Video look at three tourist helpers

We’re often tourists. You know, looking for a new place to visit.

Sometimes we’re looking for a new attraction to visit.

Sometimes we’re looking for a new place to eat.

Sometimes we’re looking to take a new road trip.

Here’s three apps you should try to be a better tourist.

1. MyCityWay. Has a series of apps that show you a ton of stuff about many cities. Here’s a video where the founder shows you NYCWay.
2. Zagat. The world’s best travel guides now has mobile apps on several platforms. Here co-founder Nina Zagat and head of mobile, Brian Charles, show you around.
3. TripTrace. This is a new startup that helps you plan your travel. Gives you “books” where you can clip, budget, schedule, and capture your trip. CEO Michael Rubin introduces his new company and service to you.

MyCityWay mobile travel guides to cities:

Zagat’s mobile restaurant guides:

TripTrace Video:

Failcon Privacy Panel topic: why are location services ignoring these guys?

Stanford's privacy guys

Today I’ll be on a panel at Failcon about privacy. More on that in a second, but last week I visited the Gates Building at Stanford University. You know, that’s the building where Google’s founders went to computer science classes and developed Google.

While there I met a student, Arvind Narayanan, and a professor, Dan Boneh (you see them in the photo here) who showed me that they’ve developed a way to let people tell other people where they are located, or, especially, if Dan is near me so we can go and have lunch together. So? Doesn’t Foursquare do that? Doesn’t Google Latitude do that? Yes. But the system that Boneh’s team has developed does so without letting the host server or other users know. Whoa. How does it do that?

Well, through some neat cryptographic tricks. On the whiteboard they simplified it for me. Let’s say we were using Loopt and that Dan wanted to let me know where he was. He checks in, and a crypto key that I have would let me unencrypt his location without letting Loopt see that. It’s actually a lot more complex than that, and you can see how it works on the paper they drew up.

But after explaining it all to me, they said none of the location-based services were interested in it.

Why not? Well, there’s huge commercial value in knowing where you’re located and they just aren’t willing to build really private systems that they won’t be able to get at the location info. Think about a Foursquare where only your friends would be able to see where you were, but that Foursquare couldn’t aggregate your location together with other people, or where it wouldn’t be able to know where you are itself. They wouldn’t be able to offer you deals near you when you check in, the way it does today.

The truth is that both companies and consumers aren’t demanding these kinds of features, so until they do this neat idea will remain code on Dan’s whiteboard.

I think it’s interesting to see that not every idea leaves that whiteboard at Stanford and becomes a commercial success like Google was. It did take me back to about 13 years ago, though, when Larry Page and Sergey Brin probably sat in that same office writing code on the whiteboard and explaining it to their professors. What a place to visit.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about privacy lately. Turns out that even though I’m a very public person and don’t personally use many privacy settings on, say, Facebook or other services (in fact, I usually turn them off) there ARE some reasons for the industry to focus on privacy. Why?

Well, privacy goes beyond just keeping the government out of our bedroom. Here’s some ways I see privacy now:

1. Noise control. I love sharing my kid’s photos with you. But, I bet that you aren’t all that interested in them. So, can you tell the system “I like when that Scoble guy talks tech, but not when he talks kids?” Not really today. To me that’s privacy and yes, I know, most of you don’t see it as a privacy issue. It’s the control of what appears on your screen. Why should someone else be able to shove something onto your screen you don’t want?

2. Audience control. There are some things that we want to aim at only a certain audience. This is actually what most people think of when they think of privacy. Can they publish a photo and only have their close personal friends see it? Or, can they publish a photo and have only their dad see it? Over on Facebook, for instance, I have a group for my family and I can publish stuff into it. But am I sure that stuff I put there will only be seen by my family? Not really. They could copy the screen and publish it elsewhere. Mark Zuckerberg, for instance, last night, told us all where he was eating thanks to Facebook Places. Did he really want that to be reblogged and retweeted? I don’t know, because Facebook doesn’t have good enough audience control mechanisms.

3. Timing control. I love using Glympse to tell my friends where I am (you can even use it to let everyone know, or keep it just to some private small group or one person). On it you can set how long that information will be available. That’s timing control and has nothing to do with the other two pieces of privacy. I wish more systems had timing controls like this, especially location systems. Imagine if Foursquare only let you look at someone else’s location info for, say, two hours. That would keep you from going back and making a historical record, which could help house thieves figure out when you won’t be home.

4. Government control. This is what a lot of people think is privacy. Is your data being looked at by a governmental agency? Even public data. We’d love to know, but I think the cat is out of the bag on this one and we just have to assume they are looking at all of our data.

5. Service control. If I check in on one system, does it spray that info to other systems that I might not want to know? That’s happening more and more frequently. For instance, just last week I learned that Zagat and Starbucks made deals with Foursquare. Did you know that? Do you know where your data is traveling and being sold to? Did you know that if you tweet on Twitter that your Tweets can show up on Bing and Google? Most people don’t really know that and being able to control that would be nice, but, again, another cat out of the bag and I don’t see us getting that control back.

6. Commercial control. Which advertisers get to track us? See our data? Push ads in our face? Etc. These two guys at Stanford also developed a system that would give you control of that, but that’s even less likely to be picked up by industry so I didn’t even cover that here. Why? Momentum and prior art. At least in location business we’re all building our behaviors now, so we have a chance to change them. But their ideas involve new browsers and new technology to put us in control and that just won’t happen.

7. Bedroom control. This is the last bastion of privacy. Is there a reasonable expectation of privacy behind walls? Well, yes. But we are developing technologies that can see through fences, through bushes, and through walls. These technologies won’t be limited to governments soon either because of high cost or other barriers. If you can shine a laser through your windows, you can see and hear a lot more than most people might think. Add radar, which even my car has on it now, and privacy can fall. This is one area that humans will resist the most, but it’s still going to see attacks due to technology.

Out of all these areas, the one that personally interests me the most is noise control. Most people don’t see that as a privacy issue, but it’s the issue that concerns me the most.

What about you? What’s privacy to you? And do you see the industry ever caring enough to visit those two guys at Stanford and using their code?

I don’t, which is why their visits to various location players and other tech companies will continue to get ignored. Sorry guys.

First look at Aro: another example of why chaos on Android is good

There’s been a lot of chatter lately from Apple about why Android’s platform chaos is bad. What is chaos? Well, it’s the fact that every Android phone isn’t the same.

My Samsung, for instance, has tons of icons and apps and even a different look and feel than other devices from other manufacturers. That’s chaos. It’s generally bad to someone who sees a device as art, like Steve Jobs does, and it makes it harder to support. After all, if someone is having a problem, if all devices are the same, it’s easier to figure out. But if every device is different, it’s harder to figure out what’s causing the problem.

Underneath there’s chaos too as developers have to handle different devices and make sure their code still works on all of them.

Looked at it these ways, chaos is bad!

But where is chaos good? Well, two companies demonstrate how chaos is good: The first is Swype, which makes a much better keyboard for some Android devices. When I visited them a few months ago they had it working on iPhone and iPad, but they couldn’t get approved by Apple. You should watch that video to get an idea of how it works (you swipe your finger over the keyboard rather than poking at it and trying to hit small targets with your fingers) and why it’s so much faster than other virtual keyboards.

You can just hear Steve Jobs yelling in pain as he watches that video “what do you mean there would be two different keyboards on my devices? Hell no!”

But today we have another example of why chaos is good on Android: Aro. What is Aro? It’s a new personal information manager. Basically it takes over your email, your contacts, your calendar, and makes them all better and easier to use. How does it work?

It stores all that data in a new database that analyses all that info semantically. Do you see the chaos yet? Lots of chaos. First it replaces all those pieces of the cell phone, and can even hook into the phone dialer. Steve Jobs would +never+ allow that, would he? Second, it stores your data in a new cloud-based database. That brings into focus new privacy and backup concerns (they answer those on the video, but they are new concerns that don’t exist on the iPhone). More chaos.

Anyway, the video with Aro’s CEO, Jonathan D. Lazarus, is long (46 minutes) but Aro is the most innovative thing I’ve seen done for mobile phones lately, so I think it deserves a long look. If you only have a few minutes, pop over to about 5:55 into the video where you’ll see a demo of Aro.

What does Aro do? If, say, Bill Gates sends Steve Jobs an email, copies me, and is talking about Larry Ellison, Larry’s name will have a little square around it. Click on that square and a new UI fans out, letting me see other info. It’s like Rapportive or Xobni, but done much better and for the mobile interface. It makes your phone much more productive than it would be otherwise and that’s why I feel it’s so important.

One aside, this video is the first I did with Apple’s iMovie 11, so it’s in high-def. One problem. It took dozens of hours to import, edit, process, and upload, so I doubt I will use HD for these longer videos.

Starbucks CIO shows why next version of Windows is "risky business" for Microsoft

Starbucks CIO, Stephen Gillett, and I had breakfast on Wednesday. He showed me Starbucks new Digital Network, which will pop up on the screen if you sign in on wifi at any of Starbucks US stores. 30 million people a month do that.

You can hear him telling me about that on this CinchCast, I’ll have a video up this weekend.

But what he told me about what Starbucks is learning about its customers was telling and demonstrates just how big a deal the next version of Windows will be to Microsoft. How big a deal? Well, Steve Ballmer is already telling folks it’s the riskiest product intro yet for Microsoft.

So, what did Gillett tell me?

He said that laptop usage is flat, or even slightly declining, and that mobile usage is on fire and growing a great percentage every month.

Take that trend out two more years, which is when we expect to see the next version of Windows, and you can see the “risky” problem for Microsoft: we might not care at all about the OS on laptops and desktop computers anymore and might have switched to smart phones or slates, like the iPad. By the way, Gillett also said that iDevices from Apple are used more in its stores than any others. How important is that? Well, Gillett wanted to use Flash on the social network, but there wasn’t any way he could because of Steve Jobs’ refusal to support Flash. Even today Apple is refusing to include Flash in its laptops and desktops.

So, Starbucks built its system using HTML 5. Note what that means: nothing special for Microsoft Windows. No Silverlight. No .NET code. No Windows Mobile 7 features. Etc.

How the world has changed in just a decade. If we were in 2000, instead of 2010, Gillett wouldn’t have kept his job if he tried betting against Microsoft. But today his customers are forcing him to.

When I visited Microsoft this summer employees there told me they knew this fact too: we are losing interest in the platforms that Microsoft is dominant in and that makes the next version of Windows very risky.

Look at what could happen:

1. Windows 7 is a fantastic OS, so we might just stay with that. If Windows 8 doesn’t have a “killer feature and killer apps” then there won’t be the leverage on us to upgrade. We all upgraded to Windows 7 to get rid of the buggy Vista, or get the new stuff that made XP seem old-in-the-tooth. But will Windows 8 come up with something to make Win 7 seem long in the tooth? That’s a far tougher challenge.

2. We could stop caring about laptops and desktops altogether. I’m noticing more and more iPhones and iPads when I fly. Steve Rubel, VP of Edelman, told me he doesn’t even carry his iPad or laptops on business trips anymore. Just uses his mobile phone.

3. We could get pulled into Apple’s platforms, or Google’s platforms. Look at all the new apps that are only on these platforms. That would mean the death of Windows.

So, what will happen? Well, Microsoft better pull a rabbit out of its hat. The problem is, that hat has been dry for some time.

What would get you to care about Windows again, after all, Starbucks is noticing we like using our mobiles in its stores a lot more and that’s NOT a good place for Microsoft right now.

Scribd and Apture herald a new more usable web (New wave of Semantic services arrives)

I’m seeing a trend of new search technologies and semantic databases that make the services we use more productive. You’ll see more of those over the next few weeks, but today Scribd and Apture kick off a new way to get more info from documents stored on the web. Here’s some examples — just highlight a term you want to learn more about and click “learn more:”

Frank Gehrey Illustration.
Room To Read India Brochure (Pg. 17–Mirzapur/rickshaw video )
Kemble Scott’s Book: (Camp David, Armenia)

Here’s Apture’s CEO/founder, Tristan Harris, showing off how this works:

You highlight a term and you’ll learn more about it.

Now, how does that work? Underneath is pretty sophisticated semantic web technologies, but notice how Tristan never talks about semantic web. This is one of the first of the new wave, which shove that technology under the covers, while making it useful. The first wave never caught on because it was too slow, too geeky, and didn’t come help us where we actually live — on the documents we are trying to learn from.

Other places that semantic web technology is being used? Well, take a look at Meshin, which was developed yards from where ethernet originally was developed, in Xerox’s PARC labs. Right now Meshin is an Outlook plugin, sort of a copy of Xobni, but they are indexing every email going through that system and using a combination of graph and semantic databases to make your email more useful.

Who else is building sophisticated databases? Well, if you have one please post in the comments here.

Screw the super angels, we need a super user collusion table at Bin-38

OK, screw the super angels. You’ve heard all about those, right?

Well, I’m tired of hearing all about them. Why? They pollute every conversation with talk of valuations. Collusion. Exit strategies. Monetization strategies. Gamification strategies.

How boring.

When I was on stage at Techcrunch Disrupt I had to sit through this kind of talk. Look at the sessions from the first day. It’s all about adding gaming systems to the web. What did they talk about? Pleasing investors (we’re already selling hundreds of thousands of dollars worth) or pleasing brands (we can help brands get more engagement).

Gag me with a spoon.

Did I hear anyone during our session say “users are gonna love this?” Or “we did this to make users lives easier/better/etc?” No!

But it’s worse than that.

When I talk with audiences that have lots of VCs and VIPs in them, like I did last week at Rackspace’s SaaS event, or the week before at VatorSplash (a great event, by the way), I ask them how many new apps they’ve tried on their phones.

Only 5% of those audiences have tried more than 100 apps (I’ve tried more than 500, but have kept 356 on my iPhone. Strike that, I was just at CardMunch today and got one more. 357. Great business card scanning app, by the way).

Just look at Google. There are 3.1 million results for “super angels.” But there’s only 298,000 results for “super users.”

Why is that? Because money talks.

I’m sick of it.

Instead of the Super Angels alledgedly colluding against entrepreneurs, it’s time that the users met at places like Bin-38 and collude to get better products. It’s time that super users get the word out again. It used to be that the tech bloggers were all about users. But, lately, the best user conference, Gnomedex, has closed up shop and the tech press has decided to either talk about new products, people getting promoted/fired/hired, or funding events or exits.

I want a blog that says “Hey, did you hear what Kleiner Perkins sold today? WHO CARES! Did they build a better product?”

I’m to blame, by the way. Why do I say that? Well…

When Facebook opened up its new group feature, did I build a list of super users? No. I built a list of VCs, CEOs, and Tech Influentials.

Gag me with a spoon.

Did I get off my behind and build a Twitter list of super users? No. I’ve built a bunch of them, but none that focus on users.

Do I ask enough questions about how to use a product or service better? No.

Do I get technical info from companies about how to use APIs to build things better for users? No.

Do I hold companies feet to the fire for building crappy user interfaces? Not enough. Yeah, I bashed the first Kindle, but do I do that enough? No.

So, what can we do to make the industry more user-centric?

I’ll try to do my part. I’m looking for people who have more than 100 apps loaded on their mobile phones to start a group of super users. Who is in? Leave your Twitter info and Plancast info here so I can add you to a group.

Oh, and how do you get more than 100 apps? Use Chomp. Appolicious. Or Appsfire.

By banding together we can put pressure on those Super Angels to give us better technology.

Why focus on mobile? Because mobile is seeing the most innovation and change of any platform, by far, and investment too. It’s where users still have some leverage because those super angels will be pushing their companies to get adoption and they’ll want to talk with super users who are willing to try new ideas/apps/services, etc.

Are you in?

Hipmunk takes the pain out of finding and booking flights

This is republished from Building43, where Rackspace finds world-changing startups and shares those with you.

There’s no shortage of web sites where you can book travel, from Priceline to Kayak to airlines’ own sites. But that doesn’t mean that their standard user interfaces work very well. I sat down with Steve Huffman, co-founder of Hipmunk, to learn about his company’s vision for taking the sting out of booking flights. You can see that full interview here, as we visit their headquarters.

“There are dozens of ways of buying tickets online, all of which, in our opinion, are equally bad and painful,” says Huffman. His friend and co-founder Adam Goldstein suggested they create a travel search startup. “It was no-brainer: having been in a bicoastal relationship for the last four or five years, I know how painful it is to buy tickets,” says Huffman. “It can take hours. And by the time you’re done buying the ticket, you wonder why you’re traveling in the first place.”

What makes Hipmunk different than other booking sites? “We try to present the results in a useful way,” explains Huffman. “So instead of a wall of text that might span 35 pages, we have one simple clean interface where you can see the flights. You can see how they compare to one another and how long the flights are. But we also remove a lot of listings from the results–usually around 70 percent right off the bat.” Hipmunk smartly removes obviously undesirable flights, and you can also plug in your preferred airline so it will always appear in your results.

Huffman knows a thing or two about startups: five years ago, he co-founded Reddit, which was then acquired by Condé Nast. He recommends the startup experience to anyone who really wants to do it: “There is nothing to lose, except time. Especially if you’re a college kid. You spent the last four years living in poverty, what’s another couple going to cost? Worst-case scenario, you effectively give yourself an MBA while you’re learning how to start a company. And you’ll probably make a ton of friends along the way and learn a lot about yourself. Best-case scenario is you do all of that, and get really rich.”

More info:
Hipmunk web site:
Hipmunk blog:
Hipmunk profile on CrunchBase: