Tag Archives: iphone

2.0 firmware Android communications Facebook Flickr G1 Google iTunes maps mobile apps mobile web Pandora social networking social software Twitter Usability user experience design WiFi

No Baby News, Yet

I was hoping to have some exciting news about the newest addition to the Morrison family (as well as the subject of our huge internet baby name poll). Unfortunately the baby has it’s own plans and schedule. In the mean time, I thought I’d point out a couple of interesting Google-related articles and ask a question:

  • Google voice search is out for the iPhone, although for some reason it’s not at the App Store yet. Once it’s out, all you’ll need to do is load the app and say what you’re looking for, and Google will find it for you. Very cool. And some reporters are pointing out how cool it is that Google is still developing apps for other platforms while we have our own, the Android operating system seen on the G1.
  • Some sports and political figures in Argentina are suing to stop search engines from returning results for their names. That’s right – if you want to know anything about Diego Maradona, your search will return nothing but a message about a court order. This is, of course, a ridiculously backward take on copyright and publicity rights that flies in the face of logic and freedom of speech. Imagine going to a library and demanding they find and scissors-out every reference to Babe Ruth. I love Argentina, but any legal system that would let this sort of thing go on is pathetic.

And finally, here’s my question:

  • What the best way to send out a massive email to about 1,000 people? So many of the voters in the poll included their email address that I’m wondering if a gigantic CC: list is the way to go. Any ideas?

Why use Twitter?

I played around a bit with Twitter a year or so ago, but between server hiccups and a lack of things to actually use it for, I didn’t really get into it. Now, though, I am starting to get my Twitter on. So the question is, why use twitter, especially since I gave up on it so easily a year ago?

1. Twitter fills a communication niche, one that we didn’t even know existed five years ago. It really does. There’s a whole spectrum of human communication, which can be organized from timely to timeless, from sparse to dense, from interpersonal to broadcast. Twitter falls into an interesting midpoint in that range, somewhere between instant messaging, leaving a note on the dry-erase board outside your dorm room, and heading down to the local hangout to see who’s around.

2. Twitter is a social app, so it displays classic network effects – the more people you know using it, the more valuable it is for you to use it. Working for Google and living in Silicon Valley I’ve met a lot of people over this past year who are devoted users. Twitter is good for everything from ad-hoc get-togethers to sharing in obsessive election night poll watching.

3. Twitter isn’t just an application, it’s a platform to build applications on top of. So there’s a number of apps which make Twittering more usable and effective.

  • The Twitterific iPhone App makes it easy for me to send out updates from my phone. Which I have on me at all times.
  • I’m using the Twitter Facebook app to update my status in two systems at the same time, meaning I’m more likely to make use of either.
  • Twitturly collects urls that people are talking about in almost real-time, creating a sort of incidental social news site.

Feel free to follow my twitter updates me here. Got any cool Twitter apps not listed above? Let me know in the comments below.

iPhone Apps – Pandora vs. Last.fm vs. iTunes

San Jose Taiko rocking the main stage Since the release of the iPhone 2.0 firmware and the App Store, I’ve been like a kid in a candy store. At some point I’ll get around to a list of recommended apps but for now I just want to compare two music listening / online radio applications: Last.fm and Pandora.

You do, of course, have many more options – the App Store Music category has about 30 apps listed, many of them designed to help you enjoy and discover new tunes. And you always have the built-in iPod functionality of the phone which syncs with iTunes on the desktop. But Last.fm and Pandora have been around for a while as very impressive web apps so those were the first two I decided to take a look at. They have very different approaches to recommending music with lots of data and cool algorithms.

Pandora

Pandora is based on the Music Genome Project – basically, their system breaks down each song into a series of attributes. For example, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody has “demanding vocal performances, mild rhythmic syncopation, heavy use of vocal harmonies, a prominent rhythm piano part,” among other features. Give Pandora a song or musician and it will create a radio station of similar music. It’s really that simple.

As each song comes up you can give it a thumbs up or thumbs down and you can skip a few songs per station per hour. The iPhone interface displays the album art front and center with a button in the upper-right corner to show you why the system chose the song.

I’ve played with Pandora off and on for a while and my experience is that it does much better with stations created around one or two bands or songs than stations built on large lists of music you enjoy. Add 10 rock bands to your “Road trip with Steve 2008” station and if one of them has folk influences you’re bound to get some sleepy folk in there now and again. Give it just one band and it can get some amazing results – check out my Gorillaz station, for example.

The drawback to Pandora is that it only has very rudimentary data collection and social features. You can find other people listing to the same song on the website but user profiles are pretty sparse, and there’s no groups, message boards, etc. But if you just want to listen, and don’t want to bother with all that other stuff, Pandora provides a pretty great experience.

Last.fm

Last.fm builds radios stations for you and makes recommendations based on the listening data of thousands of other listeners, whether they’re using the Last.fm site, the mobile app, or a scrobbler plugin in their desktop MP3 player software. You can also listen to stations based around a single musician or band, but Last.fm gives you more options and better results the more you listen and participate in the social features of the site. For example, take a look at the listing for Bohemian Rhapsody – you can see top listeners, how users have tagged the song, similar songs, comments, message board posts, etc.

The user interface is actually quite similar to Pandora’s, with options to note that you love or hate a song, a skip button, album art, etc. You can see a bio of the band, similar artists, and upcoming events, which is cool in theory but I haven’t really used.

I’m a long time user of Last.fm from back in the Audioscrobbler days (check out the Geek Music group) and you definitely get more out of it the more you listen. You don’t really have to participate that much, just letting Last.fm know what you’re listing to improves recommendations and radio plays. My favorite thing about it is all the stats it collects. You can see which bands and songs you listen to most often and find out the most popular bands in Sri Lanka.

Compared to Pandora, though, the recommendations aren’t always as interesting… not bad, but I find myself pleasantly surprised more often while listening to Pandora. For comparison, listen to the Gorillaz similar artists radio station.

iPod + iTunes

You can, of course, skip online radio altogether and just use the built-in iPod functionality along with iTunes on the desktop.  There’s a lot to be said for going this route – the interface is nice and usable, the iPhone holds a decent amount of music, and iTunes collects of the same listening data that makes Last.fm so cool.  Also, it will work no matter how conjested the local network is and doesn’t drain the battery nearly as quickly.

But you miss out on all the social networking features and it’s a lot harder to discover new music.  So I think of it more as a back-up plan…  guaranteed access to some of my personal music library.

The Winner

Actually, there’s no need to pick one as the winner – they’re all available for use on your computer and your iPhone.

Have a favorite?  Share your experience in the comments section.