The New York Times reports today on the launch of a service by Inform.com that enables news sites to automatically link to related stories.
Newspapers have long been reluctant to link to other sites for fear of losing traffic. Never mind that Google built a $117B business primarily by linking to other sites.
It irks me whenever a news story refers to online content without a reference.
The wire services, which provide much of the content on newspapers and news sites, do a terrible job. Take this AFP story about a woman kicked off a Cathay Pacific flight for refusing to stow a Gucci purse. The last paragraph says:
“The incident, captured on camera by another passenger and published on the Internet, resulted in a delay of the flight of more than an hour.”
There is no URL anywhere in the story. I’ve searched flickr and YouTube with no luck.
The Google Maps API has been a runaway success, allowing developers around the world to create mashups marrying Google maps with data on a variety of topics, including craigslist real estate, taco trucks in seattle, flickr pictures, cellphone reception and crime in Chicago.
Unfortunately, this model has a few problems:
- It requires a developer’s skillset. A user without technical skills can’t create their own mashups.
- It isn’t easily discoverable. You can do a search for “google mashup”, but that’s hit or miss.
- You can’t overlay multiple data sets. If you’re looking for the burrito bandit and want to overlay taco trucks and crime, you’re out of luck.
- It scales at the rate the developer’s hardware can scale. Some of the more interesting applications I have seen have buckled under load.
- Users have little incentive to contribute data because the site developer may disappear. I spent a lot of time geocoding pictures in flickr for use with a site called Geobloggers.com, which in a previous incarnation allowed you to plot flickr pictures on Google Maps. Unfortunately, the site died when the developer was hired by Yahoo!
I’d like to see a point-and-click interface that allows users to create their own points of interest on a map. These POIs would automatically appear when the user generates a map. The obvious POIs are “Home” and “Work”. Some of the other things I’d use this for:
- Restaurants I’ve visited
- Road trips I’ve taken
- Pictures of places I’ve traveled
- Homes of friends and family
- My favorite places for tubing
Personal POIs would also be used for defining origins and destinations when looking for driving directions, e.g. route from “Home” to “Grandma’s house”.The POIs would be syndicatable, with access controls. I could choose to keep the homes of friends and family private, share my favorite places for tubing with friends and share restaurants I’ve visited with anyone who wants to see them.
You could use the collective knowledge of the Web to create maps of things like:
- Speed traps (imagine getting a route that highlighted potential speed traps)
- Subway stations
- Traffic and red light cameras
- Fastest, best roller coasters
- Mel Gibson arrests
- Giant balls of twine near the interstate
When on a map, I should be able to see a list of the most popular data feeds available for that map, with the ability to search others. I would also be able to subscribe to specific users or tags to automatically see their content.
I should also be able to have feeds from external sources appear on my map. For example, I maintain restaurant reviews on Yelp.com and an address book on Plaxo. The most up-to-date data from those sources should appear on my maps.
You can do some of these things with Platial.com and Google Earth’s KML files, but I have yet to see an integrated solution in a user-friendly package, with the scale of users necessary to have compelling data sets.
There’s no question that data entry on mobile phones with the standard 12-key keypad is tedious. Technologies like Tegic’s T9, which is available on many phones makes this a lot easier. The technology predicts what word you are trying to enter by comparing the possible combinations against a dictionary.
On a standard phone, if you wanted to type the word “pizza” you have to enter 7-4-4-4-9-9-9-9-9-9-9-9-2. With T9, you enter 7-4-9-9-2. That’s a savings of 8 key presses, less than half the number of keys.
Yet many applications make you do all the hard work. On my Samsung A900′s address book, to get to Doris, I have to enter 3-6-6-6-7-7-7… until the phone’s typedown feature gets me to Dor.
Likewise with Gmail’s mobile application. I can’t search against the address book by simply entering 36747.
This despite the fact that Google has very smartly purchased http://466453.com.
I stayed at the New York Hilton this weekend in one of their renovated guest rooms. One piece of technology in the room caught my eye: a sensor-activated light. You step out of bed and LEDs at floor level automatically shine a light across the room. It doesn’t light up the whole room – it’s just enough light to help you find your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. The light also has a light sensor so that it doesn’t light up when the room has enough ambient light.
It’s a very thoughtful touch.
I recently purchased a Harmony 880 universal remote. It’s one of those gadgets for those who have a lot of gadgets. The promise is that you can consolidate remotes for a lot of devices into one. In many ways, the remote is a model of good design:
- It feels well balanced in the hand
- When you pick it up, a tilt sensor automatically turns on a backlight to make it easy to see in the dark
- For most people and most devices, the Web based set up process should be relatively easy
The Harmony’s key flaw is that the code database – the instructions that tell the remote what commands to send – is controlled entirely by Logitech.
When I tried to set up my other new purchase, the Squeezebox 3, I got a very limited feature set for the music server. The selection of commands that the remote offered were most likely made by someone who had never seen a Squeezebox, much less lived with it and used it for a few weeks.
A couple of weeks later, I’ve been able to manually configure my remote with the key features of the Squeezebox. Yet this data is locked in my remote. There’s no way for me to export that data and post it for the world to use, despite the fact that the configuration is entirely Web-based.
So who cares? A Harmony 880 and Squeezebox 3 is serving a niche of a niche.
But that’s exactly the point. By leveraging the knowledge of A/V enthusiasts on the Web, Logitech could provide a much better experience to a lot of niches, like Philips does.
When I check my email, I scan the list of new messages for names of people I know.
This is something that machines can do much faster and better. With the volume of spam and bulk mail these days, some of the vast effort spent on reducing spam should be spent on showing users the good stuff.
You can do this the hard way today with many mail services by creating filters for each person you want to highlight (or move to a different folder). This is usually a multi-step process; few people will create and update these filters.
There’s a simple, high value way to accomplish this: Check the messages against the email addresses the user has sent email to and the user’s address book, then highlight the ones that match.
If the user has categorized the address book, you could also color code the highlighting to indicate whether the message is from friends, family, co-workers, etc.