Two of my favorite pictures:
September 30, 2007
September 20, 2007
One of the things I love about Facebook is that I don’t get any spam through the system. Sure, I get some friend requests from people I don’t really know and periodically get asked if I want to become a Zombie or a pirate.
I was quite surprised to get a friends request from “Sun Startup Essentials,” a fictitious profile setup to promote Sun.
Clicking on Sun’s name leads to a profile page touting free software and discounted hardware:
It doesn’t seem to be a VAR looking to drive traffic. At the same time, I find it hard to believe that Sun would do something so stupid. But the fake account is in Sun’s Facebook network.
September 19, 2007
In the world of blogs, email feedback and focus groups, it’s easy to think you’re getting all the feedback you need to run your business. Very few Web companies bother to meet their customers face-to-face. Two notable exceptions are Yelp and Pandora.
I was at a Pandora Town Hall meeting last night, along with about 99 other Pandora fans. Pandora founder Tim Westergren took the stage to talk about his Internet radio company. It was part of a series of events he is doing around the country. The event in DC was so popular that Pandora added a second session.
There were no flashy Jobs-style product demos. It was just a conversation among people who love Pandora. When an audience member asked about Pandora mobile, Tim tried to demonstrate it, but his phone was out of juice. A woman jumped up and offered her phone for the demo.
Tim talked about the struggles Pandora has faced: the dot-com bust, running for two years without cash to pay employees, dealing with the RIAA and the proposed changes to the compulsory music licensing fees for Web radio.
The Q&A was no-holds barred. Not once did I hear “I can’t comment on that” or “That’s proprietary.” People asked about the future of radio, potential new features and problems they’ve had with the service. From the tone of most of the questions, these weren’t geeks asking. They didn’t have blogs where they’d pontificate on Pandora. They were just Pandora listeners.
I’m sure that most people in the audience left with a stronger affinity to Pandora, both the product and the company. Tim left with a more energized user base and valuable feedback.
September 18, 2007
The New York Times announced that they’re killing the subscription requirement to access their columnists effective at midnight tonight.
It’s about time.
I’ve written before about the absurdity of the Times buying AdWords to promote its content while locking its most link-worthy content behind a pay wall.
Search engines are a key driver of traffic to the Times and a key driver of the decision to make the content ad-supported. The vast majority of readers who visit the Times in a given month don’t visit the home page.
What changed, The Times said, was that many more readers started coming to the site from search engines and links on other sites instead of coming directly to NYTimes.com. These indirect readers, unable to get access to articles behind the pay wall and less likely to pay subscription fees than the more loyal direct users, were seen as opportunities for more page views and increased advertising revenue.
A letter to TimesSelect subscribers acknowledges the new landscape:
Since we launched TimesSelect in 2005, the online landscape has altered significantly. Readers increasingly find news through search, as well as through social networks, blogs and other online sources. In light of this shift, we believe offering unfettered access to New York Times reporting and analysis best serves the interest of our readers, our brand and the long-term vitality of our journalism. We encourage everyone to read our news and opinion – as well as share it, link to it and comment on it.
The Times is also unlocking its archives, offering much of the archived content for free. All of the archives from 1987 on and from 1851-1922 will be available for free. Content from 1923 to 1986 may have a charge. The Times has been charging nonsubscribers $4.95 per story accessed.
No word on whether this move also means that the Times will preserve value-added content online. The archived content typically does not include photos, charts, graphs and multimedia elements that appear online.
- Jeff Jarvis writes a great obituary for TimesSelect.
Sprint has released an enhanced version of its search that allows users to tap into their phone’s location when doing searches. The search feature is powered by Microsoft’s Live Search.
The first time user experience isn’t exactly intuitive. When doing a search off Sprint’s portal, one of the layers that comes back is “Local” clicking again to “Go Local” then asks whether you want to enter a location or “Find Me.” Selecting “Find Me” renders a release authorizing Sprint to give your location to Microsoft. The results that come back after all this (my query term was “Target”) still show ringtones and screen savers above the local results.
Search results aren’t sorted in any discernible order. Usually in local search, results are sorted by distance from the starting point or alphabetically. These are neither.
The authorization to use “Find Me” can be stored for a session, day, 30 days or unlimited, making return visits easier.
A link labeled “Get Precise GPS Location” offers users of select phones the option to download a Java applet. Instead of typing out what you’re looking for, you can speak the name of the business or the category.
Although category names (restaurants, bars, Mexican restaurants, movie theaters) worked fine, business names did not. Of the dozen or so names I tried, only “Cheesecake Factory,” “Target” and “Dominos” returned the results I was expecting. These terms are so common that many data providers treat them as categories.
It seems that the browser-based search uses triangulation from the towers to calculate location, whereas the application uses GPS from your handset.
Despite its flaws, it’s still a significant move. This is the first time I know of that a U.S. carrier has offered location-enabled search for free.
Update: The Java application also can tap into the phone’s address book. If you find a business and want to share it, just pick a name from the phone’s address book and send.
- Sprint press release
- Sprint And Microsoft Extend Mobile Partnership, Offer New Services (Search Engine Land, includes screenshots of Java app)
September 17, 2007
September 15, 2007
Picnik is part of a new class of Web-based photo editing tools that’s making sprucing up photos easy and fun. Picnik does a lot of the things that desktop photo editors do, but with a lot less work. The basics are all there: cropping, resizing, red-eye reduction. There are numerous effects that can be used to enhance great pictures, rescue bad ones or just to be silly.
Pictures can be pulled in from fickr, Picasa, Facebook, a Web search, URL or uploaded from a computer. It’s easier to select pictures using Picnik than it is on a desktop — unlike Windows, Picnik uses all of the meta data stored with the picture. Type “Venice” and see all of the pictures tagged Venice, instead of having to hunt through the file system.
Here’s a picture from Venice:
What caught my eye that day were the colors of the umbrella. I wanted to highlight them. I added the focal B&W effect. (This really should be called focal color.) I also wanted to convey the sense of gloominess from the high water in the piazza. The vignette effect darkened the edges.
I wanted to highlight the reflection of the umbrella, too, but the focal B&W effect can only be applied once.
Picnik currently offers 19 effects, including sepia, rounded edges, tint, duo-tone. 11 of the 19 are marked “plus,” indicating that Picnik plans to make them part of a premium offering. A cute frog picture next to each effect shows what it does. Each offers an explanation of what it does, plus suggestions of what types of photos to use it on. I’d like to see them illustrate the suggestions with pictures that show off the best uses.
Picnik’s unlimited undo makes it relatively painless to experiment. Right now, this is linear – keep hitting undo to get back to where you were. The undo feature would be enhanced by letting you see the list of changes and undoing ones that you select.
Here’s another picture I wanted to edit:
I cropped it, added some text and doodled on it.
When you’re done editing you can save the picture back to flickr, Facebook, etc. or download it to your PC. The whole process is intuitive and just works.
The hardest part is remembering how to spell Picnik.