Thursday, June 29, 2006

How Pandora Works

Been using Pandora since Neil turned me onto it last year and really love it. Great way to find good music, and fascinating how the "Music Genome Project" sounds like a simple analogy at first but then goes really deep and makes a lot of sense as the ultimate recommendation engine.

Stumbled onto their official blog while playing with the new Backstage feature and it led to a trail of interesting bits on how it all works. The podcast below is especially good.

Pandora's Box (article)

Founder Tim Westergren interviewed on Behind the Net (podcast).

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Bible quote database built with Amazon Mechanical Turk for $75

The Standard Bible Society used the "crowdsourcing" of's Mechanical Turk to produce an English Standard version of the bible at $.02 a verse and 98.3% accuracy. I had forgotten all about the mechanical turk until I read this article. Some highlights from the article.

  • Inexpensive. We got a database for about $75 that, as far as we can tell, no one has created before for the Bible.

  • Fast. We uploaded one HIT every five seconds over six hours. Workers performed these HITs almost as fast as they were uploaded. Seventy-eight workers participated.

  • High quality. We only rejected 1.7% of submissions, an excellent figure by any standard.

  • No developer sandbox. We had to upload funds and grab a HIT ourselves to make sure everything worked OK. We would have liked a place to test our programs without having to expose them to the world (and without having to pay).

  • Funds have to come from a bank account. We had to get special authorization to withdraw funds, and it took a week after initiating the transfer for the funds to show up in our Mechanical Turk account. We would’ve preferred to pay with a credit card, even if that meant buying $20 blocks of Mechanical Turk credits at a time.

  • Limited formatting options. We would’ve liked to be able to put the quotation in bold; instead, we had to indicate it with brackets: We would prefer to use XHTML, as the limited formatting restricts the type of application we can develop with Mechanical Turk. Some enterprising individuals have worked around this limitation by asking people to visit a different website, answer the questions there, and enter a code from the other website. It works, but it’s not ideal.

Wiki and "Evolution"

I was originally going to post this as a comment under the previous Web 3.0 entry. But, I thought it might get better visibility this way.

It's a bit esoteric, but here's an interesting article about visualizing Wiki contributions over time.

I can't find the original article that linked to it, but it mentioned that the "evolution" wiki is updated within 5 minutes of a defacement.

Speaking of user-generated content. A fellow I work with mentioned that in a recent meeting with top Silicon valley venture capitalists they outlined "user-generated content" as being one of the top 5 criteria that they currently use for deciding on ideas to fund.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Wikipedia 3.0 and the semantic web

Interesting article on Web 3.0 aka the "semantic web".

The problem with the Semantic Web, besides that researchers are still debating which design and implementation of the ontology language model (and associated technologies) is the best and most usable, is that it would take thousands or tens of thousands of knowledgeable people many years to boil down human knowledge to domain specific ontologies.

However, if we were at some point to take the Wikipedia community and give them the right tools and standards to work with (whether existing or to be developed in the future), which would make it possible for reasonably skilled individuals to help reduce human knowledge to domain-specific ontologies, then that time can be shortened to just a few years, and possibly to as little as two years.

In a way, and certainly not surprising to anyone who was involved, iNetNow was an attempt at the semantic web and had the company and/or service lived on, I imagine the surfboard might have adopted a sort of wiki philosophy to the design, usability and content.

Are you a bad customer?

Great MSN article on the ways some companies "dis-incentivize" their problem customers.

My favorite?

Long Holds
Many banks and brokerage firms have established special, faster phone lines for their wealthier clients. Some go even further: They figure out which customers cost them money -- regardless of their total account balances -- and shunt them to the back of the line. Fidelity Investments took this approach several years ago to customers who were tying up their phone representatives, including one client who called thousands of times a year. Fidelity then focused on teaching these folks how to use the company’s Web site and automated phone systems.

I can think of one or ten iNetNow customers I would have liked to "dis-incentivize".

Belgium adopts open office doc format

Belgium adopts open office doc format
Belgium has become the first country to mandate the use of the OpenDocument format (ODF) for office files, albeit tentatively.

From September next year software in all Belgian government departments must be able to read ODF files. If the experiment is successful, ODF will become the standard interchange format - although departments will still be able to exchange office files in proprietary formats internally.

Happy Birthday, Neil!

The great part about having a blog with limited readership is the ability to pull off something like this without annoying people who are looking for content ;)

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Thursday, June 22, 2006

More Fan Mail

Remember the post about our fan?

There's more:

quixi, infone and inetnow
"These companies were all providing an ON*STAR type service and failed. Called Enhanced Information Services, they were a human serach engine. I am looking to find out why they failed because apparently, it was not lack of money."

Posted: 09 Feb 2006 11:02 PST
Asked by: wrytry1-ga


Waxing nostalgic and came across our first bit of press from back in the day.

March 2, 2000
Leave the surfing to the pros, please

What struck me the most was this closing line:

"As well as iNetNow works, I'd like to think that there's something wrong with the search engines and Web browsers, not the people using them. While iNetNow may have discovered an untapped market in serving busy travelers, it could end up making much more by designing a smarter search program."

It's close to spot on, but just off center. The magic was in the software, period. The service was convenient, the idea brilliant, and the passion of the people on the front lines kept us alive. But what we were actually onto was so far ahead of its time we never realized it, even in the end. Smarter interfaces make smarter people. The Surfboard gave birth to that, and where the customer care/tracking/automation bits of Zuma ended up all but nailed it. If only we knew...

There is no wheel!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Prototype 3D desktop for Windows

Very interesting video demonstration of a 3D desktop for Windows called Bumptop. It tries to emulate some of the messy, but intuitive, organizational aspects of a real world desk.

I'm not sure it has much of a chance of supplanting the every day computer desktop, but it's certainly an innovative concept and has a very Apple look to it.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

How to Cancel AOL

This is great!

AOL Cancellation Audio

Apple website auto"magically" entices potential switchers

I just noticed this last night. When you visit the Apple website with Safari, you see a standard Apple front page. However, visit the site with Firefox or Internet Explorer and one of the amusing Get a Mac ads automatically plays. Now when do I get my iPhone!?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

That was fast...

Remember the post about the Single Status site that monitored the "relationship status" of a MySpace profile?

Cease and desist from MySpace after only 2 weeks of operation. (Or maybe they were acquired by a certain shameless plugger and this is all a smokescreen...)

On the bright side, check out the kick-ass response to the legal letter written by the site's creator, as well as a similar site with some tongue in cheek requests to be shut down if MySpace sees fit.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Google Cars, etc.

Lifehacker had a post about this, pretty neat.

Search for used cars on Google, and get a box to narrow things down at the top, and then an "official" Google Maps mashup powered by Google Base.

Digging in deeper, there are similar integrations for things like Apartments and Jobs.

More and more like the surfboard every day, eh?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Baseball and Video iPods

Very cool use of technology.

Video iPods helping Rockies get into the "swing" of things

"The Rockies have downloaded video clips into the iPods of 14 players so far. For the hitters, they'll store every at-bat and download performances of upcoming pitchers. A 60-gigabyte iPod can hold roughly five seasons' worth of a player's at-bats. Pitchers can get all their performances, along with opponents' at-bats.

Jones has permission to take iPods from players' lockers to update them, and when the Rockies are on the road he compiles DVDs of their play and loads video onto the iPods when they return home."

Thursday, June 15, 2006

What users hate most about Web sites

Too many sites are low on usability and high on annoyance

Interesting article on what users hate about websites. The obvious flash intros and intrusive ads (I won't assault you with a sample). The not so obvious observation is "right side blindness"; people are started to ignore the right side of pages because that's typically where ads appear.

I know when I was redesigning the Avtech Research site I thought back to my days as a surfer and remembered how much I hated it when a company buried their contact information in some obscure section of the site. Even with my VERY limited experience with web design I knew that was going to be a cornerstone of the site.

If at first you don't succeed...

Netscape Reinvents Self, again
Netscape, which started life as a web browser company and then evolved into a media destination site, is being reinvented once again to merge news reporting and blogs with the latest internet trends.

On Thursday, the revised will begin a public test of what its new general manager, dot-com news entrepreneur Jason Calacanis, said might reinvent the modern news service.

The new marks the rebirth of a first-generation internet brand. Netscape the brand, like AOL, was synonymous with web browsing a decade ago. It was bought in 1999 by AOL and after its browser software was crushed by competition from Microsoft, the brand was reborn first as an internet portal and again as a discount internet access provider.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Google "Onebox" Results We Still Need

Some interesting examples (with mockups) of desired Google "onebox" results.

Chat with a Googler...yeah RIGHT! "My page rank has fallen you bastards! Why???"

Sunday, June 11, 2006

My YouTube Obsession

I've become hooked to YouTube recently. Always find myself drifting there when I have time for good old fashioned surfing. Much better in execution than Google Video. Some highlights:

The Message
Keep the sound on for the background music

Al Gore Reflects on his Presidency
Classic SNL

Thursday, June 08, 2006

24: The Movie

Hit TV show '24' coming to big screen

Most disturbing quote in the article is this:

"However, the paper said the "24" movie would likely abandon the TV show's distinctive real-time conceit, meaning that all the murder and mayhem will no longer be squeezed into one day."

I mean, what's the point? The only way to do this right is similar to how the X-Files did it. Make a 22 episode season, and have the last 2 realtime hours be the movie. Or make the movie the first two hours. Or make it first or last, but "bonus hours" of a 26 hour day.

You could even do it as the bridge between seasons like they do in the 12 minute DVD things, with a semi-related real 2 hours between seasons. (It would be perfect to do it this way right now. 2 hours on Jack's escape from the cliffhanger predicament, clearing the way for "normality" by 24 standards to start next season.)

If this turns into "CTU: The Movie," all they'll do is alienate fans.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Move Over Excel...

Google Spreadsheet to launch beta tomorrow in the lab, according to Yahoo News.

Aside: I love the mis-use of Yahoo's automated finance integration in the article. Notice how the parenthetical "CSV" after "Comma Separated Value" turns into a hyperlink to check a stock quote or news for ticker symbol ^CSV.

Yes, I'm easily amused.

Single Status

Acquisition target for BoRyan's company?

Single Status monitors any MySpace profile and notifies you when the relationship status field changes from "in a relationship" to "single."

Diabolically clever in a very simple way.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

LAPD Crime Maps

Thought this was sort of neat, and it's not even a GMap Mash Up:

LAPD Crime Maps

Map of crimes in the last 1-7 days in a 1-5 mile radius of a given street address. Mouseover the dots for details.

Parking Spots

I was just thinking the other day how it would be neat if you could have some sort of Cellphone/GPS based tracking system linked to parking meters/parking spots to let you know where available spaces were in certain areas, but decided it didn't make feasible business sense for anyone to actually do it.

I like it when I'm wrong.

Searching for Parking? Try Online

Friday, June 02, 2006

Credit Card Number Portability

An interesting idea over at Signal vs. Noise

Changing your phone number vs. changing your credit card

Now that everyone in the US can change their cell/land phone carriers and keep their number, it’s time the credit card industry follows suit.

Even when you stay in the same credit card company, but you change card types, your card number changes. So, if you go from a Citibank cash rebate card to a Citibank American Airlines rewards card your card number changes. This didn’t used to be that big of a deal, but now with so many recurring monthly services (cell phone, web apps, cable, health club, satellite radio, tivo, etc…) being automatically billed to your credit card a card number change becomes a Big Deal.

Fan Mail

Google Answers post from last year that I recently stumbled upon:

Personal Assistants
I am looking for market research studies on a business providing
"having your own personal assistant" virtually from any phone. It is
more than a concierge. I think having a virtual assistant is more
like it. I am talking about picking up the phone and being connected
to a live person who will find the information that the caller is
looking for in real time, ie ASAP. A couple of years ago, had this service and they went out of business.

Posted: 03 Aug 2005 09:14 PDT
Asked by: wrytry-ga