Monthly Archives: August 2010

“Twitter track on steroids” announced by TweetMeme founder

If you follow Steve Gillmor you know he loved a feature that used to be in Twitter, that he called Track. It let you ask Twitter to shove you real-time info. It was turned off as Twitter tried to deal with its scale problem.

But now Twitter is bringing back real-time streams. I’m using a pre-release version of TweetDeck that shows tweets coming into its columns in real time. It moves fast.

And that’s the problem. We all want to follow more and more people but that means we are less and less likely to keep up with the people and information we really want to keep up with.

So, how do we keep up?

Well, Nick Halstead has an answer he calls DataSift. He called it “track on steroids” when he first told me about it. I immediately got excited and turned on my camera.

It is in final stages of development, he told me, and will be available to developers in the next month. Nick says that Twitter worked with him on its development and it sounds exciting, there’s more on the Datasift blog. Listen to the video, but here’s how Nick pitched it to me in Skype before I turned on the camera:

datasift – takes the twitter firehose – and gives you twitter lists for content
____
its twitter track on steriods
____
so alerts/analytics/and API access to take real-time streams of the curated content.
____
built around a whole new programming language to tell it what content you want to extract
____
so for example,  - twitter.user.follow_count > 5000
would give you a stream of all the updates from twitter users with more than 5000 followers
____
- twitter.geo GEO_RADIUS “51.500789,-0.142264:10.0″ AND twitter.text CONTAINS “coffee”  AND twitter.sentiment > 75 looks for people in a 10km range of SF – that mention cofee – and are being very positive about it
____
looks for people in a 10km range of SF – that mention cofee – and are being very positive about it any data that is contained in a tweet (of which there are like 30 different fields) can be filtered against
____
any data that is contained in a tweet (of which there are like 30 different fields) can be filtered against, including annotations

UPDATE: Nick has more on his personal blog about the new Twitter button feature, and yet more, along with a video, on the DataSift blog.

Tour of SimpleGeo reveals why location services can’t get along

Last week I finally got to visit one of the companies that’s getting a lot of attention inside the location-based service world. No, it’s not Foursquare or Gowalla. It’s SimpleGeo, headquartered in Boulder, CO.

But one thing I’m interested in is why all these services don’t share data (I wrote about that in Techcrunch recently). You know, TripIt doesn’t talk with Google Maps which doesn’t talk with Foursquare which doesn’t talk with Gowalla which doesn’t talk with Bing Maps which doesn’t talk with Trapster which doesn’t talk with my running and cycling apps which don’t talk with Waze which doesn’t talk with Glympse and on and on and on.

In the interview and tour with SimpleGeo’s CEO (SimpleGeo plays intermediary for companies trying to build location-based services) he gives a good explanation of why these companies haven’t gotten along:

1. Their databases describe locations differently, so matching databases is hard.
2. The companies they are building on top of, like Navtek, have contracts that forbid a lot of databases being built on top of them.
3. The really useful data, like real-time views into what restaurants your friends are eating at, is very valuable so companies tend to want to keep that to themselves.

These are tough problems and is why the location-based industry feels a lot like online services felt in the late 1980s: lots of data silos, but no way yet to build common interfaces that join these together. We all know that the web came along in 1994 and fixed that. When will the same thing happen to the industry that Foursquare and Gowalla are leading now? I have a feeling SimpleGeo will play a big role in that and that we’ll be seeing a lot more of its CEO, Matt Galligan.

As to the tour of the office, neat to see how they are joining offices together with videoconferencing systems. If you are starting a startup or are trying to work with a remote team, you might get some ideas by what SimpleGeo is doing in its offices.

SimpleGeo's founder Matt Galligan

This startup wants you to play with its balls

Last week in Boulder, Colorado, we saw a ton of cool startups but many of them didn’t make products consumers can go into a store and buy. GearBox, though, is selling robotic balls that will cost about $50.

Now, what’s cool about a robotic ball beyond their opening pitch of “play with our balls?”

Well, you use a smart phone to tell the ball where to roll, watch the video I shot to see how the ball works. That alone is fun, but is sheer delight for cats or babies.

But they went further than just the obvious use cases. The robot inside the ball is actually a pretty open platform that you can use to build other kinds of devices. You can also program it to do different things with a couple of lines of code thanks to its API. They’ve already held hack days to see what developers might want to do with their balls.

Anyway, the video is fun to watch as they demo it to a bunch of venture capitalists (Jason Calacanis is seen in the background checking out this startup’s balls). They were all in town to see demos from Techstars companies. More on Techstars later this week as I get more of the cool startup videos I shot in Boulder.

I’m buying one. I think they’ll be the hot Christmas toy for geeks this Christmas.

GearBox's robotic camera

Behind the endless iPad photo book: Fotopedia Heritage

I love getting an in-depth look at cool new technology, but even better I love getting to know some of the great technologists that have done amazing things in the industry.

This video has a little bit of both. Jean-Marie Hullot worked for years for Steve Jobs as CTO at NeXT and at Apple. He’s played key roles (he asked me not to tell you just how key) in the development of major products at both companies, including the iPhone.

But lately he’s been following his other passions: photography and iPad applications. Yesterday he released a really cool new app: Fotopedia’s Heritage. He calls it an endless photo book. It shows photos from World Heritage sites around the world (more than 800 of them) and has a unique interface and way to navigate around them. They are good photos because they were community curated and the images picked are ones that have liberal Creative Commons licenses.

I love the app. Why? Because it lets me dream about traveling to places around the world. It also lets me show my kids different historic sites around the world and take them there without having the expensive travel. It’s like a new kind of atlas with thousands of photos at your fingertips.

Anyway, he came over on a Saturday evening and spent time showing me around the app. If you stay until the end of the 35 minute interview he even tells some fun Steve Jobs stories. For more info, see the Techcrunch review of the app.

Map Wars (visiting Bing’s imaging center)

Microsoft Bing Maps' datacenter

Everytime I fly I look at who is sitting next to me and wonder “I wonder what he/she does?”

Last week on the way to Boulder a guy was sitting next to me and he had a Dell laptop with Windows 7 loaded, and was doing Outlook email. I thought to myself “I bet he works for Microsoft.”

Turns out he was. It was Eric Waldman, who does licensing for Bing Maps.

We talked for the next couple of hours about the industry, and what he sees as the good things and problems. Talked about how Navteq and other companies control a lot of the data that you see in Mapquest, Google Maps, and on Bing and how Microsoft works with those companies to build unique data (Navteq’s cameras, for instance, are actually built by Microsoft and Microsoft shares a license for some of that data with Navteq).

He told me a story of how Microsoft was doing something that had never been done before: they are flying planes over nearly every inch of the United States in the next 18 months. Already 10% done. The previous “all USA” flight image gathering exercise took 10 years, he told me. There’s immense pressure on mapping teams, he told me, to always keep its data up to date.

He also made sure to point out that Microsoft’s on-car cameras are sharper than the ones Google is using and that Bing Maps includes at least four different imaging types: on road photos, 45-degree low-altitude aerial photos, high altitude plane photos, and satellite photos.

You can see that all when you visit a map of the Golden Gate Bridge, for instance. Compare to Google Maps of the same area and you’ll see that Microsoft is way ahead in imagery.

I still like the usability of Google’s Maps better, and Google doesn’t force me to download some plugin to see all of its imagery like Microsoft does, but that’s a little nit of mine. After installing Silverlight I see that Microsoft Maps has glorious imagery that makes Google’s imagery look lame (varies from location-to-location).

Anyway, all that high res imagery takes a lot of storage space. In the parking lot they built a sizeable data center that holds five petabytes of storage and a ton of machines in a small shipping container that basically is the kind of thing you see on the back of an 18-wheel truck. I was lucky enough to get a peek inside and a look at that, which I’m sharing here. The photo above is a picture inside the truck. Ever been surrounded by five petabytes of storage? It’s loud. Inside that truck they process all the imagery that comes in from cars and planes around the world.

In a separate audio interview after viewing the truck, you hear some of the details of what the Bing Mapping team does in Boulder, CO.An early version of Microsoft’s aerial camera, that they call “the ultra cam” is sitting in the lobby:

Microsoft Bing's aerial camera "UltraCam"

Industry insiders know that Apple is working on its own maps. What will they look like? What kind of imagery data is Apple capturing? I’m hearing rumors that Apple will release its mapping technology by the end of the year, we’ll see if that happens, but Microsoft told me that the investment they’ve made in making Bing Maps runs into many hundreds of millions of dollars. As one of the team members said in the audio interview there aren’t many companies that can do that.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed this small look into Microsoft’s Bing Mapping team’s lair. Which maps do you like best?

Promiscuous Adoption: A tale of two companies

By now you know that Flipboard is one of my favorite new companies of 2010 and, while they’ve pretty much caught up to the initial demands on their servers, spent two weeks just getting slammed with new adopters. Mike McCue, the CEO there who has seen great Silicon Valley success (he sold TellMe to Microsoft for $800 million) told me he has never seen anything like it.

But compare that to Wowd, which came out yesterday. Here’s my video on Wowd:

Why didn’t Wowd get a huge amount of adoption? It’s counter intuitive. Flipboard is only usable on the iPad, which has sold a small fraction of the numbers of Macintosh and Windows computers are out there. Wowd was aiming at a far bigger potential market, but fell flat. Why?

Now part of the reason could be it got a poor review from ReadWriteWeb’s Sarah Perez. But as I read Sarah I noticed a bias, here, let me see if you can see it too: “But dealing with the first desktop app I’ve installed since TweetDeck reminds me of why I love the cloud – the processing power required is dealt with on their servers, not mine.”

I feel the same way! I +hate+ installing software. So much so that I almost didn’t install Wowd.

But, wait, I have 300+ apps on my iPhone and iPad. So, there’s a disconnect there.

I noticed this a few weeks ago when I was flying. I sat next to two guys. One had an iPad. It was loaded with apps that didn’t exist a year ago. The other was using a Windows XP machine. It didn’t have a single app that didn’t exist a year ago.

So, yesterday, I dug into my feelings about installing software.

Windows and Macintosh machines bring a lot of baggage to the table that make it mentally exhausting to install software. Here’s some of the things that were going through my mind when I installed Wowd yesterday:

1. Can I uninstall this easily? I’ve recently tried to clean up apps on my Mac. It took quite a while to find all the places apps hide crap.
2. Will it screw up my machine? I lived through many years of installing stuff on my Windows machines to watch them get slower, or start having crashes, or worse.
3. Will I fall in love with this app and want it on all my machines? (Installing software on all my machines is a pain in the behind).
4. Will I need to maintain this app in the future and find updates for it, or will it get updated itself?
5. Did the developers do something nasty to my machine and are they ethical about privacy and all that stuff (seriously, how many people install apps that report data back to some server that they aren’t aware of, etc)?

Then I thought back to Flipboard. I didn’t have any of these fears with that app. Why not?

1. Uninstalling an app on an iPad just requires you to hold your finger down on the app and clicking an “x.” It’s gone and there’s no little pieces left around.
2. I’ve loaded hundreds of apps on my iPad and it hasn’t gotten slower.
3. Loading an iPad app on all three of our iPads is much easier than installing it on three separate laptops.
4. Apps update easily on the iPad via the iTunes store.
5. Apps are approved by Apple so if an app does something nasty I can make a huge deal about how Apple is evil, etc.

This leads to promiscuous adoption. Some weekends I’ve loaded 50 or more apps on my iPhone or iPad to try them out. Heck, the only retardant to adoption is paying the app fee and I’ve often said “it’s only a latte” while trying out an app and more than not I come away with something much more valuable than a latte at the local coffee shop.

I’ve been asking around and both startups and big companies are telling me they are noticing the same thing. iPhone and iPad users are installing a lot more apps and are installing new things at a far greater rate than people who have Windows or Macintosh machines.

This has deep implications for where VC’s will invest in the future. I’m actually shocked that Wowd got funded with its approach of installing software on machines. It’s one of the few exceptions I’ve seen get funded this year that has taken that approach.

Anyway, do I have an opinion on Wowd? Yes. It isn’t ready for me yet. After installing I hit a bug (they are fixing it) that keeps their system from working well with large-friend accounts. Now that I have it installed I’ll try it again when they get an update out.

What does Wowd do? Help you filter your Facebook stream (Twitter coming soon) so that you can see more of the things you find valuable in your stream. Interesting idea, that’s somewhat what Flipboard does too (which is why I took the interview, because I’m looking for companies that will help us filter the noise out of our social streams).

But if I ran Wowd, I’d go server side so that people don’t need to install any software. That’s a LOT of baggage to overcome. It also makes Flipboard appear brilliant for going iPad only.

What do you think?