February 4, 2009

Google Launches Dodgeball…sort of

A while back, Google acquired Dodgeball…a tool that used your phone’s SMS feature to network with your friends to find out where they are so you could hook up with them.

After Google’s acquisition, Dodgeball seemed to get lost in the fray and Google never did anything with it, leading to a public blog post on why the founders quit.

It’s no real secret that Google wasn’t supporting dodgeball the way we expected. The whole experience was incredibly frustrating for us - especially as we couldn’t convince them that dodgeball was worth engineering resources, leaving us to watch as other startups got to innovate in the mobile + social space. And while it was a tough decision (and really disappointing) to walk away from dodgeball, I’m actually looking forward to getting to work on other projects again.

Recently, Google started cutting a number of their properties/features. The Dodgeball site warns that the site will be shut down in stages.

This prompted Dodgeball cofounder, Dennis Crowley to say:

So what’s next? Well I don’t know how many days we have left (30 days? 90 days?), but I’ve always said that it Google ever kills dodgeball, I’l build you guys a new one, so stayed tuned.

Fast forward to today: Search for “dodgeball google” in Google Search and you’ll find a sponsored link for Google Latitude.

Ad for Google Latitude

Google Latitude appears to be another way for users to hook up based on feedback from Google users who wanted to find their friends on a map. It also allows you to provide a short status similar to Facebook or Twitter. It uses maps instead of SMS as the interface and can be accessed either from your desktop’s web browser or from a phone by visiting google.com/latitude in your phone’s browser (it is unclear when/if this could be integrated in a future firmware upgrade for the iPhone to integrate into the Google Maps Application rather than requiring access through a browser but it is easily foreseeable having his integrated into the Android phone OS at a minimum).

Some screenshots provided by Google are below:
Google Latitude - Your friends on a map Google Latitude - Your friends’ status messages

Greg Sterling provides us with more details at SEL. including a statement that Latitude is not based on prior technologies (i.e. Dodgeball or Jaiku) but utilizes their triangulation/GPS capabilities.

Unfortunately, accessing the service through my iPhone shows a coming soon page. Apparently, J2ME and iPhone versions are not yet available:
Screenshot of Google Latitude on iPhone

Google Latitude is a feature of Google Maps for mobile on these phones:

  • Android-powered devices, such as the T-Mobile G1
  • iPhone and iPod touch devices (coming soon)
  • most color BlackBerry devices
  • most Windows Mobile 5.0+ devices
  • most Symbian S60 devices (Nokia smartphones)
  • many Java-enabled (J2ME) mobile phones, such as Sony Ericsson devices (coming soon)
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October 27, 2008

My Latest Project: Local Search Canada

In case you’ve been wondering what I’ve been working on, it’s a Canadian local search company called weblocal.ca.

It is based on the YellowBot platform and I’m really excited about it’s launch. There is a contest there so make sure to go an enter the contest and review locations!

In any case, I’ll be traveling this week to Montreal. If you think you’d like to meet up or there is some sort of tech/startup meetup, make sure to let me know!

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October 21, 2008

Mapquest iPhone Site Launches

Mapquest announced that they launched their iPhone/iPod touch site.

I went to check it out. Just go to their homepage with an iphone and you’ll be taken there automagically.

The web-based application is pretty slick, acting like Google’s app that sits on the deck by allowing you to use your finger to pan around, etc. Other than a bit of lag time during some requests, I’m surprised it hasn’t crashed on me yet…Safari tends to be fickle with lots of sites utilizing enough javascript. I do, however, wish that they pre-populated the forms based on prior searches (conducting a map lookup then going to the directions page, or vice versa, loses your input). They also solved another issue I’ve had with the iPhone…clearing out the form. Check out the “x” inside the input form elements that you can click to clear the form. Good work, guys!

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October 16, 2008

Remembering Jon Postel

Vint Cerf wrote about Jon Postel a decade after he passed.

I worked with Jon at USC/ISI and he was a great man with lots to teach. I was still working there when he passed away and there was not one person in the entire office with a dry eye.

Anyway, check out the article. Many people know who Vint is but Jon insisted on working in the background and keeping his privacy so you probably don’t know a lot about him.

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October 15, 2008

What is a Pagerank 9 Site Worth To You?

Sorry, readers…I know it has been a while but I have been hard at work on another project related to YellowBot. Stay tuned to find out more about what that is…In the meantime, I’m hoping I can resume blogging regularly…

So I was looking at the Clearspring acquisition of AddThis.

AddThis is 2 years old and provides a bookmarking widget that you must have seen all over the place (see the “Bookmark” button at the bottom of this post). The AddThis homepage boasts “served 20 billion times per month” and lists the following as “Clients & Partners:”

TIME, Oracle, TechCrunch, Freewebs, Entertainment Weekly, Topix, Lonely Planet, MySpace, PGA Tour, Tower Records, Squidoo, Zappos, FOX, ABC, CBS, Glamour, WebMD, American Idol, HitsLink, Widgetbox, Template Monster, GetAFreelancer, ReadWriteWeb, Brothersoft, E! Online, iGuard

AddThis widgets/Links are everywhere. It’s no surprise it is a pagerank 9!

When Clearspring, the widget company, acquired them, do you think that discussion came up? Cleaspring increased its reach online but how many visitors, as a ratio of its overall traffic, actually go to the homepage? Users see the widget, some click on a link and are redirected to the appropriate bookmarking service. Site owners might log in to their account to see traffic and statistics. In any case, I’m not sure what Clearspring paid for the acquisition but it was probably a smart buy considering its popularity and traffic levels.

from AllThingsD:

But Ted Leonsis, chairman of the board at Clearspring, and CEO Hooman Radfar said revenue would come via advertising and, eventually, valuable data analytics the services collect about Web behavior.

Currently, said Leonsis, AddThis has negligible revenue and Clearspring has about $10 million in annual sales. Neither is currently profitable.

Clearspring has about 100 employees and AddThis has a handful. I have not seen any articles about AddThis getting funded and Clearsping has received $35 million.

ShareThis is a similar service that some people like better because it also allows sharing via email (in addition to other services). It’s currently a pagerank 7 and has been funded, receiving a total of $21 million.

So what would you have paid to acquire AddThis (with a pagerank 9, even if they lost some traffic over the last few months) and put your link(s) at the bottom of their page?

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June 2, 2008

Pushing Coupons & Offers to Mobile Devices

VentureBeat reports on Intera Group’s use of Bluetooth to deliver coupons/offers to mobile devices as they walk by/near locations for which the offers are for:

Over the past seven months, Intera and the pier’s Hard Rock Cafe have sent 100,000 messages to consumers walking by with their cell phones in the “discoverable�? Bluetooth mode. The Hard Rock sends promotions that are immediately redeemable at the restaurant or store. Bob Boemer, head of sales and marketing for the local Hard Rock, said in a statement that the results have been outstanding.

Pleasanton, Calif.-based Intera Group is a 20-year-old company that operates several thousand pay phones around the country. It started the proximity marketing business in part to take advantage of the fact that some of its pay phones are in ideal locations, such as at Pier 39, where 12 million tourists visit every year.

[T]he company has set up a number of Bluetooth networks at Pier 39, covering about 5 percent of the area. Each Bluetooth network is set up near a place where people congregate for a long time, such as a spot for viewing sea lions, a tour bus waiting area, or the queue for the aquarium.

As annoying as these marketing messages could be, Thornton says that the company hasn’t gotten a single complaint yet.

One reason is that the Bluetooth messages are carried wirelessly over a 200-foot range radio network, making them much more relevant as ads, location wise….Also, consumers have to put their phones in “discover�? to receive the messages.

After the successful test, Thornton said he is hopeful the Hard Rock will roll the ad system out in more locations. Other places that can use it are gas stations, hotels, and high-trafficked tourist spots.

As far as a business model, Intera could rely on more than one nearby customer to either pay a flat rate or compete for attention (you’d need a sufficient number of customers to drive prices sufficiently high enough or set a floor). Bluetooth is definitely an intersting way to go…the article estimates 20% of people have their phone discoverable with Bluetooth (watch out for security issues).

The company that will figure out a better way to do this will do well…they’ll have to figure out a way to get a larger number of customers/advertisers (this has been difficult for web and mobile coupon/offers products) as well as increase their reach in a scalable/cheap way. Utilizing Bluetooth requires multiple devices installed in a small area to get sufficient coverage. If someone were to be able to build something utilizing GPS and SMS despite various technical limitations (i.e. unable to run in the background on many mobile devices to poll for location and any nearby offers, etc), I can imagine having a successful model. This may not be easy but it is definitely not far fetched.

It’s a matter of time before people start understanding how distance form a user’s search location becomes far more relevant in the mobile space than on the web where people may search from the center of a big city or postal code.

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February 15, 2008

Inside EveryBlock

Rex Sorgatz had An Interview with Adrian Holovaty. Adrian created ChicagoCrime.org (now redirects to his new venture, EveryBlock) back when we would have to use hacked methods (rather than an API) to use google maps (such as the Google Maps Standalone method).

Adrian talks about some of the challenges at EveryBlock which definitely rang a bell with me. Here are a few interesting passages that developers in the local space and/or aggregators of data may be able to relate with:

One of our post-launch priorities is to clean up the fire-hose of raw information, to introduce concepts of priority and improved relevance — but I do think there’s a certain appeal to that raw dump of “here’s everything that’s happened around this address, in simple, reverse-chronological order.” When significant events happen, they sort of “POP out” of the list.

The first layer is the army of scripts that compile data from all over the Web. This includes public APIs, private APIs, screen-scraping the “deep Web,” crawling news sites, plus harvesting data from PDFs and other non-Web-friendly documents. Some data also comes to us manually, like in spreadsheets e-mailed to us on a weekly basis. For each bit of data, we determine geographic relevance and normalize it so that it fits into our system.

The second layer is the data storage layer, which we built in a way that can handle an arbitrary number of data types, each with arbitrary attributes. For example, a restaurant inspection has a violation (or multiple violations), whereas a crime has a crime type (e.g., homicide). Of course, we want to be able to query across that whole database to get a geographic “slice,” so there’s a strong geo focus baked into everything.

The user interface was, and continues to be, a challenge. How do you display so many disparate pieces of data together, without overwhelming people?

Dealing with structured data is relatively easy, but attempting to determine structure from unstructured data is a challenge. The main example of unstructured data parsing is our geocoding of news articles. We do a pretty good job here, but we’re not crawling all of the sources we want to crawl — again, there’s a lot of room to grow.

On a completely different note, it’s been a challenge to acquire data from governments. We (namely Dan, our People Person) have been working since July to request formal data feeds from various agencies, and we’ve run into many roadblocks there, from the political to the technical. We expected that, of course, but the expectation doesn’t make it any less of a challenge.

Rather than use Google Maps or Microsoft’s Virtual Earth, you built your own mapping service application. Why?

That, along with “When will you bring EveryBlock to city XXX?”, is by far the most frequently asked question we get. Paul, our developer in charge of maps, is working on an article explaining our reasoning, so I don’t want to steal his thunder. I’ll just say that the existing free maps APIs are optimized for driving directions and wayfinding, not for data visualization. And, besides, having non-clichéd maps is an easy way to set yourself apart. Google Maps is so 2005. ;-)

We use an open-source library called Mapnik to render the maps, so that library does the heavy lifting for us. Paul is also working on a how-to article, in the spirit of giving back to the open-source community, that explains how to use Mapnik.

I strongly suspect we’ll have an API eventually

[via kottke]

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Mobile World Panel on Apple’s Success

The Mobile World Panel had an interesting analogy in trying to describe the iPhone’s success:

Panelist Mike Yonker, general manager of worldwide strategy and operations for Texas Instruments’ wireless terminals business unit, said that the way for the user to get the rich content now available on a mobile handset is through the “search” function. But this isn’t so easy. He compared the limitations of a mobile handset to a full personal computer screen.

Searching on a computer, he said, is like going to a store, where the customers sees every product displayed, and can make comparisons, touch the products, even try things on for size. Doing the same search on a mobile, he said, but like trying to shop in the same store but “through a drive-up window.” No matter how much stuff is in the store, you can only find out through the cashier at the drive-up window.

The dilemma, left unsolved by the panelists, was how to squeeze the user through that window, past the cashier, to sample all the things in the store, without guilt, while still feeling grateful to the cashier who seemed, all along, to be standing in the way.

Everyone agreed that, so far, only Apple has been able to turn this trick. For users, “the content is the core,” said Lipman of Power2B somewhat ruefully, “and we have to get out of their way.”

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February 1, 2008

Microsoft Makes $44.6 Billion Bid for Yahoo

Amid all the recent Yahoo problems, Microsoft has stepped in and made a $44.6 Billion bid for a Yahoo takeover (that’s $31 per share).

This was revealed in a letter from Steve Ballmer to Yahoo’s Board. Valleywag claims to have a copy of the letter:

I am writing on behalf of the Board of Directors of Microsoft to make a proposal for a business combination of Microsoft and Yahoo!. Under our proposal, Microsoft would acquire all of the outstanding shares of Yahoo! common stock for per share consideration of $31 based on Microsoft’s closing share price on January 31, 2008, payable in the form of $31 in cash or 0.9509 of a share of Microsoft common stock.

Our proposal represents a 62% premium above the closing price

In February 2007, I received a letter from your Chairman indicating the view of the Yahoo! Board that “now is not the right time from the perspective of our shareholders to enter into discussions regarding an acquisition transaction.”

Today, the market is increasingly dominated by one player who is consolidating its dominance through acquisition. Together, Microsoft and Yahoo! can offer a credible alternative for consumers, advertisers, and publishers. Synergies of this combination fall into four areas…
– Scale economics…
– Expanded R&D capacity…
– Operational efficiencies…
– Emerging user experiences…

Our proposal is subject to the negotiation of a definitive merger agreement and our having the opportunity to conduct certain limited and confirmatory due diligence.

Google is doing such a job at dominating the search market that even after Yahoo and Microsoft combine their marketshares, here is what it looks like according to Erick Schonfeld at Techcrunch:

MSFT/YHOO: 32.7%
GOOG: 58.4%

The $31 per share bid has already driven YHOO stock up to nearly $30 per share this morning (previous day’s close was $19.18).

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January 8, 2008

FAST Aqcuired by Microsoft

Microsoft made a $1.2 Billion bid to aqcuire Fast Search & Transfer.

FAST provides search technology to many sites you may be unaware of. Some of the local search sites that use it, for example, include Citysearch and YellowPages.com.

Microsoft says:

In addition to bolstering Microsoft’s enterprise search efforts, this acquisition increases Microsoft’s research and development presence in Europe

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