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June 30, 2007

The iPhone extravaganza

Filed under: apple, consumer electronics, iphone, mobile, wireless, wireless data — Rakesh Agrawal @ 2:21 pm

iPhone launchI made my visit to the Temple of Jobs yesterday, reaching the Apple store on Stockton Street about 9:30 p.m. The live van for the local NBC affiliate was parked outside waiting for the 11 p.m. newscast.

Inside, the store was relatively empty except for the big crowd around the iPhone display.

What was sparking the crowd? There were working iPhones set out on the counter.

Unlike most wireless carriers that put out dummy, nonfunctional phones, these were real. They were loaded with music, so you could test out the iPod features. You could use the Web browser. Watch videos on YouTube. You could even – gasp – make phone calls!

People were calling their friends — “Guess what, I’m calling you from the iPhone?” They waited patiently as the person in front of them explored the nuances. Every once in a while, someone would walk by proudly holding an iPhone bag.

Wireless carriers can learn a lot from Apple about launching products. Sure, most product launches won’t ever get the wall-to-wall media coverage that iPhone did. (Including a countdown the day before on CNBC ticking away the minutes until the iPhone launch.) But it’s a lot easier for people to get excited about a product when they can interact with it rather than have to imagine what it’s like.

Looking at my Facebook account today, there at least three people who reference having an iPhone, including one who “is worried her boyfriend loves his iPhone more than her.”

About these ads

June 28, 2007

Facebook as the new Web OS

Filed under: facebook, personalization, social networking, web 2, web 2.0 — Rakesh Agrawal @ 1:29 pm

I wrote a couple of pieces last year encouraging social networks to open up their networks and to let partners develop modules and applications around them. Facebook, with the new Facebook platform, is the first company that I’ve seen that comes close to that vision. The implementation is different from what I outlined, but the goal is the same: let people connect with each other using a wider range of tools than one company can develop.

Just as free open source tools and commodity hardware dramatically reduced the costs of launching a startup, Facebook reduces the costs of getting adoption by giving entrepreneurs easy access to a community of more than 25 million people.

Most social networking tools face two big barriers to adoption:

  • Getting users to sign up. Another registration process. Another user name. Another password.
  • Building out networks. Every time I sign up for a social networking site, I’ve got to go find out who among my buddies is already there. I’m still discovering old friends who have been using flickr for a while. Given that the value in social networking sites is primarily driven by who is there, if this process is too difficult (which it usually is), I’ll leave.

Facebook’s open platform breaks down both of these barriers.

Facebook applications are inherently viral. Instead of the annoying invite all your friends links that spams all your friends with heavy-handed “Sign up for Geekstr!” email, your friends see in your feed that you’ve added an application.

One of the areas I’ve worked on extensively over the last few years is using social networks to help you filter content. The premise is that there’s a reason your friends with people — you have common interests, you work together, you live together, etc. There’s a higher likelihood that you’ll be interested in something if your friends are interested in it. (And you’re more likely to trust their opinions than those of random strangers.)

This works for Facebook applications. I added the “Cities I’ve Visited” application after a few of my friends did. Then I saw a few of my other friends add it.

That’s cheap, powerful viral marketing.

Update: Marc Andreessen has a great technical analysis of the Facebook platform. Jason Kottke has a more critical take.

June 27, 2007

I (heart) Facebook

Filed under: facebook, social networking, web 2, web 2.0 — Rakesh Agrawal @ 2:53 pm

I’m hooked on Facebook. In various ways, it replaces Twitter, Digg, Bluedot, plaxo and LinkedIn. And there’s a chance that it will replace my spam-laden email box, at least for messages from people I care about.

I’m too invested in flickr to replace it with Facebook’s photo tools, but with Facebook’s platform I don’t need to.

Facebook is mobile, too. I managed to fill my layover in Cincinnati catching up on the latest from my friends.

The key to a social network is who’s on it. I’ve been impressed by the number of people I know who are on it and their level of activity — it’s not just another service they signed up for and don’t use. My network on Facebook has grown much faster than my LinkedIn, MySpace and Twitter networks.

Recommended reading: Danah Boyd, an ethnographer at UC-Berkley, has a thought-provoking piece on her blog analyzing class division through Facebook and MySpace. Danah has spent years studying MySpace and teens.

June 23, 2007

On vacation

Filed under: rocky's travel — Rakesh Agrawal @ 6:30 am

I’m on vacation in Santa Fe until Wednesday.

If you have any suggestions for places to eat or visit in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, please leave them in comments.

June 22, 2007

Never take the first offer

Filed under: customer service, personal finance — Rakesh Agrawal @ 2:50 pm

I needed to cancel one of my credit cards. I rarely use the card and didn’t want to pay the $75 annual fee. I called Citi to cancel. Of course this is never an easy process. They transfered me to a retention specialist.

In order, here are the offers I was presented:

  • Citi PremierPass card2,500 bonus ThankYou Points
  • $75 statement credit (this was after saying on the first offer that he couldn’t waive the fee)
  • A balance transfer at 3.99% for the life of the balance
  • A balance transfer at 3.99% for the life of the balance, without any transaction fee
  • 5,000 bonus ThankYou Points

He persisted even after I told him that I was doing the bulk of my spending on another Citi card.

I could hear the disappointment in his voice when I canceled despite his best efforts.

Facebook platform gets Journal ink

Filed under: facebook, personalization, social networking, web 2, web 2.0 — Rakesh Agrawal @ 9:30 am

Today’s Journal has a story on the Facebook platform.

Facebook now offers more than 800 new services — from photo slideshows to online file storage — up from fewer than 100 a month ago. Meanwhile, those who are creating the Facebook services can access information about their customers and make money by selling related items and ads.

Other popular new services are fairly basic. One from Slide Inc., a San Francisco start-up, lets people highlight their “top friends” and recently had 6.3 million users. A horoscope service from RockYou Inc., a start-up in San Mateo, Calif., had 3.5 million users. Other applications include Flash Sudoku, which lets users add the popular numbers game to their page, and Stress Meter, which lets users chart their stress level for all to see.

Facebook’s success has attracted the attention of News Corp. Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch. When asked in a recent interview whether newspaper readers are migrating to MySpace, he responded, “I wish they were. They’re all going to Facebook at the moment.”

That’s a great quote from Murdoch.

I wrote about the need for module-based personal publishing last year. I’ve spent a lot of time this week on Facebook and I think they really get it. More next week.

Facebook trend

Note the definition of an “active” user. That’s a much tighter standard than most companies use.

June 21, 2007

Revolutionizing television

Filed under: apple, apple tv, consumer electronics, media, television, video — Rakesh Agrawal @ 3:28 pm

The next two years are going to bring big changes in television. Next month, the FCC is going to begin requiring cable companies to let users buy and connect their own cable boxes (instead of leasing them from the cable company). In February 2009, analog over-the-air broadcasts are set to end.

But after spending some time lately with Apple TV and TivoCast, I think the biggest changes are going to come from Internet delivery of content.

Television content has gone through a few transformations already, each leading to more and more niche content. With cable came 24-hour news, weather and sports networks, content that in most markets couldn’t profitably exist in the limited broadcast spectrum. Satellite brought additional capacity that made it profitable to serve smaller ethnic markets like Russians, Indians, Portugese and Ukranians. Tivo brought the ability to watch what you want when you want.

Now Internet TV allows users to get content that would never interest 10 thousand people, much less 10 million. I watch podcasts from CNET, Mobuzz, washingtonpost.com and others on my TV. Yesterday, I watched a 30 minute video of Eric Schmidt at the World Economic Forum on my Apple TV. I can’t imagine any TV network that would broadcast that.

Tivo’s Universal Swivel Search allows you to search across broadcast, cable and Internet content. A search for “LOST”, would theoretically return both the TV show and the podcast. You don’t even need to know where it is; it’ll just show up. (The big difference is that the Internet content will be available within a few minutes, but you’ll have to wait for the scheduled time for the broadcast and cable content.)

Launching a new television network isn’t easy. You have to negotiate for carriage with the three big cable companies, DirecTV and Dish. You’re competing with giants like Disney and Time Warner that can bundle their new channels with must-haves like ESPN and CNN. And, if you manage to get that far, you have to find content to fill the channel.

Internet television opens up the TV screen to anyone with a video camera and a Web server. Some content is already available in HD quality – I watch Mobuzz and washingtonpost.com in 720p. I can’t even get Comedy Central in HD on cable.

The one thing I still haven’t gotten used to is that programs vary in length. Freed from the conventions of television, shows go on as long as they need to. The same show can be 3 minutes one day and 10 minutes the next based on how much they have to say.

June 20, 2007

YouTube takes the stage on my Apple TV

Filed under: apple, apple tv, media, terrorism, video, YouTube — Rakesh Agrawal @ 2:00 pm

I got the YouTube software upgrade on my Apple TV today. As impressed as I was with Apple TV, the YouTube upgrade is a very welcome addition.

From the YouTube menu, you can watch featured videos, highest rated videos, most viewed and most recent. You can also log into you account and see your favorite videos.

YouTube menu

The user interface and graphics of the YouTube implementation are as gorgeous as for the other features of Apple TV. The quality of the video varies dramatically based on the quality of the source content. It’s not HD, but some videos were as good as standard TV quality. After watching a video, you get a list of related videos.

The YouTube content available on Apple TV right now is thin. Of the 22 videos I have in my favorites, only 2 were available on Apple TV. The featured video list, however, largely reflects the videos featured on the YouTube homepage.

A search option is also available, though trying to type out keywords using the onscreen keyboard is more trouble than its worth. The search filters as you type providing a list of available videos, saving you some remote control torture if the video you’re looking for appears before you finish typing.

Upgrading the software was relatively painless, but I had to prompt my machine to check for the upgrade. It took about seven minutes total.

I encountered a few glitches: Some of the videos played back without audio. The on-screen keyboard wasn’t always responsive. The search implementation is a little odd; the number of results can go or up or down with each letter entered.

What’s missing? I’d like a way to create playlists for Apple TV from the Web. Right now there is no indication on YouTube.com of which videos are playable on Apple TV (or on mobile for that matter).

If Apple can bring flickr to Apple TV with a similar execution, I’ll be thrilled.

Update: Here’s a link to the Apple press release (thanks Paul). Apple also announced that they will be releasing a custom YouTube client for iPhone.

Related stories:

June 19, 2007

Using Google Maps as a virtual notepad

Filed under: google, local search, maps, web 2, web 2.0 — Rakesh Agrawal @ 4:13 pm

I get recommendations on restaurants all the time from various sources – friends, the Post food critic’s weekly chat, articles I read, etc. I’ve had scattered approaches to keeping track of them. I used to email them to myself. Then I tried keeping a document in Google Docs. Inevitably, I’d end up eating at the same places because the information wasn’t in the best form when I needed it.

Now I’ve shifted to using Google My Maps. I created a map of Places to try. This map includes restaurants, hotels and other places I want to try around the world. In to each location, I copy in the notes that led me to put it on the list.

It’s a great way to keep things organized. Now I can just zoom into where I’m going and I have easy access to where I want to go. For locations in the United States, I can also access the list from my cell phone, sorted by distance from where I’m at.

The side benefit is that with Google Maps user-created content search, that information is available for everyone to search. This is especially useful when the places I add are new and not in the Google Maps business database (as they often are for restaurants in the D.C. area).

If you search for Taqueria Nacionale in 20001, currently the only result is my “to do” with its notes. It’s a much better experience than a no results found page.

Google maps as a notepad

More on: Google, maps, Web 2.0

Google Maps launches local reviews

Filed under: city guides, google, local search, maps, web 2, web 2.0, yelp — Rakesh Agrawal @ 2:16 pm

In a potentially huge blow to local services like Yelp, CitySearch, and AOLCityGuide, Google is now offering users the ability to leave reviews for businesses they search on.

To date, Google has aggregated reviews from those sites and others in its local search results. Now it’s soliciting reviews directly. It lacks the community features of Yelp, but the tight integration into Google Maps will likely serve the needs of casual users.

One of the challenges with reviews is getting people to write reviews — sometimes, they just need a nudge. Google could use your search history to remind you. Did you get driving directions to a restaurant last week? A subtle reminder could appear when you return to Maps, encouraging you to write a review. (Kind of like the Netflix emails when you return a movie.)

Google maps reviews

More on: Google, maps.

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