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

typing on an iphone to launch an app – WTF?

So the other day I was watching a friend testing the new echoecho builds (This is for a late February launch – so we can’t announce it just yet. But we will…soon)

Anyway – he picks up his iphone 4 – unlocks the screen and then immediately goes to the Search box by swiping left and starts typing “echoec…”

the conversation goes like this:

“Why did you do that – don’t you know where the echoecho icon is?”
“Dude have you seen how many applications I’ve installed. This is just faster.”

So off we then go on a 10 minute discussion about mobile UI/UX. Here’s the thing. He’s not lying.
He has over 100 applications installed – stack into a bunch of folders – so it genuinely is faster to type into a spotlight search.

What a sad irony – Apple masterfully re-engineers the swiping homescreen icon grid for iphone and then promptly un-invents it by allowing folder structures.

Yes I know some of you might say – “this is a power user, normal users don’t have this problem” but I’m not sure I buy that.
My experiences watching iphone users suggest that they frequently do NOT delete apps they download even if they don’t use them.

And if they don’t delete them – that means that they behave the same as many people who just dump icons on their computer desktops.

Which brings us back to typing on the iphone to launch an app.

This isn’t really anything to do with echoecho at all – I was just intrigued at how quickly the iphone home screen could turn into a windows start menu if users were not careful.

why iPhone’s background location needs to be redesigned…

The last blog post announced the final (and long-awaited) arrival of automatic replies to echoecho on the iPhone.

You may be asking yourself what took so damn long? (I know I certainly was). So I’m going to tell you a story about Apple and background location functionality.

To make things more interesting (and give me an excuse to insert an image) here’s a tool we had to build in order to get this right:

iphone 4 SLC

I’ll explain what all this means shortly.
But let me get back to Apple. So as many of you know (well ok – ALL of you that are iphone devs know) Apple now allows background processes on their iPhones in special circumstances – Location apps being one of the primary types allowed to do this.

In fact to quote Apple’s own website

With the new location monitoring service in iPhone OS 4, your app can register for callbacks when the location of the device changes—even when your app isn’t running.

Yeah. Sounds great.
Except it doesn’t work so well in practice. In fact I’d go so far as to say Apple’s implementation of it has been pretty much broken in more ways than one from the very beginning – and even today it’s still not particularly efficient.

Here’s the problem. There are only two forms of background location monitoring Apple expects/allows developers to request.

I’m going to call them CONTINUOUS and SLC.

CONTINUOUS (continuous background location updates in full Apple parlance) is designed for Applications that need continuous access to the onboard Location infrastructure even if they temporarily go into the background (e.g. turn by turn navigation)

Apple explicitly discourages developers from using CONTINUOUS mode longer than is absolutely necessary.

SLC – on the other hand – stands for Significant Location Change – and this is the method Apple recommends.

To wit – from Apple’s website:

The significant-change location service offers a low-power way to receive location data and is highly recommended for applications that do not need highly precise location data.

This would be great. If it worked vaguely – or even at all.

The first problem we had (and btw ANY developer of geoapps on iphone has this problem) is that Apple’s uninstall routine was broken on O/S 4.1. It’s a bug that didn’t receive much attention or PR – which somewhat surprised given that it affected any Geo-App. Essentially it would not allow any app that accessed location services to be re-installed – because it would never uninstall properly in the first place)

But Apple eventually admitted this (I like to think we were among the first to point this flaw out to them) and fixed it in the 4.2 version of the O/S (it was fixed in the 4.0 version – they just broke it in 4.1)

Yes – I know this has nothing to do with SLC directly – but indirectly it does – because it makes the debugging process horrendous. You see Apple has spoiled us devs – because 99% of the stuff works so well that when something doesn’t work we all FREAK out 😉

Back to SLC – the idea here is that when the phone moves a significant distance your application receives an update in the phone’s location.
OK. In theory that sounds good. Less network overhead, less battery wastage – all with one function call.

Like I said. This would be great if it worked. But it doesn’t.

(don’t worry the pictures are coming up)

As regular users of echoecho know – we use a PULL model for requesting location (i.e. other users ask you where you are) which we think is far more sensible, user-friendly and natural than a PUSH model where you spam everyone with your location whenever you choose to check-in (But this belongs in another rant).

The reason we need to background location at all – is because of Automatic replies to your Favorite friends. (as per the previous blog post)

On other platforms (e.g. Android, Symbian or Blackberry) when you get an echo from somebody who is on your Favorites list your phone sees the request come in and then automatically responds on your behalf – notifying you it has done so.

Apple does not allow this particular kind of interaction on the iPhone (more on this later) so the server must respond for you. In other words – we need a reliable, easy and battery-efficient way to update your location if you use the Favorite Friend functionality.

So here (thank god for that because this blog post was getting loooong) are some images describing why this is a problem:

Look at this journey near Hermosa Beach:

gps only

The blue circles represent GPS data points and they do a pretty good job of showing where I was at the time of this test. I drove up Manhattan Avenue, took a right down Manhattan Beach Boulevard, a right on Sepulveda and a right again on Artesia/Gould. (we used a custom written diagnostic program on an iPhone 4 and an iPhone 3Gs running in parallel to analyze this throughout the Los Angeles area)

This was approximately an 10 minute journey.

Not bad you might think. Clearly at most intervals there you’d have a half decent idea of a person’s location given that you have so many data points.

Not so fast. These are NOT SLC data points.

Here’s that same image with an SLC data point overlay.

SLC+GPS

Those would be the big green circles. Yes. There are only two of them – and look how inaccurate they are.
(oh btw – the size of the circle of course indicates the degree of accuracy).

SLC is basically equivalent to cell-id level of accuracy. In other words an accuracy level that predates the very first iPhone.

This sucks. It sucks even more that it doesn’t really work properly.

The phone is supposed to report an SLC event every time it passes into a new Network cell. Well we drove in large 25-30 mile loops around Los Angeles and often there were long 5-6 mile gaps with no SLC events at all. I don’t care how bad AT&T can be at times – it’s not that bad.

The conclusion is basically that SLC is unusable for geofencing, unusable for any kind of friend tracking applications – basically pretty much unusable for most geo-applications we can think of.

So how do you fix this problem?
Well within the Apple constraints there’s only one way – and it’s some variant of what we did – namely:

You use the SLC event not as your location indicator but as a trigger to kick-off high-accuracy location detection (which can then utilise wifi/cell-id AND GPS).
Optimising this algorithm for accuracy vs. battery life still requires a bit of work – but we can’t give all our secret recipes away in one blog post – so that will have to do.

Of course – there is a better way to do this.

If anyone from Apple is reading this I strongly encourage you to implement something which would hardly change your rules at all – and that’s the following:

Allow background running application to be “triggered” by a push notification.

That’s it – it’s a trivial change in code – because when an application is running in the foreground the push notification is passed to the app as an event that the app can choose to process as it pleases.
So this functionality already exists. Apple just needs to allow background running apps to be kicked this way also.

Far cleaner and more elegant.

Not to mention far more efficient – think about the fact that every geo app running on your phone that accesses background location services has to do something like we did to make their solution work.