July 15, 2008

Congratulations to Twitter and Summize

Filed under: twitter — Rakesh Agrawal @ 11:06 pm

A big congratulations to former AOL Search colleagues Abdur, Greg and Jay on the acquisition of Summize by Twitter.

They’ve done a terrific job capturing the pulse of Twitter. Summize is a great tool for marketers and others looking to drink from the firehouse of information being generated by Twitter users. (One of my favorite Summize-based applications is Twistori.)

More on the Twitter blog and on the blog of former AOL Search head Gerry Campbell.

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July 14, 2008

Technology moves on, language doesn’t

Filed under: apple, fun, iphone — Rakesh Agrawal @ 10:04 pm
Screen grab of Rotary Dial app for iPhone

Screen grab of Rotary Dial app for iPhone

One of my favorite iPhone apps is Rotary Dialer. There’s just something fun about making the latest and greatest device act like something from the 60s. Rotary Dialer isn’t like the “classic” phones from Pottery Barn, where the buttons are just laid out like a rotary phone. You have to make a circular motion from the number you want to the metal thing at the end. (Anyone know what that’s called?) And just like on real rotary phones, if you slip you have to start all over. It took me 1 minute and 2 seconds (and three tries) to dial my own number.

“Dial” is one of those words that still hangs in there, despite a lot of changes in technology. Most people haven’t “dialed” phones in this country in two decades. When I was in Minnesota, the local phone company made it impossible. It was costing them too much to maintain the equipment to detect the pulses, so they forced everyone to Touch Tone.

Some other words and phrases that are hanging in there:

  • Film, rolls. We film events, even though a lot of that is actually on DV tape or recorded on an SD card. Hollywood still makes actual films, but many of those are now going digital. Apple refers to the recent pictures on the iPhone as the “Camera Roll”.
  • Tape. My TiVo tapes House every week. OK, it’s not really a TiVo, but a Comcast DVR. (Thanks, Clint.)
  • Rewind. Back in the day, the VCR had to physically rewind the tape to show a scene you missed. Now you hit rewind, but you’re probably just going back through a buffer.
  • Albums. Vinyl has all but disappeared, but album art is still with us. Even the compilation aspect of the album is rapidly disappearing as people can pick and choose tracks they want to buy.
  • Washboard stomach. I think I might have seen a washboard in a museum, but I can’t be sure. At least we still have six packs.
  • Slides. I can’t remember the last time I was in a business presentation that used actual slides. Possibly never. But I’ve sat through endless presenters drone on to stills on a screen.
  • Ship. When you send something by FedEx, it’s most likely going by plane or truck. At least we don’t call planes flying boats anymore.
  • Turn off the the TV. With no more knobs to turn, we’re actually pushing it off. With Kinect, we may soon be waving it off or flipping it off.

Unlocking the creativity of the masses

With the launch of the iPhone last year (and the millions of dollars in ad spend around it), Apple did more for wireless data adoption than wireless carriers had in the last 10 years. With Thursday’s launch of the App Store, they’re doing it again by unlocking the creativity of the masses.

Wireless carriers had long held on to core cellphone features with an iron grip. Want access to the camera, GPS, microphone or address book? Good luck. It usually involved spending a year or more negotiating with a carrier and then writing and (rewriting) your app to work on dozens of phone models. And when you were all done, you brought it to a market with little distribution support at a price few people would pay.

In the last couple of days, I’ve downloaded more apps than I had in my entire history of cell phone usage (dating back to 1996). There’s one big reason: once developers had access to features like GPS and the camera, they created compelling applications.

The most compelling apps have come from independent developers or startups. Some have used public APIs for other products; although there isn’t an official flickr app, there are several apps that interact with flickr. AOL is the lone exception among large companies, with apps for AIM and AOL Radio.

Here are some of the apps that caught my eye. With the exception of iMilk, all are free. That’s another refreshing change: Apple is making it easy for application developers who want to distribute free applications. Even paid apps can be relatively cheap, with a one time price of $3-$10 being common. (Versus the previous $3-$5 per month.)

All is not perfect in app land, of course. Much like when Facebook launched their app platform, some developers are having a hard time keeping up with the demand. I’ve also had my phone reboot at least half a dozen times when using various apps.

The functionality in some of these apps is limited compared with their other incarnations. For example, in Jott, you can’t send Jotts to others. As these apps are revved, they’ll become even more compelling.


Jott allows you to record a voice “note to self”. The note is then transcribed and put in your Jott account, which is available by phone or Web. It isn’t as robust as Jott’s


A mobile social network that lets you plot friends on a map, look for restaurant reviews, find and reserve Zipcars and even look at a map of the night sky where you are with the constellations plotted. (Video of the app.)

There are a number of players looking to create mobile social networks. Whrrl, Loopt and Limbo offer somewhat similar apps. Where offers a range of features beyond social, while Limbo is the most social.

(Disclosure: I did some consulting for Where last year.)


Facebook took an early lead with the iPhone 1.0 by having one of the best iPhone optimized sites. The lead developer released a toolkit that was used by other developers. The application version adds the ability to upload photos and IM, but lacks some of the features found in the browser version.


Upload pictures to flickr (or an AirMe account). The pictures are automatically geotagged with your location. AirMe also tags you pictures with the current weather conditions.


See pictures from Panoramio of places around where you are.


See and update Twitter. Post pictures and location updates. Twitterific has less functionality and also has ads.


Kind of like a Magic 8 ball to decide where to eat. Uses GPS to find where you are. Shake your iPhone and it will select a place for you.

iMilk  ($2.99)

“Drink” virtual milk. Uses the iPhone’s accelerometer to empty the glass. If you prefer, you can pour it into a glass before drinking.


Control your Apple TV or iTunes. Play songs, see album art and search your iTunes library. Works over Wifi, so you don’t have to be in line of sight. Much better than the flimsy remote that ships with Apple TV.


The world’s greatest music discovery service now streams to iPhone. The app is beautifully simple. Add in an aux in jack or FM transmitter for your car and say goodbye to the $14 a month you’re paying to XM or Sirius.


Why settle for the hand-picked (usually glowing) reviews displayed in the restaurant window? Pull out your iPhone and check Yelp. My favorite feature is a filter that limits the search to restaurants that are open now. Very helpful for those midnight cravings.

July 8, 2008

Colgate squeezes out a product for a niche market

Filed under: random, terrorism, travel — Rakesh Agrawal @ 12:52 am

Terrorist-approved toothpaste

Kudos to Colgate-Palmolive for responding to a market need: three ounce tubes of toothpaste that fit into baggies that you can get take through airport security. I was pleasantly surprised to find this at Target before a recent trip. (I got tired of buying tube after tube of trial sizes at $1 a pop.)

It must be a fairly new product. The screener at SFO pulled it out to verify the size printed on the tube.

If the TSA were half as responsive to the needs of travelers, the idiocy of the liquid/gel limitations would go away.

More jeers for the TSA for a stupid plan for special laptop cases that may or may not require you to take your laptop out of your bag when going through security. Manufacturers can make bags that may or not meet the guidelines. Bags with zippers, buckles or pockets that can hold things like cables or power adapters likely won’t. As near as I can tell, a laptop condom is the only thing that will for sure meet the guidelines. The only way to know for sure is to send your new laptop bag through the X-Ray machine and see if the screener makes you take the laptop out.

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