July 2011
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Month July 2011

All is Not Lost – OK Go’s Viral Tribute to Japan

Once again OK Go has created a great viral video experience. This time they’ve teamed up with Google Japan, director Trish Sie and Pilobolus (a modern dance troupe) to create All Is Not Lost a tribute/message to post tsunami Japan.

The entire video is shot from below making for some interesting visuals all on it’s own, but add the multi-window tiling of video and you get a crazy kaleidoscope effect. If that wasn’t enough there is the viral/personalization feature where you type a message and OK Go and Pilobolus will write it out with their bodies. Simple concept, great execution.

Technically speaking, the use of HTML for syncing multiple videos is still pretty impressive. Be forewarned that this may be taxing on older computers as I know last year’s video/experience for The Arcade Fire’s The Wilderness Downtown gave my laptop a bit of a work out. For more about how they made the video check out Google’s blog. Regardless of the technology used the most impressive thing is how this all came about as a tribute to a post tsunami Japan.

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Links:
All Is Not Lost (video)
OK Go
Pilobolus
Google’s blog
The Arcade Fire’s The Wilderness Downtown

Quick Take on Spotify

Last week Spotify launched in the United States, though It’s been available abroad for years. If that wasn’t enough buzz, invites were hard to come by so congrats if you were lucky enough to get an invite, find a loophole or paid your way in. For those that haven’t had a chance to check it out here’s a quick rundown of the service.

Spotify is a subscription/free streaming music service boasting over 15 million songs in its catalog and offline listening (subscription only). According to Spotify’s promos “Spotify is any song, any album, any time”. I tested out a few of the more obscure bands from my college years and it found most of them that had more than one major label release. Song wise there were more gaps but overall pretty impressive. Their catalog also loaded with new releases, not just forgotten tracks from yesteryear.

The Spotify application is pretty simple and it layout is reminiscent of iTunes and other music apps. Rather then having the play controls front and center, they’re located across the bottom of the app, similar to Grooveshark, which took some getting used to. The search box is located at the top left, hinting that it’s a primary tool for getting around Spotify’s offerings. When using search it returns a list of potential artist, albums and in the main window all the songs that are a potential match. This allows you to go from search to playing pretty quickly.

Despite the top placement of Search the UI seems focused on playlists. To help you get jump started you can import you music and playlists from iTunes. Though beyond the jump-start I don’t see much value with this feature unless you pony up for the premium subscription giving you at-will offline access to your music on your phone. Additionally, located above the playlists is a “What’s new” and “inbox” where you’d find the latest pop hits and music friends shared with you (respectively). Overall it’s a solid service with a large catalog of music that is worth checking out but it does have some issues.

I know Spotify isn’t alone in their pricing model treating mobile as a premium feature. Regardless it still tops my list of issues. Though the app on both Android and iOS are nicely designed they do little more than offer access to music you already have on the device. Streaming and offline access to Spotify’s music are $5 and $10 a month. On the plus side it does offer the ability to sync via WiFi. Who knows this could change as popularity of free services similar to Amazon’s Cloud Player and Google Music gain more traction.

Another issue is how focused the app is on playlists and albums. Honestly I don’t always have time to create playlists and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. They need to add a “genius” feature, basic stations or any sort of lazy mode if only to showcase the vastness of their catalog. Currently, despite having 15 million songs if I can’t think of it, I don’t know they have it or I’m stuck listening to albums which isn’t always what I’m looking for. If you love Pandora’s ability to create an instant playlist based on a single song/artist I’d say stick with Pandora for now.

My last big issue with Spotify is their advertisements. I know they have bills to pay so I’m not complaining that there are adverts in general but they are either three in a row, feature samples from songs I have zero interest in or worse yet fail completely and not time out forcing me to restart the app to continue to the next song. Their ads also bounce around the user interface, great for advertisers, horrible for the user. With advertising it’s all a game of balance and it wouldn’t take much to fix that balance.

There are a few things smaller things they could fix and be easy wins for the service. An iPad version of the app would be welcomed a welcomed addition, especially since the service is so playlist focused the added screen real-estate would be a blessing. The share feature is a nice addition but the method to do so is a bit retro and more obscured than it needs to be.

Though the big issues aren’t enough for me to stop using the service immediately they also don’t drive me to becoming a paid subscriber. The ironic reality is even though two out of three of my issues would be alleviated by subscribing their existence keeps me from wanting to subscribe. I’ve been in the industry long enough to know I’m not alone in this either. Overall, Spotify isn’t dramatically different than other services available (Rdio, Napster, Rhapsody, Grooveshark or even Amazon and
Google’s new music offerings), it does work well and has a huge catalog. Will that be enough for Spotify to convert people into subscribers?

Pros:

  • Huge catalog (15+ million songs)
  • Connection with social networks
  • Quality search results
  • Off-line access (paid)

Cons:

  • No streaming to mobile without subscription
  • Off-line access additional
  • Playlist/album/search focused
  • Obnoxious commercials
  • No error detection

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Ways to get a Spotify invite:
Don’t Have A Free Spotify Invite? Use Your Klout Perks
Get a quick and easy invitation to Spotify
Spotify Invite Fever Strikes: How to Get In Now

Links:
Spotify
Rdio
Napster
Rhapsody
Grooveshark
Amazon Cloud Player
Google Music

Google Plus a Second Look

I’ve been using Google+ for the last few days, nearly exclusively to get real feel for it over the other options that are so ingrained in my day-to-day. After a few days there are number of things that really stand out to me and other based on things I’ve been reading online.

The biggest stand out is Circles and how they affect your Stream (think News Feed in Facebook). I really like the idea behind Circles and the ability to publish content to the right people rather than one size fits all. I would also love for my organization of people into Circles it would also influence the content I receive. For example, if the “friends” circle is only for close, real-life friends, and “acquaintances” is for those people I’ve met but not necessarily close to, shouldn’t that also influence who shows up in my stream. In my case I added Robert Scoble to my “follow” Circle as he often has interesting things to say. When I say often, I mean he post multiple times a day. Now he overwhelms my global Stream. I know this is partly because he’s posting more than my other connections but I want to know what my friends are doing/saying way more than an acquaintance (or follow). Granted this is not everyone’s use case for G+, so I suggest that Circles and how they bias the content in your Stream be controllable.

The second big thing with Circles is the overlapping content and no quick way to see if you’ve already seen that content. My friend Arpit suggests a “read” option for posts similar to how it works in any email system or Google’s Reader…so they should be able to easily handle this from a technical side. This overlapping also rears its head when managing your circles. For this I think another friend‘s suggestion would be a huge help…displaying the Circles as Venn diagrams. Not for every view but it would be hugely helpful managing the groups.

My last thought on Circles is to connect them with Sparks (topics), Arpit touches on this with his “Smart Circles” idea in his post on ways to improve Circles. Currently Sparks is completely generic feeling with generic topics and stock art topic images. These should be join-able, like a public Circle based on around a topic. It’d be a perfect way to bring content I’m interested in into my Stream. For example, there’s one on recipes, as a foodie I’d like to join this and maybe post to it as well. Thus offing salacious recipes intermixed with my friends and family’s social updates.

One lacking with Google Plus’s Stream is the ability to +1 a comment. Though many feel this ability to “like” a comment on post is unnecessary within Facebook it’s actually something I felt myself looking for when reading stuff in G+. I don’t use it often on Facebook, but it comes in handy as a way to agree/acknowledge a statement without having to write “I agree”. Granted this may add little to a conversation on its own, but it does let the writer know their message was received/read and used as a way to filter responses on post with more comments than could be displayed in a reduced state.

Some of the other issues come from the newness of the service: lack of diversity of the membership (most conversations are about Google+, hello worlds and technology), updates being out of sync (Gmail is the most up to date, then site post refresh, then the Android app), and figuring out how it fits with the rest of my social outlets. Minor UI issues on the Android app which are both personal learning curve from previous experiences and potential misses on a V1 app. These things happen.

The issues above are minimal and far from deal breakers but when Google is up against Facebook and the habits of its 500 million users Google needs to over deliver again and again. Since they’ve already made some updates since Tuesday’s launch the future looks promising for Google Plus.

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Related articles:
Some Ideas for Google Circles by Arpit Mathur
Why yo daddy won’t use Google+ by Robert Scoble

Google gives social another try

Earlier this week Google launched their new social platform, Google+ and unlike their previous attempts (Wave and Buzz) this one isn’t a beta concept. Currently it’s only in limited release and invites are hard to come by, but beyond that, it’s anything but beta. Instead Google+ is a slick, well designed, full fledged attempt to compete with Facebook. Can they pull it off?

To improve their chances Google has created a clean and attractive UI for both the website and the Android app. Then they add features that people have been asking for from Facebook, like the ability to easily sort your friends into groups (called Circles with in G+); group messaging, think Beluga and GroupMe (called Huddles); group video chat, think iChat or Skype (called Hangouts); content recommendations (called Sparks), though I haven’t seen this is action yet; and this one is for the geeks, you can take your G+ data with you . Also with the Android app they also offer a “local” version of the news feed/stream which shows you the public posts from other G+ users nearby, they don’t even need to be in any one of your circles. Combined it’s a great feature boost, though I don’t doubt Facebook will follow suit with some of these.

So then why switch? Other then it’s new, clean, different, less noisy…at this point not much, as the critical mass hasn’t been reached but when it does it’ll be a force that Facebook will have to deal with. Which is good regardless of your participation with G+. Facebook needs a challenger, clearly MySpace wasn’t up to the task. Speaking of MySpace, think back to when it was the dominant social platform. Then Facebook was the new, clean, different, less noisy new kid on the block…so Google may still have a chance here. And just like MySpace felt back then, Facebook is feeling a backlash of interest from the fickle social masses that have OD’ed on the FB.

Overall, I have to say I’m impressed with Google+. It’s one of the most well thought out, planned and executed tools that Google has ever done. Only now has Google started to improve the design and UX of their search and email services. So I expect big things from Google here. Despite Goggle’s best efforts if the people don’t start using (or getting invites to) it, G+ will die from empty room syndrome and that would be a shame.

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Some related articles on Google+
How to hack Google+ to send your friends invites (maybe) [TechCrunch]
Andy Hertzfeld talks about not being the only designer behind Google+
How To Recreate Google+ Circles in Facebook. by Ian Schafer
Google+ code reveals intent to unleash Games and Questions to the social world [Engaget]