While professional athletes are busy grinding away on the Tour of California and the Giro d’Italia, I’m prepping for my own ride…the Tour de Cure. The weather has not been cooperative, and I’ve certainly had my moments of weakness, but today was another milestone — a 72 mile ride with multiple climbs.
Overall I think I faired pretty well, although admittedly I needed a few brief breaks along the way. Next weekend I’ll tackle a similar route, although I think I’ll try to space out the climbs a bit more in an effort to mimic something more akin to the route that awaits me in June.
After playing with Instagram for a few days I was absolutely hooked. I even went so far to declare at the time that, “Instagram is the iPhone app Flickr should’ve built.” This was back when the app first launched. I was close, but I was wrong.
Recently I gave Picplz a go after reading a bit more about their product, and my initial assessment was…well, let’s let the tweets speak for themselves:
By the way, massive kudos to @picplz for the quick responses. Well done.
“really s-l-o-w.” What does that mean? You can only do so much in 140 characters, but I tried to sum it up as best I could. The gist was this, Picplz acted like a nice utility app for uploading and sharing photos, but it wasn’t very sticky. Was I being unfair? After all, I only tried out posting one photo, and the social graph on Picplz is still very small.
At any rate, I stood by this assessment until a few follow notifications began trickling in. One morning while on the train I received three follows and decided it was time to give Picplz another look.
I snapped another photo, uploaded and shared, and still felt like the app was slow. But the conclusion I reached that morning on the train was, “Sure, Picplz isn’t quite there yet, but neither is Instagram.”
That’s right. I said it. I’ve been a staunch supporter of Instagram, but things change.
Yes, I’m geeking out a little bit…I mean, c’mon?! The director of Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, and Hot Fuzz messaged me!
The whole day sort of came together on a whim. Over a bowl of pho at lunch I mentioned to Dee that I’ve been wanting to watch Scott Pilgrim vs. The World a second time — in part because I really loved the film, but also as a show of support for something I wish would’ve gotten a fairer shake at the box office.
So we decided to do it.
While waiting for the film to start, I thought it would be fun to let Edgar know that I was watching the film again. Sort of a geeky attempt at showing solidarity via Twitter. I never expected a response, but it sure was cool to see that my tweet registered with him. If you haven’t watched the film yet, or even if you have, why not check it out (again)?
And speaking of films to check out, you may have noticed H.P. Mendoza‘s Twitter handle and a mention of Fruit Fly in that exchange of tweets. If you haven’t checked out Fruit Fly or Colma, do yourself a favor. And Edgar Wright, if you happen to be reading this make sure to add Fruit Fly to your DVD/Blu-Ray queue when it comes out…I’d love to hear what you think of it.
I’m a big fan of Last.fm, but I’ll admit that music-based social networks haven’t completely nailed it yet. Part of the problem lies in the lack of problem-solving for the user. Last.fm gets halfway there, in that it is a simple way to catalog listening behavior into a social profile. It loses in the sense that it is so passive that most people forget to engage. Or if you’re like me, you go whole months without realizing that your scrobbling has lapsed.
I’ve never been keen on subscription models for music, although I never thought I’d be keen on a subscription model for movies, yet I’ve been a Netflix member since the beginning. So, I suppose there is room for convincing. That said, the proposition of a cloud based music library bolted to a social network is extremely compelling. When Ping was announced, this was the very first thing that came to mind — the promise of what this thing could become if allowed to grow in the right directions, oh the possibilities!
Imagine my dismay when finding that Ping does offer that very promise, yet fumbles on a few of the basics along the way. Specifically, interaction design around social activity. Yes, a company like Apple can produce iPhone after iPhone with an industry changing UX, yet they seemed to have dropped the ball on some very simple things. Before I dive in, let me preface that all of this is easily correctable, and I suspect we’ll see most of these issues addressed in future updates.
1. The Lonely Island
Joining Ping is an extremely lonely experience. Sure, Apple makes some follower recommendations right off the bat, but they aren’t particularly good ones. To be fair, a network that requires activation like Ping is bound to have limitations in the “People We Recommend You Follow” department, so Apple is wise to offer up recommended artists to follow. Yet, it still chalks up to a miss, and here’s why: I’ve never listened to an MP3 from any of the artists Ping recommends via iTunes. They have my listening data, they have my library, and they already scrape both of these for Genius recommendations, so chances are these are the closest matches they could muster. But some of them are so completely off base that it left me scratching my head.
Browsing deeper into the recommendations revealed another off-putting issue: The recommendations sometimes duplicate, which throws off the count. That means I see the opportunity to browse through 16 recommendations, only to find out that I’m actually offered 14, and the duplicates don’t even match my musical preferences. What does this say? Right off the bat, this gives me the feeling that I won’t find anything of interest for me here from an artist perspective. But that’s OK, I would be happy enough just to connect with friends and share music likes and dislikes. Ping leads with this call to action, but it isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do. To make matters worse, your option to search in iTunes or Ping doesn’t really offer a remedy, but more on that in a bit.
The short version of this story goes something like this: Once upon a time, I imagined something like this would happen within the frame of a different video player, and with a different person interviewing Sol about his latest awesome app. It was right there…if only…Ah well, it’s really funny how everything works out.
We spent the 4th of July at my parents’ house and in the evening the court erupted with fireworks. Here’s my take on the day, set to “Giant Steps.” Subsequently, Amelie now loves this song. This was shot and edited on my iPhone 4. Enjoy.
I particularly love how this random shot of the sun, taken midday, produced a spectrum of red, white, and blue. It was one of those “by chance” moments that worked out really well in the end. Here’s a screenshot of the clip I’m referring to:
Like every iPhone release, Apple’s latest entry has created quite a stir. In fact, from the very moment a prototype was misplaced in a bar this new iPhone has enjoyed a spotlight laced with leak-fueled intrigue on top of the usual “what will be released?” speculation.
Dee was kind enough to get me an iPhone 4 as a combination Father’s Day/birthday gift, and I’ve been pretty impressed with it thus far. I decided to take the improved 720p HD video recording (and editing) aspect of the phone for a spin, and here is the result. All video was shot in camera, edited, and then uploaded to Vimeo and YouTube.
Note: I uploaded this video to both services as a means to test out each one for videos such as these. You’ll need to click through to watch in full HD.
Quite frankly, Barton’s actions align with something that has troubled me throughout the first year and a half of the Obama administration — Republicans do not want to let go. I can’t blame them. But at some point they need to stop acting like someone will eventually step in and say, “Oh, you were right. Obama, you’re out.” It’s not going to happen.
Yes, I’m aware that he placed a caveat by prefacing his statement with a claim that he speaks for himself, and not for the Republican Party. However, he also inserts agenda into his “opinion” by claiming that the same “shakedown” could occur to citizens as well as corporations. The truth is, Obama and Hayward came to an agreement, and despite criminal investigations, BP is still on the hook for damages that have been done to the gulf coast, it’s inhabitants, etc. They needed to be held accountable, and the decision to put $20 billion towards recovery was an attempt at good will, not a shakedown. It’s called accountability, folks.
That is to say, if you read comics in the first place. Those of us dipping our quills in the digital ink traditionally consume our comics in rather shady means — torrent downloads. Yes it’s ugly, but until recently that was the only presentable option, and not a very good one at that. Reading a PDF gives you the gist of what is going on, but it takes away the fundamentals — touching the uniquely textured comic book page, smelling that unique comic smell (especially the classics…mmm), and tasting…well, no tasting. But you get the point.
Tactile response will always be lost in the move to digital, but PDF fails to enhance any of the other aspects of comic consumption. Pouring over the page in meat space somehow feels different than reading a comic book PDF. Until recently, the PDF/Torrent scene was the only option, but now we have digital comic books. A whole other beast unto themselves.
Digital comics are recreations, and while they are fantastic recreations, they are still modified versions of the medium. They are hybrids — part comic and part animatic. Many have just enough movement to feel animated, but retain the look an feel of a panel. Many of the bigger productions actually go as far as adding voice over narration and character line readings, removing the need for text boxes and speech balloons. Enhancement? Defilement? This falls to the eye of the beholder, but in this comic lovers book the digital comic is a welcomed addition to our options.
But it’s not the solution to the main problem — reading comics in a digital era.
Even if things are moving the way of the digital comic, I still don’t want to have everything done for me. I want to retain some of the illusive emergence, the imaginative play that was so rooted to my love of the form.
Graphic.ly is the brainchild of Kevin Mann — a comic lover who grew frustrated with the disappointing availability of comics at local shops while living in the NorthEast of England. Mann wanted to build a comic distribution platform, a community built on the ability to purchase and discuss comic books with other readers and creators/publishers.
Mann teamed up with Micah Baldwin to build the first phase of Graphic.ly, an app built for Windows 7 and Adobe Air which allows you to download, read, and discuss comics in a digital format. Make no mistake, these are comics in every sense of the word, but they are also slightly enhanced in a way that completely retains the medium. Well, if you exclude all the tactile stuff I was waxing poetic about earlier.
The concept is simple, you purchase and download comics from the Graphic.ly comic book store, and then you read them. But you’re not simply reading a comic, you’re flipping through each page. Nay, each panel! With each new full page you get a macro view of the layout, and when you flip to the next section, you fully focus on panel #1. The art and text take center stage here, and this is what makes Graphic.ly so monumentally intriguing — this app pulls you into the process of comic book reading.
The Graphic.ly team is still beta testing the Windows 7 and Adobe Air versions of the app (full disclosure: I’ve been in the beta since the release of the Air app on 1/22). Next up, the team plans to build an iPhone and Android interface. Yes, you read that correction — comics delivered to your phone.
So far I’ve torn through the first two books in the beta: Spartacus Blood and Sand #1 and #2, and next up is Berserker. Not necessarily my cup of tea, per se, but the promise here is phenomenal. Needless to say, although it is still working out the kinks, Graphic.ly has me hooked. If you’re interested, sign up to check out the beta.
Amidst all of these very public check-in services comes to new apps centered on geo-location, but in a different way.
Several months ago, a friend of mine reached out with a quandary. He was planning a trip with a group of friends, and wanted a way to keep the entire group in the loop in a simple yet mobile way. Here’s the catch: the group didn’t want their activity made public, so Twitter and foursquare style apps were a no go. Enter Rally. This app comes from the good folks over at 12seconds.tv, and the inspiration behind the app tells all. The team wanted to build an app that would help real people connect at real locations with people they really, truly know.
When you think about it, the concept actually makes a lot of sense. I’m a bigtime advocate of foursquare — I love the app, and it has me completely hooked. Chances are, I won’t be budging from that service. Sure, it let’s me pick whether or not I’m checking in publicly or privately, and I’ve done a pretty decent job of keeping my contact list trimmed down to people I actually know in real life. But that doesn’t remove the need for something like Rally.
You see, when you choose to go “off the grid” in foursquare, what you’re really saying is, “I don’t want most people to know where I am right now.” Chances are there are still people close enough to you that you don’t actually mind knowing where you are at any given moment. By keeping Twitter out of the equation, Rally keeps things pretty simple and personal — connect with people you actually know, and share your location and activities with those people only. On Rally I find myself checking at places I would ordinarily keep “off the grid” — home, friends houses, etc. If you routinely hang out with the same set of people, letting them know that you are at one persons house versus another could be quite useful. Or think of it’s uses at public events — keep chatter off of Twitter, and keep your location secure. Then you only check in on foursquare at locations you don’t mind being public.
In addition, Rally offers a really slick interface that mixes Google powered maps and images taken by the folks checking in on your friends list. Your feed displays the person and location, along with the image taken upon check-in. The app is only available in Santa Cruz, CA for now, but I could see this being extremely useful (and even complementary to foursquare in some ways).
Like Rally, Blockchalk seeks to simplify the geo-location space. Where Rally dumps the overbloated nature of facebook/Twitter friend collecting, Blockchalk eschews the whole “profile” approach altogether. Instead, the location is put front and center. Every location becomes a block, and your check-ins are actually just messages (or chalk) posted on the block. Get it? Pretty genius.
Essentially, locations become message boards on Blockchalk, and whenever you fire up the app you will find yourself on a new block with a new set of chalks to read through. You set a home location, and always have access to home. Additionally, anyone can respond to your chalks, so you will gather replies and feedback from others in the neighborhoods you frequent.
In an even cooler addition, Blockchalk allows you to check out the chalks on any block of your choosing. All you need to jump to a block is an address, a cross street, or a zip code. However, the app (and chalks) remain pure by limiting the power to chalk — one must be at the location in order to author and submit a chalk.
This poses some interesting community aspects. Imagine reporting issues in your local neighborhood? Participation is restricted to your location, so in order to chime in one must actually be in the vicinity of the block. Essentially, in order to act out one must do so while visiting a different location, or risk misbehaving in their own neighborhood. I love the idea of neighborhood interactions taking place in a space like Blockchalk. Strange behavior on your block? Concerns about abandoned vehicles or other community concerns? Try Blockchalk.
I’ve attempted this in my neighborhood already, and I really hope to see it take off.
As the geo-location space continues to expand, it’s refreshing to see that some are offering unique ways to make geo-location more useful. I think both Rally and Blockchalk have great potential, but both suffer a little right now from limited participation.
Rally is, by design, restricting use to Santa Cruz residents for the time being. But in order for Blockchalk to be truly useful more people will need to adopt it in their local communities. It could become an insanely powerful community building tool in the local sense of the word, but it will require a wider adoption to get there. I imagine a future where neighbors leave chalk for each other on their block. “We’re planning a garage sale this Sunday, whose in?” or “Who is interested in a summer block party?” Picture the considerations involved in moving into a new neighborhood. If put to full use, one could check Blockchalk and see exactly what kind of world exists on that block.
As you can tell, I’m pulling for both of these apps. So check them out and let me know what you think.