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January 31, 2011

Tablets Have Great Battery Life. Everyone Else? Not Really.


Despite my consistent begging for true wireless power (since 2007, at least), as ubiquitous as WiFi, only baby steps have been taken in the last few years to divorce us from our dependence on power cords to satiate our hungry electronic devices. As our devices become more capable, and we are seemingly constantly connected, incremental improvements in battery capabilities seem to be offset by parallel technology advancements, including faster, hotter, CPUs and features like multitasking, push notifications and real-time updates that drain the batteries of even my most advanced devices like a thousand pin-pricks to a taut water balloon.

There has become a dichotomy in my home between the power haves and the power have nots. Try as I may, my every trip requires careful planning of packing of power cords, overnight charging of some devices, and continuous charging of others, via adapters in my car's cigarette lighters or fruitful discovery of power outlets in restaurants, cafes, airport terminals and practically anywhere I can find them. To illustrate how obvious my issues are, one highlight of Christmas 2010 for me was my wife's purchase of a dual USB charger for the car, so I could charge both my phone and a tablet at the same time. Yes, it's that bad.

(Also on this topic: Charge Me Up: No Batteries Are Good Enough from June 2010 and line of site: Next Gen Batteries, where art thou?)

On the good side of power consumption, one finds obvious winners. The iPads go days without needing to be charged, assuming only infrequent use. The Barnes and Noble NOOKColor holds its charge for more than a week's time, if you are not reading every day. I've been absolutely comfortable taking Google's Chrome CR-48 notebook with me without packing my power cord, and can see eight hours of continual use before searching for a solution, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab, so long as its brightness is not at the highest position, simply needs to be charged each night, after a full day's work.

In contrast, I need only look up every few minutes at my MacBook Air's battery percentage to see the numbers slowly decrease. After a good two hours' effort, even without streaming music or Flash games, I'm well under fifty percent. And the pain in terms of battery life for my Android phone (the Epic 4G) is as bad, if not worse, than my experience with the HTC Evo, and before it, my iPhone 3G. Even with all sorts of work to turn off WiFi or GPS when unneeded, and using BlueTooth only in the car, the phone seems to live a mere four hours, whether I use it or not - and I'm not even getting close to mentioning talk time. At CES, I even bought an external battery extender, that supposedly gives a charge and a half, but it too seems to serve only to make my phone hot to the touch before both die.

The issues with keeping my phone up and running have become something of a laughingstock with friends who see the issues firsthand. Barak Hachamov, my partner at my6sense, sees my dance with electricity as we go meeting to meeting, and my wife knows I leave my phone plugged in at all times when I am not using it. There's no doubt I would probably make more phone calls on the device, if I wasn't constantly glaring at it sideways, or wondering why the battery seemed possessed. Trust me, I've been happy with Android from day one, and love it on my Galaxy Tab, but the Epic's great keyboard hasn't been enough to outweigh the battery problems and iffy GPS. It's enough to have me asking every Googler and non-Googler I know how well their own Nexus S devices are working, to see if I should stomach an early termination fee (ETF) and switch again.

(If you prefer iOS, note the same issues on iPhone from July 2009)

The gulf between what I see as fantastic power managers like the CR-48 and the tablets versus my other laptop and my mobile phone experience is mind-boggling. On one hand, you see things that seem to run forever, while on the other, things are feeling like they are going backward, teasing me into thinking I should just marry up a simple feature phone for calls with a plan-free Android device that lives on WiFi. But that's crazy talk.

At a panel in the first half of 2010, I was asked about what I thought would be hot markets to invest in, and I quickly mentioned two places - the first being teleportation, and the second being true wireless power. I stand by those demands. If Google can build self-driving robot cars, surely there's a department in the back finding a way to solve power consumption issues on Android phones, or finding unique ways to tap into static electricity, solar energy or something. Maybe I'd even accept a nuclear-powered laptop in exchange for going sterile. After all, with 3 kids under 3 already, I'm not exactly hurting for a full house.

Power cords are a menace to convenience. Crappy batteries are significant hindrances to us getting the full capabilities out of our laptops, tablets and mobile phones. From my experience, the tablet manufacturers are doing a great job, and the CR-48 is a fantastic first volley into the less-demanding laptop sector. But if there's any revolution I want to see in tech, it's this one. No more widgets and doodads until you solve this very basic thing for me - for all of us. Please.

This Valley Bubble is Not of Valuation, but Optimism

Having worked at startups practically my entire adult life, with more than 12 years in Silicon Valley, I distinctly remember the hallmark elements of the dotcom rise and fall, the rise of Web 2.0 companies and the fizzle of most, and I am seeing people talk again in similar ways about whatever state we are in now - with an almost giddy eagerness of people to claim that a world with skyrocketing valuations for companies like Twitter, Facebook, Groupon, Foursquare and Quora is one that is a bubble. I don't think that this is the case. These elite private companies are possibly fairly valued, much more so than the vapor dreams of years past, and the very real disconnect is in fact, more closely related to the Valley's separation from the outside world, one more fraught with concern and continued pessimism following exposure to the world's most dire economic crisis in generations.

In the late 1990s, as most of us know, companies with almost zero business plan were going public on pageviews alone. Companies that measured Web statistics, like Media Metrix, were turned into rockstars, vying for time on CNBC. Even Media Metrix itself filed to go public in early 1999, raising $51 million in an IPO, eventually trading under the ticker symbol of MMXI. There were stories in the press of companies that filed to go public on the very day their Web sites were announced. Many companies were public entities despite never having turned a profit at all.

In parallel, companies that had plans of going public could easily command double digit million dollar raises. The company I joined in January 2001 raised $72 million at a valuation of more than $350 million, on the hopes of a strong beta plan at customer sites. The company eventually raised more than a quarter billion dollars, including subsequent $47 million and $29 million chunks during tougher times, and is still out there, not having gone public or having been acquired, despite a false-start $100+M IPO filing ourselves back in 2007.

That world is much different than what we have now. Facebook and Twitter and Groupon, all valued in the billions of dollars, are the exception, not the rule. Facebook and Groupon are both suggested to be potentially in the billions of revenue already, and Twitter has established itself as a household name with a morphing business model. Meanwhile, even my wife has seen value with Foursquare coupons and loyalty programs, and Quora is getting incredible visibility with early adopters, becoming a potential top property for the future.

Below this lofty echelon of companies, I am not seeing the bubble-like activities that have marked years past. Funding rounds are usually being announced in the single digit millions, or less. For every big investment from Digital Sky Technologies (DST), startups are fighting for their first $150k at Y! Combinator. I have spoken to many small companies who are finding today's angel investor climate challenging - where good ideas are competing with other good ideas, and wallets are tentative. But the optimism remains. Maybe rounds that took weeks to months to close in the past can take six months or more now, and maybe valuations are lower and total amounts raised are less high, with real revenue and profits being required.

Meanwhile, as we debate valuations and revenue, world news is still difficult. On a recent drive home, the hourly news talked about record high gas prices, and potential inflation - offset only by continued high unemployment, which helped to keep costs down, with demand being down as well. This news was followed by comments that unemployment numbers were making progress, only because many long-time job seekers had given up. Next, we heard from continued depressed home prices, and high foreclosure rates, with the state of California possibly needing to file bankruptcy, assuming drastic measures would not be taken to get back into the black after years of overspending versus tax receipts.

The dramatic disconnect between our debates of rockstar founders and infighting for designers and developers versus doubling class sizes, tax hikes, unemployment and home losses is a much bigger issue in my mind than that of assumed valuation issues and any "bubble." I don't think there is a bubble. Not like before and not out of control at all. Facebook is growing a tremendous business, as is Groupon. Twitter is just behind. LinkedIn was patient, and now has revenue of greater than $160 million a year, before filing to go public. This is no bubble. It's a new tougher reality. But we can't be blind to the world outside us which continues to struggle.

January 28, 2011

Sonos Integrates With Rdio for More On Demand Streaming

      

Sonos' wireless Web-centric music players were my most favorite hardware gadget in 2010, bringing instant access to practically all music and other radio to any room in my home with fantastic quality. Forgoing physical media, Sonos has instead tapped into the world of streaming content, including Last.fm, Spotify, and Sirius integration, to name a few. Now, the company has embraced another increasingly popular up and coming music streaming service with social elements, Rdio - which is gaining visibility at a time when Spotify has seen delays in being opened up to full US use, open to only an elite few domestically.

Sonos Adds Rdio Support for Their Players

Sonos says their mission is "to connect you with all of the music on the planet", and adding Rdio, which delivers songs and artists on demand through integrated search and taps friends music collections and playlists to bring you more from the community, extends that reach significantly.

Rdio Displays Friends' Collections Next to Other Music Sources

Sonos has matched their great hardware offerings with simple and intuitive software for the desktop, iPhone and iPad. Adding Rdio as a service to my existing set up was very easy - simply requiring a single visit to the "More Music" menu on my Sonos Controller, adding my Rdio credentials and proceeding. After connection, Rdio slid in next to Spotify, Sirius and Last.fm, giving me yet another major source for streaming music.

Streaming Underworld on Sonos via Rdio

Integration with Rdio on Sonos is not available for free Rdio accounts, but instead requires a $9.99 a month Rdio Unlimited subscription (which I paid for - no freebies here). Rdio Unlimited promises unlimited Web access, mobile access and the option to sync to your mobile phone as well, so it's possible I'll be taking Rdio with me outside of Sonos if I'm on the go.

The Sonos announcement also comes with a 7-day free trial, so check that out here: http://www.rdio.com/Sonos/

Rdio Tracks My Music History via Sonos

Sonos is the best music hardware out there today - no hesitation in saying so - and their tie-ins with more sources like Rdio and Spotify are very smart. As for comparing Rdio and Spotify? That's no doubt another post. But if you've already got Sonos and you want to give Rdio a spin... the doors are open.

January 27, 2011

Samsung Launches Developer Portal for Android, Bada Apps

With the blistering rise in customer and partner interest and development of new applications for the Android operating system, companies like HTC, Motorola and Samsung have emerged as the go-to device manufacturers for a wide array of compatible handsets and tablets. Without a single provider offering both the hardware and software, like with Apple and the iOS, the companies have gained greater visibility with consumers, and some have even branched out to offer branded application stores to improve their standing in the expanding ecosystem. Today, Samsung launched a new online hub for 'Samsung Developers' at http://developer.samsung.com, aimed to spur tighter integration with their products and make their devices smarter.

Looking around my home, Samsung is rapidly vying with Apple for top brand representation. In addition to my Samsung Epic 4G phone (on Sprint), I have the Samsung Galaxy Tab, and even the TV in my office bears the Samsung logo. Samsung had a huge presence at CES earlier this month, and is expected to make a solid impact at the upcoming Mobile World Congress (MWC). Samsung's Galaxy S line of smartphones is tangling with iPhone for the top position in Japan and in other countries worldwide, and the Galaxy Tab has set the standard for Android Tablets taking on the iPad.

Samsung Apps Featured on the Developer Portal

But Samsung does more than Android, also promoting Windows Mobile devices and its Bada platform for lower-end devices, selling millions of handsets outside the US. The combination of its Bada offerings with Android and Windows Phone esentially means Samsung's brand is found from the most feature-rich smartphones to basic mobile devices. Added to the tablets and Web-connected TVs, and you can see how Samsung has lumped its offerings into a bigger pool called "connected devices". The new developer portal courts application authors to target these connected devices to reach "an audience of millions".

The new Samsung Developers portal takes much of the guesswork out of creating an app for the Samsung platform, with included "how to" and "getting started" guides to build applications that can run on multiple platforms and devices, and specific primers for such varied topics as bluetooth, theme design, security, widgets and how to leverage the Galaxy Tab's screen real estate. It also introduces the concept of Samsung Apps (http://www.samsungapps.com), optimized for the platform, including featured apps, both free and paid.

If you are an app developer looking to break out of the crowded Android market, teaming up with Samsung could be a great way to get visible on some of the best and most popular hardware in the smartphone and tablet market. The developer portal should help give a solid boost. Find it at http://developer.samsung.com.

January 25, 2011

Feedly for iPhone Hits the iTunes Store for Mobile RSS

Since launching more than two and a half years ago with a new magazine-like start page built with a foundation of RSS, Feedly has grown a committed user base who has enjoyed the service's unique take on Google Reader and other feeds, including Twitter. After nearly 18 months of development, Feedly can finally be downloaded from the iTunes store, available for iPhone and iPod Touch, for $2.99, while development for Android continues.

Feedly's strengths on the Web have primarily been in the clean UI and simplified navigation of often-busy RSS streams, including easy hierarchies developed through your own Google Reader folders, and tight integration with more advanced Reader functionality, including shares (seen as likes within Feedly) and comments, which flow bidirectionally between the two services. On the iPhone, the approach is quite similar, though modified for a smaller handheld device. (I used the iPad at 2x zoom to use it and make the below screenshots)


   
Featured Subscriptions and the Feedly Start Menu


The app, modifying its horizontally-oriented appearance for the desktop to a more start menu-like vertical bar on the iPhone, highlights your digest (all articles), latest (newest articles), must reads (featured sources), popular items from the community and your own saved items.



    
Top Stories on Feedly and Archived Stories


The most recent story from each section is displayed on its own, while archived stories are displayed four to a page, with thumbnails, date of publishing, and how many times they were shared across the Feedly network. (From what I can see, double digit shares are exceptional)

Want to mark all items as read in Feedly on iPhone? Click the checkbox. Want to share a single article? You can tweet it, e-mail it, copy the article link, open it in Safari, or mysteriously "mobilize", which in theory takes non-optimized stories and makes them look good for the handset. Clicking the "thumbs up" sign likes an article on the mobile device, just as it does on Feedly's site.

Feedly founder Edwin Khodabakchian has been developing in public, with a release candidate for iPhone being displayed as long ago as October and the yet to debut Android equivalent shown in November. The service's fans no doubt will still be eager to get Feedly on the go for iOS (and eventually Android), and the $2.99 sticker shouldn't be much of a deterrent.


    
Liking an Item in Feedly on iOS and Other Options


Despite some other places arguing that RSS is dead, it's obviously not the case - not with innovation from companies like Feedly, Flipboard, Newsblur, Pulse, and yes, my6sense, thinking of new ways to take on RSS feeds and social streams. As an information consumer, I enjoy seeing new approaches and ideas on how to manage the information flow and I appreciate Edwin and his team's steadfast focus on delivering a high quality product, rather than trying to push something out the door quickly.

You can find Feedly on the iTunes store here: Feedly on iTunes.

Disclosures: I am VP of Marketing at my6sense, which could be considered either a competitor or a potential partner to Feedly, Flipboard, Newsblur, Pulse or Google Reader, due to both similarity and complementary features with our API and mobile applications on iOS and Android.

January 24, 2011

QuoraTop Ranks the Most Followed Quora Accounts

The second-most popular activity on the Internet (ego stroking) just got yet another site. Silicon Valley's latest flame, Quora, the increasingly popular question and answer site founded by a team of former Facebookers, deliciously displays every user's follower counts, as well as the number of times they are mentioned, on each profile. With such numbers flowing freely on the site, it was only a matter of time before a smart coder found a way to rank the top users and post a leaderboard. First to the game is QuoraTop, authored by Gri.pe's Matt Mastracci, which polls Quora daily for users' following counts and shows who's garnered the greatest following.

Spawned from the popular Quora thread "Which Quora users have the most followers?", which to date has been tweaked manually, often by the same people being included in the list, eager to climb the Q&A social ladder, QuoraTop shows few surprises among the top followed people - which often correlates more closely to their visibility from other networks and previous job history than their supposed activity within the network itself.

The Top 3 Non-Banned Quora Accounts

Top users, as shown by QuoraTop, have names well-known to the Silicon Valley digerati, from Robert Scoble, Ev Williams, Kevin Rose, Tim O'Reilly and Jason Calacanis to Mike Arrington, Leo Laporte, Loic LeMeur, Biz Stone, and Daring Fireball's John Gruber to round out the top ten, with just under 7,000 followers. Scoble tops the list tonight with 16,686 followers, about a 10% conversion rate from his follower count on Twitter. Quora cofounder Adam D'Angelo enters at position #20 with 4,433 users, just ahead of the first woman on the list, Laura Fitton, who hits the #21 position. Tara Hunt is #26 overall and Gina Trapani is #37, three women outnumbered by men more than 10 to 1.

Quora's top followed users include popular founder CEOs including Ev Williams, Loic Le Meur, and Dave Morin, fomer CEOs like Steve Case and Craig Newmark, and of course, VCs like Marc Andreessen and Dave McClure.

If you look closely, you can see the aftereffects of Twitter's suggested user list bringing many followers to less-active users of the site. It's widely assumed that once celebrities with their millions of fans on Twitter start to also use Quora, the digerati could be swamped by Hollywood, but it's early days.

Dare to stare at the numbers and see if you're on the Quora leaderboard, or if you've missed anyone? Check it out at http://www.quoratop.com/.

Please Track Me and Personalize My Ads

In the tug of war between privacy and personalization, there can sometimes be a visceral reaction to learning that a company to whom you may not have explicitly granted permission to learn details about you actually has that information - even if it's public. One doesn't need to look any further than the much-maligned Spokeo, who in becoming a next-generation people search engine, practically has to defend its business with every other blog post, even as traffic continues to balloon. Now, news that Google is offering a Chrome extension to opt out of advertisers' tracking services has put the issue of personalization and "Do Not Track" back on the front page. Unfortunately, many people are likely to download it, thinking the result will ensure greater privacy, when in actuality all it does is ensure off-target ads with a crappy experience.

In my view, almost all advertising online is very poor. There are two reasons I find most advertising bad. The first is that it is interruptive, and the second is that it is irrelevant.

1. Interruptive ads quite simply get in the way and can prevent you from seeing what it is you want to see, when you want to see it. I despise pre-load pages on news sites and pre-roll before videos, thinking, for example, that watching breaking news on CNN should not be preceded with ads for prescription drugs, or that I want to see a full-screen ad for a network switch provider when trying to read Network Computing. Almost without exception, I don't.

2. Irrelevant ads are all those who fill up your screen with offers you would never accept, products you would never buy, and sheer randomness. The click-throughs for all the non-targeted messages that surround and cram their way into your content have got to be pretty poor. That's why many studies have said an extremely small minority of users are the ones clicking on all those stupid ads. The rest of us have simply turned on ad blindness.

This isn't to say advertising is dead and ineffective. It's not. Great commercials and campaigns are memorable and can stop us in our tracks - be it Apple commercials that are dissected and analyzed fifty ways, or notices from your favorite band that their latest album has gone on sale. The issue is that most of the time, advertisers know very little about you, aside from the content of the page you are currently viewing, and even when demographic data is out there, it's either inaccessible, or only allowed to be used in aggregate.

For the most part, this aggregate data does not accurately reflect you as an individual. Facebook and other social profiles potentially have a wealth of data about you on their networks, but it is not yet being fully utilized at the ad level to bring targeted messages to you, and this has to change. What I am looking for, instead of more head-in-the-sand responses to information gathering is to work with advertisers and give them as much of a headstart in getting to know me as they possibly can. I want my social profiles to be leveraged everywhere, and I beg, plead for somebody to get personalization right when it comes to ads.

By opting out of ad tracking models, all we are guaranteeing is that advertisers will be randomly posting their offers in a hope that you're the one in a million customer they are looking for. But the true win becomes when they can deliver for you a personalized message at the right time in the right context for you as an individual. We should not be running from this type of innovation, but instead embracing it.

For almost two years now, I've been asking ad companies to leverage my social profiles online. I am tired of getting singles ads, or mortgage ads or used car ads or any type of ads that don't match me as an individual. I've complained about low-quality offensive ads on sites just out to make a buck, embraced Twitter advertisements, assuming relevancy, and did the reverse for the poor Facebook ad experience. So whether you're like CNN.com and want to make me the poster child for the seeming end of privacy or not, my stance on this has been consistent for some time. I would be more than eager to put more data into the system to make it a better system, including all the ads everywhere I go.

So instead of embracing these ad blockers and cookie strippers, let's find a way to make the quality of the ads more personal, more relevant, and simply better overall. Please.

January 22, 2011

Beluga's Pre-SXSW Buzz Builds A Month Into App's Life

With services such as Twitter and Foursquare gaining incredible boosts through high visibility at the yearly South by Southwest event (SXSW), it has become something of a pastime to predict which service will be the breakthrough this year, if any. If early response to Beluga is any indication, the application, in addition to other candidates, such as Yobongo, is in the driver's seat to take that role in 2011. Only a month after the application debuted, the group texting service has gained high-profile mentions in publications as varied as Fortune and TechCrunch, and I can see new contacts joining the service every day - as each new connection from my address book notifies me from within the service.

As debated on Quora, it's widely assumed the best candidates for a boost from SXSW would be those useful at the event itself, be it for discovering top parties, debating keynotes and panels, and enabling people to communicate in the sometimes frenetic venue with spotty wireless support. This leads us to Beluga and Yobongo - the first enabling free texting between friends with intelligent linkage to location data and photos support, and the second offering location-based chat with complete strangers. But Yobongo doesn't have multi-platform support yet (including Android), and Beluga is already seeing good cross-platform engagement from early adopters, former Googlers, and is gaining awareness in the mainstream, especially after having been featured in the Android Market this week by Google - goosing the app's download numbers significantly.


   
Updates from Beluga With Photos and GeoLocation


The group chat field is one that is becoming increasingly crowded, with TextPlus, GroupMe and now Beluga being the best-known players. But Beluga, without the 10 million in funding gained by GroupMe, already has an extremely smooth application that integrates well with both mobile and Web-based activity, supports multiple mobile OSes and is very lightweight. As I've seen new "pods" started within my groups of friends, for the casual to the more business-oriented, it's obvious that a simple and fast way to exchange messages in groups, independent of the larger networks, like Twitter and Facebook, is much desired.


   
Tony Hung and Siobhan Quinn Rave About Beluga In the App
(Note Also the Geographical Reach of this Pod)


Guessing where the application could go in the future would be especially interesting as well. Recall how Brizzly Picnics had both private and public options, letting you publish question and answer chats to the Web for all to see? Today, all Beluga Pods are private to only the participants. There could come a real opportunity to make select Pods public, or even to established tiered roles for such Pods, so you could have read-only participants and moderators for public events, such as SXSW and others.



Foursquare's Dennis Crowley on Beluga's Growth Beyond the Mainstream


If it wasn't enough to just speculate about how the app could perform on the public stage, I was backed by Siobhan Quinn, product manger at Foursquare, who said in one of our Beluga Pods that "Beluga is going to blow up SXSW." Activity in individual pods is jumping, users are joining and feedback so far has been very good. It's been an eventful month for the service already, even over a usually-quiet Holiday break, but the next few months could be very loud indeed.


New Friends Are Joining Beluga All the Time


If you're not already using Beluga, go check it out at http://belugapods.com. Want to add me to a pod? Just use my email address and I'll join.

January 19, 2011

The Best Thing Apple Does Is Ignore Everyone Else

Yesterday, Apple announced earnings that were record-setting for the company, with blowout numbers on iPads, iPhones and Macs. The sales far outstripped practically every analyst estimate, and even the most optimistic amateur guesses. The fantastic news for Cupertino's money machine came just one day after the news that CEO (and legend) Steve Jobs was going to be sidelined for a third time for an undisclosed medical issue for an uncertain amount of time. Intriguingly, after the company proved it was firing on all cylinders, again, well beyond expectations, one once again sees feedback from the peanut gallery offering suggestions for where the company should go next, and how it should handle the executive transition. Luckily for Apple's customers and shareholders, they're ignoring you. They've proven quite good at it, and they should continue.

Apple being a public company doesn't necessarily mean they need to be managed by the people, in some sort of communist undertaking. The qualification that the company is public requires they do what is in the best interest of their shareholders, and the numbers prove they have done so - without any doubts.

Apple's stock value is up 298 percent from the beginning of 2009. This contrasts with a 110 percent rise for Google stock, a 48 percent rise for Microsoft, and a 32 percent rise for HP. And when faced with a similar uncertainty related to Steve Jobs two years ago, Tim Cook (and the rest of Apple's deep bench, which is growing) executed dramatically well. The company is the highest-valued tech company in the world, and at this pace, may soon become the most valuable company in the world, period.

While there are some aspects to Apple's opaqueness which are frustrating, as a user, a shareholder, or press, the company has proven it doesn't need to heed public opinion when it comes to running its business. The company famously doesn't leverage focus groups to design upcoming products, and they don't have the transparency into employee's thoughts as you see with more blogosphere-friendly companies, including Google. I would suggest that one of the major reasons I've personally drawn closer to Google and its employees in the last few years, possibly at the expense of my loyalty to Apple, has been due to ease of access and fast feedback, but this formula is not demanded by all.

So here we are, not a full day beyond the company's blowout earnings call, and already you can see stories in the tech community, calling for a clear succession plan at Apple. With headlines like those from Marketwatch saying "Apple should make Tim Cook its CEO" and people already clamoring about unreleased specifics regarding the rumored iPad 2 and iPhone 5, the best thing Apple can do is ignore all the noise. They've proven for several years now that they don't need your guidance when it comes to how they manage their business, how they hire personnel, how they release products, or how they engage in relationships with partners.

If Steve Jobs says he hopes to be back at Apple soon, and the company tells you that he is going to be active in strategic decisions related to the company, while Tim Cook runs day to day back in Cupertino, then that's the long and short of the story. Done! They've proven they can do it before and they will again. They have given us no reason to doubt them.

I have the utmost confidence that if Steve Jobs were to disappear tomorrow from the Earth, no doubt transcended to Heaven like in Blblical times, rather than passing away due to mortal death, the company has a plan to keep going. Apple is much more than one person now. Jobs is an enigma - the guy tech titans dream about becoming when they grow up. But for as much noise that is drawn up around this company and every little move they make or don't make, it's great they aren't paying attention and managing the company by committee. If only Microsoft and others could execute half as well.

So stop it with your silly headlines telling Apple what they should do next. They know, and you don't.

January 17, 2011

Quora's Momentum Continues, Driving Intrigue, Curiosity

Quora, the red-hot question and answer service sprung from the minds and keyboards of a small group of early Facebook employees, continues to see dramatic growth, sustaining a near-fever pitch that was kindled just prior to the new year. While off its all-time traffic peak, with subscription notifications ebbing for most folks, but remaining high, people are still trying to find out what role Quora fits in their Web consumption ecosystem, and what role they may want to play.

Last week, I gained the opportunity to sit down with Brian Remmel of Social Media Club Silicon Valley to talk about what has made Quora intriguing for tech-focused early adopters, who have generally shied away from mainstream question and answer sites. For me, the site has been most intriguing to take a passive view, watching primary sources share their unique insight. Not aiming to draw attention to myself, my answers have been sporadic, aiming to add value.

While there have been some concerns about the site's quality decreasing with the influx of traffic, for me Quora will provide solid value so long as the top-ranked answer is exceptional. The rest of the answers, from the casual to humorous to incorrect, should be taken care of by the community or moderators themselves. You can follow me on Quora at http://www.quora.com/Louis-Gray.

To read the great summary from Brian, see: Social Media Club: Will Quora find its place among the stars? or my previous comments on Quora: The Quora Phenomenon - Peaking on Value & Authenticity.

The full interview (in audio) is embedded below:



Louis Gray on Quora 1-11-11 by bremmel

January 16, 2011

A Cloud-Centric Web Makes Device & OS Switching Easier


There is a tug of war going on in your mobile devices and your desktop OS - between the world of apps and that of cloud-based Web services. The applications, usually designed and optimized for your particular environment, serve as familiar tools for you, and improve your productivity, bring you news, enabling you to do new things or they may simply entertain you. Not all those applications are on every platform, and the more you choose to purchase on one device, the more it is assumed you have some share of "switching costs" or, in a more antiquated word, "lock-in" to your selected OS.

In parallel, one sees a rise in Web services and apps that tap into cloud-hosted data, without demanding the data be stored on your local device. As applications become increasingly cross-platform and feature equal, this, in combination with the mass migration of data to the cloud, is reducing vendor lock-in and making it easier for consumers to make radical switches in their desktop or mobile environments - be it by operating system or the device itself.

If money were no object, I would be delighted to have desktops with the latest Windows, Mac or Chrome OS installs at my disposal, surrounded by mobile phones and tablets bearing logos not just of Android and Apple, but BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7. The rise in importance and prevalence of cloud data, and access to the true Web on all these devices (for the most part) makes their core differences less dramatic than in years past. Meanwhile, most application developers are executing in tandem for the top operating systems in desktop and mobile, meaning you can find your apps in a new place, should you choose to switch.

(See also: BetaNews: Laplink Switch & Sync -- posted tonight)

In 2010, I first switched mobile operating systems, and then switched phones on that OS. The first move took some effort and app discovery, but most my data was in the cloud, especially including all my email services, contacts and browser bookmarks. Switching between phones was even easier, as on Android, I was able to redownload all my paid apps from the Android market, free of charge. By the end of the year, I also had my hands on the ChromeOS-based CR-48 notebook, the most radical change yet, foregoing local apps for cloud-based ones, and making the Web browser the center of the universe. And yet, I've survived, going back to the MacBook Air for archived email and heavy-duty apps for Office and photos, but keeping pace on the Web.

A year ago, I called for OS and App neutral data, which removes the ownership of my content from the service providers themselves and gives it back to me. Recognizing mobile providers' core offerings, I started my migration to the cloud in earnest when I first picked up the MacBook Air. I've failed somewhat in keeping apps off the device, out of necessity, but most rich media gets moved off to the local Time Capsule, and from a 128 GB hard drive, smaller than my last laptop, above 50 GB are left. Clearly, I have more cutting to do.

The move to the cloud means I am no longer a Mac person or a Blackberry person or a Google person, but instead a Web person. So long as I can configure the device to find my information elsewhere, it is less necessary to be concerned about the hops needed to try and switch or test out a Windows Phone 7 handset, or what would happen if the Blackberry Playbook entered my life. Similarly, migrating from the Samsung Galaxy Tab to a Motorola Xoom would be extremely simple - just like my move from EVO to Epic in the fall.

Asymco says for every iOS device, be they iPhones, iPads, or iPods, users have downloaded more than 60 apps on average. No doubt have we exceeded this number ourselves, but also on the Android platform - some of which are duplicates of the other. I purchased MLB At Bat for iPhone, iPad and Android, and would probably get it for the Mac App Store if it was there too. But the availability of the top apps on most of the top platforms makes my loyalty to any one particular device or OS a temporary one. If I've put $200 or $300 of my money into apps on iOS, and about $200 on apps on Android, it's a one-time allotment of sunk costs, no greater than a prepayment penalty on one's mobile phone contract. But the technical hassles between devices are going away as the cloud becomes the center of all we do.

January 15, 2011

Wanted: The World's Software Library, by Subscription

Retail software prices are often eyebrow-raisingly high, and for the most part, inflexible. Every couple years, it's not uncommon for our family to shell out $150 to $500 for the latest Microsoft Office Suite. The full Adobe Creative Suite will set you back almost $2,000, and upgrades are $600. The home edition of Mathematica is about $300. Apple Final Cut Studio will cost you $1,000 and Logic Studio another $500. These prices are no doubt in line with professionals who require the software to live, but for more casual users, who might interact with the software infrequently, paying full retail price seems exorbitant. This sets up a market imbalance, similar to that of the world of music pre-Napster, where the consumer at times can seem justified for obtaining the software freely using another method.

I've previously stated that the vast majority of consumers are solid law-abiding citizens who are happy to pay for quality, assuming price is in line with the assumed value of the goods. When inequality enters the system, be it for full music albums, individual movie theater tickets, software, or even pay per view TV events, technology often comes into play to circumvent the traditional restraints.

Adobe CS Sticker Shock

The disruption of the music industry by Napster's steal what you can model, followed by iTunes' efforts to reign things back again at an affordable price point, has recently evolved further with the subscription-based all you can eat method, one not pioneered by Spotify, but popularized by it, despite years of Rhapsody and Napster (part two), and newer competitors like Rdio offering similar structures. Software, running in parallel, can similarly be downloaded for free on peer to peer networks, and can even be downloaded directly with options like the Mac App Store and Google's Chrome Web Store, but missing is the solution for the casual buyer who just wants to rent the software, occasionally accessing it, without needing to shell out for the boxed retail option, dedicating gigabytes of hard drive space for the privilege, being sure to keep one's serial numbers stored under lock and key.

A new business model, following the Music as a Subscription service, emerges with Software as a Subscription, more commonly referred to as SAAS (Software as a Service). SAAS applications can be enterprise-focused like Salesforce.com, or consumer focused, like Google Docs and Gmail, most of whom see all the activity taking place on the Web via a Web service. But what about the more traditional software titles from Adobe, Microsoft and others? What about an iTunes-like, Spotify-like service where the consumer could pay about $25 to $50 a month and tap into all the popular software titles in the world, reading and writing remotely, but saving locally?

One assumes the major reason this generic software subscription model has not emerged is because the traditional retail software giants can still get buyers at the hundreds of dollars apiece, and they would be less interested in spreading a customer's $500 to $600 across 12 months with other providers. So long as they are raking in the revenue, disrupting their own business isn't appealing.

For consumers with high-speed Web access and relatively powerful CPUs and GPUs, the infrastructure for creating such a software subscription service is there. Toss a few thousand titles on Amazon or iTunes and you can see that with smart cataloging, the ability to use any title in the world would be at your fingertips. Then too would come the next stage of the rollout - including video games and premium offerings with tiered pricings and tiered privileges.

Despite the music industry and other's concerns, Spotify's success is not in the ability for some folks to gain free access with ads, but in the popular and accelerating option for paid accounts, eager to shell out real cash for access to an immense music library. I may scoff at the idea of upgrading my Adobe Creative Suite again for a few hundred bucks, only using it sporadically, but I'd pay a good amount per month, like I do for cable TV, electricity and other plumbing, to gain access to the world's software library. Web-based SAAS for single instance applications is not enough. It's early days. A company that can get all the copyright holders to work together and find a solution to customers would be extremely compelling.

January 12, 2011

Cubeduel Pushes You To Rank Colleagues Hot or Not Style

Even if you love your current job or your last job, there's a pretty good chance you had some favorite colleagues, and others who you probably wouldn't mind if they disappeared. You might even have quietly cheered when they were laid off. But most of the time, there's no way for people to know that. Mining your LinkedIn data only shows what companies you worked for and how long. A few more clicks can make it clear who was at the same companies at the same time, and little else. Cubeduel, for reasons unbeknownst to us so far, prompts you to pick who you would work again, one versus another, in a workplace Hot Or Not-like skirmish. Find yourself popular, and your record just might trump that of everyone else.

Cubeduel, which taps your LinkedIn database to find your previous colleagues, surfaces two from the same company and puts them up for you to choose - one or another, just like a duel, but one where a coveted seat in the cubicle farm is a reward. If you've lived a pedestrian career, like I have, you may find yourself faced with two differing degrees of mediocrity, or have to choose between two of your best friends, bringing one to the wonderful world of employment, while kicking the other one to the curb with little more than a cardboard sign and black magic marker.

Cubeduel Asks Who Would I Rather Work With? Guy or Jesse?

The site, first mentioned on Twitter by @daveschappell, was started by Tony Wright, the former founder and CEO of YCombinator-backed RescueTime, and Adam Doppelt, cofounder of Urbanspoon. Wright called it a "fun side project" and said it was "growing quite a bit faster" than expected.

Top Coworkers On Cubeduel So Far...

One Result of A Vote on Cubeduel. Sorry, Ryan...

Anybody familiar with the tried and true model of Hot Or Not can figure out what to do immediately. Two faces come up, and you click who you would rather work with again. The person selected gets 1 vote in their favor, and the other does not. After you have ranked 20 different pairs, you unlock your own rank, assuming people are voting on you, and coworker scores. The game continues after that, begging you to complete 100 matchups, to unlock company specific scores. And who wouldn't want to know how popular one's colleagues ranked against their colleagues, or if you were doing well in the popularity game?

Top Microsoft Employees On Cubeduel

Like Honestly.com, one of the promises of Cubeduel is anonymity. Your colleagues won't know if you picked them or didn't pick them, but leaderboards of the results are public. You can already see how people rank at top companies like Microsoft and Apple, Yahoo! and Google. I'm somewhat pleased to see Phillip Bogle, formerly of Mergelab and Jobster atop the rankings for both Google and Microsoft, given my coverage of him in the past, but I obviously can't swear to his work habits. Maybe his time upon the pile is short lived.

Want to start ranking your former colleagues and push the best folks to the top, and the drones to the bottom? Start a Cubeduel, and go have some fun. It's hiding in public at http://cubeduel.com.

Early Days for Mac App Store, Chrome Web Store

The Chrome Web Store

In 2003, when Apple's iTunes store first went live, there was excitement for a new legal model to purchase our music, but for the most part, as the catalog was extremely thin, my credit card sat idle. While it may have been due to my odd musical preferences, rarely satiated through the radio dial, except for on dedicated shows for Saturday night insomniacs, there just weren't many albums I actually wanted to buy. Practically all my favorite bands were missing. But I believed in the model, and knew that eventually, the contracts would be signed that filled in the gaps. Sure enough, iTunes became a force to be reckoned with and I am almost as assured to find the best stuff in iTunes as I am on Amazon or anywhere else.

We are in a very similar situation now with two of the most recently launched application stores - the Mac App store, focused on desktop software for Mac OS X, and the Chrome Web store for Google's Web browser and parallel OS. Both stores have lofty goals, helping promote their owner's agenda, and both have few recognizable titles. And in both cases, I think consumers are going to largely be sitting on the sidelines as they wait for developers and the business development teams to work their magic.

Top Mac Apps. Think Steve Jobs Likes Solitaire?

With the launch of the Mac App Store, it seemed 90+% of the coverage surrounded two applications - Twitter and Angry Birds. Not coincidentally, those were the two apps I've downloaded so far.

I've peeked at the updated iLife '11 apps, and easily convinced myself the latest feature bumps to iPhoto and iMovie are not worth $30 for me. Similarly, Keynote and Numbers aren't going to set me back $20 each. In fact, despite my understanding that these are replacing retail software titles, after years of staring at the Android Market and iTunes App Store, there's something very much like sticker shock when scrolling through the offerings and seeing prices in the tens of dollars, $30+ and beyond. Aperture is $79, as is Apple Remote Desktop. Kid Pix is $50. and Transmit FTP is more than $30. These are hardly impulse buys.

Google's Chrome Web Store isn't scary in terms of dollars. One can do well using the free apps and extensions that target the browser/OS, so long as one isn't expecting top brands to be represented. The Web Store looks a lot like iTunes, but the big guys aren't there. New York Times and TweetDeck are practically exceptions, as it seems developers are taking a slow approach to the store, waiting for users to demand dedicated apps. Sales for top applications number in the low thousands, including staff picks, which have pushed user downloads to about 4,000 a week, in some cases.

The Great Chrome Version of the New York Times

The tempting thing is to say that these two approaches are not the home runs their corporate overlords had expected. But it's smarter to wait and see what happens as the developers follow the users. It's hard to go first, and users who are early adopters of both sites should be patient. If iTunes is any guide, the stores will both fill out and in due time, all the best stuff will be discoverable. Even the Android Market, once barren, doesn't need to highlight its total app count any more. Enough is enough.

I've been waiting for a Mac App Store for years, and found the promise of the Chrome Web store to be among the most exciting opportunities launched in 2010. Both are the right direction for their respective companies - with Apple trying to leverage its iTunes expertise on the robust Mac platform, and Google trying to keep folks in the cloud and in their browser. If it's hard to find great apps on either site, it's worth being patient. They've got to be coming, and users are going to reap the benefits.

January 11, 2011

LunchTree Hits Bay Area for Random Geek Connections

Geeks working on startups are notorious for not getting out much. Slaving in front of computer terminals at odd hours, the option of lunch often takes on a familiar routine - the same locations, the same people... even the meals themselves become things of habit. With projects taking precedence over casual connections, it's not unsurprising some startup addicts gain a feeling of isolation. A new gambit called LunchTree, targeting the Bay Area startup community, is hoping to put a dent in this, helping people meet with similar interests over one meal a week, on Tuesdays. That's it - with no confusion of dating services, or anything similar. The idea? Potential for new perspectives through new connections.

The setup for LunchTree is quite simple. Create a profile (here's mine), set up criteria for the type of connection you would like to meet for lunch, and then set a lunch zone. When you have picked a lunch zone, list one or more preferred restaurant, and then, come Tuesday, you have the option to meet a fellow geek for lunch.

Who Do You Want to Go to Lunch With?

If your lunch match options overlap with another person, then early Tuesday morning, your registered phone with LunchTree will get an SMS message at 10:30 on Tuesday asking if you are free to share a mid-day meal. If the answer is affirmative, text back "Join". Then you will be matched with another LunchTree user at a nearby eating place that works for you both.

A Profile on LunchTree

Lunch History on LunchTree


The founder, Jesse Spaulding, first hit our radar way back in early 2008 with his project BlogRize, a platform aimed to help blogs grow their communities. While that site didn't hit the big time, his focus on growing a community never wavered. While the community at LunchTree is quite small now, having just launched, one can easily see the value of casual connections between similar minded folks in the real world over something as simple as lunch. And lest folks get concerned that this is a back-door approach to create yet another dating site, you can specify you only want to meet members of the same gender, and you can't select the reverse. Good luck, lunchtime Lotharios.

If you are in the Bay Area, and you think random meals with similarly-minded folks in your community would add benefit to your life, you should check out LunchTree. You never know if your next connection could end up being a great partner, cofounder, or even a VC.

January 08, 2011

Verizon's Big Year Is Much More than Just iPhone

After years of living in the barren AT&T wilderness, iPhone fans and desperate would-be switchers are eagerly awaiting the widelyreported planned announcement that Verizon will finally make it to the iPhone 4. Depending on who you read, it's thought the availability of iPhone in CDMA wearing a new carrier's clothes could boost Apple by another 10 million units. A good number of those will no doubt come from existing iPhone users switching to AT&T, while many more could be net new - a patient bunch who kept their loyalty to Verizon, and avoided AT&T, no matter their curiosity into the iOS. Part of me wants to be skeptical that this will goose sales as much as anticipated, but I've long learned to always pick the "over" when it comes to Apple.

That said, the iPhone is just one bit of good news for Verizon, which is becoming a go-to partner for some of the more intriguing devices elsewhere in the early adopter tech geek ecosystem. The ChromeOS-based CR-48 notebooks from Google come with a bundled Verizon 3G card, which offers freeloaders like myself 100 MB of bandwidth a month before even paying a dime. More costs extra, of course. Additionally, Verizon is going to be the go-to-market partner for Motorola's new Xoom tablet, which I saw demoed at CES this morning, and was awarded best in show.

CES was draped in banners from Sprint touting their 4G experience. It's what I use on the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Samsung Epic 4G as well. Sprint has done well for my family, after we switched from AT&T and iPhone simultaneously this summer. But Verizon looks like the much-desired partner for the elite products, and when exclusives come up, Verizon is there.

Following up on my introductory post last week to the CR-48, I gave the notebook a run as being my primary device all of CES. I turned on the 3G access from Verizon yesterday morning, and took the laptop everywhere, avoiding power plugs, to test the battery, and disabling WiFi. Unsurprisingly, the laptop gave at least 8 hours of use without a charge, and the 3G speed from Verizon has been plenty fast, from the hotel, from the otherwise-congested CES event, and now at the Las Vegas airport.

Obviously, the CR-48 trial units are early days for the device. One would assume that if Google wanted to provide a strong experience for users, they chose partners carefully - as did Motorola. Verizon will also be there with the new Droid Bionic, which is expected to ship after the iPhone hits stores, possibly as soon as the end of the month.

My experience with Verizon on the CR-48 has been nice. While I haven't tested out a wide variety of geographies, I've never suffered for coverage, and the CR-48 is smart enough to tell me just how much data I have left on the free plan before I'd be asked to pay up. I've managed to crank out 75 MB of use in two days, so I have 25 left. If I were to turn off WiFi permanently, and just use the device over 3G, obviously, I would need a bigger plan and would be sending some dollars Verizon's way. The convenience of anywhere high-speed Internet can't be understated, of course. Behind Diet Coke, it's probably my #1 addiction.

We've learned to live in multi-vendor homes with tablets and phones and laptops everywhere. But for the most part, I think folks are sticking with a single carrier. Is it common to be paying out to T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T and Verizon each month? Probably not. If Verizon manages to continue as the go-to partner for Android, and can add on its share of tablets and notebooks, as well as the iPhone (finally), you could be seeing the kind of subscriber and revenue growth for them that AT&T has been getting the past few years thanks to Apple's exclusivity.

As for me? I've still got 24 MB on this free plan, and once I hit zero, it's either WiFi, or I add Verizon to my list of monthly bills. My wife will love that.

January 05, 2011

There Are No iPad Killers, Only iPad Alternatives

Tomorrow I will arrive fashionably late to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Arriving ahead of me have already been a number of tablets, including new additions from Samsung, including a WiFi-only Galaxy Tab, and Motorola's much-anticipated Xoom, running Android 3.0, Honeycomb, designed for tablets, not phones. The new devices, especially the new Xoom are being talked up as serious iPad alternatives, or "killers" if you're crazy. But guess what? None of them are going to kill the iPad. In fact, it's more than probable that Apple is not only going to end 2011 as the unit leader in tablets sold (from any one manufacturer), but will set quarterly sales records for the company - which has been on an incredible roll, potentially poised to be the most valuable company in the world, ranked by market capitalization.

As any tech watcher knows, sheer specifications and feature counts do not "kill" anybody or promise a "win". I personally really enjoy the Samsung Galaxy Tab and have been using it much more than my iPads. I also think Android is great on both phones and tablets, and the Honeycomb preview shown by Google today is impressive. But there's something special about Apple that ensures people remain loyal, and the iPad has defined the market, with others following their lead. John Gruber of Daring Fireball called it "emotion". I simply call it preference. Many people have a very strong preference toward Apple, and this will continue in the face of larger screens, thinner bezels, and faster CPUs.

One of the major features listed regarding the Xoom is its dual-core 1 GHz processor. Do you even think the average iPad user knows the speed of their device?
Despite my public switch to Android, I'm not blind to Apple's continued advantages in some areas and fantastic successes. There's no secret that Apple does some things better than any other company on the planet. One of the most important things they do best is the no-hassle user experience. Apple devices make it incredibly simple to synchronize digital media libraries, including music and photos, address book contacts, Safari bookmarks and much more. When you plug one Apple device into another, you expect it to be recognized, and for the data to be easily accessible. That's one of the benefits of their closed and controlled ecosystem, which doesn't, like alternative platforms, need the carrier and manufacturer to all work together and sing Kumbaya. The simplicity, combined with high quality hardware and software, is extremely compelling to a good portion of the buying population.

Sales reports from the most recent quarter said the Galaxy Tab, with its non tablet optimized OS, sold a solid 1.5 million units. That's pretty good! But analyst predictions are pegging the iPad to sell as many as 30 to 65 million units in 2011, and rumors are already buzzing about the features in iPad 2, which is assumed to trail CES and steal away thunder from this week's announcements.

Here's a fail-safe prediction for 2011. There are no iPad killers, just like there were no iPhone killers or iPod killers before them over the last decade. Apple has carved out an extremely lucrative niche focused on good products. The iPad was required to carve open the market for tablets, which had gone practically nowhere until Apple jumped into the fray. With all the different Android tablets (and yes, some Windows tablets as well) out there, 2011 is going to see a lot of comparisons of market share and unit counts. The iPad will probably see its share eroded significantly, just like iOS has flatlined, under assault from a flotilla of Android phones. But Apple is going to continue selling millions of iPads every quarter, and they are going to be preferred by a ton of people.

I am excited about the innovation in this space, and the speed of which we are seeing the Android-based iPad alternatives compete. I expect to see some fantastic hardware starting tomorrow and Friday at CES that doesn't sport the Apple logo. Competition will absolutely push both sides better and further than they would on their own. But like I said ten days ago, it all comes down to preference, and the specifications of the new devices at CES aren't going to make most iPad owners blink. The war is not to convert those who are already drinking from Cupertino's vat of holy water, but instead, to persuade those who haven't yet adopted tablets to consider something else.

There are no iPad killers, only new choices and choice is a fantastic thing.

January 03, 2011

We Need a Tech Intelligence Bubble - Value Going Viral

One of the more interesting things, at least to me, that came to mind when highlighting the top ten Web services I used last year was how boringly mundane and adult some of them were. You'd think my highlighting sites like Mint.com, Zillow and Redfin, along with discovery staples like Google Reader, Twitter and Icerocket would prove me to be an old man with responsibilities, not a fun-loving hipster out to have a good time and be sure the world had photos to show how much less fun they were having. But the issue is not so much that I've gotten old and stodgy, only that in a recursive state, sites that have value deliver value. I think we have practically reached a saturation point on the Web with enough places to play games, enough places to share photos, enough places to engage in public or private chats and enough places to find new people.

What is needed now is a doubling down on intelligence, or at least a way to improve our abilities to be better people, better employees, or simply better educated. The promise of something like Quora is not that it's another social network to chat, but that it has the potential to be a valuable resource for discovery, presuming the community allows it to do so, instead of a slip to mediocrity through popularity. The value of Redfin and Zillow is that I can be a smarter homeowner or buyer. The value of Mint.com is that I can budget my money in a better way. Just tonight, my wife and I tapped into our Mint.com history to build a shared Google Docs spreadsheet and track our expenditures versus income, to see if we were on track. (Diagnosis: day to day)

I understand the fun of niche products like Instagram and Path, which have seen incredible traction, even if they are not for me. I see the ballooning of Zynga and cringe at how many -Villes the game factory can cook up, at the expense of its users' productivity and money. I have enjoyed Foursquare, even if I am still waiting for the "aha!" moment that transitions it from novelty to resource. I watch others debate apps like Foodspotting and think maybe I'd rather go hungry. I watch the buzz around Groupon, and can't say I've ever used one of their coupons, as their page asks me to commit to twice the fun at half the price.

The question is - what can we do to better ourselves and become even more efficient and knowledgeable, rather than building an improved time-waster with increased virality?

I use Google Reader and Twitter to find news relevant to my interests and to take in as much information as possible so I can make smarter decisions or insight. If sources become less useful, they get cut. The initial attraction to FriendFeed way back in 2007 was the same deal - get all updates in one place in the name of efficiency. The site became even more intriguing due to unfiltered discussions from early Googlers before becoming the much more casual network it is now. Facebook is what it is. It's humongous - a practically unstoppable force of people's actions and likes. The challenge comes from staring into the stream and finding the pieces useful to me. That's part of what Ev Williams told Om Malik when he discussed the challenge of an infinite Web of information and a major UI challenge that Google's Marissa Mayer mentioned when speaking on "contextual discovery" at LeWeb, finding a way to have the best stuff come to you without your even searching.

Often Google is maligned for its bungling in social relative to the success at Facebook, Twitter and Quora, for it's not seen as being part of the company's DNA - the focus being organizing the world's information. I can see them getting their HP graph calculators out and algorithmically determining that Farmville and baby photos are a waste of time. Often, they are. So did they make a mistake in not being the best at something they determined was not a good mission? I am not sure.

I've enjoyed using Buzz and the social elements of Google Reader, but just because there is a successful company in one market doesn't mean you have to be in that market. Apple never launched as an ISP, despite many Mac fans hoping they would several years ago. They just partnered with Earthlink. Dell made a bunch of crappy iPod wannabes when they felt pushed, and we're going to see a lot of bad iPad competition at CES. What I mean by bringing this up is that companies should focus on what they do best, especially if it is noble and intelligent. The thought that Google (or others like Google) would have to make a side deal with Zynga to bring games to the platform just to get users seems like a white flag.

I don't want more places to play games. I don't want more places that I can share photos with an increasing array of effects. I do want better filters so that the best stuff comes to me, from all networks, without my having to sift through the noise. That's important to me, and part of what I am working to do.

I want to see an aggressive push for quality. I look at the work SimpleGeo is doing and it is impressive. Not the exciting stuff you can expect to see on CNN, but the smart and hard work to provide content to players in a growing industry. I look at the growth in QR codes and voice search as moves forward to get us information even faster and applaud. I look at all the hard work done in hardware to create faster networks, wired and unwired, to make our disks ever more dense and our data safer, and this provides value. But I think we have over-corrected on social. Social is fun and great, but it is not everything. It is one factor in the world of discovery, not the final world. So if we could, let's find those people creating great companies of real and permanent value and let's make them go viral.

January 02, 2011

Facto.me: Oversharing of Mild Secrets Made Simple

In the spirit and vein of Formspring and Three Words comes a new service, built practically overnight, that begs for you to share with your social graph something they might not know about you. Designed in less than 24 hours by Kyle Bragger @kylebragger, Facto prompts users to share facts about themselves and get a reaction from friends. Share what you like, big or small, and fill out the small corners of your social profile people didn't already know from your online activity.

With Facebook practically cornering the social graph with your past connections, and Twitter and others vying for your day to day real time updates, Formspring has become a platform to take anonymous questions, while Facto! turns the process on its head, as you supply the answers to questions unasked.

Some Early Facto Entries on Me

What you share is up to you, of course. Kyle, for example, explains that he often dreams in German. AJ Vaynerchuk admits he can't ride a bike, while Spencer Schoeben says he has seen Zoolander at least 15 times. I've only added a few items thus far, but have attempted to keep the same level of triviality.

By sharing a random fact about you, your connections are requested to say what they thought, by clicking one of 7 potential button choices, including "I knew that!", "Didn't know that", "Me too!", "Awesome", "Whoa", "Weird!" and "Boring". Theoretically, you want to stay off the boring list, but thus far, no stats are being kept to prove how truly boring you are, so far as I can tell. And if you do click any of those buttons, the avatar you've selected to use on the site is displayed, so your answers are not exactly anonymous.

Social feedback on Facto.Me

If the rapid rise and viral nature of Formspring and Three Words is any indication, Facto.me could see thousands or hundreds of thousands of people quickly signing up to tell you things about themselves you probably didn't know. The simpler an app and lower the barrier to entry to participate, the better it seems these days.

Want to get facts about yourself out there so you can control the rumors? Start off at http://facto.me. My light profile is here: http://facto.me/louisgray/.