The Vortex: IPOs and iPhones

–I’m not going to let this one die, so get used to the privacy battle. Louis Gray posted an excellent analysis yesterday of online privacy and the irony in our demand that companies be open.

I am seeing prominent people talk out of both sides of their mouth when they claim to push companies to get more open and more transparent, while at the same time, clinging to the hope that we can push our content into a safe place on the Web and consider it “private”.

–Zillow announced this week that it’s planning an IPO… in 2011. Considering the market it’s in, I guess the long lead-time is understandable. The real estate market will hopefully recover somewhat in the next 12 months. Once the buying begins again in earnest, Zillow will be ready to reap the (hypothetical) rewards with plenty of backing in tow. I’d love to see a new wave of IPOs – but do we have to wait so long? **Update: a very interesting perspective on this from the WSJ.

–A new iPhone OS is imminent. Or not. Perhaps for the Apple tablet that’s coming. Or isn’t. You know the drill.

I do think, though, you’d be a fool to bet against a new iPhone this year. Rick Broida’s right in that it feels like that time again. With the Nexus One at least lurking in the shadows – though not necessarily breathing down its neck – going another year without a new device could be dangerous.

–And since it’s the weekend and a virus has invaded our house, I’ll likely be playing several fun iPhone games I read about this week. Aztec Quest is a gadget-y, puzzle-y, Mousetrap-y kind of game. And it has a lite version, which I think should be mandatory for all iPhone apps. Why is this not standard practice?

Then there’s Hanged which looks GOR-geous. I’m in the middle of playing and thoroughly enjoying the story it’s weaving. I’ll also admit that I can’t get past level 2 on Darkest Fear. There’s something I need to do with that trigger and the box but… Anyone?

–Lastly, I had to share a Facebook status from my friend Keith Shaw, who braved the gauntlet at CES a couple of weeks ago. It’s just one of those sentences that can only be written in the desert of Las Vegas.

Sitting at the bar of a Cuban restaurant that’s inside a Howard Johnson’s north of the Sahara… silently wondering if I’m being punked.

The Vortex Grows Up

The Vortex is our bastard child here at The Guidewire, always changing names and directions and never quite knowing where it belongs. The heavy focus on the foibles of the technosphere – its most recent iteration – grew tiresome. The industry seems to be growing up again, and the little boys that ran around marking their territory have been forced to mature in a down economy.

Chris nailed it the other day, calling it the “Post Web 2.0 Malaise.” We’re in a valley between tech revolutions right now and during valleys, the power structure shifts and new voices arise. The tonal shift will be away from egos and individuals and toward revolutions, innovations, ideas. There are some exciting winds stirring in the tech world. In 2010, I think we’ll all be focused on bigger pictures.

So in keeping with all that bluster, I’m evolving this weekly wrap-up into something broader. At its simplest, it’s nothing more than a look at my Read It Later list from that week – stuff I thought was interesting and bookmarked for later. But a larger value is to take all those links and look at what ties them together. So what did the week of December 14 reveal about the tech world? Well…

*Facebook has a potential catastrophe on its hands. Or a goldmine; depends on how smart they are. The release of its new privacy policies this week raised the hackles of many, primarily because it caused uncomfortable realizations. I doubt I’m alone in saying that both my business and personal life are starting to revolve more around the service. (Lack of access to my account on Wednesday literally prevented me from working.) Marshall Kirkpatrick’s call for a release of the data is the first drumbeat, I think, in what could be a long and potentially ugly saga. We’ve handed over a large portion of our lives to these folks; what are they going to do with it?

*A shakeup in online music looks to be on the horizon. Apple acquired Lala and Spotify made a splash at LeWeb. (Louis Gray is raving about Spotify.) All signs are pointing to the end of stored music on your devices.

*You’re going to be on the phone a lot next year. In one way or another. The 2010 prediction pieces are starting to hit and ‘mobile’ is littered about them like confetti. Ravit Lichtenberg offers her thoughts on social media trends for next year while Milennial Media held mobile as its sole focus. And to keep you on your toes, the security sector has threat predictions.

*You should watch some Christmas specials next week. If you’re not a Charlie Brown fan, amble through bizarre specials from Christmas past on Mental Floss. (And be sure to watch the groovy 70s commercials.)

Oh and a Simpsons arcade game from EA is coming soon to the iPhone. Happy Holidays!

An Intervention

I feel I should start this post by getting one thing straight – Louis Gray is one of the nicest people you will ever meet. He’s super smart, genuine, thoughtful, and honest. He’s a rare tech pundit who isn’t all about ego and self-aggrandizing. We all love Louis, right? Right.


This post yesterday is about 10,000 kinds of wrong.  Now don’t yell at me – we all love Louis, remember? But that doesn’t mean we’re required to accept this level of hyperbole. Facebook didn’t fail your family, Louis. You have about five trillion friends on there, making it quite easy for updates from family members to get lost in the shuffle. I get it, really I do. You wanted the site to be smart and know which people are important to you. But it can’t do that yet. Oh it very likely will in a couple of years, once somebody figures out what to do with all this personal data with which we’ve flooded the Intertubes. In the meantime, you’re going to have to choose human interaction instead.

And that’s really my central point: all this technology that we spend 80 hours a week with, that has become our go-to activity during downtime, that is the hub of an ever-more-frantic daily existence – all these tools and services are not the endpoint. Or at least they shouldn’t be. All these gizmos and software should be improving our actual real worlds, not creating entirely separate ones in the clouds.

I’m really not one to talk. I check TweetDeck at stoplights. I talk to friends more on Facebook than on the phone. I’ve caught myself enjoying a good book or movie and immediately wondering how best to share it online. And when you work in emerging tech, you’ve got a ready-made excuse. “This is my job! I have to tweet!” In actuality, it’s damn addictive and can easily overtake real-world existence.

With other addictions, you know you’ve hit rock-bottom when you forsake all other aspects of your life in search of the high. In technology, I’d say it’s when you blame a social networking site for not telling you you’ve become an uncle. Step away from the computer, Louis. Go outside and read a book under a tree. Or, better yet, go see your sister and the new baby. It will all be here when you get back.

The Vortex: The First Round’s on Me

Mr. Hyde it is. Dr. Jekyll was always the boring one, don’t you agree?

News from the Social Media Vortex

The technosphere was thrown into a tizzy (no really, they were) over the news that Facebook will include @mentions in your status updates. It’s being spun as an !attack on Twitter! So everyone choose your side. There will be no mercy for ambivalence.

–David McCandless has developed the fascinating and fun Hierarchy of Digital Distractions. Print it out, laminate it, and carry it in your wallet for those moments when you’re not sure whether to retweet or answer the phone.

–I was going to mention this last week but thought the post was already too Twitter-laden. Check out What The Trend, a super-handy reference that explains the reasoning behind mystifying Twitter trends. The minds behind it are also not above editorial comments; check out the explanation for “Michael” today.

–So you know Julia Allison? Yeah, I don’t really either. But she’s managed to make a name for herself as… um, I honestly don’t know what to call her. An Internet celebrity? The point is -  and this is admittedly coming solely from her – she is paid $4 a word for writing… something. We’re not quite sure what that is either. So to sum up: someone you’ve never heard of is being paid an obscene amount of money to write some sort of column for an unknown entity. That, my friends, is what The Vortex is all about!

Apps on the Radar

Yes, there were new Apple releases this week but they were pretty boring. I think the biggest “announcement” to come out of Wednesday was that Steve Jobs continues to soldier on.

–Flickr finally arrived on the iPhone, letting you shoot pics and video on your phone and upload directly to the site.

–Football season is here (woo hoo!) and my favorite sports app, Sportacular, had a nice recent upgrade for the iPhone that includes push notifications. Louis Gray prefers ESPN’s app but he’s just plain wrong. Shall we settle it with a duel?

Facebook Lite is here, for those times when you… I don’t know, need more white space. Do with it what you will.

–And if you’re like me, you love a good pandemic, so check out CNET’s round-up of swine flu apps for your iPhone. When the media isn’t whipping you into enough of a frenzy, fire up the CDC News Reader or, even better, Outbreaks Near Me to complete your hysteria.

Tweet of the Week

–Alex Iskold wins the prize, with a tweet sent mere moments ago. And one that makes me wonder where he’s choosing to school his children.

Picking up kids from school. Weird, it smells like scotch around here.

Here’s hoping your weekend is filled with inappropriately placed scotch fumes.

Wait!! I almost forgot to mention – if you own a Kindle, do me a solid and fill out this survey. I’m doing a usability study for a client and could really use your opinions. Once you’re done with that, you can resume your drinking.

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The Vortex: The Center Cannot Hold

News from the Social Media Vortex

–Someone broke the Interwebs yesterday morning, with a denial-of-service attack hitting Twitter, Facebook, Google, and LiveJournal. Twitter was the hardest hit (or the worst prepared), with the service going completely offline for a couple of hours. [And as of this writing, the site was down again this morning.] As expected, the universe folded in on itself as people tweeted about Twitter being down once Twitter was back up. Then John Hughes died and everyone shifted to Long Duck Dong.

–The other big story this week is so inside-baseball that you may fall asleep mid-paragraph. Robert Scoble “unfollowed” 106,000 people on Twitter. This proved to be a revelation for him – it cuts down on the noise! – which in turn engendered much discussion among people who monitor their audience with frightening acuity. Louis Gray parried with, “Wait, don’t do that!” saying:

“…to massively prune my list would introduce more problems, real and emotional, than it would present solutions.”

I think it’s safe to say that if Twitter ever causes emotional problems for you, it’s time to take a vacation.

–And though I’d love to ignore King Arrington for a week, the fact that he’s now battling the British judicial system is, well… I’m only human. He’s been found guilty of libel against Sam Sethi, charged with:

“a sustained campaign of character assassination against the Claimant… including threats to murder a business associate; of being psychotic; pathological; threatening; despicable; disreputable; deceitful; and a cheat.”

He should make that his Twitter bio. Anyway, Arrington says No Lawsuits Please; I’m Not British, which I’m sure will be a convincing argument to the UK courts.

Phew. Isn’t August supposed to be quiet? Let’s get to the fun stuff.

Apps on the Radar

–I so wish more developers were taking advantage of the iPhone’s push technology. The AP News app does a decent job but annoyingly doesn’t direct you to the related story. So I’m happy to hear that Breaking News Online is taking a stab at news alerts. I’ll be giving it a whirl this week to see if it’s worth two bucks.

Livestation has released an app for streaming live television to your iPhone. The selection is pretty thin right now but is sure to expand in the coming months.

Pitch of the Week

–If you’re a recipient of product pitches, add yourself to Jonathan Hirshon’s email distro.  The head of Horizon PR never fails to entertain and I find myself reading every one of his pitches, if only to reward his ingenuity. So in place of Tweet of the Week, I give you his intro to a pitch for Scenios:

A bonny Thursday to you, as the heat and humidity outside threaten to climb to levels unseen since my last Finnish Sauna experience (with an equal chance of cardiac lethality, I might add).  The economic climate is equally wilting,.…”

Now that’s a segue.

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The Vortex: Little Green Men

There is so much to share from this week that I’m literally giddy. In such a busy week, though, there have been no standout tweets. I may just nominate myself. We’ll see how I feel at the end of the post.

News from the Social Media Vortex

-Hutch Carpenter developed a handy chart to delineate the Angels and Demons of Social Media. I’m going to have to go with Rizzn who commented, “I mean no offense to Hutch, but…you’re either using it for business purposes or you’re using it to screw around and talk to people. If it’s the former, it doesn’t make you a demon and if it’s the latter, it doesn’t make you an angel. You’re still just a user.”

-I warned you about Scoble’s Army last week, didn’t I? Apparently he was listening, because it only took a couple of days to put that army to use. Seems he embedded an Amazon affiliate link in a tweet and the hue and cry from the technosphere was vociferous. I can’t say I fault him, actually. The man has 25,000 followers, for pete’s sake, and should find something to do with that colossal number. Either he sends them occasional ads or instructs them to revolt and become our masters. I’ll take the Kindle ad over Kang and Kodos any day.

-The Washington Post launched this week, a compendium of key players in D.C., including “members of the new administration, Pentagon officials… [and] senior congressional aides.” Or as my favorite Politico Mike Allen put it: “Translation: It’s Wikipedia for the Obama administration.”

Apps on the Radar

-Plinky – I’m either completely in love with this new content creation site or classify it as a key indicator of Web 2.0 frivolity. Perhaps both.  Louis Gray has an in-depth review of it. My two-cent summary: A cure for online writer’s block.

-For those with the opposite problem, check out TwitterEyes, a Firefox add-on that shortens your tweets to the prescribed 140 characters.

-And I confess to not having checked it out yet, but Pixelpipe is high on my list. Post one thing – video, text, or photo – to 60 different services. Perfect for those of us with more profiles than we can remember.

DEMO Trends – where the innovation is with DEMO 09 applicants

-A cleaner, more targeted take on mobile coupons

-A totally new way to look at and manage your email

-A new method of HD projection


-Little known fact about me: I love a good conspiracy theory. Yes, I’m one of those who thinks Oswald was a patsy. So imagine my glee when I read Duncan Riley’s post this morning on a UFO sighting during the Inauguration. Look! At the 11-second mark! A flying blur!

Tweet of the Week

-Since no one stepped up to the plate with my call for nominations (save for seedub with the helpful “yo mama”) I’m awarding this to myself. Well, really to Obama, for what I thought was the best line of his inaugural speech:

“All deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”

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The View from Guidewire: New Year, New Silliness

I let ‘The View’ posts slide during the holiday malaise but the first work week of 2009 brings a bevy of technosphere fun. And apparently it also brings a rise in my snark quotient. I’ll try to be nicer next week.

News from the Social Media Vortex

-Several celebrity Twitter accounts, including Obama and Britney Spears, were hacked, causing much kerfuffle and official statements from Twitter. Users were alerted to “change your password!” because no one wanted to admit they weren’t famous enough to be hacked.

-The big discussion this week on FriendFeed was… FriendFeed. Louis Gray wrote a post on what FriendFeed needs to do to grow (some great ideas in there, by the way) and it gets 140 comments on his site alone. Several others chime in to debate further, including Sarah Lacy, who predicts “a modest acquisition in someone’s future.”  Hmmm, I’ve heard that somewhere before… Paul Buchheit, FriendFeed investor and founder, then has his say, requesting that folks remember there is no such thing as overnight success. I probably skipped a few steps in there but you get the gist: FriendFeed needs to grow and attract more mainstream consumers. See also: Pope’s hat and bear in woods.

-Gawker Media continues to sell off its properties, with Consumerist going to Consumer Reports, and my beloved Defamer looking for a home. Seriously folks, someone snap up Defamer – it has some of the wittiest writing online.

2008 in the rearview mirror

-I’ve had Jason Kottke’s Best Links 2008 in an open tab all week. There’s a lot to wade through but it’s all fascinating. And there are a couple of fun games buried in there too. [Note: why can't I get Passage to run on my computer? I've been dying to play it since I read Jason Rohrer's Esquire profile.]

-Speaking of games, Mochi Media released its list of the top 10 flash games for 2008. Click that link at your own peril. Hours of time suckage lie in wait.

-And don’t miss Pitchfork’s 20 Worst Album Covers of 2008. I think my favorite comment is on Brad Paisley’s cover: “The artist who did this also designed GeoCities pages for people in 1996.”

Apps on the Radar

-WebEx introduced its iPhone app, for those times when you want your browser to crash on a smaller screen.

-ReadWriteWeb tells me there’s a iPhone app now available but I’m not sure I believe them. Searches in iTunes and on my phone turned up nothing. **Update: Christopher Corfi was kind enough to include links to the app. See comment #2 below.

-I finally downloaded Enigmo and am officially hooked. It was voted best iPhone game at last year’s developer conference and completely merits the title.

DEMO trends – where the innovation is with DEMO 09 applicants

-Consumer-controlled marketing – allowing users to control the conversation on business sites

-Social Web – a remote control for your online experience

-Immersive learning – transitioning education to 21st century tools


-Apple is possibly developing iPhone gloves. You heard me correctly – gloves for using your iPhone in the cold. For those times when you just can’t abide the extra five minutes it takes to, you know, go inside.

Tweet of the Week

It’s a three-way tie this week, since we haven’t named anyone in several weeks. Drumroll please…

-Funniest: (And cheating a bit because this was a FriendFeed entry) Alex Scoble, brother of Robert, – “I’ve created a pastime out of coming up with new ways to humorously say that my brother’s head is gargantuan.”

-Pithiest: @marshallk, who got married New Year’s Eve (congrats!) and said, “thx everyone. gotta say though, wedding license applications, next to “domestic partnership” apps, felt like a whites’ only water fountain.”

-And this one came in just as I was wrapping up the post.  Most Out of Touch of With Reality goes to @JasonCalacanis: “Must. Not. Order. Corvette. ZR1. STOP. DON’T DO IT. Recession. Not appropriate. DRIVE TESLA. Save. Planet. STOP. DON’T ORDER.”

We should all have such problems.

Lest You Forget, It Is All About Me

I’ve been so heads down working on the DEMOfall conference (It’s going to be great, by the way) that I failed to realize what I chump I am.

All along, I’ve been using Twitter to keep an ear to the rail. I nurture my “following” list and am ceaselessly fascinated by the things people are doing, what they’ve discovered, and what they find necessary to share with a more or less anonymous world. Yes, I also use Twitter to keep a presence in the world; that way you all think I’m out and about when in truth I’m home watching So You Think You Can Dance (Will is going to win it, I’m sure of it. Update: In a measure of  my predictive abilities, Will was voted off the show just hours after I posted this column.).

Then yesterday, Twitter pukes and the relationship database goes haywire. Followers are mowed down by the hundreds. The hue and cry is deafening. “Where, oh where,” the Twitterati wail, “are all my followers?” Continue reading

Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

Five years from now, we’ll look back on this and laugh. Or at least some of us will. Others are decidedly more cranky these days. But the great FriendFeed-Socialthing war will seem trivial compared to… whatever meme we’re obsessing over in five years. The funniest part of all this hubbub is that the CEOs of both companies don’t even view each other as competitors. After talking with both Matt Galligan at Socialthing and Bret Taylor from FriendFeed, it’s clear that the two companies are approaching a very real problem – information overload – in very different ways. In fact, it’s entirely possible for someone to use both services at the same time, with virtually no rips in the space-time continuum.

As Taylor noted, the end goals of the two companies are their key difference. FriendFeed is about content discovery and applying social solutions to the problem of information overload. Socialthing focuses more broadly on a user’s entire digital life, in an attempt to make sense of the myriad networks out there. FriendFeed is bringing the conversation in, while Socialthing is broadcasting it out. FriendFeed has morphed into a separate social network while Socialthing wants to help consolidate all the networks you’ve already built. FriendFeed, tomato; Socialthing, tomahto. Continue reading

Constructive Criticism

The blog world is atwitter (pun intended) today over FriendFeed. TechCrunch’s Duncan Riley had the nerve to say, “I don’t get it” and the chorus of boos was swift. Louis Gray, an early adopter and rabid proponent of FriendFeed, said Riley missed the point by only giving the service the most cursory of glances.

I’ve written before of my love of FriendFeed and still stand by that. But I think the company and its faithful fan base should absorb opinions like Duncan’s rather than discard them as those of the lazy and/or uninformed. What got me thinking on this was a similar situation with Twine earlier in the week . A negative review of Twine by Marshall Kirkpatrick received all manner of response, both in the Twine app and in the comments to his post, one of which was mine. Marshall made some excellent points about the nascence of the app and how much needed to be improved upon, just as Duncan brought up very real issues with FriendFeed. What interests me is not the specific criticisms but the manner in which they were received. Fervent fans reacted quickly, in essence saying “how dare you” and “you just don’t get it” to the critics. The problem with such reactions is that they bypass the usability issues and tech hurdles that need to be addressed. Radar Networks’ Senior Architect Peter Royal had a smart reaction to Marshall:

He describes a user’s experience if they show up in twine with no hand-holding. it clearly illustrates things we need to focus on from a user point-of-view.

The word “beta” has lost much of its meaning in Web 2.0, but at its essence is user criticism and vitally necessary feedback. Resounding praise isn’t of much use to emerging technology. It’s nice to hear, of course, and validation confirms that the developers are on the right track. But companies should start responding to “I don’t get it” with “What are we doing wrong?” The ensuing conversations will likely be far more productive for both sides.