For One Non-Gmail User, Everything’s Just Peachy

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A month or so ago, I wrote about how Google’s apparent willingness to secretly hand over user data to the feds had made me rethink my obsession with cloud storage. Not – natch – because I have anything in particular to hide from Uncle Sam, but rather because if I’m going to have my data subpoenaed, I’d rather know about it so I can write blog posts and make self-promotional hay about it.

I also have a bit of a thing for physical security: storing my mail in a physical location rather than in the cloud so, even with access to password, no-one can hack into my old correspondence and share it with the world. Mentioning no names: TechCrunch.

Anyway, I followed through on my threat a few weeks ago, switching my mail from the cloud to a more traditional POP provider based outside the US. I store my mail offline in a lightly encrypted folder (as I say – nothing to hide. I’m all about paper and pen for sensitive stuff) and backup regularly to a disk stored somewhere else.

I admit, though, I did miss some of the convenience of the cloud: particularly the peace of mind that comes from knowing I can immediately access all of my old mail from anywhere in the world. And the fact that I’m not at the mercy of a corrupt disk or having to trek and get my backup drive.

Fortunately over the weekend Google made that regret go away. Not only did they manage to temporarily lose over 40,000 users’ mail but, as MG explains, they also admitted that their only backup was stored on a physical tape drive, somewhere in the back of beyond. So as it turns out, my method of mail storage is both more reliable (I haven’t lost any of my mailboxes; Google have lost 40,000) and easier to restore (I could have my mail restored in about an hour, Google’s users are still waiting).

Another score for keeping things old school.

For 40,000 Gmail Users, Google Has To Leave The Cloud To Review The Tapes

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Yesterday, the tips started flowing in. “Google has deleted all my email.” “Check Twitter, massive Gmail failure.” “Gmail just melted down.” Users were freaking out. And that’s understandable. Many were apparently opening up Gmail to find that all of their emails had vanished. Had it happened to me, I would have been on Twitter swearing at the top of my digital lungs and promising to do something crazy — like switch to Hotmail. Of course, the reality of the situation wasn’t quite so dramatic.

While the initial reports had around .29 percent of Gmail users affected by the bug (about 600,000 users), those estimates were quickly revised to .08 percent (about 150,000 users). And today, those numbers were further revised to .02 percent. This means that only around 40,000 of Gmail’s 200 million (or so) users were affected.

Now, 40,000 pissed off people is still 40,000 pissed off people. But there was even better news out of Google today: all of their data is safe and sound. But it isn’t safe and sound in some remote server attached to the cloud. Instead, it’s safe on back-up data tapes somewhere in an undisclosed location.

Yes, despite all the ‘cloud this’ and ‘cloud that’ talk, when it comes down to it, Google still backs up everything on tape.

And thank god they do.

Just imagine if this bug had affected a significant percentage of users? All of those affected plus millions more would have likely never trusted Google with their data again. Worse, it may have slowed the flow of such data to the cloud across the entire industry. That may have made Microsoft smile, but we’d all have been worse off for it.

But again, luckily, that didn’t happen. Still, it’s fairly alarming that all of those insane data redundancy policies that Google has in place fell because of what seems to be a fairly standard “storage software update”.

Google notes that it’s going to take a little bit more time to get all of the data off the tapes and back into the cloud. But at least it will get there, instead of being gone forever.

[photo: flickr/akakumo]

WITN: New York State of the Tech Industry [TCTV]

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This week, Sarah is in New York doing various book-related things – but WITN is all about life outside the valley so she dialled in via Skype to give us an update in what’s happening on the East coast.

Spoiler alert: NY is still no Silicon Valley, but it’s increasingly proving that it doesn’t have to be. We also discussed whether New York’s status as a multi-industry town is a pro or a con when it comes to technology startups. Video below.

(Next week Paul will be in LA, a trip which he vehemently denies is about finding a new American girlfriend/wife. Instead, he claims he’ll be on the look out for interesting start-ups to rival Machinima and – uh –  MySpace. If you know of a company that fits the bill, let him know.)

Bump Founder Talks Rapid Growth, Push Notifications

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The two-year trajectory of Bump Technologies, the designers of the app that makes it easy to swap contact information, music, and other data between mobile devices,is a somewhat interesting case study in the evolution of early-stage app startups.

Speaking from the DEMO Conference today in Palm Springs, Founder Jake Mintz told the audience that Bump started as a “nights and weekends project” among close friends. Co-founders Mintz, David Lieb, and Andy Huibers launched Bump in March of 2009, and a month-and-a-half later, their nights and weekend project had already pulled in 1 million users.

The founders then decided to move their operations to San Francisco, where they began couch hopping in earnest. Mintz said that between May 2009 and February 2010, even though Bump raised nearly $3.5 million in Series A in November 2009 from Sequoia, they slept on couches, devoting all waking hours to their project.

Originally, Mintz said, Bump was conceived as a “replacement for business cards” and had more “serious” contexts in mind, but when they began to see that Bump was being used to share more than just CV data, they began adapting. Contact sharing remains at the core of Bump’s business, but Mintz said that, in the last year, many users have come to Bump as a way to share photos, and maximizing the value of both aspects of their mobile business has been “a delicate balance”.

Somewhat serendipitously, Bump went to Marc Andreesen, Ben Horowitz, and John O’Farrell for advice on how to grow the business, although they were not looking for investment at the time. Mintz said that the partners later came to them saying they would like to invest in spite of Bump’s reluctancy to raise additional funding. So, in January, Andreessen Horrowitz invested a sizable $16.5 million in Bump, with Andreessen joining Bump’s board.

When asked what they wanted to do with so much money, Mintz said that it would be used primarily to hire designers and developers, indicating that, as Andreessen had said to him, there will be multiple social networks in the future — beyond Facebook — and the team wants to build a social technology that “interfaces with the real world.”

It remains to be seen, he said, whether Facebook would eventually become a competitor for Bump, but today they continue to collaborate and make strides in areas that Facebook does not yet control.

Part of this growth, Mintz said, is from recognizing the important element of user experience. Bump remains determined not fall victim to spamming its users with notifications: “We all know apps can also be used as a tool for evil — an app that will send you a push notification every 15 minutes,” he said. “Some apps have used that mechanic and grown very quickly, and you have this really powerful opportunity to be a part of someone’s life — but in the long-term you have to focus on the user experience.”

Early Bump incarnations essentially allowed customers to download and begin using immediately without having to register or specify user settings. And while this approach worked initially and avoided breakage, a few core features went unused, because the app didn’t guide its users through a setup process, Mintz said.

The Bump team is now looking to add a short registration process and tutorial that will offer detailed instructions and walk users through how to optimize the niche features that will be arriving later this year. As to what to expect from Bump’s future additions, Mintz added, “if your vision involves finding the best and easiest ways to use a smartphone in the real world, we know that our users might walk into store and want to interact with a brand, or interact with a product, and we want to ask ‘how do we facilitate our growth around that?’”

Keeping an eye on customer experience has worked so far for Bump, as Mintz said that the application has become the eighth-most downloaded app on the Apple App store, attracting 8 million active monthly users, and 27 million downloads. Not too shabby.

Source: LegalZoom in early stages of preparing to go public

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Online legal document host LegalZoom is in the early stages of preparing to file for an initial public offering, a source told VentureBeat today.

The company hasn’t filed any documents that indicate it will go public with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The process begins when a company files a Form S-1, which includes its most recent financial details and how much money the company is looking to raise. So the actual initial public offering might not happen for several months.

LegalZoom is an online service that helps people find and fill out legal documents. That can include documents to create a last will and testament, filing to incorporate a business, trademarking a name or title or filing for a divorce. The documents can range anywhere from $100 to $400, according to the company’s website. LegalZoom is not an actual law firm — they just supply the documents. That means the site won’t offer any kind of legal advice for those seeking it out.

It’s a private company, which means it does not disclose its financial information. But the company did get in a spat with the city of Los Angeles over how much they would have to pay in taxes around this time last year. The company ended up deciding to relocate its offices from Hollywood to Glendale.

The Los Angeles, Calif.-based company was founded in 2001 and has more than 500 employees. LegalZoom raised $2 million in what looks like an early seed funding round and about $46 million in an institutional funding round that included Polaris Venture Partners and Kayne Anderson Private Investors.

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Here’s What UStream’s Big iPhone App Update Will Include

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Live video viewing and broadcasting service UStream appears set to unveil a dramatic update to its iPhone app, the first update the app has seen in many months. UStream, a deep-pocketed gamble on the future, really needs a better iPhone app. This new version looks a lot better; these changes are long overdue. This app looks like something I want to use to view and create live mobile video.

The company put up a post on its blog this evening with screenshots and details of the launch, but pulled the post, probably because the app isn’t live yet in the iTunes store. None the less, you can see the screenshots and highlights of the new version below.


For those of you with two phones in your pocket comparing apps across platforms, it appears that most if not all of these updates have been available in the UStream Android app for the past few months. Competition doesn’t sit still, either. Rumors emerged earlier this month that Apple’s MobileMe product might be remade as a Foursquare/UStream mashup of sorts. We’ll see. Given that the company has raised a fair sum of money and that live mobile video is supposed to be all the rage someday, ought UStream not have a little more than this up its sleeve for its first iPhone app update in months? Either way, I’m looking forward to it.

Highlights from the pending UStream release include:

  • Broadcasting and viewing will now finally be possible through the same single app. UStream previously offered live mobile broadcasting through one app (last updated in November) and viewing other peoples’ live shows through another (last updated in July). Now there will be just one app for both. It’s much more attractive than either the broadcaster or the viewer, too.
  • Featured content and sorting by categories. It’s hard to find good content on the UStream app, but the screenshot of featured live and recorded shows indicates the company is set to overcome this major hurdle in making the app worth using. In testing the old app just minutes ago, I was able to view live chatter between astronauts climbing around on the outside of the space station – on my phone! I was also able to see a well-endowed woman disrobe in front of a radio microphone while voices from off-camera shouted in Spanish about Wikipedia. Both live broadcasts truly were marvels of the modern age. Featured content will be a big improvement though, presuming there’s enough good things to feature.
  • Users can now log-in with Facebook or Twitter, in addition to their UStream accounts. That’s a very smart change.
  • Broadcasters will now be able to run polls from the app.
  • Subscribers can sign up for push notifications for channels or events of interest being broadcast live.

Can changes like these help UStream move beyond the topless astronaut crowd? Time will tell, but they sure look like big improvements to me. I like the idea of being able to view and broadcast live video from my phone. I’ll test the app and report back on performance once it’s live.



What Makes @ACarvin Tweet? (TCTV)

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The recent compounded protests and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa have had the unintended side effect of highlighting information nodes/elites like @Ghonim and @Sultanalqassemi, people who electively become human routers of related information on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks.

NPR’s Senior Strategist Andy Carvin has been one of the most prominent Western information routers, spending 15-17 hours a day tweeting out news about the region, getting rate limited and subsequently whitelisted by Twitter, and at one point becoming so synonymous with #Egypt that someone anonymously sent him a shirt “I followed @ACarvin before #Egypt did.”

I sat down on Sunday morning to talk to Carvin about why he’s decided to devote his tweet stream to this new form of curation, what his process was for the filtering and repackaging of information, and what digital tools exist or could exist to make it easier for people like Carvin to continue to refine the closest we’ve come to the ideal form of Twitter journalism.

You can watch the entire interview (please get past my  beginning awkwardness) above.

Report Finds Connected Devices, Not Phones, Leading the Explosion in Mobile Wireless

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wireless_report150.jpgWireless consultant Chetan Sharma has just released an updated report on U.S. mobile data for the last quarter of 2010, and it points to the growth in the wireless market, in mobile penetration and in data usage. According to Sharma, the U.S. wireless data market grew 5% from the third quarter of 2010 and was up 23% from 2009 For the entire year, revenues were $55 billion, a figure that Sharma predicts will increase to $67 billion by the end of 2011.

As Sharma observes, the mobile market crossed a number of important thresholds in the last quarter of 2010. Mobile subscriptions crossed the 100% penetration mark, for example. And smartphone shipments exceeded PC shipments for the first time.


But it’s important to note that these new mobile subscriptions aren’t all phones. In fact, the shape of the subscription market is changing quite dramatically, with connected devices outpacing the growth of paid and prepaid subscriptions quite dramatically. Connected devices – tablets, e-readers, and so on – are now 7% of subscriptions. That category isn’t simply the fastest growing; Sharma also predicts that this will soon become the most profitable. By the end of this year, connected devices will command double digit market share.


Sharma contends that multi-device data pricing plans will be an important key for success of this segment, as Wi-Fi isn’t always practical or dependable. He argues that operators who start to bundle devices under a single data plan will likely do well – an observation that coincides with AT&T’s announcement today that it will start selling the Kindle through its stores.

This continued growth in connected devices is clearly important to AT&T, which now has to compete with Verizon for iPhone customers. According to Sharma, connected devices are now 10% of AT&T’s subscription base. AT&T has edged ahead of Verizon in terms of the number of connected devices, but for both providers – for all providers in fact – the key will not simply be wooing subscribers but finding a way to adjust billing to keep pace with U.S. consumers’ ever-increasing mobile data consumption.


API of the Week: SlideShare

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SlideShare logo 150x150 Last week SlideShare announced its new JavaScript API for controlling embedded players. The company also added support for the oEmbed API.

The new JavaScript API gives developers the ability to: “access major functions, navigate across presentations, and control the SlideShare embed player via Javascript.” What can you do with those features? SlideShare suggests that you could use it to automate multiple players to show random slides one at a time or synchronize slides and video. I’m sure you can find more creative uses, though.


oEmbed is an open standard for embedded content. According to the oEmbed website: “The simple API allows a website to display embedded content (such as photos or videos) when a user posts a link to that resource, without having to parse the resource directly.” In other words, when someone adds a link to a SlideShare presentation, for example, it can be embedded automatically – without the need for the user to copy and paste an embed code.

We covered the launch of SlideShare’s new service Zipcast here here recently.


Ron Conway, Chris Sacca And Others Invest 800K In PaaS Dotcloud

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Hosted application platform DotCloud is announcing 800K in angel funding today, from notable angel investors Ron Conway, Chris Sacca, Jerry Yang, Raymond Tonsing, Roger Dickey, Ash Patel, Eric Urhane, Kenny Van Zant, Trinity Ventures and others.

In the same space as Heroku (before it got bought by Salesforce for $212 million) and a slew of 1st generation platform-as-a-service Heroku clones, what the 2nd generation DotCloud does differently is that it gives developers flexibility.

To make it easier to make server administration changes downstream, DotCloud lets companies “mix and match” components and use multiple languages and tools instead of focusing on one language and development stack.

Says founder Solomon Hykes, “The problem is that developers don’t want to be tied to one language or framework anymore. They still want simplicity – but now they want flexibility, too. And for that you need a completely new breed of platform.”

When asked on why he went in on the round, investor Chris Sacca said, “Hackers building stuff other hackers will pay for is too good to pass up.” Well, if Heroku has taught us anything …

Hykes plans on using the financing to further focus on building what he considers to be a “developer’s dream platform” with an emphasis on flexibility and user experience in addition to world class support.

Cooliris shows off its cool 3D ads for the iPad (video)

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cooliris immersive 3d adsMedia browsing startup Cooliris’ business plan has always revolved around high-quality, good-looking ads, and even though it recently refocused on its mobile photo app LiveShare, chief executive Soujanya Bhumkar said he’s still pushing forward on slick new ad products.

Specifically, Cooliris has created new “immersive 3D ads” for the iPad. You tap on the banner ad, which then opens into a 3D product demo that you can rotate using the iPad or iPhone, or into some other interactive ad. (Bhumkar emphasized the idea of immersiveness over 3D, since not all of the ads are 3D.) The idea is to take advantage of the iPad to deliver an ad that users are really engaged with.

Cooliris will run these 3D ads within its own LiveShare mobile app, but it also recently announced that it’s partnering with mobile ad network InMobi to make the technology available to InMobi advertisers. (The two companies will share the revenue.) Bhumkar said he’s open to working with other ad networks eventually, but he’s happy to launch with InMobi — the ad network was on board with Cooliris’ desire to make the technology available as soon as possible.

Cooliris’ Immersive 3D Ads will go live in April, but the company just sent me the demo video below to show them in action.

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DEMO 2011: CoinStar for Smartphones, Mind Reading & Virtual Dressing Rooms

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While the majority of companies launching at DEMO are entirely Web-based, there are some exceptions. This morning, we saw a handful companies hit the stage with gadgets in-hand (or in tow) that offer interesting perspectives on the future.

What does the future look like? If DEMO is any indication, it’s filled with mind-reading headbands, and augmented reality dressing rooms, and kiosks that eat your old devices and spit out cash in return.



Every year, more than 500 million devices reach consumers hands. The average smartphone lasts barely more than a year, with the average consumer swapping out at the 13 month mark. Where do these devices end up? In the landfill.

What’s the solution? An automated recycling station at your local grocery store that takes your old devices and give you cash or store credit in return, automatically. It’s call the ecoATM and it’s currently  All you need to do is put your old device, be it a smartphone, MP3 player, game DVD, GPS unit or other device into the unit and it scans it and determines what it is. It then determines the object’s condition and figures out a price. Then, right there on the spot, the machine offers you store credit or cold, hard cash.

That’s how we like our eco-activism – meted out in crisp 10s and 20s.

MindWave from NeuroSky

In a world of multitasking and distraction, it can be hard to concentrate. NeuroSky makes a game of it. Their device, which you wear on your forehead, monitors electrical EEG brainwave impulses and feeds the data through an algorithm to determine your state of mind. It then uses this measurement to advance the game. For example, on app requires a certain level of concentration to push an apple across the screen. Another poses quick mathematical questions and then graphs your ability to quickly and accurately respond.

Children’s games, however, seem to be just that. The company has a much larger play on its hands, with biosensors providing early diagnoses, “seizures avoided, machines operated, movies edited, games controlled, REM prolonged, bullseyes scored, and lessons learned using only the power of biosensors.”


Swivel & The Webcam Social Shopper

With the 2010 release of the Microsoft Kinect, the world is quickly getting used to the idea using your entire body as a controller. The device sold like hotcakes and now people are playing video games and controlling their Netflix accounts with the swing of an arm and shake of a hip.

What if, instead, you could use this same interface to see if that shirt really goes with that pair of pants? Or how about that purse with that dress? That’s the vision of Swivel from FaceCake Marketing Technologies and The Webcam Social Shopper from Zugara. Simply stand in front of an Internet-connected camera and try on your clothing before you buy it online.

Now, is it perfect? Far from it. The video was choppy and we have to wonder exactly how a system like this could tell you how something will really look on your without a full-body, 3D scan, but maybe that isn’t the whole point. Maybe it’s better to go from nothing to something, and right now when you’re shopping online you have nothing. Will this tell you if those pants are going to be a little tight? Or that shirt a little to slim in the shoulders? No. But it will tell you how they look together.

Both companies go beyond virtually trying on clothes, however, and tackle the more broad realm of augmented reality. In reality, the virtual dressing room is just one example of a wide variety of implementations and, if the Kinect is any indication, we’re going to see a lot more from where these come from.



Gmail Access (& Emails) To Be Restored "Soon" to All Those Impacted By Yesterday’s Outage

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As we reported yesterday, many Gmail users woke up Sunday to find that their email inboxes were empty – and not in a good way. Users reported their entire Gmail history – inboxes, outboxes, and archives – were wiped clean.

Google reports now that it has identified the problem, which it says was a bug resulting from a software storage update. Users affected will have access to their Gmail accounts again, and their email messages will be restored “though it may take longer than we originally expected.”


Google confirmed the problem with some Gmail accounts yesterday afternoon, and its engineers have been working on the problem since. Although Google initially said the problems affected .29% of Gmail users, the company has revised those estimates downward to .08% and then to .02% of users.

It was a small number of accounts, to be sure, but the problem has lasted about 30 hours. And for those impacted, the thought of losing all their email records was fairly frightening, as many who took to the Google forums to help troubleshoot their problems remarked with panic and frustration that they had years of email history stored there.

Fully restored emails or not, the incident is a good reminder to back up your data by either storing it locally or by storing a copy with another service.


Video: Ning’s Andreessen and Rosenthal Talk About New Social Chat Service Mogwee

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Yes, it’s actually called Mogwee, which was the codename for the new mobile social communications service being launched tonight by Ning, the high-profile social networking platform co-founded by Silicon Valley icon and investor Marc Andreessen.

Part Twitter, part SMS, part Path and any number of such social start-ups, Mogwee actually stands for “more great weekends,” said CEO Jason Rosenthal, who has been focusing Ning on premium offerings.

BoomTown interviewed Rosenthal and Andreessen–who is also chairman of Ning–at an overpriced tea salon in San Francisco last week about the latest entrant into the crowded socializing of smartphones market.

The Mogwee app was approved today for the Apple iPhone and iPad. The Google Android version is coming in about a week and the one for Research in Motion’s BlackBerry is to come after that.

Also on deck: Integration with big social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Currently, the only way to bring in friends is via your cell phone’s address book.

Once loaded, you can use Mogwee to chat live, share photos, play games, make analog plans and–horrors–throw sheep.

As you can see from the video and screenshots below, a user creates any series of “Hangouts”–such as a whiskey one by Andreessen–for real-time groups or one-to-one chat.

Here is the video interview I did, as well as a look at the service (click on the images to make them larger) and a blog post Rosenthal did about Mogwee:

[ See post to watch video ]

I’d like you to meet Mogwee.

In January I talked to you about the custom social revolution that is fueling our business as more and more customers come to us to create powerful, custom social websites for their group, band, cause, classroom or business. Since then we launched the Ning Design Studio, major enhancements to the Ning Engagement System, and are in beta with our next killer feature, Paid Access. We have more on the way as Jonathan shared in his recent road map post, and I can’t wait to see Ning help even more customers bring their websites and brands into the social age.

With our road map in place, our business growing and the team humming–I spent some time last fall working with Diego, our CTO and Marc, our Chairman, to think about the next major area for Ning to tackle. We have this awesome team, a deep bench of talent, and 5 years of experience in group and social dynamics. We also knew that with the advances in smart phones mobile was going to be a critical part of the next break through services.

Enter Mogwee–with a very small team (just 2 at first) we began work on a new product–it would be both mobile and social at its core–not an adaptation of an old service for mobile. It would also rethink the modes in which we communicate for the modern age–a native app with chat as the backbone, real time and asynchronous sharing, additional mobile services built in–and it would be fun. A fun, consumer social product, that would be great for anyone to use!

I’ve been asked a few times–how does this relate to Ning? I believe that innovation (not the word, the act) is critical to making Ning a great company, not just building one great product, but a host of amazing new products for the future. Is Apple just the iPod? Google just Search? HP just a printer? We need to be pushing into new businesses that make sense and relate to our “social” DNA. We have an extremely talented engineering team–giving them new challenges and the freedom to invent makes Ning a better company and one that attracts and retains amazing people who want to do amazing things.

After several months of preparing we take Mogwee on its maiden voyage, launching today in Apple’s App Store, and very quickly after for Android and the web, we’re feeling excited, and for the 6 people now working on Mogwee–pretty tired.

Mogwee is a new social communication service that brings together all of the things you love to do with your friends and family on your phone. From chatting live and sharing photos, to planning a night out or playing a game, with a single tap, Mogwee gives you instant access to everything that makes life fun. I can’t wait for you to give Mogwee a try!

Ning Launches Slick New Mobile Social Tool Called Mogwee

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Mogwee launches this evening, an ambitious new product from Ning unrelated to its core social networking service. It’s a new social/communications tool that’s built from the ground up for mobile platforms, beginning with iOS for iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads.

For now, Mogwee’s main feature is to let you have on the fly public and private instant message-like conversations with people via the app. It updates in real time allowing for synchronous conversations, or you can wait for notifications to come in to have a more asynchronous experience.

Unlike most new services we see, there’s no friending or following with Mogwee. If you invite someone to the service, or interact with them in a group “hangout,” you can then have one on one conversations with them. It ends up being very similar to services that have mutual friending, but it worked effortlessly in my testing without al the hassle of adding and removing friends.

For one one on communications it works a lot like text messaging, albeit with a synchronous flow that makes it more fun to use. In group hangouts, though, it really shines. If you want to have a quick group chat with some friends or coworkers from your mobile, this is something you’ll enjoy using. You can also post pictures and videos, give gifts, and do fun stuff like throw zombie sheep at each other.

I’ve tested Mogwee on iOS and have been using it over the weekend via an unlaunched Android version that works quite well (you’ll have to wait a while for the Android version to be released publicly). You can download it here for iOS now, though. And you can also use the browser version at You have to actually create your account via your phone, though, before you can use the browser version.

Try it out. At first it just seems like another fun chat application. But it’s actually quite a useful chat and productivity tool.

Light Painting Wifi (Haunting Video)

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Above: WiFi signal spills gently into the street from an old Oslo apartment building built in the 1890’s. Video below.

Wireless communication channels are all around us all the time, but their variable strengths in different places create a textured, invisible part of the urban landscape. A team of Norwegian researchers, arguing that WiFi is “a fundamental part of the construction of networked cities,” created the beautiful video below visualizing the strength of WiFi signals around their neighborhood in Oslo. They used a four meter pole that measured signal strength and lit up to a great or lesser degree. Then they took time delayed photos of themselves walking through the snowy streets.

“The strength, consistency and reach of the network says something about the built environment where it is set up, as well as reflecting the size and status of the host,” writes the team in Immaterials: Light painting WiFi “Small, domestic networks in old apartment buildings flow into the streets in different ways than the networks of large institutions. Dense residential areas have more, but shorter range networks than parks and campuses.”


Wifi is just one kind of signal, of course. IPhone owners would likely love to paint 3G signals like this. As the Internet of Things brings more and different kinds of signals to our cities, and as we grow to depend all the more on those signals not just for Internet access but for the communication between our newly-networked home services and appliances and the networks, then this sort of measurement and visualization could become something more than just art. It sure is cool art, though.

Thanks to Flowing Data for blogging about it first.


Searching for Sadness in New York: Is the Foursquare API Living Up to Its Potential?

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As explained in this blog post, Foursquare needed a way for its business staff to run reports based on its data without slowing down production servers and without learning technologies such as Scala and MongoDB. The company decided to make its data available to business staff through a Hadoop cluster hosted by Amazon Web Services. Foursquare’s data miners could then query it using Hive, which provides a SQL-like query language for Hadoop.

As a proof-of-concept the company has produced a report on the rudest cities in the world, based on the number of tips that contain profanity. Which is pretty cool (apart from the assumption that profanity use = rudeness). But it makes me realize just how under-utilized geolocation APIs are.


Here are the results of Foursquare’s profanity-mining:

Foursquare rudest cities

And here’s how Foursquare’s data analysis system works:

Foursquare diagram

Some more practical applications, from a business standpoint, for data mining staff might include determining:

Which venues are fakes or duplicates (so we can delete them), what areas of the country are drawn to which kinds of venues (so we can help them promote themselves), and what are the demographics of our users in Belgium (so we can surface useful information)?

Of course, this sort of check-in data is solely in the hands of Foursquare’s internal users. But it makes me wonder whether you could pull together information like this through the Foursquare API if you build your own data warehouse for analysis.

I wonder what services like Fourwhere (which we covered here) could learn by caching all the data retrieved from location various APIs and running sentiment analysis on it. What could MisoTrendy (coverage) tell us about a venue based long-term trend patterns? Is there something in Foursquare’s terms of service that prevents people from doing this? I guess we’re back to that old question what would you do with the massive data sets produced by persistent location tracking?

Update: MisoTrendy’s Andrew Ferenci explains the limitations:

1. You would not be able to pull and process historical data like 4SQ did from their production databases and log files (only real-time data/ hard for small web app to run queries that generate 1bn records)
2. If you use something like Google Apps Engine you have lots of limitations on DB and backend processing (only 80-90K hits before you have to start payinh)
3. Most third party applications would only be able to pull real-time data from 4SQ API, so no backend processing.

However, if you decided you want to create an application to do pull similar data starting today, you would definitely be able to, but not as the same historical breadth.

Techincally, its all feasible with some limitations. Misotrendy was built using Google Apps Engine with a Python backend. There are limitations for the DB and backend processing because you cannot use Ruby on Rails with this setup.

This feels like it could be the first steps towards accomplishing what was described in the opening lines of the Headmap Manifesto:

there are notes in boxes that are empty

every room has an accessible history

every place has emotional attachments you can open and

you can search for sadness in new york