Off the grid vacation (geeky way to say "road trip")


View Southern California Coastal Roadtrip in a larger map

It’s been a while since I, well, just stopped writing the blog, reading Twitter, talking on Facebook or Google Buzz, etc, and just hung out with the family. In fact, I can’t remember a time when I’ve done that for more than a day or two while flying or something like that.

For the next two weeks we’ll be hanging out on a beach down in Southern California, just, well, trying to be present for my family. Fred Wilson’s post on the topic made a big impact. Too often I’ve been staring at the iPhone or working on a video to be present for those who I love.

Anyway, see you on the other side. My calendar says I’ll be on vacation until July 20th, but we’ll see how long this off-the-grid vacation lasts. Where are we going? Our custom Google Map shows some of the places we might be seen in next few days.

Oh, and just to tempt me, the place we’re spending most of the time at, Sunset Cove, just tweeted that they upgraded their wifi network. Ahh, getting off the grid will be a challenge!

Meet the team that knows who is REALLY influential on Twitter (Klout)

Last Friday I dropped in on Klout’s offices because I wanted to know more about the team that’s making waves by studying the influence of Twitterers. You might be shocked to know it doesn’t have much to do with how many followers you have. They monitor a whole range of things. Anyway, you can see that by trying Klout out on your own Twitter stream. Check out my score and compare it to yours. Then watch the video and meet the team.

First look video: Toshiba "touch" netbook prototype shows how Japanese might fight back against iPad (oh, and a cool 3D laptop, too)

The iPad is highly popular around the world and is taking market share away from netbooks. That much you can see all around you.

But, how could the other manufacturers fight back?

Here Toshiba shows a new prototype they are calling the Libretto W100 that has two seven-inch touch screens that could make the netbook more interesting to potential iPad users.

Now, hardware is only 1/8th the battle. The rest is software and there Apple is way ahead, especially if Toshiba is forced to use Microsoft’s Windows, which, even with Windows 7, doesn’t feel as good on touch devices as Apple’s iOS does. Note, too, that for this prototype Toshiba had to custom build a new touch keyboard. But, at least you can see that such a hardware, if matched with Android, or with HP’s touch OS that it bought from Palm, that there’s a future for Japanese manufacturers. I found the idea to be compelling when I saw it, and could see lots of uses for a two-screen touch netbook. I hope they take it further than just a prototype.

Here’s Engadget’s report on the W100 prototype and here’s Gizmodo’s report. Reported pricing is way too high to gain any mass-market share and they need to dump Windows 7 and get a fully-touch-oriented OS to get me interested.

While there I also saw a new 3D laptop, the A665 3D, which has a new kind of screen designed for 3D gaming. I played some games on this and the effect is stunning. Unfortunately it requires special glasses and won’t be for everyone, but if you are a gamer or want to see a 3D movie, this new laptop is stunning. Gizmodo has more info on this laptop from Toshiba.

A few weeks ago I visited with Toshiba, and made this video demo of both models.

Features available on the Toshiba libretto W100 include:
 Dual 7.0-inch diagonal multi-touch displays7 (1024 x 600)
 6-mode virtual keyboard with haptic response
 Windows® 7 Home Premium operating system
 Intel® Pentium® U5400 processor1 (1.2GHz)
 2GB DDR3 memory2
 62GB Solid State Drive3
 1.0 megapixel HD Webcam with Toshiba Face Recognition
 802.11 b/g/n wireless4
 Bluetooth 2.1+EDR5
 MicroSD card slot
 One USB 2.0 port
 TOSHIBA Bulletin Board, ReelTime™ and PC Health Monitor software
 8-cell battery
 7.95” (W) x 4.84”(D) x 1.2”(H)
 1.8 lbs.6

Two location companies that are more important than Foursquare, MyTown, Loopt, Gowalla, or Whrrl

I still love Foursquare. I check in nearly everywhere I go. I still also check in with Gowalla (my checkins) and Yelp (my Yelps) and a variety of other services. Why? Because these tools continue to evolve very quickly and the world of location-based services is getting more and more important every day. You know that if you read Techmeme or Techcrunch with any regularity.

But I’ve found two companies that are more important than the already hyped Foursquare or Gowalla: Goby (Crunchbase details) and TheDealMap (Crunchbase details on parent company Center’d).

First, what do they do?

Goby lets you find things around you, like hiking trails. Try to do THAT with any other service!

TheDealMap lets you find deals around you, with easily 50x more deals and offers than any other service I’ve found.

But don’t take my word for it, listen into the CEOs tell you about their products and come back for more after you watch these two:

Goby Video:

TheDealMap Video:

Now, notice what these two actually do: the bring you REAL utility on top of location. How am I using these two services?

Well, on July 4th we’re going to be in Los Angeles, so I did a search on Goby.com for fireworks in Los Angeles on 7/4/10. Brings back a list of things to do with a map of where those things are close to me.

I need more exercise, so I did another search for “hiking, Half Moon Bay, anytime.”

But, now, here’s the magic. Click on the map, then drag the pin to a new location. It shows you the same search results, but for the new location! This is very cool and VERY important for getting real utility out of the location you are in or the location you will be in (something Foursquare or Gowalla has really no clue about).

Next, let’s go to the Deal Map.

Again, I’m planning a vacation for Los Angeles, so let’s do a search for Laguna Nigel, CA, which is where we’ll be staying for more than a week.

Nearby I see a ton of restaurant deals laid out on a map. I click on an icon and it shows me the deal, which even includes a free $6 burger at the nearby Burger King. Gowalla or Foursquare never did THAT for me!

Again, move around the map, click “refresh deals” and you see the deals available in that area. They are tracking hundreds of thousands of deals in real time from all over the web (they’ve built a sophisticated spidering system to make sure the deals are fresh and valid).

Now, why did I say these are more important than Foursquare or Gowalla or the other companies in this space?

Well, normal people are still resisting using these location services. But these offer REAL utility and REAL value. My wife got excited by both of these, where she isn’t excited by Foursquare or Gowalla.

Now, imagine that Foursquare hooked up with these two companies (they both have APIs)? Wouldn’t THAT be awesome?

The name of the game is utility and value and these two companies are providing both at a rate the others simply aren’t. That makes them more important.

What do you think?

UPDATE: over on Google Buzz they are talking about Goby. Kenneth Lawson writes “fell in love…this is actually useful.”

Why does searching for Twitter lists suck so much?

Let’s say you want to find a Twitter list on a topic like, say, “tech.” Where would you go?

For me there are two sites that cover Twitter lists:

1. Listorious.
2. Tlists.

Now Listorious’ home page uses tags to build a directory. But let’s ignore the directory for a while. I’m digging into search because I’ve seen a couple of different apps coming later this summer that are using search to bring new lists and the entrepreneurs were complaining about the quality of the search results.

Even doing something simple, like searches for “technology” or “tech” or “startups” shows you that the search results suck. Let’s dig in and explore some ways to improve the searches, shall we?

First, what would be a GREAT list? My biases (I’ve looked at 10s of thousands of lists in the past few months):

1. A list that’s complete. Basically, a list with 500 sources on it beats one with 10 by a country mile, especially if all those Twitter accounts are actually on topic.
2. A list that’s popular. Whenever I’ve found a list that’s popular it almost always is popular for a reason. So, a list with 6,000 followers is generally better than one that only has 100 followers. That’s not always true, Mashable’s lists, for instance, suck, but they are very popular, but generally that’s true and even in Mashable’s case there’s a case for why they are so popular and better than “joe smith’s tech lists”.
3. A list that’s created by a credible and authoritative person or brand. So, one created by the New York Times is better than one that’s created by someone you never heard of.
4. A list that’s curated every day and kept clean. Sometimes Twitter accounts turn out to not cover too much the topic being discussed. It’s pretty easy for a human to look at a list and figure out if it’s clean or not, but it’s hard for machines to do that. Generally this is why popular lists are better than non-popular ones. Humans don’t follow lists full of spammers.

There are other, harder ways, to figure out whether a list is good. If I could code, I’d be looking at how many RT’s or favorites a list’s members gets every day and helping new lists get to the top that way (I wish I had that data, because I’d create new lists that are made up of only the most retweeted people.

But, generally speaking, those four things are great ways to tell quality of lists.

So, now, why does the search features on Listorious and Tlists suck so bad?

Let’s go to Listorious and search for “tech.” I’m using “tech” because it’s something I know a lot about and I know what the best lists are.

First five results:

1. TechNews from Tech Introvert. My score? Low quality. Why? From a guy without high authority and credibility scores in industry. Only has 45 sources on it. Only has 3 followers. Why the hell is it #1?
2. GirlsintechLA. Even worse than #1. Only 20 members on it, is hardly authoritative, nor complete, and only has 4 followers.
3. QR-Code by Nonprofi Tech. Getting even worse.
4. Tech News Brands from me. OK, this one is good, although, to tell you the truth, this is NOT even my best list for someone searching for tech. My “most-influential-in-tech” list has more followers and is more credible.
5. tech by Peter Urbanski. Now at least this one is interesting, is from someone who has been in the tech scene a long time, has 453 members, but only 11 followers.

Now, these belong in the result set SOMEWHERE but NOT in the top five. There are far better lists out there. What’s weird is Listorious’ engine mostly NAILS the results if you click on their tag interface (with one exception, because the Mashable team list is so popular it is #1, which shows the downside of using popularity as the only score — that list isn’t even Mashable’s best list). Compare that for “tech” and you’ll see that the lists you’ll find are FAR more authoritative and credible. Why is this? Why does the search interface suck so bad? Keep in mind, tags are great for areas like tech where there’s lots of results, but what if you are searching for something that hasn’t had a lot of tagging behavior, like plumbing? Also, keep in mind that tags can be gamed too. So, they are less resistant to spammers and commercial interests or people with large teams of people who can tag a list with tons of tags.

Let’s go over to TLists and see if they do any better.

One thing you’ll notice first is that Tlists ONLY bets on search. No tagging here.

Let’s search on “Tech” and see what the first results are.

One thing immediately is that Tlists’ system is actually trying to both understand and display what people on each lists are tweeting about. It also shows how many Tweets per day are coming from that list, how many members each list has, and how many followers each list has. That’s a MUCH better display right away. But the relevancy of the lists still sucks, especially when you compare it to Listorious’ tag results. Let’s dig in:

1. Tech & Science. This is a super list, which is a great idea. They bring in the most listed Tweeters on 450 lists. This list isn’t very popular, only has 79 followers, and isn’t made by someone very credible on its face, but when you look into it this list was algorithmically produced and is very good. Much better than Listorious’ search efforts. Someone finding this list would be well served.
2. Tech Journalists by Huffington Post. Very credible source. Not very popular, though, only has 46 followers. Not very complete. 26 members. For comparison, my Tech News People list has 499 members and 3,143 followers. On every measure my list is better than the Huffington Post one. But why is Huffington Post’s result here? Are they paying for a high result? We don’t know.
3. Tech Geeks Directory by Susan Elaine Cooper. OK, this is where the list goes south. Not from someone authoritative. Not very popular (only 35 followers). Not very complete (45 members). Why is this list even NEAR the top of search results? Can anyone tell me?
4. twist-callers by JT Keller. This list doesn’t deserve to be on one about tech. 42 members. 19 followers.
5. Technology News by The Job Guy. Another crappy list. 30 members. 6 followers.

Why does the search engine show so many crappy results? Why can’t anyone build a search engine for Twitter lists that works well? It doesn’t look like they are doing ANY relevancy ranking and, even, makes the engine smell like it’s getting paid off to put certain results at the top. Not good. What do you think? Have you tried any searches? Do your results match mine? (I’ve done a variety of searches on both engines and they all suck like the result for “tech” which SHOULD bring back some awesome lists, like Listorious’ tag results do).

Vacation and trip planning: has it changed in age of Facebook? First look at TripAdvisor "TripFriends" feature

I’m taking the first real family vacation in years in two weeks (we’ll be offline from June 28th through July 10th). The process is instructive and gave me a chance to try out a new feature from TripAdvisor that shipped this morning:

1. We picked Los Angeles because we have two young children and a flight somewhere just didn’t sound fun.
2. We ask our friends for help. Not enough experience from our personal friends to be much use.
3. We visited tons of sites like Nextstop or Trip Advisor.
4. I posted on Google Buzz and Twitter for advice from a much larger group of people. Bingo! We received dozens of great ideas. I then took all that feedback and laid it out on my own custom Google Map, which, by the way, I’ve opened to the public so that other people can add even more places on top of.


View Southern California Coastal Roadtrip in a larger map

Then I added all the major spots into my own page on NextStop, (please add other places that we should visit!) We’ll add places we want to eat next now that we’ve picked some of the major spots we want to visit.

Southern California Coastal Roadtrip | nextstop.com

More Los Angeles recommendations »

It’s interesting that I like the ideas we received from our social network the best. Even better than the professional pages on Trip Advisor, NextStop, or other places. Why? Because many of them were from people we talk with every day or, gasp, have even met at conferences. There’s something about getting advice from people you know something about.

I’m not the only one noticing this. Trip Advisor, this morning, turned on a new feature that lets you see which of your personal friends can give you advice on the cities you want to visit. Boston.com has more info on the new feature, which was done using Facebook’s new social plugin. For instance, using that feature I learned that Brett Schulte is living in Los Angeles or that Ben Metcalfe can give me advice about Los Angeles. That is useful to know, because Brett lives there and Ben worked for MySpace and was frequently in Los Angeles. Now I know the friends to hit up that actually know something about Los Angeles, thanks to Facebook and TripAdvisor.

If I look at the page for visiting Laguna Beach, CA, on Trip Advisor, for instance, I learn that 101 of my 1,700 Facebook friends has been to Laguna Beach. I bet if I ask them what we should do that we’ll get some good answers. That’s cool. I’ve already asked my friends on Facebook what we should do in Los Angeles.

But, compare that to Gowalla’s page for Laguna Beach. This shows me where people are ACTUALLY checking in, so I can get a sense of how popular each place is.

So, looking at it, planning vacations has changed in the age of Facebook. How?

1. We can now get feedback from a lot more people than we could 10 years ago.
2. We have far better mapping and visualization tools.
3. Integration into our existing social networks is dramatically improving (and, heck, five years ago most of us weren’t using Facebook or Twitter to aggregate friends and business contacts).
4. Location-based services are keeping track of what’s really popular.
5. We have far more contacts outside of our personal friends and we now know a LOT about those friends.

Where do we still have to go?

1. We need malleable social graphs. Maybe I want a great sushi restaurant recommendation. Why are all these systems treating everyone the same? They are not. People who have visited five sushi restaurants, or more, are more credible on sushi restaurants. I don’t care about seeing restaurant reviews from people I don’t find very credible on what I’m searching for, so why are these systems showing them to me?
2. We need way better planning tools. Right now I’m planning our vacation on a whiteboard. Why? Because we don’t have really great mapping tools that join in calendar tools and let us move things around easily. Maryam and I are still arguing about dates we’ll be in Los Angeles, vs. Santa Barbara, etc while we’re doing all the other research. No tool I’ve found so far is flexible enough to let us radically change our plans. Also, figuring out what hotels are in our budget and which ones have appropriate rooms for us is still pretty difficult and time consuming.
3. Finding extraordinary experiences is still tough. Yeah, everyone wants to go to the San Diego Zoo. But how do you make that experience extraordinary? That’s where having friends who know the zoo and surrounding area very well comes in handy, but the Facebook feature that TripAdvisor shipped this morning isn’t granular enough to let me know which of my friends are very knowledgeable about the zoo. Maybe one of them is friends with a zoo keeper who could give us a private tour. But I have no way of knowing that (I got a private tour of the White House thanks to a personal friend I met at Microsoft, for instance, and THAT was extraordinary).
4. Location-based services are still too hard to use. Now that we know where we’re staying I wanted an easy way to look at Foursquare’s tips for everything in that neighborhood, but I couldn’t find a way beyond lying and checking in and then poking around. Still way too hard.
5. Making — and sharing — a really holistic view of a trip is very difficult. The tools are too siloed. TripIt knows my flights. TripAdvisor knows my hotels. Gowalla and Foursquare know where I checked in. But none talk with each other.
6. Lots of sites, like TripAdvisor, still aren’t mobile friendly enough. I tried poking around from my iPhone and found formatting troubles and other things that didn’t work. Yes, they have a mobile version and an iPhone version, but those versions are very limited compared to the full-blown site. Kayak, on the other hand, has a great iPhone and an iPad app, and works very well. Plus, many of them are, well, pretty ugly and a bit hard to use. Now I know why apps like Foodspotting are taking off so quickly. Photos are important, so are videos which show you around, but these sites often downplay the visual stuff.

How has your vacation planning changed? What tools and services are you using?

By the way, here’s my first pass of all the cities around the world I’ve visited, thanks to TripAdvisor’s mapping feature:

Exclusive first look at location-based service, PlaceBook

It’s not everyday that you get to reveal a new company to the world for the first time. This is one of those cases. PlaceBook is run by former execs from Netflix, among other places, and is about to jump into the location-based service space occupied by Foursquare, SimpleGeo, Gowalla, Brightkite, Whrrl, Loopt, and a few others. You can learn more about the executive team on LinkedIn.

What is their philosophy? That privacy matters when it comes to location data.

Anyway, listen into CEO/founder Michael Rubin as he tells me what he’s seeing happen in location and gives me a first sneak peak at what they are doing.

Then sign up for their beta.

What are they doing? They will give you a variety of location-based services, arranged into metaphorical bookshelf. Applications like personal fitness, trip planning, scrapbooking, among other things. All apps will have a heavy location component. Will this be even cooler than Foursquare? It sure looks potentially that this company will get location at a level few others do. But I’ll let him introduce the company to you in his own words.