Category device/hardware

How Bloomberg does interviews …

I did a live interview last Friday on Bloomberg TV.  It was interesting.  A conversation about the early stage technology environment, increases in the cycles of change, new things at betaworks and the Facebook IPO.

Borthwick on Facebook IPO, Betaworks' StrategyMay 12 (Bloomberg) — John Borthwick, chief executive officer of Betaworks, talks about the company's investment strategy in technology startups, Facebook Inc.'s pending initial public offering and the outlook for its shares and competition.

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If the subject of the Facebook IPO and the acceleration of the rate of technology change interests you there are two other posts on the subject I saw this weekend.

Here’s Why Google and Facebook Might Completely Disappear in the Next 5 Years

Mobile – Facebook And Google Can’t Live With It And They Can’t Live Without It

Back to Bloomberg and the live interview

Live TV is always interesting, I dont enjoy it but I love the fact that its live, its your words, no editing possible. That aside, the way that Bloomberg do these segments is fascinating. The host is wired up, standing in the atrium of the Bloomberg building, producer jammed into her ear.  She has two screens in front of her, both are bloomberg terminals, running windows.  First check out that keyboard, Bloomberg terminals and airport checkin are the only places you see things like that.  Back to the screens.   From what I could gather one on the right was email and a chat window.  Email was moving fast, a stream of a message or so every few minutes, Twitter sending new follows, notifications, @mentions, etc.  On the left was an application to let the host compose real time a feed into her teleprompter.

The segment began with a discussion of Facebook and Google.  Part way through it the producer (in her ear) tells her there is a breaking story about JP Morgan.   As soon as there is a pause she says “we are going to jump to a breaking story after the advertising break”.   During the ad’s she composes the introduction to the breaking story on the screen on the left.

Its fascinating to watch the process, only thing that is missing is a chartbeat terminal with a live feed of user metrics (ie: who is watching what).   The way media is made is changing as the real time stream is becomes an integral part of the creation / production process.

betaworks 2012 shareholder letter

Related links:

news.me

News.me launched this morning as an iPad app and as an email service. Here is some background on why and how we built News.me:

Why News.me? For a while now at bitly and betaworks, we have been thinking about and working on applications that blend socially curated streams with great immersive reading interfaces.

Specifically we have been exploring and testing ways that the bitly data stack can be used to filter and curate social streams.   The launch of the iPad last April changed everything. Finally there was a device that was both intimate and public — a device that could immerse you into a reading experience that wasn’t bound by the user experience constraints naturally embedded in 30 years of personal computing legacy.  So we built News.me.

News.me is a personalized social news reading application for the Apple iPad. It’s an app that lets you browse, discover and read articles that other people are seeing in their Twitter streams.   These streams are filtered and ranked using algorithms developed by the bitly team to extract a measure of social relevance from the billions of clicks and shares in the bitly data set. This is fundamentally a different kind of social news experience. I haven’t seen or used anything quiet like it before. Rather than me reading what you tweet, I read the stream that you have selected to read — your inbound stream.  It’s almost as if I’m leaning over your shoulder — reading what you read, or looking at your book shelves: it allows me to understand how the people I follow construct their world.

As with many innovations, we stumbled upon this idea.  We started developing News.me last August after we acquired the prototype from The New York Times Company. For the first version we wanted to simply take your Twitter stream, filter it using a bitly-based algorithm (bit-rank) and present it as an iPad app. The goal was to make an easy to browse, beautiful reading experience.  Within weeks we had a first version working.  As we sat around the table reviewing it, we started passing our iPads around saying “let me look at your stream.” And that’s how it really started.  We stumbled into a new way of reading Twitter and consuming news — the reverse follow graph wherein I get to read not only what you share, but what you read as well.  I get to read looking over other people’s shoulders.

 

What Others Are Reading…

On News.me you can read your filtered stream and also those of people you follow on Twitter who use news.me.  When you sign into the iPad app it will give you a list of people you are already following. Additionally, we are launching with a group of recommended streams. This is a selection of people whose “reading lists” are particularly interesting.  From Maria Popova (a.k.a. brainpicker), to Nicholas Kristof and Steven Johnson, from Arianna Huffington to Clay Shirky … if you are curious to see what they are reading, if you want to see the world through their eyes, News.me is for you. Many people curate their Twitter experience to reflect their own unique set of interests.   News.me offers a window into their curated view of the world, filtered for realtime social relevance via the bit-rank algorithm.

 

Streamline Your Reading

The second thing we strove to accomplish was to make News.me into a beautiful and beautifully simple reading experience. Whether you are browsing the stream, snacking on an item (you can pinch open an item in the stream to see a bit more) or you have clicked to read a full article, News.me seeks to offer the best possible reading experience.  All content that is one click from the stream is presented within the News.me application.  You can read, browse and “save for later” all within the app. At any given moment, you can click the browser button to see a particular page on the web. News.me has a simple business model to offer this reading experience.

Today we are launching the iPad News.me application and a companion email product.  The email service offers a daily, personalized digest of relevant content powered by the bit-rank algorithm, and is delivered to your inbox at 6 a.m. EST each morning.   The app. costs $.99 per week, and we in turn pay publishers for the pages you read.  The email product is free.

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Created with flickrSLiDR.

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How was News.me developed? News.me grew out of an innovative relationship between The New York Times Company and bitly.   The Times Company was the first in its industry to create a Research & Development group. As part of its mission, the group develops interesting and innovative prototypes based on trends in consumer media. Last May, Martin Nisenholtz and Michael Zimbalist reached out to me about a product in the Times Company’s R&D lab that they wanted to show us at betaworks.  A few weeks later they showed us the following video, accompanied by an iPad-based prototype. The video was created in January 2010, a few months prior to the launch of the iPad, and it anticipated many of the device’s gestures and uses, in form and function. Here are some screenshots of the prototype.   PastedGraphic 1

On the R&D site there are more screenshots and background.   The Times Company decided it would be best to move this product into bitly and betaworks where it could grow and thrive. We purchased the prototype from the Times Company in exchange for equity in bitly and, as part of the deal, a team of developers from R&D worked at bitly to help bring the product to market.

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With Thanks … The first thank you goes to the team. I remember the first few product discussions, the dislocation the Times Company’s team felt having been air lifted overnight from The New York Times Building to our offices in the heart of the Meatpacking District. Throughout the transition they remained focused on one thing: building a great product. Michael, Justin, Ted, Alexis — the original four — thank you.  And thank you to Tracy, who jumped in midstream to join the team.  And thank you the bitly team, without whom the data, the filtering, the bits, the ranking of stories would never be possible.  As the web becomes a connected data platform, bitly and its api are becoming an increasingly important part of that platform. The scale at which bitly is operating today is astounding for what is still a small company, 8bn clicks last month and counting.

I would also like the thank our new partners. We are launching today with over 600 publishers participating. Some of whom you can see listed here, most are not. Thank you to all of them we are excited about building a business with you.

Lastly, I would like to thank The New York Times Company for coming to betaworks and bitly in the first place and for having the audacity to do what most big companies don’t do. I ran a new product development group within a large company and I would like to dispel the simplistic myth that big companies don’t innovate.   There is innovation occurring at many big companies.  The thing that big companies really struggle to do is to ship.   How to launch a new product within the context of an existing brand, an existing economic structure, how to not impute a strategy tax on a new product, an existing organizational structure, etc.   These are the challenges that usually cause the breakdown and where big company innovation, in my experience, so often comes apart. The Times Company did something different here.  New models are required to break this pattern, maybe News.me will help lay the foundation of a new model.   I hope it does and I hope we exceed their confidence in us.

http://on.news.me/app-download

And for more information about the product see http://www.news.me/faq

Tweetdeck: multistream, unistream, getting it all streamed right

The Tweetdeck team have been hard at work for two years thinking about how to display and navigate streams on the web and on devices.   The Android version that moved into beta yesterday is a big step forward.    The tech blogs have done feature reviews, paid complements to the user experience, the speed and simplicity of use but there is more going on here.    It is going to take a some use to settle in on why this is different and what has changed, users are starting to see it.

What’s so different here is the concept of a single unified column for all your real time feeds.  Inside of the “home” column are the different services color coded and weighted to allow for the varying speed / cadence of different streams.  In the screen shot below you see the beta Android client, you are looking at my “home” column.    It includes updates from all my Twitter accounts, Facebook, Foursquare, Buzz etc.     You can see that a checkin is included in the home stream as a simple gesture that tells me “Sam checked in at Terminal 4”.    Its formatted differently to a Twitter update – it contains only the summary information I need “someone is checking in somewhere”.

If click on the “check in” the view pivots around place not person.

This cross stream integration is also evident in the “me” column — a single column that integrates all mentions across the various social services you have.   The “me” column is the first one to the right of home — you can see it in the screenshot below.  The subtle little dots on top offer a simple navigation note that you are now one column to the right of “home”.    And the “me” column again integrates mentions across streams — the top one is a reply to a Facebook update, if I click through I get the context, below it are Twitter mentions.

I wrote about the importance of context in the stream a while ago.  Context is more important now than ever as the pace of updates, vertical services (ie: local, q&a, payments) and re-syndication continues to only speed up.   Previously Tweetdeck ran all of these services in separate columns – one for each.   The Android version still has mutliple columns but the other columns are ways to track either topics (search) or people (individual people or groups of people) — you can see how those work  here.    It’s in beta and there is still work to do still but this new version of Tweetdeck breaks new ground — the team have created something very wonderful.

The original Tweetdeck broke new ground in how Twitter could be used.   All the Twitter clients had until that time taken their DNA from the IM clients.   They all sought to replicate a single column, a diminutive view of the stream.   Tweetdeck on the desktop changed all of that.   Offering a multi column view that was immersive, intense and full on.     As you move your service to different platforms (say from Web to mobile) you are faced with the perplexing question of whether you re-think the service to fit the dimensions and features of the new platform (mobile) or you offer users the same familiar experience.   Tweetdeck Android is a ground up re-invention of the desktop experience — created for for mobile.   I have been using it for a few weeks now and it is changing the way I experience the real time web.    Once again the Tweetdeck team have taken a big bold step into something new, you can get the beta here.

(note Tweetdeck is a betaworks co.)

getting to know the iPad

iPad 1-2.jpg

I have been running an experiment for the eleven weeks or so since the iPad launched. Each weekend I spend time going through directories hunting for apps that begin to expose native attributes of the device. My assumption is that the iPad opens up a new form of computing and we will see apps that are created specifically for this medium. Watching these videos of a two and a half year old and a 99 year old using the device for the first time offers a glimpse of its potential. Ease of introduction and interaction are the key points of distinction. I havent seen a full sized computing device that requires so little context or introduction.

When the iPad first came out much of what was published was on either end of a spectrum of opinion.  On one were the bleary eyed evangelists who considered it game changing and on the other people who were uninterested or unimpressed.    I think invariably the people who found it wanting were expecting to port their existing workflows to the device.   They were asking to do “what I do on my PC” on the iPad.  These people were frustrated and disappointed.   They assumed this was another form of PC, with some modifications but that it represented a transition similar to desktop to laptop.   Take this post from TechCrunch: “Why I’m Craigslisting My iPads” — three of the four reasons the author lists for dumping his iPad are about his disppointment that the iPad isnt a replacement for his laptop or desktop.     But in the comments section of the post an interesting conversation emerges: what if this device’s potential is different? Just like video has transformed the way our culture interacts with images, what if gesture based computing has the potential to transform the way we use, create, and express ourselves.

The iPad is the first full sized computing device with wide scale adoption with:

  • Hardware and software that requires little to no context or learning
  • An input screen large enough to manipulate (touch and type) with both hands
  • A gesture based interface that is so immersive, and personal that it verges on intimate
  • Hardware with battery and heat management that, simply, doesn’t suck
  • An application metaphor that is well suited to immersive, chunky, experiences. As @dbennahum says: “The ipad is the first innovation in digital media that has lengthened the basic unit of digital media”
  • A tightly coupled, well developed and highly controlled app development environment

For some people these attributes sum up to the promise that this will be the “consumption” device that re-kindles print and protects IP based video.   That may occur but for me that isnt the potential. The iPad is a connected computing device that extends human gestures. If you step back from the noise and hype, after almost 15 years of web experience, we know a few things. Connected / networked devices have consistently generated use cases that center around communication and social participation vs. passive consumption. Connecting devices to a network isnt just a more efficient means of distribution it opens up new paths of participation and creation.  The very term consumption maps to a world and a set of assumptions that I think is antithetical to the medium (for more on this see Jerry Michalski quote on the Cluetrain). I believe the combination of the interface on the iPad and the entry level experience I outlined above is sufficiently intuitive that this device and its applications has the potential to become an extension of us and transform computing similar to how the mouse did 45 years ago.

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Douglas Engelbart and his mouse changed everything.  Similar to the mouse the multitouch interface lets you navigate the surface of the computer.   But there is a key difference between this gesture based interface and the mouse.  The mouse is separate from the working surface, connected to the body but separate from the actual place of interaction. With the iPad gestures happen on the surface that you are creating on.  I have this general theory that when you narrow the gap between the surface that you “create on” and the surface that you “read on” you change the ratio of readers to writers and proportionally you reduce consumption as we used to know it and increase participation.  Some examples.  Images — still and video — where the tool you use to capture is increasingly the tool you use to view and edit.    Remember the analog experience — shoot a roll of film on one media type (coated celluloid) and then develop / display on another (paper). The gap here was large.  Digital cameras started to close the gap by eliminating the development process — by recording on a digital medium that permitted the direct transfer of that to a display and editing device (the PC).   The incorporation of display screens on cameras shrunk the gap further.  Now we are closing the gap even further. Embedding cheap cameras every display screen so that what you see also is what you record and display screen into the front of cameras.    With each closing of the gap between between production and display — participation increases.  Take the web itself.   The advent of wiki’s, blogging, comments and writable sites.   Or compare Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr vs. WordPress, Posterous and Typepad.   They are all CMS’s of one kind or another — but the experience is radically different in the first group.   Why?   Because they close that gap — specifically, they dont abstract the publishing into a dashboard.  You write on the surface you are reading on.

So, as a rule of thumb, when i see this gap narrow — I sit back and think.   And it is for this reason that I believe the gesture based interface on this device has the potential to open up a new form of computing.

Back to that experiment.   So while its has been less than 12 weeks since its launch I want to see if there are elements emerging on iPad apps that can tell us about what this new medium has to offer, what are the things we are going to be able to create on this device. My process is as follows:

(a) Hunt and peck for native apps. The discovery / search process is imperfect. I spend a fair amount of time using services like Appshopper, Appadvice and Position App. I also spend time in the limited app store that Apple offers (limited in that it sure is one crappy interface to browse, compare and find app’s).       I do find the “people who liked this also liked this” feature useful.   But hunt and peck is the apt term — its a tough discovery process — while Apple has done an awful lot to open up new forms of innovation they are simulateanously compromising others — the web isnt a good discovery platform for a lot of these app’s because many of them arent “visible” to basic web tools.   Any that is how I find things.

(b) I use the apps for a few days at least.   Given how visually seductive this platform is its important for me to use the app’s for a bit, let them settle into my workflow and interests and see if they mature or fade.      I then create a summary, of the app, on the iPad (might as well use the medium).   The app that I used to write many of the these summaries was Omnigafffle.

Six of the summaries are inserted below aggregated under some broad topic areas. I wanted to lay them out side by side on the table and see what I had learnt thus far.  I have some commentary around most sections and then some conclusions at the end.

1. This is the first post I did — summarizing the goal:

iPad 1-2.jpg

2. Extending the iPad

In the early days I was fascinated by camera A and camera B application — it lets you use your iPhone camera on your iPad, over WIFI. It’s one of those wow app’s — you show it to people and you can see their eyes open as they think of the possibilities this opens up. I think the possibility set that it opens up relate to the device as an extension of other connected devices. There a small handful of other applications I found that have done interesting things integrating iPads with other devices — ie: Scrabble, iBrainstorm and Airturn. Airturn is brilliant in it’s simplicity and well defined use – using a Bluetooth foot pedal to turn the iPad into a sheet music reader.   Apple might well have not put a camera on v1 of the iPad for commercial reasons (ie upgrade path) but the business restriction has opened up an opportunity.

CameraA/B is a good example of how those design choices are driving innovation. One of the first pictures I did was a requisite recursive image.

3. Take me back …

The only physical navigation on the device is a home button, like the iPhone no back button. I wish there was a back button. I find myself using the home button time and time again to go back when im in an application. I love how conservative Apple is with its hardware controls but a back button is missing — its one of the great navigational tools that the browser brought us, I really want one on this device.

My Diagram.jpg

4. Jump on in …

There are a lot of interesting immersive app’s that are beginning to pop up on the iPad. These are good examples of the kind of experiences that are emerging:

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This is another immersive application — the popular Osmos HD. I said at the outset that I avoided gaming app’s and this and the coaster are games. Its the immersive navigation that i want to emphasize — today, there aren’t many better ways to explore this than app’s like these. Both of them use the high resolution display, the multitouch interface and the accelerometer to give you a visceral sense of the possibilities.

5. Writing …

I want to write on the iPad, write with my hand. I tried getting a pen but the experience was disappointing. The mutitouch surface is designed for input from a finger — the pens simulates a finger. If you want to draw with a pen or have large fingers then a pen like this works but it doesn’t work to actually write on the device. There also isn’t an application that lets you scale down words you have written with your finger, or at least i havent found one.  But you you can type!

I have also used a wireless keyboard — I typed most of this post using a keyboard, it works well.

6. Reading, readers and browsing …

There are a whole collection of reading related experiences that are coming out for the iPad, its one of the most active areas of development.     My journey began with the book app’s on the device. iBooks, the Kindle app and then a handful of dedicated reading app’s (ie comic book app’s) I don’t have much to say about any of these experiences since they all pretty much use the device as a display to read on.   They all work well, and the display is better on my eyes than I expected. I liked the Kindle, e-ink display, a lot but unless you are reading outside, in full sun, the iPad display works very well. My favorite reading app is the Kindle app.    The reading surface is clean and immersive.   Navigation is simple and I love the “social highlight” feature. You can see it in the image below. Whilst you are reading there are sections with a light, dotted, underline — touch it and it tells you x number of people have highlighted this section as well as you. I love stuff like this — a meaningful social gesture displayed with minimal UI.

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A few weeks after the launch I started using reader app’s.   I define this category as app’s that offer a reading experience into either a social network (twitter, facebook), a selection of feeds (RSS), or a scrapped version of web sites.  Some people are calling these clients  — for me a client allows you to publish, these are readers of one kind and another.    Skygrid was one of the first I used.    Then came Pulse, GoodReader, Apollo and last week Flipboard.   Most of these readers offer simple, fluid interfaces into the real time streams.   Yet the degree to which we have turned the web into a mess is painfully evident in these applications. Take a look at the screen shots of web pages displayed on these applications. The highlight is mine but the page is a mess.    Less than 15% of the pixels on the first page below were actually written by the author.

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It’s remarkable how the human brain can block out a visual experience in one context (web browser) but when its recontextualized into another experience (iPad) the insanity of the experience is clear. We have slow boiled so many web sites that we have turned the web into a mass of branding, redundant navigation and advertising.   And some wonder why value of these ad’s keeps falling.    As the number of devices that access the internet increases the possibilities forking the web, as Doc Searls calls it, increases. Remember pointcast, sidewiki, Google News, Digg bar — same questions.   Something has to give here — surfing the web works very well on the iPad, the surfing works, the problem is that its the web sites that dont.

The issues embedded in these readers stretch back to the beginning of the web — all the way back to the moment that HTML and then RSS formed a layer, a standard, for the abstraction of underlying data vs. its representation.   Regardless of your view of the touch based interface its undeniable that the iPad represents a meaningful shift in how you can view information.    Match that with the insanity of how many web sites look today and you have a rich opportunity for innovation.

Users, publishers, advertisers, browsers, aggregators, widget makers — pretty much everyone is going to try to address this issue.    Some of these reader app’s use the criteria that RSS established (excerpt or full text) to determine whether to re-contextualize the entire page or just a snippet of it.    Some of them just scrap the entire web page and then some of them are emerging as potentially powerful middleware tools.    PressedPad is installed on this blog — its somewhere between a wordpress plugin and a theme ( note to users: install it as a plugin).   PressedPad  gives me some basic controls re: how to display and manage the words on this site so that they are optimized for the iPad.   Similar to WPtouch — it does a great job of addressing this issue by passing control over to the site creator.   This approach makes sense but it will take time to scale.  In the short term we are going to see a lot of false starts here.  But ultimately the reading experience will get better because of this tension and evolution both on the iPad and the web.   And so will monetization.  Now that the inanity of what we have done is been laid bare we have to fix it.

Back to the app’s themselves.   Of all these reader app’s the Flipboard is the most innovative.  I’m still getting used to the experience – there is a lot to think about here.   There is much that I like about the Flipboard – its visually arresting for a start, beautifully laid out and stunning.   Take the image below — some app’s are just stop you in their tracks with their ability to show off the visual capabilities of the device, Flipboard is certainly one of these.

Visuals aside the thing that I find interesting is Flipboard’s approach to Twitter and Facebook.  It turns Twitter and Facebook into a well formatted reading experience — it takes a dynamic real time stream and re-prints it as if its a magazine. I like the application of Tweets as headlines. I have often thought about Twitter’s 140 character length as headline publishing. Flipboard takes this literally — using the Tweet as the headline with exerts of the content displayed under the headline.   The Facebook stream works less well.   Facebook isnt a news stream, its more of a social stream — and I find the Flipboard randomly drops me into the Facebook at a level that im not interested in. I flip pages and I find myself browsing personal pictures from someone I barely know — something that i would have skipped by on Facebook.com.

But it is this representation of a stream as a magazine that I struggle with the most. The metaphor is overwrought in my mind.  I hear the theoretical arguments that Scoble makes re: layout but they dont translate for me in practice.   The stream of data coming from Twitter and Facebook isnt a magazine — formatting it as such places it into a context that doesnt fit particularly well and certainly doesnt scale well (from a usage perspective).  Because it looks like a magazine and feels like one — I tend to read it like one, and this content isn’t meant to be used like a magazine. The presentation feels too finished, I have written before about the need for unfinished media and how it opens the door for participation.   This feels like it closes that door – it allows too narrow an entry path for interaction.     And then finally what they are trying to do is technically hard.   It’s hard to algorithmically determine which text should be large vs. small, where to place emphasis — just like its hard to algorithmically de-dup multiple streams, or to successfully display the images that correspond to the title.

These are my initial Flip thoughts.  I am facinated by this category and the conversations Pulse, Flip and others have started.   The innovation here is just getting going and I cant wait to see what comes next.

Browsers.   I’m using Life Browser a lot and liking it.   The Queue feature is great — enable the Q button and any links you click on the page get “queued up” behind in a stack.  Im interested to see things like candy tabs on Firefox come to the iPad.

Some conclusions …

1. Its early days.

There wasnt a single application that I found that really stood out and remained interesting after a few weeks of use.  Many were recast versions of iPhone applications. I did find things that are edging in the direction of truly native – and most of those I outlined above.  This conclusion isn’t surprising.  It’s very hard to re-conceptualize interfaces and experiences. The launch of the magic trackpad demonstrates how committed Apple is to this interface.  If this is truly a new form three months is barely a teaser — we have much to do and much to learn here.   And in the past few weeks the pace of launches of interesting applications has started to pickup significantly.   Im spending more time in drawing app’s and in some quasi enterprise app’s.    I cant wait to see what the next 6 months brings.

2. The visual dominates, gesture emerging.

Visually arresting applications are the things that pop today.   Many of them are just beautiful to look at.   The pond is lovely — have you been struck by the book shelf on iBooks, I was — what about the roller coaster, so are many of the games, so is Flipboard.   But I suspect much of what im responding to is the quality of the screen and the images been displayed ie: the candy not the sustenance.   Many of the app’s that had an initial wow factor im now deleted.    Visual graphics need to be part of the quality and essence of the experience not just eye candy.   And the visual needs to be integrated into the gestural.   Maybe artists will take it accross this threshold — I was sorry that the Seven on Seven event happened right around the launch, I hope that for the next one some artists will opt to produce something on the iPad.   Gesture based interfaces are emerging — slowly but they are coming.   I used Pressedpad to “iPad”ize this blog and the experience works well(ish) — the focus is simply on making the navigation gesture applicable.   But note even here — when I showed this iPad enabled blog to @wesissman he mailed me “looks amazing – i cant figure out how to actually read the posts – but looks great”.     We are in that early part of the experience of a new device where the visual is so astounding we in a sense need to get over it in order to figure out how we can make it useful.

3. Its a social device.

It’s a social device yet many of the applications are single user and not thinking through the connected aspects of the device.    While the device is highly personal it’s also a social device, it caters very well to multi users and multi devices.   I havent figured out why this is so but for some reason the iPad has both a highly personal inimate feel — yet its social representation is far less personal.   Try this out — leave an iPad lying around in a conference room people will feel very comfortable using it.   In the first few weeks it was fair to say that everyone simply wants to try one — but the behaviour persists.  In the same way I have brought an iPad to meetings and passed it around the table, its a very sharable social device.    In this mix of personal and not — single user and multi user/multi device is, I believe, a trove of opportunity for innovation.  And then add connectivity to this mix.    This device is designed as a connected device (connected to both other devices and connected to the network) — it will open up paths of connected innovation we can only imagine today.

4. Enterprise is a coming

I have been struck by how popular VPN and other virtualization app’s are.   It suggests a lot of people are starting to use the iPad in the enterprise.   I heard some numbers that suggested that more than 15% of the iPads sold are linked to corp accounts.     The use cases are a little outside of what i know and think about but I suspect there is a lot that will emerge here.   The device requires very little IT overhead — the total cost of ownership of these devices has to be a fraction of a normal PC.

So here are an initial set of thoughts about the iPad.   I’m interested to hear what you think.    One of the other incidental properties of the iPad is its initial lack of focus.  The iPhone is in its first instance a phone, the kindle is a book reader. — the iPad is an open tablet, for us to create on.   I believe there is much to do here — the tablet has been the next great form factor for a long time now, but I think its finally arrived.   We now have to build the experiences to suit the device.

Ongoing tracking of the real time web …

The last post that I did about real time web data mixed data with a commentary and a fake headline about how data is sometimes misunderstood in regards to the real time web.    This post repeats some of that data but the focus of the post is the data.   I will update the post periodically with relevant data that we see at betaworks or that others share with us.   To that end this post is done in reverse order with the newest data on top.

Tracking the real time web data

The measurement tools we have still only sometimes work for counting traffic to web pages and they certainly dont track or measure traffic in streams let alone aggregate up the underlying ecosystems that are emerging around these new markets.  At betaworks we spend a lot of time looking at and tracking this underlying data set.   It’s our business and its fascinating.   Like many companies each of the individual businesses at betaworks have fragments of data sets but because betaworks acts as ecosystem of companies we can mix and match the data to get results that are more interesting and hopefully offer greater insight

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(i) tumblr growth for the last half of 2009

Another data point re: growth of the real time web through the second half of last year through to Jan 18th of this year.  tumblr continues to kill it.     I read this interesting post yesterday about how tumblr is leading in its  category through innovation and simple, effective, product design.   The compete numbers quoted in that post are less impressive than these directly measured quantcast numbers.


(h) Twitter vs. the Twitter Ecosystem

Fred Wilson’s post adds some solid directional data on the question of the size of the ecosystem.   “You can talk about Twitter.com and then you can talk about the Twitter ecosystem. One is a web site. The other is a fundamental part of the Internet infrastructure. And the latter is 3-5x bigger than the former and that delta is likely to grow even larger.”

(g) Some early 2010 data points re: the Real Time Web

  • Twitter: Jan 11th was the highest usage day ever (source: @ev via techcrunch)
  • Tweetdeck: did 4,143,687 updates on Jan 8, yep 4m. Or, 48 per second (source: Iain Dodsworth / tweetdeck internal data)
  • Foursquare: Jan 9th biggest day ever.    1 update or check-in per second (source: twitter and techcrunch)
  • Daily Booth: in past 30 days more than 10mm uniques (source: dailybooth internal data)
  • bit.ly: last week was the largest week ever for clicks on bit.ly links. 564m were clicked on in total. On the Jan 6th there were a record of 98m decodes.    1100 clicks every second.

(f) Comparing the real time web vs. Google for the second half of 2009

Andrew Parker commented on the last post that the chart displaying the growth trends was hard to decipher and that it maybe simpler to show month over month trending.  It turns out the that month over month is also hard to decipher.   What is easier to read is this summary chart.    It shows the average month over month growth rates for the RT web sites (the average from Chart A).   Note 27.33% is the average growth rate for the real time web companies in 2009 — that’s astounding.    The comparable number for the second half of 2009 was 10.5% a month — significantly lower but still a very big number for m/m growth.

(e) Ongoing growth of the real time stream in the second half of 2009

This is a question people have asked me repeatedly in the past few weeks.  Did the real time stream grow in Q4 2009?    It did.    Not at the pace that it grew during q1-q3, but our data at betaworks confirms continued growth.   One of the best proxies we use for directional trending in the real time web are the bit.ly decodes.   This is the raw number of bit.ly links that are clicked on across the web.    Many of these clicks occur within the Twitter ecosystem, but a large number are outside of Twitter, by people and by machines — there is a surprising amount of diversity within the real time stream as I posted about a while back.

Two charts are displayed below.    On the bottom are bit.ly decodes (blue) and encodes (red)  running through the second half of last year.    On the top is a different but related metric.   Another betaworks company is Twitterfeed.    Twitterfeed is the leading platform enabling publishers to post from their sites into Twitter and Facebook.    This chart graphs the total number of feeds processed (blue) and the total number of publishers using Twitterfeed, again through the second half of the year (note if the charts inline are too small to read you can click though and see full size versions).   As you can see similar the left hand chart — at Twitterfeed the growth was strong for the entire second half of 2009.

Both these charts illustrate the ongoing shift that is taking place in terms of how people use the real time web for navigation, search and discovery.    My preference is to look at real user interactions as strong indicators of user behavior.   For example I actually find Google trends more useful often than comScore, Compete or the other “page” based measurement services.   As interactions online shift to streams we are going to have to figure out how measurement works. I feel like today we are back to the early days of the web when people talked about “hits” — it’s hard to parse the relevant data from the noise.  The indicators we see suggest that the speed at which this shift to the real time web is taking place is astounding.   Yet it is happening in a fashion that I have seen a couple of times before.

(d) An illustration of the step nature of social growth. bit.ly weekly decodes for the second half of 2009.

Most social networks I have worked with have grown in a step function manner.  You see this clearly when you zoom into the bit.ly data set and look at weekly decodes, illustrated above.   You often have to zoom in and out of the data set to see and find the steps but they are usually there.     Sometimes they run for months — either up or sideways.    You can see the steps in Facebook growth in 2009.    I saw effect up close with ICQ, AIM, Fotolog, Summize and now with bit.ly.   Someone smarter than me has surely figured out why these steps occur.    My hypothesis is that as social networks grow they jump in a sporadic fashion from one dense cluster of relationships to a new one.   The upward trajectory is the adoption cycle of that new, dense cluster and the flat part of the step is the period between the step to next cluster.     Blended in here there are clearly issues of engagement vs. trial.   But it’s hard to weed those out from this data set.   As someone mentioned to me in regards to the last post this is a property of scale-free networks.

(c) Google and Amazon in 2009

Google and Amazon — this is what it looked like in 2009:

It’s basically flat.     Pretty much every user in the domestic US is on Google for search and navigation and on Amazon for commerce — impressive baseline numbers but flat for the year (source: Quantcast).  So then lets turn to Twitter.

(b) Twitter – an estimate of Twitter.com and the Twitter ecosystem

Much ink has been spilt over Twitter.com’s growth in the second half of the year.   During the first half of the year Twitter’s experience hyper growth — and unprecedented media attention.    In the second half of the year the media waned, the service went through what I suspect was a digestion phase — that step again?     Steps aside — because I dont in anyway seek to represent Twitter Inc. — there are two questions that in my mind haven’t been answered fully:

(i) what international growth in the second half of 2009?, that was clearly a driver for Facebook in ’09.  Recent data suggests growth continued to be strong.

(ii) what about the ecosystem.

Unsurprisingly its the second question that interests me the most.    So what about that ecosystem?    We know that approx 50% of the interactions with the Twitter API occur outside of Twitter.com but many of those aren’t end user interactions.     We also know that as people adopt and build a following on Twitter they often move up to use one of the client or vertical specifics applications to suit their “power” needs.   At TweetDeck we did a survey of our users this past summer.     The data we got suggested 92% of them then use Tweetdeck everyday — 51% use Twitter more frequently since they started using TweetDeck.  So we know there is a very engaged audience on the clients.     We also know that most of the clients arent web pages — they are flash, AIR, coco, iPhone app’s etc. all things that the traditional measurement companies dont track.

What I did to estimate the relative growth of the Twitter ecosystem is the following.   I used Google Trends and compiled data for Twitter and the key clients.    I then scaled that chart over the Twitter.com traffic.   Is it correct? — no.   Is it made up? — no.   It’s a proxy and this is what it looks like (again, you can click the chart to see a larger version).

Similar to the Twitter.com traffic you see the flattening out of the ecosystem in the summer.    But you see growth in the forth quarter that returns to the summer time levels.     I suspect if you could zoom in and out of this the way I did above you would see those steps again.

(a) The Real Time Web in 2009

Add in Facebook (blue) and Meebo (green) both steaming ahead — Meebo had a very strong end of year.    And then tile on top the bit.ly data and the Twitterfeed numbers (bit.ly on the right hand scale) and you have an overall picture of growth of the real time web vs. Google and Amazon.   As t

Ruler

Billy created a wonderful little ruler for the iphone. Its interesting, its dislocating and its beautiful done, lovely to see wood grain on a device.

Hybrid waste

I am trying out the Canon TX1 hybrid cam. I am a big fan of hybrids — for the past couple of years I have used the Sony DSC M1 hybrid. This Canon promises a lot and thus far seems to deliver fairly well. The Camera is very stripped down and easy to use — but the ergonomics aren’t as good as the Sony, harder to hold and shoot with one hand. Stills are 7.1 pixels and other than the flash (which is weak) the stills are good. The face identification software does a really good job of finding faces — less clear whether the adjustments it does once it has found faces is worth much, but that strange allure of technology recognizing a human feature is enough to make one think it must be have some value.

Video is just weird. Canon promote this as an HD hybrid and sure enough the video is 720p, 16:9, 30fps. But it records in M-JPEG (Motion JPEG – basically a string of jpeg images?!). Hugely inefficient at encoding, gives you approx. 13mins of video on a 4 gig card? There is the advantage that you can pull a still from the video stream, which is kinda interesting if you want to wade through a gazzillon frames for the 1/30th of a precious second. But why M-JPEG, Divx or MPEG4? I suspect they wanted to (a) save on licensing fee’s — and (b) make sure the camera wasnt too good at doing video. The tension that hybrids have for Camera manufactures persist — if its too good then people wont need to buy two devices. But the choice is an interesting testament to how the plunging cost of storage continues to radically effect technology standards.

Choice, end to end control, distributed innovation and that iphone thing

A lot of chatter about the iphone — just read Dave Winer's piece — lots of conspiracy theories about how real the Job's demo was and people are starting to focus on the question of how closed the platform is.  Jobs has said that the platform will allow third party development but it will be "restricted" and managed — like ipod games.  Apple believes that in order to get a product into market — out of the box — end to end control of the hardware and software experience is the easiest and fastest way to deliver something that works to users.   This worked in the case of the ipod — it wasnt the first MP3 player to hit the market, it was just the first to work as seamlessly as it did, from the device to the pc.   There are smart phones of many flavors out there today — but they all require a lot of setup, maintenance etc.  The iphone is clearly going to be different — take a look at the Pogue's list of what is does and doesnt do.    

Last year I lived in Italy for six months and I made some notes about what an insanely mobile the country was — 57M people with 70M cell phones.   There are more mobile phones here than fixed lines, estimates are that 18% of the population have cut the cord (chk). Kids and couples walk around listening to cell phones playing music, like 30 years ago people would walk around listening to a radio.    Someone we know was chatted up by a waiter at a restaurant — for follow up, he offered her a SIM chip instead of offering his phone number.   SMS is everywhere and its far more conversational than in the US. The rates and pricing plans push people to SMS.    Wifi is fairly available and the cell co's are clearly nervous about voip / skype – 3 (Hutchison Whampoa) has an offer in market for $15 a month unlimited voip calling to over 25 countries from your handset.    And in Italy Apple has next to no presence (as of 06 they had no stores and next to no market share).  In Italy Apple has next to no presence (as of 06 they had no stores and next to no market share).

Over time the iPod functionality needs to merge into the phone.     Yet Apple has created a business model that is based on tethering hardware to software and reaping all of the margins on the hardware.    The result is that music that I have "bought" on iTunes isn't transportable to other non apple devices.   I really haven't bought it, its a rental agreement – with the a right to listen to that music on 5 apple pc's / devices.  Jobs knows that the ipod is close to its peak and its time to move the ball — the question in my mind is whether open and unlocked alternatives — palm, symbian, rim and even linux phones can out run Apple. 

The pressure points are in my mind (a) apple's dependency on the ipod and its related business mode — the iphone needs to have everything the high end ipod has (focus will be on music, video and phone — watch how they execute on core ipod features (eg: access to itunes store from the device (which today is not available), music and video sharing (also not available)) and then non ipod functionality.    The phone is a messaging device, music and ipod functionality needs to balanced against great messaging capabilities — voice and text (Phones outside of the US are used more for messaging that voice — calling them phones is a cultural artifact — they are messaging devices with voice as a secondary features)   (b) apple's tie to cingular (2 years), and the associated restrictions this brings with it (re: no voip, open wifi roaming, no HSDPA/3g, requirement for a 2 year contract, no unlocked alternative etc.)  (c) the tension between a closed end to end platform with controlled innovation vs. an open platform with distributed innovation and lastly (d) the execution of the hardware / device and the lack of a keyboard.  If this is mostly a media device Apple will miss the broader market. 

I have no doubt people will buy this product — it seems like a beautiful piece of hardware and simply postioned as the highest end ipod it will find a market —  just like the nano or video ipod.  But neither the nano or the video ipod defined a new category — they were devices in a long stream of innovation that started with the orginal ipod.   The iphone needs to define a whole new stream of innovation independent from the ipod.  And the business model will likely also have to evolve — in more developed markets (south korea the flip has occurred to a subsription model, $5 a month for all the music you want / can eat).     I am going to be watching the pressure points listed above to see whether similar to the ps3 vs. Wii the lowend offer some real alternatives, without all the restrictions that Apple's business model now imposes on it as the category leader – the mobile world needs to see some real innovation and what I saw last week suggests that not going to come from Apple. 

Things to watch in 2007

7 4 07
(things to watch in 07)

1. Google will feel the tension between search and browse and their associated business models. Google quick check-out will emerge as the companies key innovation beyond search and paid listings. Yahoo and Ebay will follow AOL and be rolled into the operating theatre — the problem isnt technology (panama etc.) its the business model tradeoff’s they have both made re: the tail.

2. Sector wise e-commerce will rise in importance as alternative currencies emerge as legitimate ways to transact. Its a different take on the subscription model but using ingame currencies to transact for other products (see qq coin). On the subject of virtual worlds, growth will continue at a pace, but second life will emerge as the one everyone could understand but few actually wanted to visit more than once.

3. Geographically, the rest of the world will come into focus as internet and media companies search for customers and growth and innovation. ROW will start to be a legitimate force of innovation rather than just a platform to duplicate US business models.

4. Connectivity wise, wireless broadband will finally become a force to be contend with

5. Policy wise: the Net Neutrality debate will recede as it becomes evident that while network providers need to have the ability to ability to manage bits, those who think they can manage or shape the transport layer to the bias one application or service over another will be proven wrong. The influence and relative progress of the ROW will help here. And while the focus is on policy — the internet policy debate will switch to US broadband adoption and relative speed/price of offerings in US vs. ROW.

6. In terms of protocols and the evolution of the web — web 2.0 given that it has moved from a useful definition to a undefined meme will recede in importance and the semantic web will begin to take shape, standards, api’s will be extended to form the basis for the next iteration of the internet

7. Hardware and device wise, Vista’s influence will be mostly in the enterprise, the Ipod starts looking tired, the Itv box becomes a big deal. Leopard will be a bigger deal than most expect. Xbox 360 will get squeezed from the bottom (Wiiiii!), PS3 will make its numbers, the product is pretty good, not as much fun as Wii but nonetheless good. And Linux phones should be on your radar, they are on mine.

Grouper and sharing / organizing personal media

Just read Cringley’s piece about Grouper, its surprisingly thin. The purchase is about a research — Lynton made that clear in his statement – but with no brand its going to be hard to extend it beyond r&d, something Cringley seems to think is eary. Also wasnt grouper all about p2p and sharing of personal media? Thats what the client / media player is all about. The media have respun this as another video sharing site — but Felsner’s and Samuels vision started in a very different place. Will be interesting to see what Sony really bought and where they go with this. Sony really needs to drive and open up innovation on the software layer – from walkmans to phones to psp’s to connected cameras and playstations — offering users a means to share and manage personal media is a big opportunity that Sony have thus far failed to deliver on.

Why cant I tag movie clips as I film them on my camera? There should be a simple scroll wheel interface into a user defined set of keywords that I could select and tag as I capture media. The relative cost of capturing, or acquiring media continues to drop at an astounding pace — but this has shifted the cost of media from storage, processing etc. to organization and presentation.  Grouper anyone? Another example — have you tried openlcr? Openlcr is a web based interface to offer software services for cordless phones — ringtones, weather, upload contacts etc.  Its abismal — useless, and expensive to boot.   Why arent CE companies adapting to software based innovation? I think the problem is generally grounded in the history of the consumer electronics business. Most of the traditional businesses grew through innovating of specific hardware based functionality. CE devices were traditionally all about making thousands of minute pieces of hardware work in tandem. Yet CE as an industry is getting pressured from the edge by both the low cost manufacturing base, the realities of solid state and the advent of software based innovation, in essentially dumb devices.

Given that the Grouper purchase was made by Sony Pictures its likely they too bought the video sharing meme and wont capitalize on the rest of the opportunity, but there could be much more here than just another video storage / sharing site.

Hi

My one and half year old son calls a phone a “Hi”. When you answer the phone in the US you usually say Hi or Hello. Here in Italy you say “pronto” or “ready”. I remember when I was young hearing a story that in France there were people who thought you had to say “allo, allo” when you answered the phone to make it work.

EuroTelcoblog: Click up or shut up…

This will be interesting, I remember a long time back that Ebay as an AOL partner didn’t want to integrate IM features for fear that buyers and sellers would start to trade independent of the platform.

Click up or shut up

Just arriving in EuroTelcoblog’s inbox one minute ago was confirmation of Skype integration into 14 categories on eBay, selected on the criteria of “Skypeâ??s ability to positively impact the transaction.” The categories are:

Automotive GPS devices
Camera and photo lenses and filters
Wired networking routers
Skype devices
VOIP / Internet telephony
Diamond solitaire rings
Real estate (residential, commercial)
Manufacturing and metalworking
Beds
NBA basketball cards
Silver coins
Lost in Space collectibles
Radio control toys
Cars and trucks

Apparently, eBay considered that these were categories where “instant communication can greatly facilitate trade, such as those with high average selling prices, complex products, or new technologies that can generate a high volume of…

Read the rest of this post from EuroTelcoblog

GPS tracking, where I am

I am having fun with GPS tracking and posting to the web — tracked a run I went on tonight. Software from Charles Grillio’s (here is his site), he has been great in helping me customize the software for the device. Thank you.
Its a strange feeling to go out and then see where you have been tracked, minute by minute on the web.

To see tracking click here (note / opt for satellite image, I am still off the google grid, just).

Talk is cheap

Cheap talk

While in london I was impressed by the presence of broadband retailing on the high-street. Normally offered as part of a bundle with wireless, video, or a landline — local loop unbundling is happening fast in the UK and its increasingly a fully unbundled line. The latest and most interesting offer seems to be from carphone warehouse, branded Talk, Talk. The sales person walked me through the bundle — £11 per month line charge and then £9.99 for unlimited calls within the UK and 28 international countries (including Europe, US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada) — and broadband is "free" — 8Mbps on average, and they claim to have coverage over 70% of the UK. There isnt hard data on sign up's but sales person said they did 20,000 in the first days (it launched only a month ago), and they claim to be saving wired brits over £400 per year. With 2.6 existing wireless and wireline subs and 1700 retail outlets across UK and Europe they are pushing hard to get customers signed up and locked into these new plans (18 month commit). The aggressive subsidization and grab for customers has got to be based on the assumption that ancillary services can be added to the bundle — like video — and can over time be charged for as a premium service.