November 2010
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Month November 2010

This time it’s personal

Web 2.0 was about making the web social (and glassy buttons), now let’s make it personal, relevant and about the user.

There’s so much content it’s hard to filter out the noise and get to the stuff you want. This is true be it from Twitter, your Facebook news feed or what to watch on TV. The growth of smartphones only exacerbates the need for a personalized experience. Our phones have become an extension of ourselves, though their smaller form factor requires us to only put the important stuff on them. The way we use our phones also dictates a need for faster access to the important things. Besides streamlining the features and the design, the mass of content needs to be streamlined as well. Quicker access to the things that matter to you is the core concept behind Microsoft’s current ad campaign for WindowPhone7.

The mobile space isn’t the only place where this streamlining is welcomed, take Netflix for example. They’ve grown from a simple DVD-by-mail service to one of the biggest online streaming services. There’s a reason people love Netflix. It’s not about the number of movies they have but rather they showcase the videos that you may actually want to watch. When first signing up to the service you’re asked to rate a few movies so it can begin to make recommendations. Netflix even had a ongoing contest looking for anyone that could significantly improve (their already lauded) recommendation algorithms. In Sept. 2009, they had a winner but the real winner was Netflix and their customers.


Personalization doesn’t always need to be complicated, even the smallest touches of personalization will do wonders for the user experience. The latest browsers have removed their default homepages in lieu of quick views of sites that you visit most. Above is the message Safari displays when you launch it for the first time. Like Netflix, it’s aim is to show you content that’s relevant to you based on your actions. Below is a basic recommendation system I created to demonstrate how user actions can be used to bias content towards more items of a similar nature (in this case color).

Your TV’s New Best Friend

Yesterday Comcast released their XFINITY TV app for iOS. Basically it’s a cleaned up TV Listings grid, updated On Demand guide, the ability to change the channel, set your DVR and (coming soon on the iPad) streaming content. These options are also available online via XfinityTV.com but having them in your phone makes it so much more relevant. Though I’ve seen the demo versions for months (I work at Comcast) it’s something else to use it in the real world.

The set-up was simple, especially since I’m already using the remote DVR service that was released earlier this year. Once inside the app the TV Listings scrolled through channels and hours with ease. After seeing the smoothness of this interaction you’ll wish all other grids could work this well. There’s still a ton of channels to browse through but way simpler then anything a set-top box can offer. There’s also a search feature should you already know what you want to watch but need to know where. The On Demand section is also way quicker to navigate then via the standard remote.  And since you can instantly tune your TV to anything you can pull up in the app you may never pick up the old remote again.

Unlike many other iPhone remotes this one works over the Internet rather then your local WiFi so there is no start up time every time you take the phone out of sleep mode. It’s also great tool to mess with people watching TV as you can change the channel even if they’re the ones holding the TV remote. Granted my girlfriend didn’t enjoy this feature as much as I did.

I’m not the only one that seems to like it:

The app is free, so if you’re a Comcast/Xfinity customer there’s no reason not to give it a try.

Last but not least, I need to give props to all my co-workers that have been working killer hours to make this a reality.

Weekly Rewind: the mobile continuum

With all the hype and speculation surrounding the iPhone being released for Verizon and today being the launch day for Window Phone 7 in the US…Samsung and Verizon steal the limelight with releasing the new “dual-screen” Continuum. It’s actually one screen, divided into two parts via the default Android buttons. It’s not a half bad idea, especially the stealing the lime light part.  Interestingly enough Verizon has once again added Microsoft’s Bing search tool to the Android based phone (read: Google).

Engadget’s First Look
PC Wolrd’s First Impressions

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Also cutting into Microsoft’s big day was an announcement that Gingerbread, the next version of the Android operating system, would be available to Nexus One owners in the next few days. The best part was that this announcement came in the form of a Twee at.

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Last week Blekko, a new search engine was launched. Co-created by Rich Skrenta, who also founded the Open Directory Project back in the 90’s. With a quest to “clean up the web” from garbage content, Blekko filters out content farm content as well as allowing you to filter the results through the query string itself. I gave it a few tries. It’s clean and seemed to do what they suggest. Check out the NY Times if you want to know more about the history and how to get the most from Blekko.

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This should be entertaining for anyone in technology that saw the Social Network or knows someone that has.

How quickly things change

In yesterday’s weekly recap I reported on Zynga out doing EA in their financial worth. Just a bit shocking as Zynga has been around for around 4 years and produce simple albeit social games. While EA has been around since the early years of computer gaming, and now own the rights to just about every sports franchise there is. Clearly EA has more overhead but who would’ve thought selling virtual goods could be worth so much.

Well, it seems as though EA has seen the light and just signed a 5 year deal with Facebook for game distribution. While last week EA bought the publisher of Angry Birds, the current gaming zeitgeist.

Weekly Rewind: Friendships, Mayorships and the social monster

Two little changes that have a big effect.

This week Facebook added a new feature, called Friendships, that allows you to see the activity between friends. For many this will be a great way to reminisce, and be a nice addition to Facebook’s features. On the other hand it’s a privacy nightmare scarier then a Halloween horror flick.  How can this feature be bad…think of  jealous partner, this feature could easily be miss used to stalk their mate and easily read into any/all cross communications they’ve had with others. To make matters worse, it shows you activity between someone you know and people they are friends with, even when you are not. I wouldn’t have such a complaint if it was just me and one of my friends, but the friend to friend and especially the friend to stranger friendships cross the (privacy) line for me. If it does for you, check out Opt Out of the FB Friendship Feature.

The other little change this week took place on FourSquare, where they now allow venue owners to revoke mayorships. It make sense now that becoming a Mayor may come with incentives FourSquare has too crack down on the false posts. Still, this little change is going to have repercussions, no doubt someone will try to use this to oust a legit mayor for whatever their reason be it prize or ego. On a lighter note, FourSquare also allows check-ins from space.

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Personally I don’t participate in Foursquare, Gowalla or Facebook’s Places as they give me nothing I value in return for my participation. Though there are a number of crossover (online to local) services I do use like Groupon (and similar services), Yelp (for reviews) and Google’s mobile search. I also post my photos to Flickr and Pegshot with their location data turned on as location seems to be a vital part in the story that picture has to tell. More an more this cross over between the real world (local) our online one is going to become seamless. David Marcus’s editorial on TechCrunch talks about how these services need come together to really provide something useful in our day-to-day lives.

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Another buzz word these days is HTML5, this time it’s Microsoft that’s doing the talking. Seems as though Microsoft has decided to back off on the development of their Silverlight platform and focus on using HTML5 for creating online apps. This is a genius move on their part. HTML5 is the only cross platform supported technology. For those developing native mobile apps you’re now looking at supporting a growing number of iOS devices, all the flavors of Android (see more here), Symbian OS and now WinMo7. With WinMo7 being the newest of the group the quickest way to get developers to support your platform is for them to support all platforms. Joe Wilcox goes into greater detail about Microsoft’s David and Goliath strategy.

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We use our smartphones for just about everything filling it with tons of personal data but how often do we think about all that data and how secure it is. Last week there were postings on how simple it was to gain access to one’s contact list on a locked iPhone. So far Apple hasn’t acknowledged it but the method works and is simple enough for just about anyone to do. Sorry, intentionally not providing link.

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Zynga, the creators of FarmVille etc., are now worth more then EA, the second largest game publisher and makers of every sports franchise game there is. The reasons…virtual goods, lower overhead, and of course social networking. Still, both are smaller then Activision Blizzard but Zynga has only been around for four years, so who knows how long that will last. Get more of the details at Bloomberg Businessweek.

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Two lengthy reads from the NY Times