Geeks Love Halloween


The rumors are true. Technology geeks do have a thing for Halloween. Mashable scoured the web and found some great pumpkin carvings well representing the current state of web technology and social media. The Twitter Fail-Whale (below) is great and there’s a fantastic carving of Diggnation hosts Alex Albrecht and Kevin Rose.
See more at: 12 Awesome Social Media Halloween Pumpkin Carvings.

failwhale-pumpkin

Source: Scott B. on Flickr via Mashable!

The iPhone App Store is also cashing-in on the Halloween frenzy. The App Store is promoting its “Halloween Apps & Games” section where you can carve virtual pumpkins with “iCarve” and play Halloween-themed games.

apple-store-smort-zombies

One notable oddity, a game called Attack Of The Zombie Bikini Babes From Outer Space was launched in the App Store two days ago. Smort (rumored to be Smule’s Evil-Twin by Techcrunch) launched the game. As TechCrunch puts it, Smort looked at common themes popular within App Store games, and generated a list: Bikini Babes, Zombies, Bombs, and Bloodshed. This game is the result of that (innovative? smart? creative?) thinking. What are your thoughts? (see video below)

Personally, I think this is really smart. Now, although this game doesn’t necessarily look that compelling, I think that Smort has the right thesis: Research. Build. Launch. Iterate. Repeat. App Store trends are constantly changing. Therefore, monitoring user behavior and download trends can lead to new learnings about your target audience.

My advice: If you’re a startup/entrepreneur, go research your market (do a quick market survey if you wish), build your app and launch it! Review your analytics/metrics, iterate and launch again quickly. There are some app-hungry consumers out there.

Me: Rebranded


RIM just recently launched BlackBerry Messenger 5.0 (or BBM 5.0). In doing so, they have given each person a “trendy” new way to identify one another. Here’s my new identity:

It’s a QR Code, or a 2D-bar code, for those of you getting acquainted with the technology. Fairly new to North America, it’s actually been around since 1994, first developed in Japan, and quickly adopted by South Korea.
It’s actually very smart. By using this technology, RIM has developed buzz. Instead of having to be a computer science major, anyone can now add each other to the BBM community. Hold up your BlackBerry and scan a QR Code, and viola, you’ve just added a contact. Nice!
People are excited about these foreign images and are eager to upload, scan, share and discuss the process with their friends. The only problem is if you have too many friends: Kevin from Crackberry.com posted this to Twitter … 2 hours later, he had over 10,000 requests and his BlackBerry became unusable. Who said popularity was a good thing?

Facebook 3.0 on iPhone Review


After waiting for the Apple App Store to load … and it took a while … I finally updated my Facebook application for my iPhone. I’m sure Apple was getting slammed by everyone itching for the Facebook 3.0 upgrade.
I am tough on companies when it comes to developing a sexy UI/UX and I am super-impressed with the new Facebook 3.0 application for iPhone. I heard the hype and it was all right. Facebook has gone Twitter-esque, boasting a very easy to use and navigate news feed that drops pictures, videos, links, comments and basically anything else, right into view. Shown below is a screenshot of the first page you see when logged into the application. very easy and intuitive to navigate downward, flip to the main menu (by clicking the top-left icon), update your status or even click the camera button to upload (or take) a picture or VIDEO!

Here is the new MENU screen (below). Simplicity is king and Facebook nailed it. Each feature seems to work well and I didn’t encounter any errors or bugs in my testing thus far.
A while ago Facebook added the functionality of adding your own phone numbers to your contact information. Here you can really see that “phonebook” feature paying off. Facebook leverages this information by allowing you to simply tap a contact and choose a phone number that you’d like to dial. Simple as that. Enjoy your new phonebook, everyone.
I’m really looking forward to push notifications. That’ll really jazz up this rich(er) iPhone app.

iPod Touch Users Love Their Apps


In AdMob’s July 2009 monthly metrics report, a special section on iPhone, iPod Touch and Android app usage showed the results of a 1,000-person survey to find our more about their interaction and download behavior with apps.

A couple highlights:

  • Android and iPhone users download approximately 10 new apps a month, while iPod touch owners download an average of 18 per month
  • More than 90 percent of Android and iPhone OS users browse and search for apps directly on their mobile device instead of their computer
  • Upgrading from the lite version was the top reason given when users were asked what drives them to purchase a paid app
  • iPhone and iPod touch users are twice as likely to purchase paid apps than Android users.
  • Users who regularly download paid apps spend approximately $9 on an average of five paid downloads per month

There is a supplemental presentation that includes all of the data from the surveys for those who are interested to dig into the details.

socialDeck Platform Demo


socialDeck, the creators of Shake & Spell on iPhone, Facebook and BlackBerry, have just launched a new demo on their website that discusses the various components in their technology platform and how it looks and feels across form factors.

The demo shows how the gameplay stays consistent across device types, and features such as their “trash talk wall” (or “chat”), leaderboards and social discovery engine all work.

For convenience sake, I’ve simply embedded the video below (view it at socialdeck):

Lessons Learned from Asia


In researching the online and mobile worlds of virtual goods and avatars, I came across this interesting presentation by a consulting firm called +8* (Plus Eight Star) on Slideshare. It’s amazing how many things have been pioneered by those countries (largely Korea and Japan) that took so long to make it to the US.

I particularly like the reference to South Park.

Review: DemoCamp Toronto #21


Tonight I attended DemoCamp Toronto #21. It was my personal second time out at DemoCamp and I was loving the vibe in the room of the sold-out venue (approx. 250 people). Before I get to the meat of the post, I must throw out a big thank you to Leila Boujnane, who was awesome and gave me her seat at the packed event.

Below, I have done my best to provide some information on some of the demos from tonight’s event:

Zoocasa is an ad-supported, vertical search engine for real estate listings that allows visitors to search by neighborhoods and school district among other things. I’m not a huge fan of the ad-supported model as a sole business model and I believe that the business should quickly look for some innovative business models that they can layer onto their service offering to increase the monetization potential of their website.

ArtAnywhere was presented by an enthusiastic Christine Renaud. Her business is centered around a website that helps artists (painters, contemporary artists) meet and transact for their artwork with those looking to buy (or in this case — RENT). ArtAnywhere has a very interesting business model that charges people or corporate entities $XX/mo/piece of art (artist chooses the price) and the site takes a 15-20% tranaction fee. The company is launching in Montreal, Toronto and New York in September 2009. I am very curious to see if people will buy into her business model and find security in mitigating the risk of purchasing art by renting it on a monthly recurring model.

HomeStars is a website that allows home contractors to have a social media page with ratings and reviews. It doesn’t seem to be anything revolutionary, and certainly not a business that will scale to deliver venture-like returns, but it can certainly drive value to all of its users and potentially make a nice return for a business owner. Brian, who gave the demo, seemed like a nice guy and I wish him well in his venture.

Cascada Mobile is an interesting company that solves the problems of some mobile application developers who are looking to write-once and deploy an application across multiple devices. Their primary product is called “Breeze.” Using this product, a user can write code in HTML/ JavaScript/CSS and have it ported to a large number of devices (including the iPhone as of this week, albeit with limited functionality). They also host and manage distribution. Currently they have a free ad-supported version as well as licensing fees and revenue share deals for users who don’t want ads embedded within their applications. Very cool. I’d love to try out the full version and try to create my own mobile app!

MashupArts is a site looking to capitalize on social networks, collaboration, events and virtual goods. The company lets you customize one of a series of templates and integrate a number of mediums (pictures, slideshows, video, audio, text), and a commenting layer on top of this. The example given is a group-based collaborative birthday card to a friend or family member where all of the members of the network can contribute to card mashup. The website is currently in a beta, but if you really like the sound of this, let me know and I’ll see what I can do to get you a passcode into the realm of the private beta.

Guestlist is a sexy new event site by Ben Vinegar. Very slick and great use of AJAX elements here. It’s so good that DemoCamp mentioned that they are going to switch from EventBrite to Guestlist; so there, now you go try it! It’s in beta and just launched last week.

Guigoog is supposed to be an alternative to using Google’s “hard-to-navigate” boolean, advanced search. So for all the non-computer junkies, I guess there’s a market for this?! You tell me. In any case, Jason Roks got stuck demoing on a computer with IE6.0, and needless to say, it could not handle the advanced scripting necessary to pull of some of the snazzy UI elements he incorporated. Don’t worry Jason, I tried it on Google Chrome and it looks great. He describes the technology as: “If you’re looking for 2 things in a pile in front of you, you can filter out everything you don’t want, and you will be left with things that resemble what you are looking for.” Therefore, you can find things that you don’t necessary know exist, but think may exist given a number of parameters — great for searches where you know general characteristics but no specific names — I can think of many scenarios where this could be handy! Can you?

Great job everyone. It was a blast as always (i.e. last time). Looking forward to the next event.

Business and Military Strategy


I have been reading the book Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, and it has inspired a concept/theory on developing competitive online and mobile businesses that I am going to pursue further in my work with our portfolio companies.

At one point in the book, Diamond discusses the invent and adoption of guns by a number of countries. At the time, guns were the most powerful weapon. Countries that failed to adopt and manufacture guns for military use (the reason did not matter, whether cultural, tactical or lack of know-how), eventually succumbed to their neighbors or other invading troops in possession of such advanced weaponry.
A parallel can be drawn to online or mobile businesses in today’s world that have a product, but are not leveraging the necessary tools (or “weaponry”) to compete aggressively. Consider a small, vulnerable startup without “guns” taking-on larger industry giants with “guns.” The startup needs to get on level footing before any shift in market share or significant user adoption takes place. Another way to view this is to ensure your product has at least the same level of core functionality as your most significant competitors, and then innovate on top of that base. Note: There are obvious exceptions and I am being general in my statement.
Right now, there is an unprecedented number of free tools that allow business to increase the virality, social interaction, visibility and overall stickiness and competitiveness of a product or service. These can and should be leveraged to topple giants.
Virality and Social Interaction: I am referring to the use of Facebook Connect and Twitter/OAuth to increase social interaction, sharing of links, and recommendations to a user’s social network. The websites that have adopted the use of Facebook Connect have seen massive increases in hits to their website; laggards and late-adopters are suffering, and those who adopted early are reaping the benefit. Use Facebook Connect. Virality can be spread many other ways; remember content is still king — create a company/product blog and start a Twitter feed to inform your followers about industry trends and product updates; also make sure to address any concerns that users voice about your product. By using Twitter, companies can stop bad press before it starts, which could save startups one of their nine lives so to speak.
Stickiness: Give users a reason to return to your website or mobile application. Can you think of way to demonstrate continuous value to users of your site? If you can, you may enjoy more frequent visits from users. A user’s return could be influenced by social pressures (responding to a request driven/initiated by a friend), self-interest (check alert / view an update), curiosity and general need. Make use of different technologies to stay in touch with users, according to the preferences they like — allow them to select options including email, SMS (may be costly), Facebook, Twitter or through other widgets that may integrate with iGoogle or other portals.
I am going to continue to develop this theory. The next book on my reading list is Art of War by Sun Tzu; I hope that will be a good catalyst for a good follow-up post.
As always, I invite you all to contribute your thoughts below. Can you draw any other parallels between military strategies and business?

The Future iPhone


It seems Apple has been on a patenting frenzy, and it may be sheding some light on what the next-gen Apple iPhones are going to look and feel like.

In a couple of recent articles by FierceMobile, they discuss a new series of patents recently filed by Apple: object ID and enhanced messaging and haptics and fingerprint IDs. Sounds pretty bad, right?

In any case, here is some more detail on what this could mean:

Object Identification Tools — Your iPhone could determine a user’s present surroundings and offer contextual information via RFID reader or camera. [LINK: US Patent Application 20090175499]

Improved Messaging — “Objectionable content filtering” on children’s text messages, message delivery notifications (ensuring messages got delivered, such as the functionality seen in BlackBerry Messager Messaging), and saving text that was sent to prevent re-entry of text. [LINKS: US Patent Application 2009017750, 20090176517]

Haptics Feedback Technology — Touch-based input components can use, for example, a grid of piezoelectric actuators to provide vibrational feedback to a user, while the user scrolls around a click wheel, slides across a trackpad, or touches a multi-touch display screen. Cool!! [LINK: US Patent Application 20090167704]

Fingerprint ID Safeguard — Besides the obvious login and authentication features, Apple discusses the possibility of using specific input signatures (or fingerprints) to launch specific commands or functions. Apple also alludes to designing a device with multiple fingerprint sensors to allow for advanced multi-touch, multi-fingerprint functionality. [LINK: US Patent Application 20090169070]

Lookin snazzy Apple. Looking forward to what’s around the corner.

Lessons from a BlackBerry App Developer


I just finished reading a very interesting article/story written by Marcus Watkins, who is the creator of PodTrapper. The article discusses his experiences and lessons learned in developing, pricing, marketing and selling his first mobile application on the BlackBerry platform. It was published June 22, 2009; so it’s still recent and very relevant.

Here is an overview of what it covers (taken from the article):

Introduction
BlackBerry Platform
Development
Look and Feel
It’s the Network
Background Apps/Memory
Pricing the App
DRM
Selling the App (Retailers)
Handango
Direct
MobiHand
BlackBerry App World
Initial Sales
Marketing
Sales Post-App World
Dealing [or not] with other companies
My Customers
Conclusion
Topic Outline

For all those BlackBerry developers out there. I hope you have had the chance to check out the App Store and apply for distribution through it’s channel; it can be extremely valuable. If you want to learn more about it, check out my blog post on the BlackBerry Partners Fund Blog called “The Next Wave: Mobile Applications and the BlackBerry Application Storefront,” which discusses some specifics about developing for BlackBerry App World.

Some BlackBerry developers (and outside observers) have recognized that there are some kinks in the process of getting onto BlackBerry App World. Kevin Talbot, co-manager of the BlackBerry Partners Fund, identifies some key issues plaguing BlackBerry App World and invites developers and others to comment and add their thoughts about what RIM can do to fix App World.

If you have just submitted an application, or are planning on developing an application soon, make sure to apply for the 2009 BlackBerry Partners Fund Developer Challenge.

Happy developing!