“Web” Category

Nasty Gal

Nasty Gal:

In 2006, Ms. Amoruso was a 22-year-old community college dropout, living in her step-aunt’s cottage, working at an art school checking student IDs for $13 an hour. Then she started a side project, Nasty Gal, an eBay page that sold vintage women’s clothing.

Last year, Nasty Gal sold nearly $100 million of clothing and accessories — profitably.

Great story. There’s a lot to learn from what Amoruso’s done.

March 25th, 2013

Black Pixel Talks NetNewsWire

Black Pixel said a little about what’s happening with NetNewsWire. The good news: they’re developing new Mac and iOS versions. The bad news:

As far as sync is concerned, we knew we would likely need an alternative to Google Reader as early as last year. At the time, the option that seemed to make the most sense was to embrace iCloud and Core Data as the new sync solution of choice. We spent a considerable amount of time on this effort, but iCloud and Core Data syncing had issues that we simply could not resolve.

Ugh. As Steve Streza said on Twitter, if they can’t get it to work—a team of incredibly talented people—who can?

I really hope Apple’s working to fix iCloud’s issues. It needs to work, both for developers and for Apple.

March 20th, 2013

Self-Reliance

John Siracusa:

Google’s present position looks weak, but it has two big trump cards. First, Google has proven to be one of the few companies capable of creating, popularizing, and supporting a platform. Despite all the skinning and branding by handset makers, Google is still the driving force behind Android. This power can only be negated by another company that’s willing and able to match Google’s Android efforts on all fronts: OS development, app store, developer tools, evangelism, the works. That’s a tall order.

And they’re getting pretty good at hardware, too. Great piece—make sure you read it.

Apple’s biggest weakness right now is web services. Is Apple getting better at it faster than Google is getting better at hardware, as they move toward a more integrated approach? I don’t think so.

March 19th, 2013

Reader and Google’s New Integrated Strategy

Last week, Google announced they are shutting down Reader. Many people were upset by the move, especially because so many of us depend on Reader for reading RSS feeds even if we don’t directly use it. I’ve settled into using NetNewsWire on my Mac (which I have for years) and Reeder on my iPad and iPhone, and this set up has worked very well for a long time. It certainly is a pain to figure out a new workflow.

Some, though, have suggested that Google could charge for Reader or for developer access to its (private, undocumented) API if they really wanted to, so this is more evidence that Google believes so much in free-with-advertising they’d rather forego that revenue and kill the service than keep it around and charge.

I think that’s a misread of the situation. First, Reader was released during a very different part of Google’s history. In 2005, Google experimented with many different services that didn’t necessarily fit an obvious plan; instead, the strategy seemed to be to plant many different seeds, see which ones grew, which ones sprouted beautiful flowers, and which ones didn’t. And even within that environment, Google’s leadership was apparently unsure about Reader from the very beginning. I believe, then, that Google’s mistake was in releasing a product they cared little about, and for refusing to develop it into something more that could contribute to Google’s top and bottom lines. One of Google Reader’s creators, Chris Wetherell, wrote in 2011 that Google was ignoring many opportunities with Reader; specifically, it was a direct publishing mechanism from content creator and audience, and a huge opportunity to direct it toward information junkies (journalists, etc). The opportunity was there, but Google didn’t take it.

That’s a smart criticism, but it’s different than criticizing Google for shutting down Reader. Since Larry Page took over the company two years ago, Google has revamped their products to form a cohesive whole, largely in orbit around Google+, and have eliminated products, projects and teams that don’t fit their new focused strategy. Google’s management team apparently doesn’t believe that Reader is a part of that, and that seems more than valid to me; a pure RSS reader (which is, more or less, what Reader is) doesn’t have much opportunity, whether it’s monetized through a developer API or not (and, to be clear, there’s not much money there anyway). So they cut it, so they can focus their time and resources on projects they believe are important to Google’s future. That’s the right move.

I think this is a tiny part of a much larger movement within Google to follow a more integrated approach with their products. Until 2012 or so, Google used Android as a means to control the mobile market and to commoditize hardware, which together would make Google the dominant company in mobile and put them in position to make it their next big revenue source through advertising. This hasn’t been successful, though. Google makes relatively little from Android while one company—Samsung—makes more operating income from Android than Google as a whole. Think about that! Google is doing the hard work of developing the operating system and applications, but Samsung is capturing all of the revenue and income. Google’s Android strategy failed.

I believe that Google is streamlining and re-focusing its products around Google+ so they can create integrated products. Rather than just create Nexus devices (manufactured by other companies) that have been little more than reference designs, Google instead intends to combine Android/Chrome, their services (Gmail, Maps, Google Now, Google+, et al) with their new-found ability to create great hardware, and create first-class computing devices. Phones, tablets, notebooks, and wearable computing, all designed by Google, under the Google name and sold by Google.

This makes a lot of sense. Not only can Google create better products by doing so, and better push the bounds of the technology industry, but this also answers how they’re going to make money from Android: sell devices. Everyone is better off. Except, of course, for Google’s “partners” on Android. Samsung certainly isn’t, but HTC and the many others that make Android-based phones will be hurt as well. Perhaps Samsung will decide (or already intends to) fork Android and develop their own platform, but I don’t think that really hurts Google at all; Google already receives basically zero benefit from Samsung’s use of Android, so making and selling their own hardware and losing Samsung in the process seems like a worthwhile trade to me.

I want to say, too, that I not only think this is exactly the right thing for Google to do, but it’s exciting that they are. This embraces what makes Google great—their obsession with pushing the bounds of what’s possible in ways that are useful to everyone—but does so with a bring-it-to-market focus. This isn’t the old days of forever “betas” that we are used to; I don’t think it’s any accident that we’ve been hearing so much of Google’s X lab recently, considering that in years past, all of Google was effectively a lab.

Google’s undergoing a transformation before our eyes, and I love where it’s headed. I’ve been quite critical of Google Glass, but it’s part of a much bigger change at Google that I think is not only necessary but positive.

March 18th, 2013

Here Comes Basil 1.5

For the past few months, I’ve been working on a big update to Basil. It’s probably large enough to call it a 2.0, but I’m going with 1.5. There are a number of features I think you are going to love, but the big one is photos. Photos for recipes from the web, photos for your own recipes, browsing through your recipe’s photos—it’s all there, and it turns Basil into an entirely new app. It’s awesome to be able to look through your recipes and browse their photos to see what you want to cook, especially when they’re photos you’ve taken.

The release is coming soon, and I am beyond excited. To be notified the second it’s out, you can sign up here.

I have another announcement, too. I’m going to do something a little special for this release. Signing up there will also give you the chance to win a Baratza Virtuoso coffee grinder and a few bags of fantastic coffee courtesy of Tonx!

It’s hard to go wrong with that combination, whether you’re already a, uh, coffee enthusiast, or are just starting. I hope you are all excited for the new version of Basil and for the chance to get a Baratza grinder and Tonx coffee!

March 12th, 2013

Philips hue API

Philips released an API and iOS SDK for its Hue lighting system.

I love the future, where even lights have an API.

March 11th, 2013

Still Abiding After 15 Years

The Big Lebowski was released 15 years ago today. Ashley Fetters has an… interesting take on its legacy:

Over the last 15 years, the Coen brothers’ oddball noir-Western-surrealist comedy about one man’s complicated quest to get his rug replaced after a mistaken hitman pees on it hasn’t just become a cult classic—it’s become something closer to an actual cult. Not only has it launched at least one known, priest-ordaining faith; it’s also become a field of study for religion and mythology scholars, too. In other words, some seek meaning in the movie, while others find meaning, and meaningful fellowship, because of it.

That’s just, like, your opinion, man.

March 6th, 2013

Some of Your Best Ideas Are Someone Else’s

Matt Bischoff while explaining the origins for Quotebook:

Some great ideas come from other people who don’t have the time to expertise to build them.

Which is also why the initial idea isn’t worth very much on its own. It’s only worth something when it finds its way into the right person’s head—who knows how to cultivate it, develop it, iterate on it, build it—and has enough patience and drive to follow through.

(Via Marcelo Somers.)

February 28th, 2013

Groceries Update

One of my favorite iPhone applications, Groceries, just received a pretty big update.

Groceries is a terrific—what else—grocery list that makes it really quick to add items and create different lists. And it’s beautiful.

The new version makes it even faster. As you type out an item to add, Groceries figures out the item, quantity and unit. So if you type “wat 5bo,” it parses it to “water,” “5,” and “bottles.” It’s really, really cool.

February 28th, 2013

Google Now

Jamie Dihiansan:

She wants to stop by her aunt’s house on the way to drop off some Girl Scout cookies. In my head I’m calculating and recalculating that “1 hour” drive time to Geja’s.

While we’re visiting with her aunt I try not to look at the clock so much. That’s rude. But I wonder: how’s the traffic? How can we get there on time?

Then I get a notification on my Android phone.

That notification let him know that it was time to leave to make it to dinner on time. This sort of thing is another area iOS is behind.

February 26th, 2013

Blue Apron

Blue Apron is a service that delivers the ingredients and recipes for three new meals every week.

Really, really cool idea. I can’t wait for it to come to California.

February 20th, 2013

Google Glass Site

Google released a new site with more detail about Google Glass.

Google’s obviously doing some incredible work and deserves praise for it. I’m happy they’re developing this idea which is a little out there. But I don’t think it’s a positive thing at all to put a screen in front of the world.

February 20th, 2013

The Party That History Forgot

Robert Draper has an excellent look at how the GOP has failed so badly since 2004. He looks at both how behind the Republican party is technologically and the policy and brand issues that have turned the party into something of a joke. The whole piece is excellent and there are many parts worth discussing, but I wanted to highlight one in particular. This is from a focus group conducted by a GOP pollster:

The session with the young men was equally jarring. None of them expressed great enthusiasm for Obama. But their depiction of Republicans was even more lacerating than the women’s had been. “Racist,” “out of touch” and “hateful” made the list — “and put ‘1950s’ on there too!” one called out.

Showing a reverence for understatement, Anderson said: “A lot of those words you used to describe Republicans are negative. What could they say or do to make you feel more positive about the Republican Party?”

“Be more pro-science,” said a 22-year-old moderate named Jack. “Embrace technology and change.”

“Stick to your strong suit,” advised Nick, a 23-year-old African-American. “Clearly social issues aren’t your strong suit. Stop trying to fight the battle that’s already been fought and trying to bring back a movement. Get over it — you lost.”

I admit there’s a bit of schadenfreude here because I’ve been saying much of this since well before 2008, but people—especially younger people—have abandoned or written off the GOP because they don’t seem tied to the time period we’re in. They don’t appear to have any real ideas for solving the problems we have, like health care or concerns that the middle class is declining or that children will be worse off than their parents, let alone even seem to take these problems seriously. And that says nothing about waving off global warming as some kind of collective delusion and/or conspiracy of the left, evolution denial, utter stupidity on abortion and women’s health, and veiled race-baiting. The left derides the GOP as the party of wealthy white men, and the GOP does its best effort to provide evidence to support that.

There’s a clear path the party can take. First, take science (reality) seriously. Acknowledge global warming, acknowledge that evolution is real (and not phony trying-to-please-everyone stupidity like Marco Rubio’s answer to how old he thinks the earth is). Second, acknowledge that social conservatives lost the cultural battle on gay marriage (thank God), and that abortion is a contested issue in the country and while you can work to limit it, it must be rooted in truth (that science thing again), and it must be done with not just a focus on the unborn, but also toward maximizing the interests of all women, and with an actual understanding of what it’s like to face deciding whether to have an abortion and why. Third, take the deep (and real) fear people have that the middle class is on a downward path while the wealthy are ever-climbing seriously, because it is serious, and work toward actually improving the country’s situation rather than propose tax cuts as the solution to all ills like some snake oil cure-all. Fourth, mold this new party—socially moderate, fiscally-conservative—into one focused on allowing every person in this country to pursue and realize their dreams, free from government fiat and excess regulatory burden.

That fourth part is what the Republican party should be; not a party that’s dogmatically wedded to “small government” and tax cuts, but one that believes that while government has a role in our lives, it should lean toward solutions that don’t involve it at all or that when necessary, as much as possible, empower individuals and groups to accomplish a goal rather than centralized control.

That’s a potentially very strong philosophical driver for the Republican party, but getting there starts with parts one through three. And those will be difficult; those are entrenched beliefs within the Republican base and in leadership. So it will take—among many other things—all of us within the party standing up and pointing out when our leaders are wrong on these issues and when people in the party are wrong on them. As long as we allow xenophobia, homophobia and anti-science to fester within the party, the party will not have a future.

February 15th, 2013

Thinking Through the Watch

Now that the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg have all reported that Apple is working on a wristband-like iOS device—in other words, Apple’s preferred method of pre-announcing products to the public—it’s certain that Apple is working on such a device.

The last time the New York Times’s Nick Bilton made a similar report about Apple was mid-July 2012, when he and Nick Wingfield reported that Apple is expected to announce an iPad Mini sometime that year. The iPad Mini was announced in October, just three months later. Bilton’s report on the watch, though, does not suggest an announcement date (just that it “might soon become a reality”), and says that Apple is “experimenting” with wristwatch devices made of curved glass. Peter Burrows and Adam Satariano’s report for Bloomberg, though, says that more than one hundred “product designers” are working on it, and that the team includes marketing group employees, which would suggest that the device is being actively developed as a product and is not merely an experiment. That makes sense with the near-simultaneous reports in the Times, Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.

I think, then, we can reasonably expect that such a device is coming. It’s an incredibly interesting device to think about because such a form is right on the edge of what we can do with mobile computers today and because it presents very difficult decisions about the device’s form and function. As such, I want to think through the watch a bit.

Form and Function

Ideally, a wristband-style mobile computer (hereon referred to as the “watch”) would be a standalone device that could also interoperate with the iPhone or iPad. It would have a decent-sized color screen, WiFi, Bluetooth, cellular data, GPS, a microphone and speaker. In other words, it would have all the hardware features of the iPhone, except in a much smaller package and would attach to the wrist. You would interact with it through touch and voice using Siri. It could act as a bridge to the iPhone or iPad (see messages and notifications on it, control media playback), but it could also be a replacement for many uses; instead of wearing an iPhone or iPod Touch while running, exercising at the gym or cycling, all you’d need is the watch on your wrist to track your distance and route. With Bluetooth headphones, you could listen to music and hear prompts from an exercising application, too.

Many places we go, a standalone watch would be completely sufficient. There’s little that you actually need an iPhone for while going out for the evening that the watch couldn’t do (texts, calls, finding where to go for dessert or a drink), and its smaller screen size—the main limiting factor—is actually a positive in this case (and many others), because it can be less distracting. You’ll probably zone out less checking Twitter, Facebook or Instagram while out with friends when all you have is a tiny screen to use.

But the watch will almost certainly not be standalone, at least initially, simply because our current battery technology doesn’t seem able to keep such a small device powered for a reasonable amount of time. The iPhone’s battery life is just acceptable, so it’s difficult to imagine a much smaller device with the same networking needs having anything approaching reasonable battery life—and that’s assuming it can all be miniaturized to a reasonable size. The odds are that the watch will instead be a Bluetooth accessory for the iPhone.

What, though, will it do? The standalone watch can replace a smartphone in many cases, which is reason enough to get one. But what about the watch-as-accessory? When Apple announced the iPhone, it had two uses that made it immediately obvious why it was a big deal: it replaced your phone and iPod with one superior device, and it could use the full web anywhere. What will be the watch’s defining use that clicks with people?

The apparent use is what Pebble and others do: alert you to phone calls, text messages and other notifications, and allow you to control media and some other functions. Apple could provide even greater interconnection so that the watch could use Siri through the iPhone’s connection. That could be convincing; with an improved Siri, there would be much less need to use the iPhone directly. You would be able to see and make quick responses to messages as they come in (or ignore unimportant ones), find a restaurant or bar to head to and get directions using Siri, get movie times, and control what music is playing in your car; in other words, you’d be able to do much of what we use the iPhone for without ever touching it. Passes in Passbook (airline flights, games, movies, etc) could be used without ever taking out your iPhone.

There are many potential uses for third-party developers, too. The immediately ones are for exercise. Even a dependent watch would still be a very useful exercise device; it could still track how far a person runs and for how long (like the Nike Fuelband and Jawbone Up do), instruct people on gym exercises and perhaps even track them, and do so without being connected to an iPhone. Even without a data connection or GPS, it would still be a very useful device for exercising. And if Apple could somehow build in a heart rate sensor, it could provide even more data than these applications have currently.

But there’s more potential, too. Tethered to the iPhone, it could serve as a tour guide for cities and other locations, instructing you where to go and pointing out interesting landmarks and information. While driving, it could alert you to new traffic jams up ahead.

Those are all fantastic uses (or at least I think so). Along with third-party services, the watch could completely eliminate the need for dedicated fitness devices like Nike’s Fuelband, Jawbone’s Up, and Fitbit’s various devices, it would make many tasks (like getting directions or information about things around you while walking around) much less intrusive and annoying, and could open up completely new uses.

That all might be enough to make the watch a compelling accessory—I would certainly like to use it. And perhaps that’s the right path to take. Rather than bill it as a new device, Apple can sell it wholly as an accessory, something that isn’t necessary but makes the iPhone better. From there, Apple can develop it until it’s something that can largely stand on its own. At that point, we would have a fundamentally new device.

A New Relationship

With the smartphone, because it can pack (relatively) large amounts of information on the screen and we can access it easily through touch, it’s very easy to spend minutes or even hours using it to browse the web, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other services. The smartphone is so engaging that you can end up disconnected from what’s going on around you, whether you’re waiting in line at a store or out to dinner with friends. We are all familiar with doing this or other people doing it. The smartphone is engaging because of its method of interaction.

Users, though, could have a much less engaging relationship with the watch. Because the form (small screen on the wrist) and means of interaction (voice, some touch input) are less engaging and carry less information than touch input with a large screen, our relationship with the watch will likely be very different. Rather than spend long periods of time using it, we will probably use it more as a utility, where we interact with it for some specific task and then go back to whatever we were doing. Instead of finding yourself checking Instagram when you pulled out your phone to look at a notification, you’ll just glance at your wrist, respond to it if it’s important, and go back to whatever you were doing. Instead of holding your phone while following directions to walk somewhere in the city, you’ll just glance at a street name, distance and arrow on your wrist.

In this way, the watch would be even more of a utility than a computer, a trend started with the iPhone. You use it for a specific task, and then it’s gone. It would take much less attention to use and it wouldn’t take you out of the moment while using it, as the smartphone tends to do. As such, the watch could be much more human than the smartphone. What I mean is that rather than force us to conform to it, it would conform to us to a much greater extent. It would provide us whatever information we need without interrupting the moment much, and it would disappear the second it provides it. It would empower us while doing what we want, rather than dominate our attention.

The smartphone is an addiction all its own. It’s always in our pocket and can provide us with almost limitless distractions when we want it, and because it’s always there, it can nearly become muscle memory to pull it out and tap around when there’s even just a few seconds of downtime. The watch could technically serve the same function, but simply because there would be much more friction to use it as such (tapping around on a tiny screen will simply be much more of a pain to do), we probably won’t. And because of that friction, the watch could be much more of a tool—something we take out when we need it and put away when we don’t—than the smartphone, which is much more akin to a security blanket.

That, I think, is a good thing, an improvement on mobile devices. Moreover, it speaks to a question that I think is important now and will only grow more important in the future: since mobile computing undoubtedly affects how we live as human beings, how do we want to live, and what role should computing play? Smartphones have a very engaged role, but “glasses”—mobile computers with heads-up displays, like Google’s Glass project—would literally become an intermediary between the world around us and our perception of it, because we would see the world through the computer’s display. In that case, computing would not only be integral to our lives, but would be our window to, and a filter on top of, the world itself.

I find that idea troubling, which is why I find the watch so promising. Rather than be a part of how we see the world, computing would be something we interact with when we need information or something done, and then it would go away. Rather than fundamentally change how we envision the world and interact with it, it would instead leave us as we always have been, but much more effective.

That question is as much philosophical as it is technological, and different people will have different takes. There is certainly an argument to be made that our advancement as a species depends on more deeply integrating technology into ourselves. Perhaps that is the case, and perhaps going down that road will leave us better off as individuals and as a species, but it points to what I think we should all be discussing more, which is what role computing should take in the future and what role it should play in our lives.

All that from a watch that doesn’t even exist. Yet.

February 14th, 2013

Max Levchin has plans for you

Nicholas Carr:

No need to think of analog resources in the aggregate anymore; networked sensors allow us to monitor and rationalize the utilization of each individual resource, each person in isolation. But you can go even deeper. You can begin to rationalize each individual’s internal resources. Imagine, as Levchin does, that everyone is hooked up to physical sensors that minutely monitor their health and behavior and send the data to a centralized processing system. An insurance company “looking at someone’s heart rate monitor data could make their cardiovascular healthcare cost-free.” Of course, if you engage in risky behavior (do you really want that third slice of pizza, or that third beer?) or have some suboptimal health reading (did your heart just skip a beat?), an alert from your insurer, or maybe your employer, or maybe the government, would immediately come through your smartphone notifying you that your health care premium has just been increased. Or maybe your policy has been cancelled. Or maybe you’ve been scheduled for a brief reeducation session down at the local office of the Bureau for Internal Resource Optimization.

This is the nightmare world of Big Data, where the moment-by-moment behavior of human beings — analog resources — is tracked by sensors and engineered by central authorities to create optimal statistical outcomes.

It’s not difficult to imagine terrible outcomes for a future with computers, sensors and the Internet in everything and everyone. But it’s coming. Which is why we have to actively design technology so it works to make us better as humans, rather than control us.

February 11th, 2013