Monthly Archives: March 2011

Hide and seek – does Google Latitude really want me to share my location…

“People don’t care about privacy” is a common refrain heard amongst social media pundits (most recently this morning by Jason Calacanis – in the latest @launch missive about Color.

Interesting.

Well we’ve done a lot of work on tweaking aspects of echoecho’s new OOBE (out of box experience) and this subject came up quite a lot.
Today we noticed that Latitude’s first screen on the iphone application says the following:

latitude OOBE

Let’s think about this for a second.
This is an application for sharing your location.
But 2 out of 3 bulletpoints on the one-and-only instructional page that comes up when a user first launches the app – describe how to STOP sharing your location.

Clearly we’re not the only ones who have noticed that a lot people are quite uncomfortable with real-time tracking of their location.

And by a lot of people – I don’t mean hyper-social early adopter check-in maniacs or social media professionals or d-list celebrities.

I mean everybody else.

In the real world – that’s 99.9% of people.

For sure it’s true that removal of friction in sharing (be that by the evolutionary path of blogging, twitter, facebook, instagram, path or otherwise) has interesting implications to consider.

But sharing your precise location is very different from sharing a photo, sound bite or funny lolcat.

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echoecho version 2.0 official press release – launching on iTunes and Android Market

While echoecho is still a ‘baby’ in the location space, it is already helping over 150,000 users answer the most common question ever asked on mobile phones

Where are you?

Today we officially launched Echoecho 2.0, which adds an exciting, entirely revamped graphical user experience and many new functionalities.

Now, not only can you

  • Find out the location of anyone in your address book – not another social network, thank you
  • Maintain your privacy – Echoecho is a permission-based location sharing app. Anyone can request to see your location, but you maintain full control of who actually sees it.
  • Automatically respond to your closest friends – so you don’t even have to take your phone out of your pocket

You can also

  • Enjoy a completely new and more intuitive user interface.
    Transparent overlays on a map focused UX, swiping echoes, intuitive zooms, built-in reverse geocoding
  • main map

    inbox_iphone

    partial swipe

  • Find, suggest and confirm meeting places.
    All of this is done via the same cool new interface – with one-click 😉
  • meeting suggest

    meeting accept

echoecho is the perfect ally for any social situations where you’re meeting up with friends or colleagues.

Running late for a dinner?
Left one friend behind at another bar?
Girlfriend late picking you up at the airport?
Trying to coordinate what Starbucks to meet at?

Do all this and more with echoecho – with two clicks.

echoecho 2.0 is available for iPhone and Android users as of March 23rd and will be available on the Symbian and Blackberry platforms in the coming weeks.

(echoecho 2.0 is backwards compatible with all earlier versions of echoecho – but to use the new meeting place features your friends will need to have the latest version installed)

imitation is the sincerest form of flattery ;)

Google Latitude announced an update today that includes the ability to “ask” your friend to check-in.

that sounds a teeny bit familiar.

We shouldn’t knock latitude too much – this is after all better than just offering real-time tracking. but the thing is – you can’t make something complex simpler…by adding simple features.

True usability requires an entirely different approach from the ground up.

Stay tuned.

group messaging gold rush. My thoughts…

so I woke up this morning and my inbox was full of even more invites to even more group messaging applications. I’ve lost count – GroupMe, Beluga, YoBongo, Ditto, Ask Around (and a few other stealth startups whose names I cannot mention yet) are just the tip of the iceberg. There will be more…but they all seem be missing a key component….errm…can we say – USE CASE 😉

I get the pressure of wanting to launch something before SXSW (or “SouthBy” as the digerati are clearly wont to call it now) but it seems that many of these developers need to remember that:

It’s USE CASES FIRST – then APPS to satisfy them.

Use cases can (and will) certainly evolve. Twitter as a messaging platform evolved into news in ways that I doubt Ev and Biz predicted at the very beginning.

But building an app on the use-case premise of Kevin Costner’s “Field of Dreams” (“If you build it, they will come” for those too young or too lazy to Google) – seems like an exercise in both pointlessness and frustration.

The funny thing is – the industry will support this – to a degree. There is sufficient overlap between the early adopters that form the hardcore of the SXSW crowd and the young business angels funding some of these exercises – that it’s perhaps understandable that they can’t see the wood for the trees….but let’s step back for a second and consider this.

Group messaging apps that create chat groups on-the-fly by geographic proximity seem to have generated a lot of excitement in the blogosphere.
It seems to me that the use cases are quite slim.

I’m not the only one – even Robert Scoble who is notoriously bullish on any geolocation app – struggled to identify use cases in a recent interview with the founder of Yobongo.

It’s of course possible that a use case will arise here that no-one has foreseen – but the hype got me thinking about the whole idea of geofenced instantly created chatgroups.

So I’m at the bus stop and I can chat to the 60 year old matron who is coming back from her weekly bridge game.

No wait.

An “interest graph” of some sort could protect me from this – because I will only be able to chat with – oh wait – NOBODY – when I’m at the bus stop – because I don’t live right next to people who are tech geeks that also love surfing and fly helicopters.

Ok what about (to use Scoble’s example) I’m at a party at SXSW – I can talk to 1000 people now.
Signal to Noise ??

No wait.

Perhaps we can make smaller groups (as the CEO of Yobongo suggests in the above video) – so say I only have groups that are approximately 10-15 people in size.

For sure I can see ways of managing the group size (especially if you just create new groups constantly) but if by some miracle a discussion actually ends up being interesting – the random nature of the chat could easily mean I end up getting shunted into another discussion – and never be able to pick up the thread again.

This kind of approach could easily lead to the bastard stepchild of IRC and ChatRoulette.

Ask Around is in a similar space – also seems a little bit strange to me.

That one doesn’t have the heat of Yobongo but it comes from an established (it a little web 1.0) brand of ask.com – so they’ll have the muscle to push it into the marketplace at least to a degree.

I have to say I have not played with Ask Around but here’s their messaging based on the article Into Mobile published – link above.

Ask Around is about using location as a common denominator and allowing location-based Q&A to blossom into conversation – giving you a window into the real-time dialogue unfolding around you.

I find this more than a little strange. When I walk towards my local Starbucks the real-time dialogue unfolding around me seems to fit into some very straightforward categories

Public and random
“Look at the cute puppy.”
“I can’t believe I got another parking ticket.”
“It’s so friggin’ cold in Los Angeles today.”
“So d’you think you’ll go out with him then?”

or

Private and specific
GUESS WHAT – I didn’t hear any of these 😉

And that’s precisely my point. In a tech-dense common-interest area like a city block or street in certain areas of San Francisco there is a small – but greater than zero – chance that ad hoc geofenced instant messaging could provide some social relevance – but anywhere else (to paraphrase my own tweet) – this seems like the social engagement equivalent of clicking a Like button to cure cancer…i.e. not very USEful – or to keep within the theme of this blog post – USE-CASE-less

I would love to see these services grow into use cases – but at the moment I just don’t see it.

Then we have Ditto – awesome pedigree (see RWW article) but the article implies that Ditto would prefer I make no decisions at all on my own but I ask my friendship graph.

Hmm – this seems like another disturbing development – as I find myself questioning the premise of trusting my own social graph more than myself.

When I wake up in the morning I don’t think “I have no idea what I’m going to today – so let me ask my social graph.”
When I pick up my phone I don’t stare at it and think “Do something useful for me.” – it’s a tool. It complements my desires and activities – it doesn’t define them.

Perhaps some people’s lives are 100% whimsical – but frankly I’d be amazed if that’s the case.

Life is not an “I’m feeling lucky” search button.

Which brings me back (does it…I dunno anymore…but I’m bringing it back regardless) to group messaging.

Group messaging (whether geo or otherwise) and group social dynamics are a very interesting playground. Namesake and Convore are both doing interesting work in the space of asymmetric social graph knowledge sharing/communication.
You can follow people, topics, trends (in a way that seems far less self-serving than my experience so far of, for example, Quora).

But the key thing that stands out for me with a system like Namesake is that it’s designed with an asynchronous nature of group communication at its core. Designing with real-time group communication as a premise is complicated at best – but utterly flawed at worst. Once again it’s a solution looking for a problem.

If my instincts are true – this means that almost all of the mobile group messaging services will see a SXSW spike – but are doomed to be irrelevant later on – unless a compelling use case evolves (or is made to evolve)

Of course I could be totally wrong 😉

When we looked at the location sharing process for echoecho (and I include the new meeting place suggestion in this) we were always driven by solving very explicit pain points in real life.

Not just because of the VC oriented painkillers or vitamins dilemma (although this is a nice side effect) but because I don’t get that much of a kick out of making an app that most people consider fun but useless – and discard after day or so.

But hey – we’re in a Bubble right ??

all the hard work pays off at Launch 2011

So the last three weeks were a bit of a blur. Very little sleep a night, rushing to get demo code into…well…demoable shape, Barcelona, London, San Francisco – but we did it.

Jason Calacanis (@jason), Tyler Crowley (@steepdecline) and the rest of the @launch crew put on a hell of a show. 2 days of continuous pitching and demoing. I was glad to be a part of it – though I have some quick insights for anyone else who goes through a similar exercise.

But first – here’s what happens when it all goes well:

(click here if vimeo video doesn’t show above)

This is the 3 minute speed demo and 3 minute discussion with @scobleizer, @westcoastbill, Adeo Ressi and a few others.
Weeks of work boiled down into one demo – so it’s great that the wifi worked and the product worked.
I believe we were the only team that did a fully live phone to phone demo – and it went off pretty much without a hitch.

Which reminds me – check out the AWESOME NEW UI and the meeting place suggestion feature.

Here’s the official (well – in-blog official) unveiling of the new UI – soon to be gracing the screens of iphones and androids everywhere (with symbian and blackberry following on shortly):

First the main map screen:

main map screen

Very slick – semi transparent top and bottom bar – The map is now the primary user experience – and it feels like far more map view – and then we have the main inbox:

main map screen

Let’s see here – reverse geocodes, badged icons, (as it happens these echoes swipe away – but we’ll leave that goodness for another demo), semi transparent popups on top of maps 😉

But the big drum roll is of course – meeting place suggestions:

main map screen

Yes. We managed to do it. Not only are we solving the “Where are you?” problem with one click – but we’re also helping people FIND, SUGGEST and AGREE to a meeting place – in 2 clicks.

But – I digress.

We were talking about @launch. We arrived in the morning and setup the stand in the LaunchPad – it looked something like this.
Well ok – it looked exactly like this.

stand - in launchpad

It’s waaaay early in the day on this photo – and everyone is getting their stand setup. On closer inspection you can see what’s going on here:

closeup screen

Honestly somebody should give Jay Freeman (@saurik) some friggin’ royalties here – almost every single iphone 4 in the launchpad was JAILbroken. How do I know this – because most of them were displaying their apps on HD monitors just like we were – and you can’t do that without Cydia/DisplayOut….because Apple hasn’t seen fit to allow it.

Funny.

(Btw the iPad is there as a walkaround demo pad – word of advice having tried this with phones – when you are demoing phone apps to more than one person it BLOWS – just use an iPad and 3 or 4 people can crowd around and see the demo. Sure if you have time everyone can try the demo on your one phone…but the iPad is great for events like this.)

Anyway – the big lesson learned for entrepreneurs is that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. So you got selected for an event like Launch. So you got your stand – and your cool demo and your business cards. PEOPLE WILL NOT COME AND JUST STOP BY YOUR STAND.

Sure some people might wander on by – but the people you need to impress will not. You have to go out and meet them, talk to them show off your stuff – DRAG them to the stand if you need to. Just show them demo.

Oh wait…make sure your product and your demo doesn’t suck and you can make a compelling pitch. Btw that’s @dondodge’s blog there – a shout out is in order to him as he became a big fan after seeing an in-person demo. (as did @DerekDodge – but that’s for another blog post)

Because if your product and your demo sucks – well then you just shouldn’t really be in the business should you.

Our best contacts at the show came from talking to Judges and Panelists directly, after or between panels.
Be polite but firm – and above all have your pitch down.
People want to see cool new ideas succeed – that’s why they are here.

Btw – when you’re speaking to people – watch their reaction – especially if you’re speaking to a group of more than one. (they are not robots so neither should you be) Don’t let negative feelings fester. Catch them early and redirect the attention back to your story.

Let’s see – a couple more things here – usage for echoecho is skyrocketing. It was doing very well even before launch but our twitter stream really fired up after my presentation and the growth is continuing. We’re processing 2 echo message a second.
That’s crazy fast – because we haven’t even officially launched yet.

It’s amazing to consider how far we have gotten 100% bootstrapped – however I have a sneaky feeling that some of the relationships we got @launch will complete our round very quickly.

Thanks again to the entire team – here’s one last photo taken by Vancouver’s own Kris Krug – I think I’m thinking “shit I hope the wifi’s working 😉

wifi

Thassit. Oh wait no – SXSW.
We were on again/off again with SXSW – but who am I to disappoint Scoble 😉
We’ll see. Cross your fingers and see what happens.

Last – but by no means least – here’s some online coverage we got as a direct result of Launch – Matt Rosoff covered us for Silicon Alley Insider – which was then picked up by SF gate and a bunch of other places.
Matthew Lynley covered us for VentureBeat. – The VentureBeat story got picked up by the NY Times also.

so I went to the Barcelona zoo…

also known as the Mobile World Congress. Phew.

It was quite a show. 60,000 visitors supposedly. It was the first time I had been and it was quite surprising – and not in a good way.

Perhaps if I’d thought about it – it would have become obvious in retrospect but MWC is like an entire conference devoted to the guy who’s too old to be at the nightclub – yet still insists on going.

Yes I know that not everything is about mobile, social, location and apps – and yes I know that the world doesn’t revolve around iphone 4 and Nexus S users however it was just bizarre how telco the entire conference was. I remember commented about this when I presented at UpLinq (which is I suppose a sort of US based equivalent of MWC) but in Barcelona it really hits you in the face.

The carriers and most of the companies that work with them (supplying bandwidth, services, hardware etc etc) have ZERO idea as to where the market has moved. They might aswell still be selling US Robotics Sportster modems.

I mean – when a company as large and cumbersome as Verizon appears to be amongst the more proactive ones then you know you’re in trouble. I actually had a good chat with some of the developer outreach folks from Verizon – and they’re really trying to take apps seriously (at least as much as their senior management will let them)

Let’s see – The Google/Android area was of course awesome – Matt Hershenson’s hardware hacked Nexus S handsets allowing HDMI output really shined here. They’re pretty much the only way to do HDMI output from Android phones properly. (hacking Droid X units with RealHDMI is not the same as you get a smaller 854×480 insert on a 1280×720 screen)

But other than that area and maybe (just maybe) some of the Samsung stuff – it was really fairly dry and boring there.

Had a good time hanging with @jebinger, John Malloy and @webbizceo (aka Damien Patton) at the Blue Run dinner.

Barcelona didn’t exactly provide great weather – but I escaped from rain to a nice lunch with Christine Claure from Navteq. I also had time to connect with Tom Goguen (@tomgoguen) who thinks it would be great if BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) could speak echoecho.

So do we Tom, so do we.

I guess if nothing else – it was nice to see our final product coming together and getting some serious market validation at a very high level – which is a nice segue into the next post…our coming out party at Launch 2011