Posts Tagged ‘tech’

App review: Lift and the quantified self

Life hacking, self tracking, the quantified self; call it want you want, using technology to help track and improve your health and wellbeing is one of the fastest growing areas in digital.  Many respected bloggers are starting up blogs to cover this subject, like Stephen Davies’ Bionic.ly and Drew Benvie’s bodydata.

One of the most highly anticipated launches in this area was for lift.do, mainly because two of its backers are twitter founders Ev Williams and Biz Stone.  They have a lofty stated aim to “push the envelope of human potential through positive reinforcement”.

I’ve been using the beta app for a few weeks now and wanted to share my initial thoughts.  Firstly, it’s a great concept, and the app itself is, as you’d expect from a team this experienced, simple and intuitive to use.  You essentially decide on which ‘habits’ you want to track, like sleeping for 8 hours, doing more exercise or eating healthier (you can add your own, more random ones, if you like) and then every time you complete a habit, you check-in.  Over time you can see how you’ve performed with each habit.  You can see when other users check-in to a habit and you can give people ‘props’ for completing a habit.  There are a few other features, like the fact that you can add a commentary when you check-in but that’s essentially it.

The biggest question mark I have with the app in its current format (and obviously it’s only beta) is that there’s not much motivation to encourage you to keep using it. I open it, check-in, close it.  Not sure what their longer term plans are but for me there needs to be more of a connection between what you’re doing and what others are doing. You don’t have a community of friends/followers as with other networks and so it’s hard to build up a sense of relationships with other users.  Without this the app is a little bit, well, dull.

Hopefully the next version will address this.  There’s definitely something in lift but it needs more to motivate me to keep using it beyond it being a simple record of healthy/positive things I’ve done.

 

App.net: changing the face of social networks (possibly…)

 

In just 6 short years twitter has established itself in our lives.  Hashtags on most TV programmes, the @ sign has become ubiquitous and every day celebrities help to extend it’s mainstream audience a little further.

It’s here to stay right?  Well lately there have been rumblings that twitter is losing its way, the increasing restrictions on developers using the API, the disgraceful way in which it sucked up to a major advertiser, deleting a journalist’s account for daring to criticise NBCs coverage of the Olympics, it’s all looking a bit murky.

The problem of course with an ad supported network is that, as we all know, if you’re not paying, you’re the product; a commodity to be bought and sold.  This is something we have always accepted but perhaps in the future we will look back in surprise at our compliance (if you’ve not read it, highly recommend Michael Wolff’s excellent piece on the essential problem with the ad supported model).

Just because it’s the way it’s always been, doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.

The founders of App.net are daring to do something bold.  In their words they’re building, “a real-time social service where users and developers come first, not advertisers”.  Asking users to commit to paying $50 per year for an account, they’ve raised nearly $300,000 of a $500,000 goal but with 5 days to go until their deadline to raise funding it’s looking questionable whether they’ll get there.

And it’s not just the relationship with the users, App.net will offer much more flexibility (and therefore innovation?) for developers.

I really hope they reach their target.  It’s so easy to plug ourselves into these platforms with no real consideration of the Faustian pact into which we’re entering.  Go join.app.net and let’s find a better way.

*UPDATE: There’s a great piece about app.net just gone up on TNW, which includes a Q&A with founder Dalton Caaldwell

*UPDATE: With 19 hours to go, App.Net have exceeded their target (currently at $600,00), so now it gets interesting.  I also wanted to link to this post by Orian Max, since it explains very well, all the various benefits of a App.Net.

Thinking Digital 2012

This year’s Thinking Digital was much anticipated (particularly after my love fest last year…) and it didn’t disappoint.  Once again, an eclectic mix of speakers enthralled, entertained and amazed the audience.  I always think that reading about live events is similar to listen to someone talking about their dreams; to them it was staggering, to you it seems less incredible.

But once again I would urge you to put Thinking Digital on your list for next year.  It’s not just the speakers that makes it great, it’s the intimacy of the event that is perfectly placed to encourage conversations between like-minded souls.

It’s incredibly difficult to single out highlights but if forced…

Our social media panel at TDC University: it’s probably cheating to choose something I was involved with (as panel chair) but with such knowledgeable set of panelists, there were some great debates around the future of established and newer platforms and emerging trends, such as social discovery, niche networks, privacy issues and social businesses

Mikko Hypponen : an eye-opening and somewhat alarming talk about the dangers of internet virus.  Clearly we saw a tip of an (albeit frightening) iceberg.  I dread to think of the things this guy has seen but it’s good to know that people like him are on the case.

Pam Warhurst from Incredible Edible: nothing to do with digital or technology but everything to do with the power of working collaboratively and just getting on with getting stuff done.  There were quite a few damp eyes in the audience by the end.

Sugata Mitra: Having seen Sugata before at Guardian Active8, I was aware of the incredible work done by this charming, humble man. Genuinely revolutionising the way we think about education and the way in which its delivered.  Go read about his work.

Richard Banks: an interaction designer at Microsoft who made us all consider our digital legacies and how future generations will deal with the mountains of content we are all creating.

Jennifer Gardy: Every audience member fell for this intelligent, engaging and funny scientist, who spoke about her work researching contagious diseases.  The little book she ‘just wrote’ showed that she’s also an amazing cartoonist and writer.  Is it fair for one person to have so much talent?

I conducted a few audio interviews.  A cracking one with Tom Scott, which sadly crashed half way through and I didn’t find out until much later (gutted as he’s such interesting character with an usual skill set – how many programmers do you know that can do stand up comedy?).

Sarah Hartley about notice and the future of hyperlocal journalism

Will McInnes about running a business that has an open and transparent business model

Adrian Hon from Six to Start (creators of the hugely popular Zombies! Run) about how he turned his agency into a product company and  funding projects through crowd sourcing sites like Kickstarter.

Thanks Herb.  Until next year.

Top 5 favourite tools & apps

A quick post to share my current top 5 favourite tools & apps (this isn’t a post about new apps, more those tools I’m using a lot):

*ifttt – With the tagline: ‘Put the internet to work for you’ – is a brilliantly simple yet clever idea which automates your use of the web.  For example every time I post to Instagram, ifttt saves it to Evernote for me.  Every time I favourite a tweet, it plugs it into Instapaper.  There are some fantastic ‘recipes’ from other people you can use or you can create your own.  Which bring me on to….

*Instapaper – Save web articles to read offline.  Brilliant on the iPad and equally useful on the laptop.  I constantly come across interesting stuff on twitter and elsewhere, now I tend to store them up and read them in a bunch, and (obviously) you don’t need wifi access.

*Feedly - I still use RSS loads, to catch up on new stuff.  Feedly remains my favourite way to sort through my google reader subscriptions (although yes, Flipboard is very pretty), particularly as I can switch between views – from ‘latest’ to individual topics ‘history’ or ‘saved’ stuff.

*tweetbot – twitter client for the iPhone.  Very slick and intuitive UI.  Miles better than official iPhone (although who remembers how much we loved tweetie?)

*Evernote – Note taking on steriods.  After years of persevering, I’m finally starting to get real value out of this.  The more you use, the better it gets.  Although I still feel like I’m barely scraping the surface of all the ways I could be using it

What are your current favourite tools & apps?

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/indiamos/

Social Media & Digital Predictions for 2012

Tech and media bloggers fall over each other to herald in the new year with predictions that 2012 will be the ‘Year of….’
I’m adding my voice to that cacophony but with the proviso that I will come back in December, revisit them and we can decide whether I was completely off the mark, somewhere near or, in fact, the leading new oracle.

So my 5 predictions for 2012:

1. From real-time to slowing down. Heard a lot of talk about this at sxsw in 2011 but seeing an increasing number of blog posts about it from tech early adopters and certainly feeling it myself. Have we all gorged ourselves on ‘real-time’ instant communications to such an extent that we are feeling the need for abstinence? Inevitably when these new technologies were created, we all crammed ourselves with them in a feeding frenzy. But frequently now I want to shout “SLOW DOWN”, it’s not a race. Faster isn’t always better.

2. The rise and rise of the storyteller. It’s arguable that storytelling is already the comic sans of the digital world, so much is the term being banded about but there are two sides to this that I want to flag up. Firstly, this is the year that I think more and more organisations will come to understand the importance of storytelling when developing their content for social media content and secondly, the rise of live storytelling in the UK (see The Moth for an idea if you’ve never been to a live storytelling event). The first London Storytelling Festival took place in October 2011 and other small events are popping up all over the UK, like Tales of Whatever, in Manchester. This can only be a good thing. There is nothing and I repeat, nothing that warms the heart as much as a good story.

3. Listening as much as reading. Audio is on the up. Audio stories (see no 2 above and please, if you’ve never done so, go to This American Life this instant and listen to one of the podcasts) and audio for reporting. I know this isn’t new but I think 2012 will be the year that audio in social really explodes.

4. A return to long form. Five years ago, Twitter turned the heads of bloggers and they skipped off into the sunset holding hands, leaving behind a trail of broken and abandoned blogs. This was desperately sad as many brilliant writers went from posting 3 or 4 times a week to once a month if we were lucky. It’s great that so many are returning to those blogs, dusting them off and reacquainting themselves. Yes I know that blogging generally has continued to grow in the last 5 years but I’m talking about the really good, thought-provoking bloggers that you can’t wait to read. There aren’t many of those.

5. The year social media stopped being talked about as a separate ‘thing’. Will 2012 be the year that the overall knowledge level as risen to such an extent that we can stop the echo chamber discussions about whether social media ‘matters’ or how to measure engagement. Personally I’m hoping on this one but realise it’s a long shot.

So they are my wise {sic} predictions. Let’s see how we get on…

*Image: J W Waterhouse’s The Crystal Ball, courtesy oubliette (reproduced under Creative Commons license)

The 7-day no phone crash diet

I’ve just done something that I haven’t done for over three years, well 10 years depending on which way you look at it.
About three weeks ago I was coming out of the gym, pulled my iphone out of my pocket and wham, dropped it on the floor and completely smashed the screen.  So it had to go away to be repaired with the words buzzing in my ears from the insurance company that it could take “up to 10 days to be fixed”.  10 days?!! Were they out of their minds?

Now I pause at this point to acknowledge that I fully realise not having a phone for 10 days is hardly catastrophic in the scheme of things but it’s given me a short sharp shock into the reality (positive and negative) of a life lived in the thrall of the small screen.

So what did I find?

*I am utterly and completely addicted to tapping away on my bloody iphone.  There I said it.  Obvious, right? Well yes and no, I did realise how much time I spend swiping up and down timelines, checking in, checking emails, sharing photos, looking at photos, commenting on photos, updating, sharing, searching, listening to podcasts, checking the weather and numerous other trivial and not so trivial actions but when it’s not there anymore you really feel the gaping hole that was there and appreciate just how much time you waste spend on it.

*Without the phone, I let go of twitter since without the real-time aspect, I lost interest.  It just didn’t have the same grip.

*The three things I missed most: Instagram, mobile search and my beloved This American Life podcasts, particularly while travelling.

*For a couple of days when I was out and about I borrowed my son’s, basic to the core, Samsung (see the pic).  And for a brief time there was something nice about having a phone that only does two things: make calls and send texts.  Without any clutter on the phone, I didn’t have the ever present, unconscious ‘tap tap’ in my head, that causes me to launch twitter, check email, browse Instagram and on and on (from the minute I wake up until, quite literally, the moment I go to sleep).  I’ve always been someone with a surfeit of nervous energy.  In that respect technology is bad for me, it compounds my tendency to be constantly fiddling with stuff.  Without my phone I was, stiller.

So, I missed my phone and…I didn’t miss my phone.  I was inwardly ashamed at how utterly delighted I was when it turned up a whole three days early, you’d have thought I’d was being reunited with a long lost love. It was interesting (although I don’t want to repeat it). I’m trying to learn from the experience and be more mindful of how technology can seep under your skin without you really noticing how deep it has embedded itself into you.

The great and the good – Day 2 at LeWeb

 Delayed flights and thick fog meant a very late arrival home last night and a very addled brain so here are some, not always coherent thoughts, on the second day.

The start of Day 2 was considerably quieter than the first day which undoubtedly had something to do with the official party the night before (I was very boring sensible, opted out and ended up having a lovely dinner with some fantastic people including @vero and @bash).   Jeremiah Owyang's talk was much anticipated but a bit of a let down.  Although he's undoubtedly insightful, articulate and extremely knowledgeable, it did feel a bit like he was preaching to the converted with talk of 'listening' and recruiting brand advocates to help amplify your cause.

The Legend that is Yossi Vardi popped up like a malevolent genie, with a seemingly unending collection of funny photos and videos scraped from YouTube.  As Paul Carr pointed out,"It's like my grandfather has just discovered the Internet."

But whatever you thought of his talk, there's no doubt he was a breath of fresh air in the face of all the earnest talk of how real-time is changing the face of search/the internet/world/universe.  I inadvertently stumbled across him and managed to grab a quick audioboo. And yes it was a slightly bizarre question to ask, don't blame me, I was star-struck, it was all the idea of Mark Rock.

Then the arena become thick with anticipation (and security guards) at the arrival of Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah.  She received a rapturous welcome and went out to deliver a surprisingly intrancing speech.  I have to say I was sceptical beforehand but there's no doubt she's intelligent, perceptive and using her incredible power to do some fantastic charity work.

Into the afternoon Chris Brogan, Brian Solis, Steve Rubel and others discussed how brands can adapt to real-time WOM.  It was a genuinely interesting discussion, not least because, let's face it, these are the heavyweights of the social meeja world (that's naff but you get my point).  There was a heated debate about the old chesnut how to demonstrate ROI, with some of the panel members suggesting that we shouldn't try, CEOs need to understand that it's not about trying to measure against old metrics etc at which point Brian Solis came out with the quote of the day: "This panel may resonate here but we all have to report to people who don't give a shit".  Quite!

There were more tech gazilionares in the afternoon including Fabrice Grinda (just what was the combined wealth of all the speakers…..) who was refreshingly honest about how great it was to wake up and realise you are worth $40m.  And of course the AWESOME Gary Vee.

It's the first time I went to LeWeb but I truly hope it won't be the last.  Well-organised, fun, inspirational and exciting.  I'll leave the last words to @loic and @geraldine

Coffee, pastries and tech – Day 1 at LeWeb

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LeWeb '09 kicked off in style with Loic Le Meur telling the packed conference room that there are over 2000 attendants from over 50 different countries. 
Seeking to capture the zeitgeist of the tech world, Loic called it an historic period in our industry, with real-time changing the face of the web irreversibly.  Combine that with the onward march of mobile, throw in geolocation and connected objects and these are truly exciting times.

So highlights from Day 1

Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter, tipped up to talk about his new project Square, a nifty piece of hardware that attaches to a range of mobile devices to enable the user to accept credit card payments.  Despite an inevitable few hitches with the live demo (first rule of conferences, even if you've practiced it 300 times back stage, it will never work live), he eventually managed to show it in action and there's no doubt it's innovative.  He admitted they have a fair few issues to iron out and the issue of fraud protection is a mammoth one.

TechCrunch Europe's start-up competition revealed some gems most notably:

Friendbinder, an aggregator of social networks that allows you to see conversation trends and search just within your friends.  

Tigerlilly, a really neat app that makes it much easier to customise the tabs on a Facebook fan page.  It takes away the requirement for FBML plus it's makes it much easier to change the tabs once set up.  Marketers will love it.

Tasky:ly, a streamlined task manager, that made me think "that's exactly what I've been waiting for".

Sokoz a real-time auction system – think ebay but snappier

In the afternoon YouTube founder Chad Hurley seemed fairly underwhelmed about the idea of real-time (perhaps his new passion for racing cars is occupying his mind).  He did throw out some astounding facts and figures about YouTube though, most notably that 24 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube EVERY MINUTE; that's a lot of cute cat videos.

Scoble introduced pearltrees , which helps you 'organize the web' and definitely deserves a closer look (if for no other reason that it will make it much easier to find previous links that you've shared on Twitter).

And of course, (my hero) Marissa Mayer showed once again why she's the right hand girl of Larry and Sergey and a worthy winner of woman of the year.  Articulate, knowledgeable and with an inside track on one of the most influential companies in the world, she talked about combining social search with real-time and the algorithm Google are working on to better assess which of the real-time web content is most valuable; effectively sorting through the volume to get to the gems.

Roll on Day 2……

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