Sure, you can still watch TV and get food from the fridge, and maybe even have visitors over, but you can't do anything outside beyond looking out the window. The lock-in seemed forced, even if I understood why. It's something of the nature where it's assumed Google knows best for me, even if the user is left wondering if its their own best interests that are being served, or that of the company.

At the early stage of ChromeOS's life, it's tempting to list those things you can't really do. You have a Webcam, but it doesn't work to take photos for some Web services, as neither Brizzly and Facebook could recognize it, while Gmail's built in video chat could. You can download Zip files from e-mail attachments, but not unpack them. Taking screenshots looks like an impossibility.

That brings us to the Chrome Web store, the accepted place to run applications in the browser. Nicely laid out, reminiscent of iTunes, there's a great number of options there, but it's early days, so for every well thought out app, there are others that just serve as shortcuts to existing services, or lower-quality apps. Believers will have to be patient as the iTunes Store was not a huge winner back in 2003 either, and it will take time for developers to learn how to code for Chrome OS.

Included with the CR-48 notebook is embedded 3G wireless from Verizon, which makes the device very appealing for mobile computing. In the interest of not adding another 3G bill beyond that from my two Samsung Sprint devices, I did not enable this, but obviously could see the value.

Like many of Google's products, the device and the underlying OS is very useful from day one. It's clean. It's fast. Its battery is very good and the compatibility of practically all sites and services on the OS is very good. But also like other Google products, to fully adopt the direction takes something of faith, that improvements and compatibility with more hardware and more flexibility is on its way.

To have consumers purchase Chrome OS laptops, once they hit the market, serious efforts will need to be taken to convince people why putting everything in the cloud, and abandoning (for the most part) applications they know well, will help their lives. It's not just enough to built an intriguing device, but to also successfully sell the story around the device. For the thousands of brave souls who have access to the CR-48, getting the new laptop is fun, but also free. In parallel, we will need to see growth in applications and services to take advantage of ChromeOS, to ensure confidence we can close down our Macs and our Windows machines and go completely Google.

In a Year of Tablets, I'm Hooked on the Samsung Galaxy Tab



This morning, I looked around the room and see three tablets in three corners. My wife's iPad was charging on one side of the room, while her Barnes and Noble NOOKColor was on the nightstand. By me was the Samsung Galaxy Tab. Three tablets, three manufacturers, all with different uses.

It struck me very clearly how 2010 was the year that tablets finally came to be useful household items, accelerated by Apple of course (after years of rumors), but in the end, the one I've been using the most has been the Samsung Galaxy Tab. I have found the 7 inch form factor extremely inviting, and it's going with me practically everywhere, thanks to built in 3G support.

Tablets? The iPod Touch, Samsung Epic, NOOKColor, Galaxy Tab and iPad.

At risk of falling into "most recent gadget acquired" syndrome, the Galaxy Tab is absolutely my favorite and most-enjoyed electronic gizmo of the moment. It takes what I've already enjoyed about Android, including significant customization, flexibility and integration with all my Google Services, and brought it to a bigger, high quality screen, and a very fast processor that runs every app I throw at it.

The Galaxy Tab vs the iPad In Size

Sitting in between my Samsung Epic phone and the MacBook Air, in terms of size, the Galaxy Tab is big enough to present full-colored demos to potential business partners, while also being small enough to put in an inside jacket pocket or jeans back pocket. The device is lightweight and easy to maneuver one handed, which has come increasingly handy when reading books, RSS feeds, Twitter or anything else when balancing a 4 month old baby. In contrast, the iPad's weight and bulk, not to mention heavy metal exterior, fails in this regard. The Galaxy Tab has a smooth plastic exterior that easily grips to your hand, but isn't so harsh as to be uncomfortable if rested on the chest or lap (real-world use case, people!).

My Galaxy Tab Home Screen

Many people have remarked that the Galaxy Tab is essentially a larger Android phone. That is true. In fact, to my surprise, when purchasing the Tab, Sprint assigned a phone number to the device, even though it is not configured to make phone calls. It seems the exact same hardware went into the device, plus a bigger screen, battery and CPU. So if you're already an Android user, you'll be pleased to find it running Android 2.2 and doing just as you would expect. This is very similar to Apple's unified OS strategy between their tablet and iPhone.

The Galaxy Tab's screen is the best I've tried. It is extremely clear and has high quality icons for apps and all services. The larger screen also allows for 5 icons to be stacked horizontally, unlike the standard 4 for most Android phones, which doesn't sound like a big deal until Android widgets built for the "four icons across" size show room remaining.

Like the iPad and the Barnes and Noble NOOKColor, the Galaxy Tab's battery is very good. While practically every smartphone I have used has been fragile to venture far from a power source, all the tablets have had significant lifespan and can go days without a charge. I've taken the Tab with me on car trips and used the 3G network (from the passenger seat mind you), to use Google Talk and answer e-mail, or catch up on the various social networks. I've even used the Galaxy Tab to take Christmas photos and video tape the twins running at the park - although holding the Tab in front of me to record them no doubt looks very silly compared to today's compact cameras.

With CES looming around the corner, and Motorola promising to launch a new tablet with a new version of Android, it's possible the Galaxy Tab's position at the top of Android tablets could be short lived. But it's clearly a real contender to the crown. It's fast, it's flexible, and the 7 inch form factor is extremely compelling. If you are looking for something smaller than the iPad or simply prefer Android, you'd do yourself a service to try out the Tab and add it to your arsenal.

The Quora Phenomenon - Peaking on Value & Authenticity

Unless you've been completely logged out of all social networks, taking the post-Christmas week off as part of a tech detox, you have no doubt bumped into discussion of Quora, the red-hot question and answer site that has taken Silicon Valley by storm. Already an intriguing site that has seen well-respected people who do not typically participate on Q&A sites answer probing and provocative questions about their current or former businesses, the site has seen an explosion of new users, spawning an ever-growing array of discussions on practically any topic. And unlike the more mainstream Q&A sites, which have decayed into primary sources for jokes exposing the vacuousness of the below-average American, quality so far has remained strong on Quora, spawning hopes that this time, the formula is done right.

The mission of Quora is a simple one, theoretically, stated as a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited and organized by its users. This makes it share some commonalities with Wikipedia, with the community self-policing what answers are correct or incorrect, through voting them up or down, be it due to the users' identity or the value of the answer itself. The more accurate and transparent the answer, the more likely to be accepted by the community, of course.

Some of the Answers I Voted up on Quora

The site has been especially interesting for Silicon Valley insiders, who have used it as a forum to ask advice on fundraising, how to operate in a startup, or ask investigative questions about companies' origins. The seeming exclusivity of the site, where top bloggers, entrepreneurs, VCs and business people are interacting with the same people who enjoy their products has been extremely attractive - especially when they truthfully answer burning questions we've all had.

More than a year ago, I said that any successful social site needed to nail three points, namely: Technology, Community and Relevancy. Quora has delivered on all three, rapidly tying people to relevant topics, connecting them with people from other networks or just within the site, and providing an intelligent platform that helps surface quality.

One of my Answers on Quora

The attention to quality is especially critical for Quora. The community's ability to edit questions or answers manages to keep discussion accurate, while logs are kept for each edit, so one can see if responses are being redirected. Answers can be voted up by the community, and it's clear who is doing the voting, providing another layer of authenticity to the service.

Another big value for Quora is the return to long-form discussions. In a world of Twitter and Facebook, where discussions are measured in character counts, Quora's rich question and answers, complete with nested replies, seem much more fulfilling. Robert Scoble called this an ingredient of major blogging innovation, which helped kick off the spike in users, but even if it's not revolutionary, it's great to see more in depth discussion than abbreviations, hashtags and @replies.

Where I have heard people express concern about Quora is what could happen if it breaks into the mainstream and becomes diluted as sites like Yahoo! Answers have, suffering from the chatroom phenomenon that doomed other sites targeted toward casual discussions. Safeguarding Quora from this is the use of one's real identity, connected through Facebook or Twitter, and the community's ability to downvote or mark as "Not Helpful" responses that don't pass muster.

(See also: Skeptic Geek: Is Quora Becoming What Google Buzz Should Have Been?)

What I think is more risky than more people jumping into the fray is people simply declining to participate. The site is gaining huge value today from people candidly and transparently providing good answers to sometimes tough questions. If they choose to stop, putting a rein on the openness, the value can be lost, meandering into a world where users simply discuss products or trends. It may also simply be at the peak of its Hype Cycle, before falling into Gartner's famed Trough of Disillusionment. But this feels a lot more sticky than a fly-by-night idea. The site is becoming a valuable repository for insight into people and services, and each discussion smartly leads you to new people and new related topics, helping keep your interest level high.

Without falling into the real-time sieve that can drown casual users of sites like Twitter and FriendFeed, Quora does maintain the feeling of newness. The site's front page shows notifications for activity on your network or previous history, and shows trending people and topics. If there's something going on in the site relevant to you, it has a good shot at finding your attention - without seeing items fall from the top in a never-ending waterfall.

The Quora Front Page, With Recent Activity

I've recently used Quora to discuss the popularity of Google Reader, why people still use FriendFeed, and why my6sense utilized implicit behavior to rank content. Many others are dropping interesting questions and receiving interesting answers.

I am hoping the site does not become yet another place to count followers and connections, but the numbers are going up. You can find me on the site here: http://www.quora.com/Louis-Gray.

December 29, 2010

Hey LinkedIn, YooHav a Site Scraper Called YooHav.com

Editor's Note: Nicholas James reports YooHav is using the "LinkedIn" template by SocialEngine.

Mass e-mail spam to introduce a social network isn't usually the most advisable way to get press. But after multiple e-mails dripped into my in box today talking of YooHav.com, a new social network to connect with friends, I opted to give the newbie entrepreneur the benefit of the doubt and at least give them a look.

But the first page, asking me to sign up, tells me all I need to know about the service - which obviously and blatantly ripped off LinkedIn's look and feel, including colors, page layout and even the cheap looking clip art you see if you are not logged in. And it gets worse once you start to check out other pages on the site, including dead-end invitations and single-sourced "blog" entries. A total mess.

LinkedIn's Home Page (Logged Out)

YooHav.com's Sign Up Page (Look Familiar?)

Not interested in signing up to another site and providing yet another place to have my contact details misused, YooHav is going to get a big skip from me.

Just as Reeder claimed iPad RSS app copycat MobileRSS had mimicked practically every design attribute last week, LinkedIn will no doubt see the similarities between its own site and that of YooHav.

YooHav features a black text logo with its last few letters encapsulated in a blue box with rounded corners. So does LinkedIn. YooHav features soft blue text to explain its service. So does Linkedin. Yoohav features three bullets explaining its goals next to three pieces of clip art. So does LinkedIn. In fact it's the same three... YooHav's sign up form is in a rectangular box with a rounded blue top. So is LinkedIn's. YooHav then prompts for you to Search for someone by name. So does LinkedIn.

It's pretty obvious what's going on here. At the very least, YooHav has very clearly ripped off LinkedIn's look and feel in a shortcut to make what they bill as "an all-purpose tool for finding friends". I have no clue what they intend to do with your data if you register, or even if there's something legitimate going on underneath the illegitimate makeup.

I invited myself to sign up. Nice e-mail address and title, YooHav.

On Twitter, Shel Israel asked if new social networks like Yoohav get people to join by sending e-mail spam. Hopefully not, but this one is so obviously dirty, you'd have to be twelve degrees of naive to fall for it.

Bubbalon: Fun Ratings, Reviews and Sentiment Sharing

On the Internet, it seems there's little more we enjoy doing than telling people what we like and what we don't. Facebook's Like button is becoming ubiquitous, and there are many sites that let you review movies you've seen, give star ratings to products you've purchased and restaurants you've visited. Yelp, Amazon and Rotten Tomatoes have built successful businesses with reviews at the core. Reviews are also a major reason I became so hooked on Blippy - not just getting to share my purchase habits, but to tell you why and learn from your own experience. A new-ish startup called Bubbalon recently caught my eye, and they've managed to make community ratings and reviews of products, people and events fun - delivering a sentiment rating that you can dive into, not just globally, but across your friends, or even across demographics you choose.

The objective of Bubbalon is to surface how people feel about products, brands or people. Of course, to encourage participation, users are provided ratings derived from their activity on site, from rating sites to leaving comments, adding objects and acting as a moderator.

Rating McDonald's On Bubbalon

Unlike some niche sites that focus on a specific topic, Bubbalon's treasure trove of objects is open-ended, from big brands like McDonald's and Samsung Electronics, to products like the iPhone 4 and Samsung Epic 4G, people, like Glenn Beck, or even blogs. It turns out louisgray.com has racked up 10 reviews - most positive.

A Discussion on Diet Coke Where I am Outnumbered

But beyond the total rating scores, reviews and comments, Bubbalon has more than a simple slider for each object. The site remembers your own rating for each object, of course, but also shows the world's average score, an average score from your friends on the site (which you can synch with Facebook), and if you're aggressive, you can even tell it to show you a rating based on gender, location and age criteria. This way, if you want to really find out what 18-40 year old guys in California think about McDonald's, you can get that score.

Reviewing Samsung and Adding a Comment

Incredibly, one of the more interesting popular items on Bubbalon has been the East Coast Blizzard 2010 page. While some folks are calling it "Bad", many more are saying the storm is "Excellent", saying they love the snow. This current event is one of many News items that have hit Bubbalon, from the BP Oil Spill to the Ground Zero Mosque, and the Rescue of Chilean Miners.

While I am newer to the site, and many other folks have a great deal more history, you can find my profile here. It'd be a great way to quickly drop in and add sentiment to any of the products or people you like or dislike. Bubbalon demoed at the TechCrunch Disrupt event this fall and was written up by Down the Avenue, including aspects of their location sync with Foursquare. There's an option, should you dare, to pull your Foursquare checkins to Bubbalon and rate them there.

You can follow Bubbalon on Twittter at @bubbalon. I am on Bubbalon at http://bubbalon.com/user/1011.

December 26, 2010

The iPhone Fanboys Can't Handle the Truth On Android

The big news in this weekend's blogosphere circles around predictions that 2011 will be even more dramatic a success for Android than 2010, and unsurprisingly, the iPhone-aholics are coming out of the woodwork to tell us that this is a terrible thing, cornering the discussion into one where we are supposed to believe Google's march into smartphones is only winning due to price, and that the iPhone 4 (and its successors) are dramatically "better", however that is measured, than Android alternatives. This position is no better exemplified than by Robert Scoble's post saying Fred Wilson and Fortune are Right About Android (but I hate it). This follows onto Fred's position that entrepreneurs and VCs need to get ahead by investing in Android and not iOS. This mirrors my comments from July when I said mobile app developers should look to Android before iPhone and iPad.

The differences between Apple and Android this time around are not like Apple and Microsoft of 1995, even if this is the lazy man's way out to compare the two battles. Scoble says, pleadingly, "I sure hope Steve Jobs has one of those moments where he shocks the world again and keeps this game interesting." I'll tell you what, this game already is interesting, and not because the rest of the world is waiting to see what Cupertino develops in an effort to copy its innovation extremely quickly.

I once felt the same way about my iPhone and still feel the same way in many regards to my MacBook Air (even though I am currently typing this on the CR-48). But the reality is not that Apple has held the exclusive to innovation in this space over the last 12-24 months or even longer. Android led the way in true multitasking on the phone, offers a superior GPS experience with top-notch places and maps, and is years ahead of Apple on voice search, it seems.

On Christmas, a friend of mine asked if I had ever shown my kids "Ivor the Engine" on YouTube, similar to Thomas the Train who is well known here. Even though I was uncertain to the pronunciation, I simply clicked the voice search button on my Samsung Epic, said "Ivor the Engine YouTube" into the phone, and I had a video playing in full color in seconds. Android made that happen, and while I am eager to see Apple integrate Siri, who it purchased at the beginning of 2010, I believe the tremendous investment Google has made in search and voice search specifically will keep them ahead here.

The truth is that Android can go feature by feature against iPhone now. iPhone is not yards ahead of the competition, and while there may be some clear places where Apple is ahead, it comes down to an individual's preference now, including their choice to have a keyboard (which Apple seems not interested in doing), their choice of carriers (still limited here, even if Verizon comes to the party), or many other factors. This is not like the Microsoft of the 1990s, where Apple's lead was obvious and Windows 95 was arguably the first usable OS on that platform to be considered Mac-like.

The way you can tell when tech connoisseurs have crossed the line from data to emotion is when they use blanket phrases like "In my usage of the Android-based Samsung Nexus S, I’ve found it’s still behind Apple’s iPhone in almost every way," which Scoble drops in his post. If you strongly believe a high pixel density Retina Display is demanded, great. If you think FaceTime is something you use all the time and it trumps Qik, great. But blanket statements don't work for the true nature of the mobile landscape today. Android really is that good.

When I first took the plunge into Android after Google I/O, I was almost as wary as when I had to sit down with a Windows NT box for my first Valley job. I was sure it would be terrible or I would be lost. But I kept being surprised by how the device just made sense, and how the device in many ways was better than my experience on the iPhone. In the six months since, we've only seen Android phones improve, with the expansion of Samsung's Galaxy S series, the Droid Incredible, and the introduction of Android tablets like the Galaxy Tab and Barnes and Noble's NOOKColor. I voted again on Android this Christmas when I bought my wife the NOOKColor, which she'll be using to read voraciously at the expense of her iPad use, with a slimmer form factor and reduced weight.

What was wrong about Microsoft's monopoly position in the 1990s was that they used their market strength to thwart innovation and win with business muscle and side deals rather than through value. That is not what is playing out here again. That Apple has opted out of some business relationships and reduced its potential routes to market while Android hasn't is their choice, and it's making them a ton of money. Apple is still winning as a company and will be a strong #2 in this market, and #1 in profit, as that's their focus.

If the assumption is true that Android is expanding primarily due to low-end handsets, we should be asking Apple for an iOS compatible option at a lower price point. Where is the MacBook or Mac Mini of iPhones? If the company ends up being niched at the top in price while others are providing more options, that can't be a strike against Android, but instead a business decision on the part of Cupertino.

The world of mobile is better with a strong and smart Apple in it. But don't get blinded by the Apple fans trying to define Android as a cheaper, inferior solution. It's not. Get your hands on any high quality Android device at a Sprint store or a Verizon outlet or an AT&T store or a Best Buy to try them out. Even an open minded Apple fan can respect what's happened and should be able to see innovation taking place as well as serious market momentum.

2010 In Web Services: My Top Ten Sites

    
    
    


As with my top gadgets list for 2010, this year's list is personal. It's what I use, and what I found had the most impact for me in 2010, which I found myself using every day. The services themselves are limited to being Web-based, so I am not talking about those which are primarily iOS or Android apps, but if they do have a mobile equivalent it helps. What I've found in the way I use the many Web services and sites that take my time is that I may find things first, and I don't always enjoy those which are most popular, but once I do find real value, I am as loyal as they come.

That said, here are the sites that had significant impact on me and my family in 2010. Your mileage may vary.

1) Redfin

2010 saw the arrival of baby #3 in our family. Braden, who joined us in late August, made his potential known at the beginning of the year, and this forced us to start planning a process to move up and out of our condo. With Bay Area housing prices a volatile, yet always expensive, thing, we had to use the best resources available to help navigate the housing search.

Without any hesitation, I can say Redfin saved us. We set the required criteria for potential homes to fit our growing brood, and started getting alerts in the Spring as we set favorites, getting to learn the trends in each sale and seeing the macroeconomics of the market in a microscope. Needless to say, if a home wasn't listed on Redfin.com, we didn't find it, and it's their loss. Even after buying our home in July and moving across town, I frequently use it to follow home sales in the area, and keep sure that we got the best deal for the best place we could afford.

Redfin quite possibly saved us hundreds to a thousand or more a month, or could even have meant another bedroom afforded or a shorter commute. The value is unmistakable.

2) Mint.com

Planning for both the sale of our condo and purchase of our home simultaneously, while navigating the growth of Paladin and transition to my6sense this year, has required an eagle eye into our finances, seeing how our spending has trended, up and down, and managing money flow. Mint.com has become an essential stop for keeping tabs on our home value, 401k status, bank and credit accounts to show us whether we broke even each month, or if we didn't, what the root causes were.

Planning ahead and our focus on the specifics led to our loan operators' excitement when they found we actually had already paid the 20% down on our new home, and I heavily leveraged Mint.com to balance the process, even as we had to close our purchase before the sale of our condo had closed. Doing it without Mint.com would have been a complete pain.

3) Google Reader

Even with the rise of real-time news, Google Reader's ability to catch all my RSS subscriptions in one place is unmatched. Though I have actively scaled back some of the busier or more redundant sites of late to get more time back, Reader is a cornerstone for my information consumption. It, of course, is also a major player in feeding my6sense. That I had encouraged comments and sharing of content from my Google Reader shares led to an easy transition to Google Buzz when it arrived earlier this year as well.

4) Spotify

Thanks to early tech blogger access, I have enjoyed the mainlining of music Spotify has offered for the entirety of 2010, and I've been enjoying Spotify for about 16 months by this point, without the service making US support official. Spotify is practically a music nirvana, with all the best stuff just a search away, on my Mac, our iPads or any of my Android devices. The tie-in with Sonos doubles down on the brilliance as well, delivering all the world's music anywhere in my house. For anybody in love with Last.fm, Pandora, Napster, Rhapsody, Rdio or the rest, Spotify is like getting called up to the big leagues from the minors. Practically the only time I ever visit iTunes now is to download application updates for our iPads.

When I hear new albums from my favorite artists have debuted, I don't go to Amazon.com like I once did, or iTunes. I just go to Spotify, and it seems they are always there. The fact I can call up any song and choose any point in that song and never suffer buffering or sound quality issues is seemingly magic.

5) Twitter

Twitter became even more useful in 2010 than in early years after I dramatically scaled back who I followed, set up customized lists, and gained the ability to sort the service's many updates by relevance, or show only those with links, in my6sense. Removing the link-free updates from Twitter practically put the service on the same pedestal as Google Reader RSS. On the desktop, I continue to use Tweetie for Mac, with its integrated multi-account support, tracking Paladin clients and my6sense, including keyword searches, @replies and any other discussions that could flare at any time.

To use Twitter in isolation from the rest of the Web would starve you of oxygen. But at this point, using the rest of the Web and avoiding Twitter could be similarly bad. News breaks on Twitter and your brand and products can win or lose 140 characters at a time.

6) OneTrueFan

I am gaga over OneTrueFan, not because of the gamesmanship, or even due to its top news feature just launched, but instead due to the potential for discovery from peers of mine to new sites and sources for news. OneTrueFan helps me find out where established folks who I respect are getting their news, or what services they find critical. OneTrueFan manages to be incredibly useful while also being fun. When on the desktop, I use OneTrueFan's browser bar to share articles to Twitter and Facebook, knowing I'll be rewarded for bringing new readers to the story, and to see just how effective my shares were - much like Bit.ly analytics for the entire Web.

This is the second go-round for this team, who spawned and sold MyBlogLog to Yahoo! years ago, who promptly put it through their "How to Botch an Acquisition 101" course. The band is back together and you should wait for some sweet sweet music as they build a horizontal social network that spans all the sites you visit.

7) Google Buzz

For a long-time FriendFeed devotee, the debut of Google Buzz earlier this year, delivering smart aggregation by a company promising to support it, was like manna from heaven. Pad on linking with Google Reader shares, and you could see serious potential. I wasn't as big a fan of it being locked down into a Gmail experience, but believed in its open standards pedigree and corporate promises for fast innovation. I also was one of the few who heard their caution about not taking Facebook and Twitter head-on, but looking to foster a community within Gmail.

Public bumps stalled the service's potential growth out of the gate, and while I enjoy the community a great deal there, and visit every day, it is not as big as it could be, never having launched a dedicated site, where I would spend much more time, and quietly working on its innovations, not making good news when it was available. Without having any detailed insight, I think it is safe to assume that Buzz and the Buzz experience will play a strong role in whatever Google's future social plans for 2011 will be.

8) Blippy

Speaking of amazing services with public privacy bumps that didn't get the press eating out of their hand, Blippy has evolved to play a much bigger role in my online experience than I had first anticipated. Blippy in my mind is the next step after you've first told us you "like" something, and then "checked in" on Foursquare. Blippy shows you what you did when you got there, with your own money. The company is making a real product graph to help connect consumers and bring intelligent reviews to your purchase streams.

Blippy now has pulled in about $100 million in purchases through its site. That's a good chunk of consumer data. Aren't you intrigued by what brands would want to know about these folks? Don't you want to know how Blippy will leverage this gold mine? I do.

9) Zillow

The companion piece to Redfin, Zillow helps provide value estimates for homes practically anywhere - even if they are not on the market, with trends showing if the prices are rising, falling or stable, with 1 year and 5 year histories being especially useful. As someone who just bought a home, I get a lot of fun out of keeping Zillow open on my phone as we walk the kids around the neighborhood to get an idea of the homes we are passing, and their history, or simply getting incremental updates to see if the value of our home has increased since we bought it five months ago. (It has)

10) IceRocket

Yes, Icerocket. Icerocket is the best blog search and Twitter search tool on the planet, period. That you're not using it every day means you haven't figured out why you should. I check IceRocket to watch for mentions of my activity and content in Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Video and Photo sites daily, as well as those for companies I interact with.

Missing the Buzz? Check out http://louisgray.icerocket.com/ to see what IceRocket has on me or http://my6sense.icerocket.com/ for my6sense, for example. Technorati has changed its focus. Google Blog Search seems neglected at best. IceRocket may not have the brand pizazz, but it's the best.

So who didn't I mention? Quora? Quora's cool, and maybe in 2011, it will play a bigger role, but it hasn't yet made a major impact for me in how I use the Web. Foursquare? That's a mobile experience for me. In June, I wrote up 50 startups worth watching, and that included many of these as well as others. So for a broader scope of companies I am seeing, that's not bad (from 6 months ago). Why isn't Facebook here and Twitter is? Good question. I do use Facebook a lot, but that's like telling the world I use e-mail. Duh. I didn't feel a need to tell you I use Blogger either. That's obvious. So where are you spending the most time, and am I crazy to put sites like Blippy, IceRocket and OneTrueFan so high?

December 25, 2010

2010 In Hardware: Top Ten New Gadgets In Our Home

2010 has been a fantastic time to be a tech geek and gadgets fan. Led by the rise of tablets to give technophiles another item between a phone and a laptop to take with them constantly, and flamed by the fans of competition between Google's Android and Apple's iOS, the users are reaping the rewards.

We now expect to have always-on connections to high speed Internet. We expect to have access to all our data in the world from any device, and to be able to find practically any media and play it anywhere. With this backdrop, I'd like to briefly outline the top ten new devices that entered our world in 2010 in hardware, and why they made the list. The order may surprise you. Keep in mind that this reflects my personal experience and preference, and doesn't suggest one is any more "successful" than the rest in terms of sales or market penetration. Sometimes, as an early adopter geek, it makes sense to go a different way.

1) Sonos S5

The addition of the Sonos S5 wireless music system to our home has been transformative. I liked the first demo unit I received, that I purchased it, and later bought two more, when my family and I traded up our living space and finally had room to support excellent sound in every corner of the house. Now, I take it for granted that I can tap into my computer, my iPad, or any of my Android devices and pull down streaming radio, satellite radio, Last.fm or even Spotify.

The Sonos S5 sound and form factor is such a dramatic win that it has been the centerpiece of many gatherings with friends and family who marvel at how great the sound is and how fast I can get almost any song in the world, all managed from a mobile device. The addition of a Wireless Dock to support iPods or iPhones is a big boost too for those living in a world of iTunes.



2) MacBook Air

At the beginning of the year, I shed a few pounds, not from some New Year's Resolution, but from going down from a MacBook Pro to my MacBook Air. The Air is speedy, light and is the first step at moving to the cloud, almost by necessity, thanks to its 128 GB SSD disk, about half what the Pro offered. While the Air was a 2009 model, and is already out of date compared to the newest offerings from Cupertino, it is running great and goes everywhere with me.

3) Samsung Galaxy Tab

Regardless of Steve Jobs' comments, the 7 inch tablet form factor is impressive. I haven't fully written up my experience with the Galaxy Tab yet, but it brings the best of the world of Android in a design that fits simply in one hand - perfect for e-mail, photography, surfing the Web, Facebook, or reading books. It starts on the fly with full access to the Android Market, and actually fits in your jeans pocket, or inside jacket pocket. The device is actually very fast as well. It is inevitable to be compared to the iPad, which came first, and some may find it crazy to choose the Galaxy Tab over the iPad, but I've never really warmed up to the iPad, which is used much more by my kids than me. With the Air and Galaxy Tab, the iPad is essentially the odd one out.

4) Apple iPad

The iPad is going to be #1 on many different lists this year, from sales to innovation. For years, Apple was rumored to be working on a tablet device, and in 2010, it finally came, to tremendous success, just as the iMac and iPod and iPhone before it had. It replicated the iPod experience in a much larger screen, and is the go-to device for my toddlers. The sheer weight and bulk of the device made it less of a fit for me, especially when squeezed by the MacBook Air, but I'd be naive in saying the iPad didn't break open the market for tablets in a big way.




5) Samsung Epic 4G

Having caught the Android bug, and finally having found a phone network (Sprint) that didn't drop every other call (I'm looking at you, AT&T), I was excited by the great number of solid reviews of the Epic 4G, and its inclusion of a full-featured keyboard. The device runs all my Android apps, connects to all my email services in the cloud, takes great video and photos, and yes, lets me type very quickly when answering longer emails or chat sessions. The biggest major drawback I have with the Epic is its poor GPS support, which art times can be debilitating. Regardless of this, I am quite happy with the Epic.

6) Barnes and Noble NOOKColor

I recently wrote up my experience with the NOOKColor, which delivers a nice slim 7-inch Android tablet masquerading as an eReader. It's got smart integration with Barnes and Noble's book supermarket, and syncs with the NOOK app, so I can begin reading a book on one device and pick it up on a second. Added support to transfer my own music and rich media files via USB make it smarter than a dumb eReader and getting to the Web is a few clicks away. While it doesn't come with full Android Market, it has proven extensible, so I would watch this space closely.

7) Google Chrome CR-48 Notebook

Reviewing or ranking my experience with this 2010 device isn't really fair. Turns out I got it today. I have high expectations with the direction Google is taking with the ChromeOS and making our lives more cloud-centric. It's a big reason I started migrating to the Air in the first place at the beginning of the year. My initial impressions are as expected, with tight integration to the Chrome browser (essentially the full experience), a great thin frame and nice keyboard. The trackpad, pilloried by others, still needs some work. Putting a beta product on a pedestal against established innovative leaders like the MacBook Air is not fair, but I would bet that a mix of ChromeOS and Android features will lead to some interesting product pushes in 2011 and 2012 from these teams.

8) HTC Evo 4G

The Evo 4G I picked up at Google I/O this Spring was my first dive into the world of Android, and the way it performed against my aging iPhone 3G was remarkable - giving fast performance and real multitasking in a place I had never expected. The Evo's GPS and access to the Android Market made it very solid, and put me on a strong phone network for voice for the first time in years. The drawbacks to the Evo, including bulk and low battery life, mixed with the lack of a hardware keyboard had me switching to the Epic with no hard feelings.

9) Apple TV (2010 Edition)

Established Apple TV owners since the first 40 GB generation, the long-awaited development of the new Apple TV was well anticipated, and landed with a mixed experience. The machine is incredibly small and fast access to Netflix or streamed videos and TV is great, but the greatly reduced library was a disappointment. Truth be told, the best Netflix access in our home is actually with our Nintendo Wii, so the Apple TV only really gets use when we want a movie in the evening.

10) TyPad for iPad

With the launch of the iPad came the launch of iPad accessories. One of the more useful for me was the TyPad, which combined an elegant looking iPad case with a full-fledged bluetooth keyboard. If you're one to type out full e-mails on the iPad, the TyPad is very cool. The only downside is that once I had a keyboard, I found myself also reaching for a mouse or trackpad. Old habits die hard.

Christmas also brought a second NOOKColor into our home as I bought one for my wife, so now we have two iPads, two NOOKColor devices, and one Samsung Galaxy Tab, so we have 5 tablets to go with our three laptops (counting the CR-48). I am curious to see if 2011 will be as strong. But if you haven't checked out the Sonos S5, Galaxy Tab or are in the market for a new laptop, try out the Air or CR-48. Great stuff this year.

December 22, 2010

Ex-Googlers Launch Beluga for Mobile Group Chat

Simple social apps, from photo sharing to intimate networks, to group texting services are gaining in momentum with the success of TextPlus, GroupMe, Path, Instagram and others. A new entrant to the scene is a company called Beluga, not to be confused with the Fail Whale, headed up by a small team of 3 ex-Googlers who hold pedigrees from Google AdSense, Google AdWords and Gmail. The slick product has dedicated applications for both Android and iPhone platforms, and chat archives are accessible through the company's Web site as well.

Diving into the trend of more intimate social networking, where you can share with a small group of people instead of broadcasting to an unfiltered list of friends on Facebook and Twitter, Beluga asks you to create "Pods", like groups, of people, and you can send text messages, complete with photos and embedded emoticons, to those in the Pod. The service helpfully taps into your phone Address Book so you don't have to remember everybody's number, and it lets you connect with Facebook to find friends who may already be in Beluga as well.




   
Beluga Pods and Conversations, With Photos


As one tech friend suggested (within Beluga), the service is actually a lot like Brizzly's Picnics feature, but mobile. I quickly found myself sharing photos of my kids to both my wife and my mom within the app, and setting up separate lists for Geeks or other contacts.



   
Beluga On the Android Market and One Photo In Line


Behind the app are a trio of former Google employees, including Ben Davenport, Co-founder and CEO, who sports Google AdSense on his resume, Lucy Zhang, Co-founder and President, who helped design AdWords, News and Docs while at Google, and Jonathan Perlow, also a co-founder, and CTO, who was a senior staff engineer at Google, with responsibility as the tech lead of the Gmail front-end team. He also lists Gmail Chat and Mail Goggles among his successes.

The Web View of Beluga Pods In Action

Beluga's approach asks you to "Start a Conversation". Add a person by name, email or phone number, and keep adding until you have the right folks. Then you can start sharing. On Android, the app leverages your existing photo gallery or prompts you to take new photos if you like.

For recipients who are not yet Beluga members, texts come from a 703 area code number, and include texts from both the initiator of the conversation and all respondents. If you have Beluga installed, new updates can come as notifications within the app, and don't live in your central messages folder.

textPlus has forged the way in this market with innovative pieces, including Communities, and photos, both items Beluga has from day one. You can find Beluga on the iTunes store or in the Android Market. If we're already connected on Facebook, you'll find me in your Beluga as well.

As for the name? No fail whales yet that I can see. So that can't be the reason.