Monthly Archives: April 2010

Unintentional endorsement of our business model in GigaOM…

written by Remy Kozak

I just read a good synthesis of the recent GigaOM Bunker Series that outlines many of the immediate challenges facing Location for mobile. In this case, the author Colin Gibbs looks beyond “thorny privacy concerns and the technical shortcomings of GPS and other positioning technologies” and more at the massive immediate opportunities.

The article, which succeeds in looking beyond the immediate hype, is the most ringing endorsement of the echoecho business model I have seen in some time. All the new location applications that “enable users to instantly form communities based on location” will need a solid, privacy and security-centric platform over which to deploy. No one wants to develop locations for 5+ smartphone platforms – not to mention all the feature phone platforms – as part of every new game or social application.  And everyone will want maximum interoperability between platforms. This is just as true for those Vertical Markets Colin mentions.

Well that is exactly what we have built and continue to expand upon with echoecho.

The reference to Augmented Reality (AR) as a next step is one we totally agree with as well. Look for it in the not too distant future.

And location accuracy is something we have taken up as a major focus for 2010. We will improve accuracy on each platform (and with CDMA etc.) with each new release throughout the year.

There are loads of great minds thinking about the application of location to our lives and our work. We want to ensure they do not get stuck in the drudgery of accessing chipsets, dealing with multiple OS versions, maintaining privacy and ensuring security.  The end results should be more exciting than any of us can imagine right now.

Advertisements

a few things to think about…

It’s very interesting to observe the landscape of human computer interaction in a mobile social networking context in the US…especially with a European sensibility. (I was born and raised in Europe – although I still found time to watch Welcome Back Kotter as a kid – so not all is lost)

I’m talking about UX (user experience) as distinct from UI (user interface) here because sharing privacy related information raises many issues of course – just to name a few

how often are private details being shared and with whom?
how much visibility does the user have over what details are being shared?
how much understanding does the user have over what details are being shared?
how much control does the user have over what details are being shared?
and why not also add for that matter
how much control does the user WANT over what details are being shared?

When twitter first started I vaguely recall thinking it was just noise – but over time I grew to understand that even if 5% of the users created 95% of the data – there was still some value to it….as a sort of real-time-pulse of the web.

However (not to put too fine a point on it) there’s a massive difference between sharing what you ate for breakfast…and sharing your physical location.

As I’ve written before in this blog – in the location-check-in world (the microblogging broadcasting of foursquare for example) if you apply a similar dynamic – it breaks down – because if 5% of the users are creating 95% of the traffic – the value of that traffic is zero – because unless you are a friend/colleague/family member of mine – I have no real interest in precisely where you are.

Trending data…sure maybe (we’ll see what simplegeo/skyhook make of that) – but that’s a more civic/governmental issue than anything else.

I think we as developers – and of course the manufacturers all the more so – have a responsibility to create software that will enhance users lives without sacrificing privacy – however tempting it may be not to do so.

That’s why I worry about what facebook is doing – and even with what foursquare type platforms are doing.

They are using a game mechanic to incentivise use of the network – because they are attempting to monetise the network with various partners….but this is approach is at direct odds with protecting user privacy.
(same thing with the Facebook “Like” button that you can place anywhere on the web)

That’s why we work so hard to optimise speed and simplicity in echoecho.
Users struggle enough to understand software anyway – so we want to make it simpler and more useful at the same time.

In the next few weeks you will see a 1.6 release of echoecho roll out on different platforms – featuring functionality that allows you to set your phone to automatically respond to queries from your friends.

It’s a very different approach from the privacy-less “I’M HERE” world of check-in services – and one that I am confident can cross any chasms the world might throw at it.

Foursquare Attempts to Cross the Chasm…

written by Remy Kozak

I was at an NVBC marketing seminar for early stage startups Tuesday night where the speaker Dave Thomas from Rocket Builders was quoting extensively from the famous book “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey A. Moore. Although familiar with the material, a refresher is always a good way to seem material in a new light – usually from your immediate perspective, which is undoubtedly different from what it was 10 years ago.

Applying the Chasm principles to our current situation will be a valuable exercise. That said, we are several months away from even reaching the edge of the chasm – as Alex Iskold pointed out a couple of years back in Read Write Web, many companies never do. So I started thinking who, within the LBS sector, is at or closest to the edge of the Chasm. The immediate names that came to mind were Loopt, Gowalla and Foursquare. Of these, Foursquare is clearly getting the most attention and, arguably, experiencing the greatest growth – having reached 1 Million users less than a week ago. If you look at the growth curve, it looks to be accelerating and unstoppable… but here comes the Chasm.

As much as the tech and social media bloggers and even the social media writers within major newspapers love Foursquare: from Jason Kincaid and MG Siegler at Techcrunch in early/mid 2009, to Read Write Web’s Marshall Kirkpatrick and Jenna Wortham of the New York Times in earlier this year and even Catherine McCarthy of CNET as recently as last week.  All of these people love Foursquare, then again, all of these people appear to be hyper-social, or at least hyper-social media.

In short, these folks are, by definition, still part of the Innovators and Early Adopter groups – especially w.r.t. social media. And since Foursquare is essentially a social media game with an LBS twist, they are not what one might call objective.

Even within this “ideal” group of early adopters, however, there are concerns over privacy and security. From Jennifer Van Grove’s generally positive article on Mashable where she admits she only likes to check-in once she gets home to avoid stalkers, to more ominous articles outlining “common sense” for check in services from people like Jason Falls – early adopters are concerned about the implications to security and privacy.

As we move from this “early adopter” group, however, into the “pragmatists” seeds of concern over privacy and security being sown – and people are just not getting it. From folks walking away to those committing LBS suicide even bloggers who are supposed to like Social Media are writing it off.

And then there is the more conservative/family writers with well-founded and unaddressed concerns.

The topic of location sharing in social media is not as cut and dried as proponents of Foursquare and other check in services might have us think. Location-sharing via smartphones fuses the real with the virtual – so privacy and security issues become a vital consideration. As a recent LBSZone post by Ritesh Gupta points out, the challenges associated with sharing location include legal considerations designed to protect consumers.  Oddly enough, Ritesh was interviewing Stephen Deadman head of Legal – Privacy, Security & Content Standards, Vodafone Group Services Limited.

So what, might you ask, is a company like Foursquare to do?

Well, it appears the folks from the Big Apple knew this issue would be coming and started preparing for it as early as mid last year. By late 2009/early 2010 they were ready with a number of major “partnerships” with big media players.

While most might think these relationships were for publicity – and in no small part they were – the most important consideration had to be in building trust with the pragmatists. Pragmatists watch Bravo! and History Channel and VH1.  They also read the New York Times, Zagat and the Wall Street Journal.

And remember that legal concern expressed above by Vodafone’s head of Legal – Privacy, Security & Content Standards? Well guess who Foursquare is partnering with in the UK?

So where does this leave us?

At this point it is unclear if Foursquare will succeed in Crossing the Chasm. They have prepared their strategy and are implementing it well in the US. We can expect more partnering announcements in the coming months designed to build up trust. In Europe, the battle is more difficult. In spite of the fact that Europe adopted mobile technology (especially SMS and Data) faster than North America, they are notoriously private people – even the social media folks in Europe expressed concern early on.

The pragmatists are a tough bunch to figure. They love video games and facebook but proved resistant to satellite TV, video phones, and electric cars. In the end, I think the pragmatists’ love of privacy and security – especially for their family – will outweigh their love (need?) for attention and sharing, at least in a check-in format. Foursquare still has room to grow, especially in the US, but that growth is unlikely to reach the levels seen by facebook – except, perhaps in some voyeuristic online/mobile show format where pragmatists sit at home and watch celebrities’ comings and goings in LA and NYC.

I do ‘get’ Foursquare, even though I seldom use it. Then again I am an early adopter myself – who has recently become a lot more pragmatic in his choices. Perhaps it’s starting a family that forces you to change perspective. Then again, I have always been a private person – selective about who I share things with.

I guess that is why we developed echoecho. We saw the larger opportunity for a location-sharing platform that could meet the needs of the pragmatist for security and privacy, while supporting the needs of location-aware applications developers to develop cool services.

We are still battling to get to the Chasm and look forward to facing the challenge of Crossing one day – hopefully sooner than later.  The early adopters are getting on board (both users and developers) and we have more than a strategy for crossing, our entire platform was developed with the pragmatist in mind.

new blackberry version (1.5)

ok so it was only a matter of time until we figured out the blackberry version also. lots of stability improvements and a totally overhauled notification engine are the key new features here – check out the screenshots below.

it turns out the biggest problem with blackberry is the location finding of the device. As I have blogged about in the past the way the carrier deals that RIM has made allow the carriers to disable GPS access for 3rd party developer is really not developer friendly.

In the end – we owe thanks to Navizon for helping us lock down this part of the functionality correctly.

Without further ado – here are some screenshots and descriptions – firstly – the normal blackberry screen you all know and love with the echoecho icon.

normal screen

So now let’s suppose that Richard Feynman sends you an echo (yes I know he’s dead – but just work with me here). You’d see something like this:

regular echo flash

Good ol’ echo flash. Of course if you’re on a more modern berry – say a 9700 – it would look more like this:

9700 echo

This is where it gets interesting. If you don’t happen to see/hear your echo flash – you still need figure out that someone’s trying to get a hold of you.

so we made a cute custom badged icon (inspired by iphone functionality) that looks like this an older model BlackBerry (e.g. an 8820)

post-flash notification

So if you see this symbol you know somebody is trying to get a hold of you. Unfortunately the notification tray area (what I call the mini-icons) is not accesible to anyone other than RIM in older versions of the BlackBerry O/S – but on a more modern phone echoecho will do this to notify you:

post-flash 9700

Notice you get the badged icon and a cute mini-icon. (the mini-icon is visible on all the BlackBerry screens including the home screen)

(on older model BlackBerries we recommend you move the echoecho icon to the top of your home screen so you can always easily see if somebody sent you an echo)

of course – as with iphone – on all of these notifications – once you launch echoecho – the badged icon and the mini-icon will disappear (until such time as you receive more echoes….etc etc)

login screen

There you go. Lots of other under the hood fixes for speed, accuracy and stability…enjoy sending echoes.

(if you want – you can find the latest echoecho on BlackBerry App World – but it works just as well to simply open your mobile phone browser to http://m.echoecho.me)

new android version (1.5)

ok so it’s about time for an android upgrade.
This is a good one. goes to show you can still coax some excellent user behaviour stuff out of it – if you think about what you’re doing and go the extra mile.

so…now LIVE on android market – echoecho 1.5

A quick list of new features – see details and screenshots below.

  • new notification system – in addition to the cool push style popups described in this blog before you now get proper usage of Android tray notifications.
  • the map pushpins for your friends are now clickable – so you can quickly text or call your friends directly from the map
  • faster and more stable – as usual more stability, better error treatment and overall faster performance

new notification system
ok so here’s a typical starting screen. (these screenshots were taken from a Nexus 1). Notice the pretty high resolution icon 😉

echoecho-prelaunch

So you’re doing your thing – and an echo comes in. Due to our fancy push notification system (described elsewhere) you see something like this on your screen:

echo flash

What was that? Oh I see. Now you understand why we call this one-click location sharing. Think about this –
SIMPLICITY – you’re one click away from seeing your friend’s location on a map
PRIVACY – There are no settings to worry about. The privacy here is automatic and by design
Try doing that with foursquare, gowalla, brightkite or anything else for that matter.

But let’s suppose you don’t see this notification after your phone beeps/vibrates – well 30 seconds later the following happens:

basic notification

And that icon will stay there – as a notification/reminder of new echoes – until you launch the application again.
Of course if you expand the taskbar drawer the screen will look like this:

Tray notification

Of course the same stuff happens when you ask somebody their location – the responses just look a little different – for example:

echo flash location

or – in tray notification form:

location - tray notification

Now let’s assume you actually launch the app by clicking on the icon or on one of the notifications and then see your friends on a map (after all you can’t just stare at notifications all day)

map view

You do know that you can click on the imperial units at the bottom and they’ll flip to metric? You didn’t. Ok well you do now.

Also you can now click on your friend’s pushpin. This way you can quickly call or text your friend directly from the echoecho application. Of course the idea is to integrate this directly into an O/S so it would all be even more streamlined – but we’ll get it there (just you wait)

contact details

ok that’s it. For the 1.5 release. Lots of other tweaks as I said (mostly under the hood – friendlier and more useful error messages etc etc)

Enjoy and keep echoing 😉

UPDATE – (some of you have pointed out already that the market calls this version 2.5. long story…they’re the same)

new nokia version (1.5)

the new release of symbian echoecho (version 1.5) is now out. Ovi store to follow suit (for some reason there’s a weird problem on the E66, E72 and E75 – but all other devices work fine).

It’s faster, more stable (ahem ;)) and has a more accurate location.

We use skyhook for the symbian version of echoecho and in case and of y’all out there are developers using skyhook…you’d think that a single API call would automatically take care of GPS and cellid/wifi.
No such luck.

If cellid/wifi fails (errm….because you’re outside of skyhook coverage – i.e. most of eastern europe, africa and a lot of asia/former soviet republics) then skyhook returns latitude=0, longitude=0 – not so good…unless you’re swimming about 1000 miles off the coast of Equatorial Guinea.

So what you need to do is separately code your own GPS logic – so you can fallback to the GPS if skyhook fails. A bit annoying – but totally doable.

Most of the new changes were under-the-hood tweaks. The one you will likely notice is that pushed notifications – i.e. echo flash messages – no longer disappear.

echo flash nokia

This is necessary because if you don’t hear the echo notification (because the phone is in your pocket etc) then you’ll want to know that there is a new message waiting for you.

It would be nice if this could be handled like a new SMS message (with a mini-icon) but such fancy things are not allowed in S60.

Enjoy the latest build…

blackberry is…like…my favorite…

regular readers of the blog (wait a minute…people are reading this…right ??) 😉 will know that I’m not a huge fan of developing for the RIM platform.

Well it’s another one of those blog posts. Just to clarify I LOVE the speed of blackberry. There’s very little lag on the cursor and the address book (let’s just leave the abortion that is the Storm series entirely out of this discussion) and by and large things work like you’d expect them to work.

However – the word/feature of the moment is locations, locations, locations.

RIM was very early to this party – blackberries were amongst the first handsets to regularly include GPS etc etc…but nowadays the game has moved way beyond GPS.

We have A-GPS (using other methods to help the GPS lock onto sattelites faster), or cellid/wifi methods used by companies like Navizon and Skyhook as a sort of “Hybrid” approach to positioning.

The upside of cellid/wifi is that it works indoors. (or to be more precise – when you can’t have a satellite lock for your GPS). It doesn’t take a genius to realise that this is a huge upside since most mobile phone users in urban environments spend significant amounts of time outside of a GPS lock.

Hence – companies like Navizon, Skyhook (there are others but those are the biggest two) help your phone get a quick location lookup without needing to use the GPS chip.

For the record on the leading smartphone platforms you have

Iphone – Skyhook provides the wifi/cellid location service (although this is transparent to developers) – as it happens there are rumours that Apple will take this business away from Skyhook.

Android – Google has its own database of wifi/cellid points so developers can access the phone’s location with a single API call

Symbian – A few companies (Navizon, Skyhook etc) provide libraries for developers to use.

Windows Mobile – Currently a few companies (Navizon, Skyhook etc) provide libraries for developers to use. Navizon has an exclusive license for providing location technologies for Windows Mobile 7 – it will be very interesting to see how that evolves.

And that leaves….RIM/Blackberry. Not only can 3rd party software NOT access any wifi information on the blackberry (to be fair to RIM I believe this is a limitation of the way in which Java interfaces with the hardware so it’s not necessarily their fault) – failure to use Wifi for positioning means that the accuracy in urban environments is drastically reduced.

HEY RIM!!! – where do you think most of your Blackberries are used….yeah exactly. Urban f***ing environments.

But it gets worse – developers can only see a single cell id on a Blackberry – which means cellid triangulation techniques (which are possible on most other smartphones and increase accuracy in the absence of both GPS and WiFi) are IMPOSSIBLE.

Come on RIM – get your act together. Location is vital. There’s still time to pick up the ball you dropped and run with it. You cannot rely on carrier locations solutions anymore – that ship has sailed. Buy or license a location technology that can work – and let your developers loose…