Can Disney help Gowalla in its battle with Foursquare?

I’ll be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve used Gowalla (a location-based checkin service you use on your phone). I’ve found that in most of the cities I visit Foursquare has more users, more tips, is faster, easier to check in, etc.

But when I arrived at DisneyWorld yesterday for a private tour with several Disney employees, among others, I learned that Disney liked Gowalla more. That got me to redownload the app onto one of my iPhones and as we went around the park I checked into both Gowalla and Foursquare.

Some things became clear immediately. Gowalla has a much more attractive design, and has a bunch of fun games to play as you visit different attractions. But I kept asking myself “will this experience get me to use Gowalla and, even more importantly, will it get average visitors to the park to use Gowalla.”

In the end analysis, no. Why not? Because even though Disney’s management likes Gowalla they haven’t made it easy for an average park visitor to find out about it. I never saw a “check into Gowalla here for a fun game” sign in any of the three parks we visited. I never saw Gowalla named in the brochures, maps, etc I got.

And, worse for Gowalla, when I did check in on Gowalla I never saw the number of users that I saw on Foursquare and the tips that Foursquare users left were generally more interesting than Gowalla’s better design and cool virtual objects left around to pick up.

What did I see on Gowalla? Tons of Disney employees playing, but after a while they even admitted there were some severe problems with Gowalla. Here’s a list of things that came up after using it all day long:

1. Gowalla is SLLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOWWWWW to check in. Foursquare consistently beat it on check in speed.
2. Gowalla still has problem checking in. Why? Because Gowalla has this lame philosophy that you must be exactly where you say you are checking in. Often times, though, we were already walking away from a ride when we remembered we didn’t check in. Foursquare let us check in while walking away. Gowalla often didn’t.
3. Gowalla didn’t let park experts fix bad entries, Foursquare did. Most of the people I was walking around with are Foursquare power users. Foursquare gives those kinds of users special abilities to fix their database in case ride names are misspelled, or some guest entered in a duplicate name, etc. We saw all sorts of evidence in Gowalla that there were mistakes, duplicates, etc, but in Foursquare there were none. Disney employees say they would fix mistakes, but aren’t given the ability to.

Then, once you get off park property it gets worse. As I type this I’m in Orlando’s airport. It says two of my friends are checked in here within the last three days. In the last hour there are three people listed in recent activity. I open up Foursquare and 74 other people are here along with 430 tips.

So, no contest, Disney can’t help Gowalla. Bums me out, cause I like the Gowalla team and design. But users beat all that. Disney should make a deal with Foursquare and get on board.

End of an era in technology (the world's most awesome tweetup)

STS-135 Last Shuttle Launch

When my friend Trey Ratcliff (he’s a great photographer who builds iPhone/iPad apps, among other things) begged me to come to the Shuttle launch I never imagined I’d be standing on the grass in front of the countdown clock with tears streaming down my face.

So, why was I here? Well, I got a special invite to be part of NASA’s Tweetup.

What was that? NASA invited 150 people to the Kennedy Space Center to get a very intimate look at the operation here. They gave us better access than a lot of the press get and I think I met four astronauts so far. I interviewed one on my iPhone, while standing in front of the Shuttle.

The NASA Tweetup in front of the Space Shuttle

One bit of credit: NASA’s Stephanie Schierholz put on the best Tweetup I’ve ever been a part of. Part of that, for sure, is cause she had so much to work with, but she — and her team — just treated everyone so wonderfully and I was able to watch how hard they worked. They randomly picked most of the participants out of 5,000 applicants (I was one of a handful who were actually invited, I took vacation time to go and didn’t charge Rackspace for anything).

If you get a chance to go on a future NASA Tweetup, go. It is an amazing experience and one where you’ll get to do incredible things.

But, back to the end of an era in technology. After the launch, I interviewed NASA’s Chief Scientist, Waleed Abdalati, about the changes that are happening in NASA now. You can listen to that interview, but what you can’t see is we both had tears in our eyes.

A few people this week have tweeted at me and said “what a waste of money.” Well, sorry, I don’t see it that way. As humans we should always be exploring.

But I am excited that we’re moving toward a more private, and lower-cost, method of taking people into space. I doubt I’ll live long enough to be able to fly affordably into space (maybe) but my kids certainly will. I can’t wait to see the Elon Musks of the world take us into that new world.

That said, this is an end of an era. One that started when we were in a cold-war fight with the Russians. Now our astronauts are forced to fly on Russian spaceships. All around me are evidence of the huge costs that our country took on back in the 1960s to get to the moon. But the Shuttle continued that kind of thinking. Now we’ll have to do space travel for a lot less. For a lot of people who work at Kennedy Space Center that means a lot of disruption.

Anyway, here’s some of my photos from an incredible week in my life (there are more on my Flickr account).

Trey Ratcliff, photographer, in front of Space Shuttle Atlantis

Speaking of photos, I interviewed Trey Ratcliff yesterday. He’s one of my favorite photographers and is a world expert on HDR photography.

I got to meet many of my heroes. Here’s Bob Crippen, who piloted the first Shuttle back in 1981 when I was in High School. He’s juxtaposed by the crew of the last Shuttle Crew getting set in Atlantis.

First and last

The Tweetup participants got to wave to the astronauts as they headed toward the launch pad. This is something I’ve always seen on TV, but here it was in real life in front of me.

Astronauts drive by Tweetup Participants @nasatweetup

Along one side of the press area are small block buildings where the big networks have their setups. Aimed right into the famous countdown clock. Jim Long, NBC Cameraman, invited me in to get a tour. You know him as NewMediaJim on Twitter (he is on the camera crew in the White House).

Newmediajim inside NBC's newsroom

This morning this is the view that greeted me at my parking space. I got emotional. So much of my life has been influenced by the vehicles built inside the Vertical Assembly Building (I got to go inside, something very few people from the public get to do). One of my earliest memories is sitting with my family watching the trip to the moon. That was the beginning of our modern era of space.

Today was the end and, yes, that is sad.

Why yo daddy won't use Google+: no noise control

OK, there are a few people giving me heck for using sexist language in my last post. Sorry for pandering to my audience, but when I visit engineering teams at tech companies around the world they are mostly male. At the recent WWDC (Apple’s developer conference) there were so few women in the audience that the professional press started talking about it. So the post resonated better than if I had started “why yo daddy won’t use it.” But I wanna be fair and non-sexist, and VC Fred Wilson gave me that opportunity this morning.

He says his dad will like Google+.

Um, Fred, no he won’t (and neither will most average people) and here’s why. But first, I agree with Fred that a healthy competitor to Facebook would be a good thing, more on that later.

Look forward a couple of months from now, or maybe six, when Google+’s new car smell wears off and all of us elitist, sexist, ageist geeks have something new to poke around with and get excited by (new iPhone anyone?)

Then we’ll all judge Google+ by its utility, not by its new car smell (and it is a damn fine smell, believe me).

The big problem will become quite apparent that there’s no noise control. Yes, this is what made FriendFeed, Google Buzz, and other systems seem lame and why Facebook continues to be more interesting to most people in the world.

What do I mean by that?

Well, I spent a lot of time going through thousands of people’s social graphs (IE, their list of friends on Google+) and I’ve picked out all of the VCs and put them into a circle.

I’m looking at that list right now. Problem is it isn’t giving me ONE THING that I expect VCs to talk about. There isn’t one item that talks about funding new companies, gives me some insider look into Silicon Valley, or that gives me tips for how to run my company to get better returns.

Instead I see Joi Ito’s dive pictures, Ryan Spoon talking about Facebook Places, David Lee changed his profile photo, Francine Hardaway posted some funny animated GIF, Paul Buchheit talking about Twitter celebrities. And on and on and on it goes.

There is no utility here. Yes, it’s sorta fun, yes, geeks love to see the dive photos that that Joi shoots around the world (me too, but it’s hardly what I expected to be able to see here and actually it’s better to see those photos linked to from Twitter and displayed in Flipboard).

So, until Google gives us the ability to control noise Google+ will continue not being used by average people (my metaphorical “yo momma and yo daddy.”

The thing is what is noise control?

Two things, one of which Google is known for:

1. Search. The ability to say “show me all cool new items that talk about venture capital.”
2. Sifting. This is similar to search, but goes beyond. “Show me all future items that talk about venture capital.”

Now, if Google+ had both of those things, along with a few other features, then Fred Wilson’s daddy and yo momma might see some deep utility in a service like Google+.

One last thought on this noise control thing. Facebook has a really deep achilles heel that’s associated with this. It’s that everyone over there was so freaked out by Zuckerberg’s privacy grab that they turned on most of the privacy settings. I recently went through many of my Facebook friends and some had gotten so freaked out that they — even though they were my friends and I meet them quite often — stopped letting me see their wall (I unfriended anyone who did that because it totally removed any utility Facebook has, which is to let me see your fun photos of you living your life). Jeff Jarvis noticed this too and totally nailed it as something that Google is doing way better.

So, if you take what Google+ is doing better (encouraging people to share more publicly) and you put it with some noise control (er, search features) then we have something.

Until then, yo momma and yo daddy ain’t gonna be on Google+.

By the way, geeks are arguing with me about this post over on Google+.

Why yo momma won't use Google+ (and why that thrills me to no end)

OK, I’ve been putting many hours into Google+. In just the few days that it’s been released I’ve followed 2,723 people, written many dozens of posts there, and have thoroughly used the product. I’ve also tried to get some normal users into the product, starting with my wife (we argued for 45 minutes about it) and I’ve come to some conclusions. Here’s the biggie:

Your mom won’t use Google+.

How can I state that so clearly? Easy. Most “average users” are locked into Facebook and aren’t willing to consider a new social tool until they hear about it from their friends. Since most of the people who are on Google+ so far are geeks, insiders, social media stars, journalists, and other people (Google admitted tonight they are only accepting people who have strong social graphs so that they can both make sure everyone has a good first experience as well as test out some of the technology before opening it up to a wider audience) the chances normal people (metaphorically speaking, your mom) won’t hear about Google+ from normal users for quite a while.

By then I’m sure Facebook will react (ie, copy) Google+’s best features (Facebook already has called a press conference for next week where they are going to announce something “awesome”). This will mean that normal users, who aren’t really going to get involved at this point in Google+’s life, won’t feel the need to switch.

So, what is Google+ for then?

It’s for us!

Come on now, we geeks and early adopters and social media gurus need a place to talk free of folks who think Justin Bieber is the second coming of Christ. That’s what we have in Google+ right now. Do we really want to mess that up?

Plus, let’s just be honest here. There are pieces of Google+ that are mighty geeky.

Let’s start with how to bold and italicize text. Do you have a pretty editing window like, say, exists on Quora? No way.

To bold text you surround that text with asterisks. *Like this* GEEKY ALERT! Italicize? Put underscores around the text. Strikeout? Put hyphens around it.

And that’s just the little thing. Let’s talk about the big thing. Circles. Now, heavy and passionate users of social media, like myself, really love things like lists and groups. Why? Because we want to spend hundreds of hours making sure our social graphs are really organized.

Normal people do NOT do this. They just want to friend their 20 real-life friends and 30 family folks and be done with it. Average/normal users want the system just to bring them fun stuff without doing any work.

See, if you put the average Silicon Valley geek in front of a TV and tell him to sit on the couch and watch TV for four hours they won’t know what to do. They will start building databases of their favorite shows, start figuring out how to optimize their DVRs so they can fast-forward through commercials faster, and stuff like that.

Normal/average users? They just want to watch TV and drink beer.

So, you getting where I’m going with this? Google+ is for the passionate users of tech. If you just want to sit back and have the system do all the work (which means it’s not perfect, but it’s good enough for most people) then Facebook is gonna be where you stay, especially since your friends are gonna lock you in for quite some time. But if you want to really be able to choose who you listen to, then Google+ is much better.

Oh, and that’s not even considering the new “Hangout” videochat feature. Damn that thing is cool. You can have 10 people call into a room and it lets you all talk to each other. I haven’t used Skype since that shipped.

Anyway, it’s clear Google has turned a corner. They have now proven to everyone that they can do social and get on the playing field.

But they haven’t yet proven that they can convince your mom to use it and that’s just fine with me.

That all is a long way of saying that I really love Google+ and I don’t care what the average user thinks of it. I’m getting a ton of utility out of it and I am having a blast with it. Hope to see you there soon, but please leave yo momma over on Facebook, OK?

Weekend bitchmeme: the three people Steve Jobs should fire (can someone else exploit these?)

It’s a weekend, and that means it’s time for a bitchmeme.

It’s not often that I call for someone to be fired, but, well, when it comes to Apple I have been giving that company more than its fair share of cash lately and there are some things that it’s done that totally piss me off. Here’s three. If I was Steve Jobs I would be ashamed and would make these three people pay:

Apple's worst design decision of past five years. New iMac and Cinema displays don't line up!

1. Whoever designed the new 27-inch iMac and the new 27-inch Cinema display should be fired. Why? They don’t line up! Is it too much to ask that two monitors from the same company should line up perfectly when placed on a desk? Keep in mind these are both brand new products, both purchased in the past week.

2. Whoever designed the new Airplay on iPads should be fired. Before we get into why, first let’s cover what Airplay does since so few of you use it. If you are using, say, the TED app on your iPad and you say to yourself “gee, I’d like to watch this video on my big screen” you can use Airplay to do exactly that (if you have an Apple TV). This is the coolest new feature introduced to my world this year. By far. So you think I’d be totally praising the person who did it, right? No way. This is Apple and if something isn’t done perfectly heads must roll. So, what’s wrong? Well, easy. If you use the TED app and push airplay it indeed starts playing on your big screen. One MAJOR F***ED UP PROBLEM: you can’t minimize the TED app. You can’t even watch a different video. This isn’t a problem with the TED app either, it’s a problem with Airplay (same thing is wrong with other apps that use Airplay like Squrrl or ShowYou).

3. Whoever decided that the new Final Cut Pro wouldn’t have multi-camera support should be fired. Listen, anyone who does pro videos uses multiple cameras. We do over at Whoever decided that Final Cut Pro could ship without multiple camera support decided to ship an incomplete product (and my producer says it’s not the only feature missing from it). Why didn’t you just call this iMoviePlus or something instead of pissing all over the Final Cut Pro brand and users?

Anyway, it’s so rarely that Apple just does things badly, but there’s three cases where heads must roll. At least if Steve Jobs wants to send a message to the others left at Apple that they better not ship crap on his watch.

What do you say Steve?

UPDATE: I’m wondering if someone else can exploit these mistakes. Certainly Android could exploit the Airplay problem, if it had a clue. But the monitor problem? I wonder if HP or Dell had a clue about how to exploit these problems? As for Final Cut Pro, my producer, Rocky Barbanica, is already switching to other editing products. He’s partial to Adobe Premier so far, so maybe Adobe or Avid will get a ton of business because Apple just signaled to pros that it doesn’t care about them anymore.

UPDATE #2: writing this article has caused a LOT of pushback. Here’s some samples:

Neven Mrgan Tweeted: Hey @Scobleizer, that post about employees Apple should fire is idiotic, mean, and ignorant. Shame on you.
AgentKyle Tweeted: Wow. @scobleizer just posted the most asshole article I’ve seen in a long time.
Chronic tweeted: one person Rackspace should fire: @Scobleizer

I’ll keep updating with more updates.

Why mobile users and developers should care about what Matt Murphy thinks

If you use an iPhone or an Android-based mobile phone you probably are using an app that Matt Murphy has invested in. Who is he? He’s the managing partner of the iFund at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Yesterday they celebrated the third anniversary of the fund. His team has seen 5,000 pitches and funded 25, including companies like Flipboard, Shopkick, Pelago, ngmoco, etc. In 2010 fund companies had 100 million downloads. Techcrunch has other stats they shared with the press yesterday.

But why should users care? Because what Matt and his team invests in decides whether platforms rise or falls.

Some things he shared in an interview (you can listen to the entire thing) with the press (Reuters, Wall Street Journal, AllThingsD, and other journalistic organizations were in the room asking questions) are:

1. They aren’t likely to start an Android-focused fund anytime soon. He says that their companies are mostly on both iOS and Android, but that iOS is monetizing 5-10x more than Android (and Android is monetizing MUCH more than the other platforms). “If you’re an app that’s heavy on the monetization side you want to go where the monetization is,” explaining why he’s still so bullish on iOS.
2. There’s one company in the fund that was Android only. That’s Work Smart Labs, which has six million users on Android (coming next week to iOS) and I have a separate interview with co-founder Artem Petakov.
3. They aren’t investing in app discovery companies like Chomp. “I worry that those aren’t a good experience…Discovery should be a lot simpler than that.” Hint: he sees Apple improving the app store a lot soon and he’s counting on viral mechanisms that Twitter and Facebook integration will supply later this year.
4. Does he know something about Facebook that we don’t? He kept talking about Facebook integration into iOS.
5. He doesn’t believe yet in Windows Phone 7 and the fund’s companies are mostly taking a “wait and see” approach. That said, one of my favorite iOS apps, Foodspotting, just shipped a WP7 app today. You can be sure that Matt will watch their results closely and may update his stance within a few months.

So, what does this mean for users? Well, Matt is continuing to fund innovative companies. KPCB team members told me off camera that they are seeing the same things I am: that most of the great apps are being built on iOS first, then ported to Android.

Some challenges that the companies are talking about are that many users aren’t loading many apps, and they are working to build viral mechanisms into apps so that users on Twitter and Facebook feel impelled to download those apps and join in (let’s just call that the Instagram model of getting users). They also are looking forward to further integration with Apple TV in the future (Cooliris is one of the companies they funded and its CEO told me last night that they are really diving deeply into iOS 5 and are excited by some of the AirPlay features (which let you shove any kind of media over to other devices, mostly Apple TV right now).

Anyway, it’s not everyday you get to hear from someone who has such a big impact on the mobile market. Glad I could share it with you.

Foodspotting and Yelp has new restaurant-finding and review competition: Chewsy

One of the best examples of how mobile devices are changing our lives is Foodspotting (my account is here). What does this do? It lets you see photos of meals taken near you as a way to find new restaurants. I find it more compelling than Yelp or Google as a way to find new restaurants to try. It also is a good way to capture your own meals as a historical record of what you eat.

Now a new company, Chewsy, comes along that says “well, Foodspotting is pretty cool, but it’s missing some things.” Here you can hear co-founders Chaitanya Sareen and Trevin Chow explain what Chewsy does. First, it’s only on iOS for the moment (they are planning on coming to other platforms) and they just released a new version this morning, that makes Chewsy much more social than it was previously.

The biggest difference from Foodspotting you’ll notice about Chewsy is that it has reviews on the photos, which helps you communicate with your friends whether a dish actually was good or not or totally sucked. These reviews were written by other Chewsy members. One problem: many towns don’t have many photos or reviews. It shows the chicken and egg problem many app developers face and why I still find I start up Foodspotting more times than Chewsy, but Chewsy is improving as more people try it and put reviews in.

Anyway, these two apps are changing how I find restaurants and it’s great to see competition so that both are pushed to add new features to make dining out even better for all of us.