Testing out the new panoramic iPhone photo apps

OK, Instagram is the hot photo sharing app for the iPhone, right? Sure! But there’s a new set of apps (with a couple more on the way) that do more than Instagram ever could: let you take 360-degree photos.

This weekend I visited Yosemite with my family. A bunch of my photos are up on my Flickr page, and you’ll see the standard fare like this shot of Yosemite Falls:

Yosemite Falls reflected

The thing is, last week Microsoft shipped a new panoramic photo app that I wanted to test out. It’s called Photosynth for iPhone, you can download it from iTunes here.

I wondered how it would compare to Occipital’s 360 Panorama app, which is my favorite for doing these quick 360-degree shots. You’ve seen me use these a few times, especially when I visit something like Facebook’s datacenter.

So, while standing in Yosemite valley, I thought I’d give these two a good test out. Here’s my two shots:

Yosemite Falls with Occipital’s 360 Panorama.

Yosemite Falls with Microsoft’s Photosynth.

Neither is perfect, so let’s cover the pros and cons:

Ways Occipital’s app wins:

* Easier to use. You just start up the app, click capture, and then pan the camera around. It took one shot to make this full 360-degree view. Just move smoothly in a circle and you’ll see it capture the image.
* Easier to view. Microsoft’s app requires Silverlight, so I’ve gotten some complaints that people couldn’t view images done with Microsoft’s Silverlight app, especially on iPads. Boo! Occipital’s images work just fine, though.
* Easier to share. Occipital’s app shares images on Facebook and Twitter, where Microsoft’s app just shares with Facebook. This really sucks when you want to share an image in near real time with Twitter folks (copying and pasting a URL in Microsoft’s app on the iPhone is very difficult, too, which makes this problem worse).

Ways Microsoft’s app wins?

* Better image quality overall.
* Users can zoom the image in!
* Photosynth makes a 3D map of the world around you. Eventually this map will make it possible to join different people’s Photosynths together.
* Some people will like the “shoot one tile at a time” approach because it makes seams less obvious and also encourages you to shoot more of the scene (my Occiptal image doesn’t show the entire sky and ground, while the Photosynth does).
* Photosynth has a community where you can search for other people’s Photosynths (and other people can find yours).

Anyway, both apps are really great, and if you don’t have one or both on your iPhone you’ll be missing out when you get someplace like Yosemite that just DEMANDS a 360-degree view!

My end review:

Microsoft Photosynth: 4 out of 5 stars (not including Twitter and relying too much on Silverlight are biggest sins, if you want to view on iPad you might give this a far lower rating, like Ben Kessler did).
Occipital’s 360 Panorama: 3.5 stars out of 5. (Seams too obvious and not easy to capture a complete top-to-bottom 360-degree view).

Photo tour of Facebook's new datacenter

Facebook's datacenter in Prineville, Oregon, USA from the outside

Today I was very fortunate to have gotten a tour of Facebook’s new datacenter up in Prineville, Oregon (map). This datacenter is the most energy efficient in the world and only a handful of press got a look. We’ll have a video up after editing it, but here’s a look at the datacenter in photos. I shot all of these photos on an unmodified iPhone 4 with Instagram, that just got an update today. For the panoramic photos I was using Occipital’s 360 app.

Here’s the sight that we saw on arriving. Keep in mind this building is HUGE and there’s a sizable solar array out front (here’s a panoramic photo from inside that solar array), which doesn’t really power much of the datacenter, but powers some of the buildings around the site. Photos don’t really do it justice, but think about three average Walmarts put end-to-end :

Facebook's new datacenter. Huge!

Facebook is so big that it has its own flag:

Facebook has its own flag. Hangs in front of datacenter and the tour is over.

Walking in, yes, we are in the right place:

Sign in lobby of Facebook datacenter.

Just past the Facebook sign is a monitor in the lobby that shows you the state of the datacenter and how well the cooling systems are working:

Cooling chart at Facebook datacenter entrance.

Inside the security door the local community made these quilts, which is their interpretation of what a social network looks like:

Quilts done by local community in entranceway to Facebook datacenter.

Walking in Thomas Furlong, director of site operations at Facebook, brought us into a huge series of rooms which “process” the air. First room filters the air. Second room filters it further.

Here’s Thomas showing us one of the huge walls of filters (these filters are similar to the ones in my home heating system, except here Facebook has a wall of them).

Thomas Furlong, director of site operations at Facebook, shows us a huge wall of filters at its datacenter

Here’s a better shot of just how massive this filtering room is:

The air filter at Facebook datacenter. Big!

Then the air goes into a third room, one where the air is mixed to control humidity and temperature (if it’s cold outside, as it was today, they bring some heat up from inside the datacenter and mix it here) and on the other side, there’s a huge array of fans, each of which has a five horsepower motor (today the fans were moving at 1/3 speed, which makes them more efficient).

Here you can see the back sides of one of the huge banks of filters:

Air filters at Facebook's datacenter.

Here Thomas stands in front of the fans:

Facebook fans!

Here’s a closeup look at one of the fans that forces air through the datacenter and through the filtering/processing rooms:

Each fan has 5hp motor.

Finally, the air moves through one final step before going downstairs into the datacenter. In this final step small jets spray micro-packets of water into the air. As the water evaporates, which it does very rapidly, it cools the air. One room I didn’t take photos in was filled with pumps and reverse osmosis filters, which makes the water super pure so it works better when using it to cool in this way. One final set of filters makes sure no water gets into the datacenter. Here’s a closer look at the array of water jets:

Water cooling at Facebook data center.

Here you can see the scale of the room that sprays that water:

Filter room #2 at Facebook datacenter. Huge!

Here’s a closeup of one of the jets of cooling water:

Water-cooling jet at Facebook datacenter.

Finally we got to follow the air down into the datacenter where there was a huge floor with dozens of rows. Each row had rack after rack of servers.

Here Thomas stands in front of just one of those racks:

Tom Furlong gives us our first look at Open Compute servers at Facebook datacenter.

A look down the main corridor at Facebook's new datacenter

This 180-degree view gives you a look down the main corridor (on the side you can see is only half the datacenter — these are the newer “Open Compute” servers, the other half they asked us not to take pictures of, and that contained their older server technology).

If you click here you can see a panoramic photo of one of these rows.
Panoramic Photo of one of the rows of servers inside Facebook's new datacenter

What does this all mean? Well, for one, it brings jobs to Prineville, which is a small town with about 10,000 residents in a very rural county (we drove about half an hour through mostly farmland just to get to Prineville). But listen to Prineville’s mayor to hear what it means for her community.

Which brought up the question: why Prineville. The execs who showed me around today said they chose the site based on an exhaustive search for the perfect combination of low-seismic risks, cooler and mostly dry weather, access to power and Internet trunk lines (Prineville is an old railroad community, and fiber lines run under the railroads here) and a variety of other factors including low tax rates and friendly climate to business, etc.

Anyway, it’s not often that you get to see inside a modern datacenter. You’ll be reading more about this tour, since there were other journalists there as well, hope you enjoyed these early pictures.

By the way, why did Rackspace send me there? For those who don’t know, I’m a full-time employee of Rackspace which is the world’s biggest web hosting company.

Because we’re already building a datacenter based on the “Open Compute” plans that Facebook made and put into Open Source (the datacenter as well as the specs for the machines is all in open source now). More on Open Compute here. Plus we’re datacenter geeks so love seeing how other companies do it so we can learn from what they’ve done.

This social media stock market game is building a real-world "value score" about you

I’ve been playing Empire Avenue for a few weeks now and I’ve found it a really compelling game for a number of social reasons. First, what is it? It’s a stock market game where you can buy or sell your friends, or other people in the social media world. You can buy or sell me at http://www.empireavenue.com/scbl for instance.

Pricing is affected by the value you’re putting into social systems. The guy behind it, Duleepa “Dups” Wijayawardhana, is here and we spend an hour talking about the game and what it really is about.

Why is it compelling?

Well, because I’m a narcissistic egotistical butthead. Of course. 😉

But look further than that.

Three nights ago I went through the 550 YouTube accounts I was subscribed to. I ended up deleting more than 300 of those accounts. Why? Because they were providing no value. Most of those accounts I deleted hadn’t been updated in more than a year. Others only had really lame videos of their cat. Pretty low-value stuff to me. Maybe you’d like that, but I generally find TED Talks more interesting than cat videos.

By doing that my inbound video feed all of a sudden became dramatically better. Why? Because I was following people who were providing real value.

Can we share with each other the folks who are providing that real value? That’s the question that Empire Avenue is trying to solve and I’ve found it does it better than other social media systems, like Klout or Peer Index, that mostly measure how many followers and how many retweets you’re getting.

Everyone in San Francisco knows that Twitter and Facebook are building such scores about you, but they don’t share that with their users. Also, those systems aren’t going to study your reputation on their competitors or on places like YouTube and they can’t really roll in real-world reputation/authority/influence. Empire Ave can.

And that’s what makes it compelling and why I spent an hour with the CEO.

VMware disrupts with open source PaaS play

Yesterday I attended VMware’s Cloud Foundry announcements. More on those announcements over at Techmeme. If you’re a developer it’ll be hard to miss what VMware’s doing here. It’s very significant and means a lot to a group of companies, from Amazon, Google, Microsoft on one side and Rackspace and Salesforce on another. We’re all trying to figure out what it means for us, because they now are hosting apps (new competition for Rackspace, which is where I work!)

I’m excited by what VMware’s doing. Why? Because it’s open source. Listen to VMware co-president Tod Nielsen, who tells me what it means.

Yes, we’re seeing new competiton, but we expected that when we released our cloud stack to open source (we knew we were empowering our competitors with our own code. How scary!) So, how will Rackspace compete? On service. See, most companies don’t have geeks who know what node.js is. They’ll need a partner to help them get their businesses online and up to date. The hosting and app platforms are quickly turning into commodities so service is one of the areas that will really matter.

Thanks to VMware for inviting me over yesterday, quite interesting announcements!

The rest of this article is reprinted with permission from Rackspace’s Building43:

This week, VMware introduced a major new PaaS called Cloud Foundry. The project is available as open source software, and it provides a platform for building, deploying and running cloud apps.

“The value proposition for Cloud Foundry is it’s the first real open PaaS, or platform as a service,” explains Tod Nielsen, Co-President of the Application Platform Group at VMware. “And by open we mean we’re going to support multiple frameworks—be it Ruby, Java, Node.js—we’re going to support a whole set of services as well as any cloud. By any cloud, we’re actually going to offer to host a service ourselves, we’re going to work with folks like Rackspace and allow you to offer Cloud Foundry as a service that you’ll provide, and there’ll be a behind the firewall version that enterprises can run in their private cloud. Then we have something we call the Micro Cloud, which instantiates Cloud Foundry onto your lap top so developers can write code themselves, and then they can push to whichever cloud option they choose.”

Because the project is open source, it does not restrict developer choices of frameworks, application infrastructure services and deployment clouds. “The challenge with the cloud today…” says Nielsen, “is it feels like the Hotel California—you get into one cloud and then you get trapped and you can’t get out. If the industry is really going to let this paradigm take it to the next level, it’s got to be open. It’s got to provide the flexibility and freedom for developers and corporations to deploy where they want and when they want and move things around as necessary.”

Cloud Foundry aims to allow developers to remove the cost and complexity of configuring infrastructure and runtime environments for their applications and focus on the application logic.

“One of the things that developers complain about today,” explains Nielsen, “is if they’re in a corporation, to actually get an application deployed requires all kinds of work to provision a server, provision a database, provision middleware, make sure it’s all set up, coordinate with the operations team and write IT tickets. We had one developer say, ‘it’s like I spend all my time writing IT tickets’. The value proposition for Cloud Foundry is we want to help you write code, not tickets.”

More info:

Cloud Foundry web site: http://www.cloudfoundry.com/
Cloud Foundry blog: http://blog.cloudfoundry.com/
Cloud Foundry on Twitter: http://twitter.com/cloudfoundry

The most important new protocol since RSS: AirPlay (three cool new apps that use it to change how we view TV)


I still remember when Dave Winer showed me RSS and what it did. It changed my life and continues to, even after we switched much of our reading behavior to Twitter (a new iPad app is coming on Friday that uses RSS, more about that when the embargo ends).

But since RSS has there been a new protocol that’s changed our lives in a big way? I haven’t seen one until Apple announced AirPlay.

What is AirPlay? It lets you play video instantly and wirelessly from your iPhone or iPad to your big-screen TV which has an Apple TV attached. I had my nephew, Kian, video me in my family room where I show you what it does.

Yes, you can already recognize the downside to this new protocol: it was developed by Apple and isn’t yet available on other devices or to developers who might, um, want to put it on Android devices.

I can see why Apple might want to keep it for itself. It’s a killer feature. Reading on Wikipedia you’d learn that the protocol lets you wirelessly stream audio, video, and photos.

But it wasn’t until the past week that we’ve seen iPad apps that really use it. In my tests with three of these apps I’ve found that they completely change my TV viewing patterns.

Here’s why.

In old-school YouTube viewing I’d watch a video on a laptop, or on my iPad, but if I wanted to show it to the whole room, say, to my wife or my sons, I’d have to get off the couch, find the remote for either my Apple TV, or a controller for my Xbox, and figure out how to browse to what I was viewing. Lots of times it was way too frustrating to find what I was viewing on the iPad that I’d just give up.

Here, try it yourself. Go watch a video on ted.com and then try to watch that same video on an Xbox, Apple TV, Roku, Boxee, PlayStation, or Wii. I have most of those devices in my family room and they are just nearly impossible to use.

It gets worse when you have your own video that you shot on your iPhone or iPad. I hate having to hand my iPad around just to show people something cute my kids did or the BBQ place we visited at SXSW.

No longer.

Now I just click a new AirPlay icon on these new apps and BOOM it starts playing on my big screen TV.

Anyway, the three apps that I’ve been using in the past month that have changed my viewing habits quite radically are:

1. TED iPad app. I love watching TED videos and since these are usually about 18 minutes each (some shorter) I like watching them on my big screen so that I can tweet on my iPad while learning from these great speakers.

2. Squrl. Squrl lets me watch lots of videos, especially from YouTube and other places, and I can curate those videos into pages. Much of the videos here are playable via AirPlay. I thought the Netflix and Hulu ones would be, but they are giving me an error, I’ll try to find out. I did an extensive video with the founder that you should watch.

3. ShowYou (just released, I have an exclusive first look and interview with Mark Hall, CEO).

After watching the video you can read more on the ShowYou blog and it’s available on iTunes now, visit the ShowYou site to get a link to it.

You can follow me on each service, I use the username “Scobleizer” on all of them.

Anyway, this is how Apple will be very successful with the Apple TV and shows you how they are going to continue to monetize long into the future.

Welcome to the “Age of AirPlay.”

Does anyone in Silicon Valley care about Windows anymore?

VMware Cloud annoucements.

Microsoft is today showing off pieces of the next version of Windows (we’re all calling it Windows 8 ) but I’m wondering if anyone cares anymore about Windows in the tech enthusiast space.

Why do I say that?

Well, at nearly every tech industry event lately I’ve noticed an almost complete shift away from Windows-based computers. Here, take a look at a panoramic photo I shot this morning at the VMware Cloud Foundry announcement (which was very interesting open source Platform-As-A-Service introduction, more Thursday when I get a video up). This room had only two PCs that I could see. The entire rest of the room was on Macs or iPads. Keep in mind that in this one room was a mixture of marketers, developers, executives, press folks, and hard-core geeks.

I noticed this same ratio at TEDx. At Web 2 Expo. At Stanford University events. At Facebook events. And other places.

Now, you could say “well, Silicon Valley is just weird and they all buy Apple stuff.” But, note that VMware is run by many former Microsoft executives (I met Charles Fitzgerald in the hallway, who is one of the smartest strategists I’ve ever met, and Mark Lucovsky was on stage this morning. You can see him at the front of the room in that panoramic photo behind one of the three VMware Macs. He even joked about his former Microsoft role “I developed DLL hell at Microsoft” he said).

But I saw the same shift at LIFT in Geneva, Switzerland and LeWeb in Paris and while the World Economic Forum had more PCs in the audience than at VMware, there were a TON of iPads.

Something is going on here, but why isn’t it showing up in market share numbers?

Is this the new “tech divide?” Those who are passionate about tech are going to get Macs and everyone else is gonna get a PC because their boss probably bought one for them assuming that if you only do email, Excel, and Powerpoint that there’s no need for you to have a Mac?

What does this mean for Windows 8?

When Steve Jobs noted that the iPad is ushering in a “post-PC world” I wonder if he knows something we don’t: that early adopters, influencers, geeks, developers, and Silicon Valley insiders are going “all Mac, all the time?”

Are you? If you’re still excited by Windows, why?

Here’s Facebook’s team that developed messaging, same kind of “mostly Mac” ratio:

Exclusive look into Facebook's "war room."

First look: Airplay-enabled Squrl: Internet video curation tool for iPad

There is a lot happening on the iPad. One of the coolest new things is called “AirPlay.” What does it do? It lets you push video to your Apple TV with the click of a button.

Today Squrl brings Hulu, YouTube and Netflix (amongst others) to the AirPlay table. This is very significant. My video watching behavior has changed more in the past month since getting Squrl and another iPad app that’s coming tomorrow than it has since I first got a Tivo years ago.

More on this tomorrow, but there’s something very significant going on here, don’t miss it. Here’s a video first look at Squrl, reprinted from Rackspace’s Building43 site:

Video, it seems, is everywhere. From Hulu to Netflix to YouTube to Vimeo, keeping track of it all can be a daunting task. Squrl is solving that problem with innovative ways to capture and curate video from the Internet.

“There are a lot of different video choices and a lot of different video apps,” explains Mark Gray, CEO and Co-Founder of Squrl. “We believe that users want to centralize that and want to manage that better. So with the plethora of video that’s now available…and more and more content starting to go a la carte, people need a better way to manage that and manage across all those different video experiences.”

Squrl allows you to aggregate and organize videos in one location. You can bookmark videos you find while browsing the web on your iPad, Mac or PC. You can capture any video that you tweet or retweet. And you can forward video links via email to your email address that Squrl provides, and the system will add the videos to your collection.

Discovery is also a big part of the service, as you can find new videos in several different ways. First, you can search the curated content that’s already within Squrl. “We believe that this next evolution of video is about people that are watching videos starting to curate that content into meaningful collections,” says Gray. “We allow you to search that.” The second way is to search any given web site, such as Netflix. Finally, you can subscribe to someone else’s content and receive push notifications when videos have been added to their collections.

“What we’re hoping to do with Squrl,” explains Gray, “is make [managing video] fun and easy as opposed to what it is today.”

More info:

Squrl web site: http://www.squrl.com/
Squrl on Twitter: http://twitter.com/squrl