Oh my Nexus gone away!

Last Thursday was the last time my Nexus 7 worked. It was fine on Wednesday night. When I went to use it the next morning though it was super slow. I restarted it to see if that would improve the situation. It didn’t. In fact, it made things worse. The device wouldn’t turn on at all. I searched high and low for details on the problem and potential solutions but nothing worked. Not holding the power button for >30 seconds. Not holding the power plus volume. Not plugging it in to the wall or into a computer. No dice.

I got in touch with Asus for help. They walked me through the things I’d already done. They told me I would need to send it in. They told me I should back it up first. (I pointed out that were I able to turn it on I would . . .) The timing is a drag. On Sunday morning I’m flying to London and had been thinking how handy it would be to have my Nexus with me. Instead it will be flying to Texas, hopefully to be repaired and returned to me as quickly as possible.

It’s funny how quickly something can become integral. I managed to survive 558 months without a tablet and now that it’s missing I’m bummed out. I guess I can make it a few weeks until it’s back. 

Hey Spotify, let us help make Spotify even better

I listen to Spotify every day. I signed up for a premium account as soon as it was available in the US. I totally love it. It’s great to be able to think of a song and listen to it right away. And not only the version I had in mind but often dozens of versions from different artists. I’ve found so much new music.

The ability to build playlists and listen to specific songs makes Spotify my number one music source. Sometimes I’m lazy though and just want the music to take care of itself. Pandora is great for that. Their music genome does a fantastic job of stringing together songs based on whatever I’ve seeded. The only problem is that songs start to repeat really quickly. I guess it’s bound to happen if the catalog is only around a million songs. Meh.

You’d think Spotify Radio would be the solution. They’ve got around 20,000,000 songs so the risk of repeat is low. The problem is that Spotify Radio just isn’t that good. It doesn’t do a very good job of finding similar music. This morning I seeded a station with Edith Piaf. Quickly I found myself listening to Simon and Garfunkel, Nancy Sinatra and The Supremes. Hello? I don’t know if I can figure out what connection exists between those four artists.

(OMG, now it’s playing “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher. How does that have ANY connection to Edith Piaf?)

Spotify has an awesome catalog but there’s no intelligence behind it. Pandora has awesome intelligence but its catalog is tiny. Obviously the two are never going to come together; and there’s not much I can do to help increase the number of songs Pandora can provide . . .

But listen, Spotify, there are a ton of people who’d be happy to help improve your musical tagging and taxonomy. Why not let us help make Spotify even more awesome by giving us the tools and ability to identify the attributes of songs? Like any crowd-sourced model, errors would be caught and corrected and the user experience would be a million times better.

I’d be happy to talk all about it. Seriously.

Here are five songs from my day. None in English. (It makes it too hard to work.)


WebInno37 Preview

Some people mark the passage of time by an annual rite of award ceremonies, others by the coming and going of sports or television seasons. Me? I measure by WebInno events and it’s hard to believe that it’s already time for another one! Hard to believe but true nevertheless. Tonight is WebInno37 and if you’re in Kendall Square you might want to stop by. You can register here.

As always, the event will feature a mix of ‘main dish’ companies, which will have five or seven minutes to present to the gathered masses and ‘side dish’ companies that will join the ‘main dish’ presenters in demoing before and after the presentations.

One of the things that stands out for me about WebInno37 is the inclusion of Timbre as a main dish company. They were a side dish back in September for WebInno35/Rocket and are the first company (that I can think of at least) that has appeared as both so quickly. Given how awesome they are, it makes sense. But here I am getting ahead of myself! Let’s get a little more organized, shall we?

Here’s my take on the companies that will be participating in WebInno37, starting with the main.

Timbre – The Band Discovery App That Lets Music Find You – Like I said above, these guys were at WebInno a few months ago. I thought they were the coolest company at the event. There’s no reason to think they’re any less cool now. What do they do and what makes them cool, you ask? They let you know what’s happening in terms of music around you. It’s an app (iOS only at the moment) that uses geolocation and a content feed (from SeatGeek) to let you know what shows are happening around you.

You can specify a radius (from one to fifty miles) and it shows you band names in a really clean interface. If you touch a band name it brings up a new screen with album art if available (or a grey weave if not). This screen tells you where the band is playing. Touching it allows you to purchase tickets, share the show with friends and listen to/download a track from iTunes. It’s all very clean, clear and intuitive.

When I spoke to these guys at WebInno Rocket I asked about the ability to filter by venue and they explained it wasn’t something they were doing. Their rationale is that people should start with the music and go from there. I totally agree. If you’re into going out and finding new bands close by Timbre is for you. It’s awesome.

ThriveHive – Small Business Marketing Made Simple – A really good friend of mine recently started a kitchen design business, Discount Cabinets in Framingham. It’s been almost two years and things are really starting to pick up. He and I have talked about marketing a few times and it’s a big challenge. The most effective approach for him is to establish relationships with builders and contractors. This can lead to more sales but also has a longer sales cycle. Working directly with homeowners is faster but it’s hard to generate leads. Almost all his business is word-of-mouth at this point and it’s not something that can scale very easily.

ThriveHive looks pretty good. It looks like it’s designed for someone just like my friend. He works day and night and doesn’t know where to start when it comes to marketing. Taking this aspect out of the small businessperson’s set of responsibilities seems like a great idea.

I can only base my opinion on what I saw on the site but to me it all makes sense. I’m sending my friend a link to ThriveHive and will see what he thinks.

Ditto – Here’s everything I know about Ditto:

  • Ditto is a Facebook app
  • Ditto joined Facebook on February 6th
  • 40 people Like Ditto
  • I initiated the app on Facebook
  • I was unable to figure out how to engage with the app
  • It seems to have something to do with associating actions with images

They did get a nice (and very informative) write up by Scott Kirsner on Boston.com. His article makes what they’re doing sound very cool. I haven’t seen that coolness in action just yet but am hoping I will soon and that I’ll get a much better sense of what they’re up to when they present.

Aside from the main dish companies, there are a whole bunch of side dishes:

ChatterMob – Want Free Stuff? Join the Mob – Survey Monkey moves to Facebook. At least it kinda looks that way to me. What I found confusing about ChatterMob is that when you go to the homepage you see messaging about getting free stuff AND the service’s ability to “ask your target demographic anything.” I get it but it feels kind of muddled to me. It also requires connecting with Facebook and maybe it’s that I’m getting older but I’m just less interested in connecting everything through Facebook than I used to be.

JunkDrawer – Where your stuff goes – Finally, a new use for barcode scanning. I use them to add books to Goodreads but that’s about it. With JunkDrawer I can use them to collect info about all the junk I have. Sitting here in my office I was able to scan the bar codes from a small pack of Chips Ahoy cookies and a Mead 3 Subject College Ruled Notebook. Great.


Yeah, I was able to scan the bar codes of those cookies. And some Cape Cod Kettle Cooked Potato Chips.

The things I used it for are silly since I don’t have that much with bar codes right on my desk, but I can see utility here. As they suggest, you can get alerts related to the products you’ve scanned. I can imagine that having utility for recalls. You can connect this with Facebook if you want but I just signed up with the app itself. While I recognize the benefit it also feels like something else to remember to do and I don’t foresee myself scanning the codes for everything I own or buy.

Good Benefits – Workplace Giving is Now a Perk – This is a site that allows you to make corporate giving a more engaging program. I am all for it. I signed up but was only given the option to share it with my employer. Apparently, if I successfully refer Good Benefits to my company’s giving program administrator I will get $50 I can give to my favorite charity.

Within seconds of signing up I did get a nice email from Ryan Selkis, the founder of Good Benefits, with additional details. Basically, Good Benefits is a charitable savings account that can increase the amount contributed to a cause or charity by allowing small recurring contributions to be made – with employers matching dollar for dollar. I’m looking forward to talking to them because I am curious. It would be good to know what size organizations they’re targeting, for example.

Kuratur – Easily curate, customized, automated content magazines. In minutes. For free. – That is one confusing run of words. I think it’s the part “automated content” that makes me stumble. Or maybe it’s “content magazines.” Aren’t magazines content by their very nature? Why use both terms? Or are these magazines that feature automated content? It’s all very unclear based on that set of words.

Things didn’t get much clearer when I signed up. When you do (which can be done using Facebook, Twitter or email) you’re presented with a screen that gives you the option of adding a title and selecting an update frequency. You can also paste in Google Analytics or Chartbeat tracking codes. There’s a video to help “get up to speed fast.”

I watched the three-minute video that was pretty helpful. Of course it was a little more confusing since it refers to the output as Web pages. Which is it? Web pages, content or magazines?

Having played with it for a little while I like Kuratur. It’s pretty cool. The way it is being described needs to be improved a bit, as does the performance. I tried setting up a page/content/magazine and found it took several minutes to process and then populate the Web page/content/magazine. I’m going to chalk that up to it being early days. Here’s the one I made, based on my 1000faces project and on the hashtag 1000faces. It’s totally rudimentary but I can imagine all different ways Kuratur could be used. Very cool.

Nyopoly – Every time there’s a fashion/style-related company at WebInno I joke about being a pretty style-neutral person. That’s true to a degree; but I do actually really like shopping. I also like trying to get deals. Whenever I shop I ask for a discount. Never a big one, but offering $120 for a pair of shoes they want $130 for, things like that. Shockingly, no one ever agrees to my suggested pricing. Nyopoly seems to offer its members the opportunity to negotiate a “personal price on the most fabulous finds in fashion.” Alas, it looks like most of these finds are not for me. Such is life.

Splitzee – Splitzee is the fastest and most secure way to collect money online – When I heard the name I thought Splitzee was a way to split up a bill and get your friends to pay their portion. It turns out it’s more for collecting money for a cause or project. Say your kid’s third grade teacher did a really awesome job and when May rolls around everyone wants to pitch in to buy him tickets to a Red Sox game. Splitzee replaces emails, phone calls and those awkward knocks on the door. It’s all pretty simple and a solid idea.

TradeGrouper – Trade with People you Trust – First there was eBay, which allowed anyone to sell anything to anybody. eBay is awesome for a lot of people in a lot of situations. But for many people it seemed rife with scams and rip-offs. So people started turning to Craigslist, which replaced the mercantilism of eBay with a kinder, gentler, community-based approach to buying and selling. Now, for those among us for whom even Craigslist is too large a pool we have TradeGrouper. It limits buying and selling to specific groups or communities. Just friends for example, or colleagues. You have to be willing to accept a much smaller pool of potential purchasers. If you’re cool with that then TradeGrouper might make sense for you.

Well, there you have it, my preview of WebInno37. I’ll be there to see what I got right and what I got wrong. Hope you’ll be there too.

WebInno 35/WebInno Rocket

We are hours away from ignition for the latest WebInno event – WebInno Rocket. I’m not sure if this counts as WebInno35 or if it should be seen as a completely separate and distinct event. Either way, I’m writing about it! While WebInno has always been focused on startups, Rocket is taking things in a slightly different direction. The event is going to feature three founders talking about their companies – and the companies in question are among the fastest growing here in the Boston area.

Bill Simmons of DataXu, Matt Lauzon of Gemvara and Dharmesh Shah of HubSpot will take to the stage to talk about their companies, their technologies and their experiences in creating successful and growing companies. Since this isn’t about which technology is the most gee-whiz, I’m not going to handicap them the way I usually do with the main dish companies. I have done a little cheat sheet though in case you’re (somehow) not familiar with them.

DataXu is all about making marketing more effective through the application of data. Working on the demand side, DataXu helps marketers improve advertising-driven customer acquisition program around the world. I’ve seen Bill at ad tech events in the past and am looking forward to hearing him at WebInno.

I’ll be honest: Gemvara isn’t a company I was familiar with. Maybe that’s because I don’t often find myself looking for custom jewelry. Clearly a lot of people are or Gemvara wouldn’t be doing as great as they are.

Now, while I’m not often in the market doesn’t mean I don’t deal with jewelers – and let me tell you they can be a frustrating lot to deal with. A while ago I bought my wonderful wife a ring from a company that I won’t name but whose color is iconic. The ring was a beauty – rubies and diamonds in a channel setting. When one of the diamonds became loose, the repair was going to cost essentially as much as the ring did in the first place. Maybe I should have checked with Gemvara before I bought . . .

Who doesn’t know HubSpot? These guys have written the book on inbound marketing – and they keep editing it to meet the needs of a changing market. They’ve also managed to attract some of the top, top talent in social marketing and are a real resource for the industry. Like Bill, I’ve seen Dharmesh here, there and everywhere and am looking forward to what he’ll show and tell this time.

So those are the three main stage companies and if that were all that was planned for the event it would be awesome; as late night announcers are fond of saying – but wait, there’s more!

In keeping with the tradition of bringing some of the newest companies and technologies to light, WebInno Rocket will feature six startups for our collective enjoyment. Here’s my take on each.

BRIGHTdriver – Just this morning I was thinking of my commute. Sitting in traffic sucks. It’s one of the biggest wastes of time ever. Ever. Thankfully I’m easily amused and have (thanks to Spotify) as much music as I want. BRIGHTdriver is hoping to help as well. They’re goal is to make “driving fun again!” through competitions and interactive games. I don’t know how much more competitive we need to make Boston-area drivers but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’ve signed up for early access (the company is still in beta) so can’t say much more than that I’m looking forward to seeing their stuff.

Go Pro Workouts – Professional Strength & Fitness Training Programs – This is a cool idea. It offers aspiring athletes the ability to train for their sport using a program created by a top athlete in that sport. It’s not just a list of exercises though; there’s a tracker, advice and tips. It sounds really great. Unfortunately, when I looked through the list of sports and athletes I didn’t see any that fit my easy-like-Sunday-morning lifestyle. Come on Go Pro, I want some tips on improving my LZ (lazy quotient), there’s gotta be someone who can help!

Handybook – This is all about finding and booking handy and helpful people to deal with all those things that need to get done but that you’re too lazy to do (see above). Do I try to do all these things myself? About 60 percent of the time. Am I successful in completing the tasks I set out to do? About 40 percent of the time. Do I enjoy these kinds of household tasks? About 10 percent of the time. I think you can see why something like Handybook would appeal to someone like me. It’s not that I can’t do these things, or even that I don’t want to do them. I just get overwhelmed sometimes and having someone tackle the ones I can’t deal with would be a real treat.

MarketMeSuite – Inbox for Social – MarketMeSuite (the name is way too long and two internal caps – yikes!) dreams of being an “end-to-end social marketing solution.” The target is small businesses, likely the ones currently using Constant Contact. Unlike Constant Contact though, they don’t have millions of customers (yet). It’s possible that people will want either an alternative to Constant Contact or will like the fact that MarketMeSuite was created from the ground up with social in mind. It’s going to be a tough path.

Saverr – Grocery Price Comparison – Showrooming comes to Stop & Shop! The site content for Saverr is pretty light, but it suggests consumers “scan a receipt, compare its price, save money . . . do good!” That’s pretty much it. I wondered, how does scanning a receipt after I’ve made a purchase help me save money? How does it help me do good? It would have been great to see answers on the site. Maybe they’ll be able to shed some light on things tonight.

Timbre – As someone who totally loves music, I’m constantly wondering who’s playing around and whether I’ll like the show. The fact is I have kids and don’t live in Allston or Somerville anymore so going out takes planning. My wife or I end up going to club sites to see what’s going on but it’s not ideal. Timbre looks like it solves the problem. I already downloaded the app and love that I can see what’s happening around me for the next few days, listen to the bands to find ones I like and buy music or tickets. How cool is that? Of the companies exhibiting tonight they’re the one I can see myself using on an ongoing basis. Color me happy.

So that’s the scoop from my perspective for WebInno Rocket. To help you get in the mood yourself, here’s a playlist of rocket-inspired songs.

Rock out, have fun and I’ll see you there!

Daily Dozen – Enjoy Bill Joy!

Over the years – by a path I can’t explain – I’ve had the opportunity to become involved with MIT. It’s one of my favorite places for a whole lot of reasons. One aspect of my involvement is as a photographer for various events. The Communications Forum, the Futures of Entertainment, Media in Transition, Unbound and emTech are some of them and they’ve all be awesome. Bill Joy, one of the co-founders of Sun Microsystems and now a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, was one of the speakers at emTech 11. He’s heavily into energy now and had a great on-stage chat with Jason Pontin of the Technology Review. Here are some of my photos from that session. enJoy them. hahahahahahaha!

emtech MIT 2011-125
emtech MIT 2011-124
emtech MIT 2011-123
emtech MIT 2011-122
emtech MIT 2011-121
emtech MIT 2011-120
emtech MIT 2011-119
emtech MIT 2011-117
emtech MIT 2011-116
emtech MIT 2011-113
emtech MIT 2011-112
emtech MIT 2011-111

Daily Dozen – Men with Cameras

I’ve wanted to do this for a while but just got around to it today. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to have 12 pictures of men with cameras so we’ll all have to make do with what I have. I decided to use a fairly loose definition of camera in these photos. For example, if someone is using their iPhone as a camera it gets counted as a camera. Likewise TV cameras are included. Sorry not to have 12 but 10 will need to do for now.

Face - bearded man taking a photo with his iPhone
Faces 470
Boston Paper Hat Air Marching Band
Faces 867
Steve Garfield @ work
People Together
Face - photographer in a cap
photographer and model

WebInno33 – Postview

Another WebInno is in the books. Last night’s event was good, a lot of fun. I had the opportunity to see some cool technology and talk with some interesting people. I also had the opportunity to find out how right or wrong I was in my preview post.

As is always the case, I didn’t get to see or talk with everyone I would have liked to and for that I am truly sorry. Then again, I got to see and talk with people I hadn’t planned to and for that I am truly glad.

I started by visiting with Mosaic. They were the company I was the most excited about and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I was more impressed than I expected. The fact that Mosaic provides offline storage that integrates with Lightroom was enough for me – but the ability for it to help with filtering and rating images was a huge bonus. At some point today, when I have some spare time, I’m going to delve into their site and service to see how I could put it to work.

After that I went to see Abroad101. I thought it was a solid idea when I looked at it a few days ago but wasn’t that impressed by the site itself. Before the event Michael Stone, the president of Abroad101, sent me a note saying that the UX was going to be cleaned up and ready to share and it was. Their lead engineer (sorry, I didn’t get his card or his name) walked me through the new site. It’s built on Ruby on Rails rather than Drupal (the platform for the current site) and it was really impressive. The whole site is slicker, faster and just more engaging. The map integration was cool. I had a few questions about how they’re working with schools and what plans they have for offering similar content for non-students (they are looking into that). Overall I was really impressed and hope the growth they’re seeing so far will continue.

My conversation with Michael was interrupted by the chimes and flashing lights beckoning everyone to the Main Dish presentations.

First up was MediaMob. They’re basically allowing advertisers to integrate with mobile games. This is a great idea but one with plenty of challenges. The example they shared was Sears Auto Center content built into a game called X. It made sense but I wondered about some of the back end issues. I asked them how they targeted and they said by age, income, gender, etc. In fact, they’d shown the audience-targeting interface during their presentation. What I meant by my question was how they were getting their targeting data – it sounded as though this data was all self-reported by the game developers. With Apple warning developers that UDID will be phased out as a means to identify users I wonder how MediaMob will be able to do the type of targeting based on verifiable data they described last night.

Lifeables was second on the stage. They’re offering a content aggregation, curation and sharing service aimed primarily at families with younger children. In my preview I wondered how they were different from the Facebook Timeline. During the demo, and then in a subsequent conversation with CEO Karen Macumber and CTO Jeremy Daly, it was clear there are major differences. First is the ability to cull content from multiple sources automatically. This could be very helpful. Obviously it would allow you to find all the photos, tweets, etc. that friends and family were posting. This could lead to an unmanageable volume of content.

Thankfully, Lifeables seems to have a solution. First, as you interact with the system it learns what types of content you like and brings more of that in, leaving the content you don’t like on the cutting room floor. Second, it allows you to create groupings of related content. If you have a kid in youth soccer, all the soccer-related content could go into one set, another could focus on swimming, or holidays, or first days of school, etc. These sets can then be shared on a fairly granular level, whether or not the people you’re sharing with are members of Lifeables.

There are challenges and questions though. First, will people be interested in managing yet another platform? At a certain point fatigue sets in. Second, will they be willing to do the amount of curating required to make a service like Lifeables really valuable? Again the fatigue factor may play a roll. Even people setting out with the best intentions can find themselves falling behind until they reach the point where they just throw their hands up and walk away. The third is privacy. Always an issue, it was raised during the presentation when they talked about suggesting products to family members based on a child’s preferences. Having one’s hands on that kind of data could lead to the temptation to share or package it for advertisers.

Despite those questions, I thought Lifeables was the most interesting of the Main Dish companies. As it turns out, I was in the minority.

The final company, GatherEducation, was the audience choice. They do an online education and collaboration platform. I watched them calibrating a Kinect while setting up and was intrigued. For their presentation itself they had the best dog and pony, no doubt. After the founder explained the company, a local teacher and two remote participants had a brief physics class. Thanks to the Kinect, the teacher became an animated avatar on the screen. Non-animated avatars of the students appeared seated at horseshoe shaped tables. The teacher was able to verbally ask questions and the students “raised” their hands to answer. The students could speak and a shared workspace allowed them to write their answers for the class to see.

So far, so good. But aside from the avatar of the teacher (which frankly felt gimmicky and cartoonish) there was nothing radically different from other collaboration platforms out there. My biggest concern though came as the teacher described how much class time he could save by eliminating test prep from the school day and doing it outside of school hours using GatherEducation. At first, the idea of his getting 10 additional classes for instruction sounded great. But then I wondered about it. Unless every kid a) has access to a computer, and b) is free for additional instruction outside of school hours, some of them are going to get the short end of the stick.

At this point people might say, “sure, but most families have computers today,” and that might be true. But they might have “a” computer and depending on other people’s needs it might not be free when the test prep sessions are occurring. Even if there are a dozen computers in a household, if a student has a job or is responsible for helping with childcare or is getting other tutoring or has appointments it is still a problem. And frankly, the kids who are paying the least attention in class (and who might benefit the most from prep) are probably not going to suddenly become magically engaged at home.

For some applications, this kind of technology is great; but it’s not a panacea and the gung-ho reaction of the audience made me think people weren’t considering all the issues and implications. (Not that I am either but a few popped into my head.)

When the Main Dish presentations were wrapped up I headed back into the demo room to see what I could see. First was a company called Wanderu. They weren’t a Side Dish but were still pretty interesting. Basically they want to be Kayak for ground transportation. You might wonder if such a service is needed but it definitely is. A few weeks ago a friend of mind had a relative visiting from oversees. Their flight was arriving in New York and they wanted to get up to Boston on the cheap. My friend and I searched all of the bus lines we could think of and it was a royal pain in the ass. I’m sure we missed some and many of the ones we found didn’t stop near up. Wanderu would have been a great option.

Next I bumped into people from Privy. I’ve been reading The Princes in the Tower and there was just a scene with King Richard III sitting on the privy talking to an aide outside. I’ve been aware of both uses for privy: as a toilet or bathroom and as access to privileged information. I don’t think I’d name a company Privy. What they do – helping small businesses run promotions on their own owned-online properties – seems valuable but the name just doesn’t make sense to me.

After Privy I visited Zoora. It’s definitely not a company for guys like me. They have a number of emerging designers and offer them a platform for reaching consumers. What’s really nice is the ability for people to customize the clothing. The options are mostly limited to size, fabric or maybe adding a pocket. The clothes are sold on consignment, which is how Zoora makes money. It’s a nice idea and I hope they’ll do well.

Aside from a handful of random conversations, that’s my wrap up of WebInno33. It was good and I hope you’ll try to make it to WebInno34.