Sunday, January 23, 2011

More thoughts on Foursquare and Location Based Services

About eight months ago I shared some thoughts on Foursquare here. Although I focused on the mayor system in that post, as time went on there was something else nagging me about Foursquare. Something about the service doesn’t add up and still doesn’t for me. Gowalla is in the same boat but for the purposes of this article I am just going to focus on Foursquare.

There is a certain portion of the population interested in  seeing where they have been, what they have done, chronicling all of this, sharing it with their foursquare friends, etc.

The rest aren’t.

I am in the former camp. I love the service: the stats, seeing where I checked in the most, who with, the badges, etc. However, because all of my friends aren’t necessarily the same and don’t use the service, when I look at my check-in history and see who I checked in with the most what I am seeing is a misrepresentation of the events of my life.  The statistics presented are valid only for the percentage of friends in Foursquare’s population.  Interesting but useless. Perhaps these stats don’t aim to attain anything other than being interesting.

Beyond the addictive nature of the service itself and being able to see where I have been it doesn’t really add much value to my life. The sense of community I have with Facebook, or even Twitter, just isn’t there.  To be truly successfully Foursquare has to offer more and attract people who may not actually want to check-in. This would enable a sense of community.

My friends could be members of Foursquare and I can check them in on my account, but they don’t have to broadcast to the world.  This enables a multitude of possibilities. Foursquare check-ins can then be revisited after the fact and all members could share photos, funny quotes (bnter like), etc. Sort of like Memolane’s offering.  Putting the focus on the event versus the location would make the whole experience more personal. If you haven’t checked it out, Bing Plans takes this approach, however the two services aren’t really comparable.

If such functionality was added, it may weaken the appearance of Foursquare as an app that is strictly focused on location, its great strength. That’s why I don’t use Facebook Places. It feels like an afterthought. The service would not want to feel like a Facebook clone and I think ultimately this is going to be Foursquare’s challenge.

I really want to see Foursquare succeed and create a value to its users that goes beyond the “check-in.” Maybe this is continued discounts at some participating venues (personally this doesn’t excite), or more focus on the community and sharing. If they could find a way to get people using the application who don’t themselves want to check-in that would be a step up.  Hopefully in 2011 Foursquare has some differentiating offerings coming down the pipe, because I don’t know how much longer my Starbucks check-ins and Fresh Brew badges are going to keep me interested. The sense of community and friendship on Foursquare is what will take it to the next level.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Kinect Mini-Review and Looking Forward

Kinect is awesome – but far from  perfect. There are plenty of great reviews out there so rather than comment on what Kinect does right and an overview I am going to cut to the chase of what it needs to do better. I mostly bought the Kinect for the dashboard integration versus playing games (it does that quite well).

Dashboard Integration

The current dashboard experience is subpar at best. Overall I would give it a C+ with a future outlook of an A. It is too disjoint and not integrated with the rest of the dashboard. I am sure Microsoft is hard at work on the next update. Some of the glaring issues:

- Only the Kinect Hub responds to gestures and voice commands.

- Some voice commands leave you down paths where you have to start using the controller (wth?).

- The voice commands are too strict. More natural language options would be better. I shouldn’t have to say “Watch a movie” exactly as it is spelled on screen. “Browse movies” and “movies” should suffice.

- The gesture to “press” takes too long and if you are impatient like me a setting would be nice to decrease the hover time.

- The Zune Music and Video Kinect experiences feel disconnected from the whole and if you choose to use your controller at any point you have to get thrown back into the other Zune Music and Video apps.

- Navigating the menus is extremely slow compared to the controller, but this is subjective to a person’s taste. There is something liberating about not having to use the controller so there is a tradeoff here.

Cool things:

- Scrubbing the video – once you get the hang of it – feels very futuristic and is just plain cool

- Swiping through movie trailers and songs is fun and has elicited many oohs and ahhs from my friends

- Voice commands to play and pause a movie are great although I would like an option to

Even fixing all of the above issues wouldn’t make the Kinect as outstanding as it could be with respect to the Dashboard.

Making it a must have device

The following things should be  considered to make this the *must-have* device for every household.

- Let me turn the Xbox on or wake it up with my voice! How cool would that be?

“Hey xbox turn on.”

Better yet:

“Hey Xbox turn on and start playing music”

Better still:

“Hey Xbox start playing my hip-hop playlist”

- Custom gestures: I want to be able to define a gesture to jump to a certain area of the Dashboard

- Extended speech support: similar to above let me say almost anything and have the Xbox interpret it or find the best match. A menu could come up asking me for the closest matches.

- Let me use it to scan real-world objects to pimp out my avatar – a couple hacks have seemingly already done this

- Use the camera capabilities to skin the avatar with a real-world look and feel

- When I am home and online allow my Windows Phone to use the Kinect as a speaker phone

- Assuming Windows Phone someday gets a FaceTime component let me use Kinect Video Chat with Windows Phones

- Performance: This is really a request for the whole dashboard experience but it is very sluggish and then only makes the whole thing feel more disconnected

- Allow the camera to be viewable when I am away from home via a remote machine or the Windows Phone. It can double as a security device. (this is just icing)

- Let me browse the internet! Read the news, look at photos, etc. You just created a virtual iPad (albeit mounted on my wall).

I plan to update this post with more ideas of what would really set the Kinect apart.

What things would  you like to see the Kinect do in the future?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Does Foursquare’s Mayor System Promote Monotony

Let me preface this by saying I like Foursquare and am more or less addicted. However I was having lunch the other day at my one of my normal spots in San Francisco’s financial district when it struck me that Foursquare’s mayor system is flawed. The system itself works but to strive to be the mayor feels flawed.

I had just checked into Pasta Paradiso in the One Market building and the Foursquare app said something to the effect of “Congratulations you are still the mayor of Pasta Paradiso”.

And I thought – is that a good thing. Of all the places to eat in the city why am I the mayor of this one. Does that even matter?  Why have I checked in here six times in the last month or so.  I know exactly why. I usually eat there when I need a quick lunch and am stressed about work or just have a lot of work.  In that respect Foursquare is a good way for me to analyze my work/life balance.

I have another mayorship in the same plaza and another around the corner. Of my 5 mayor-ships all are lunch spots. I recently lost two mayorships: One Market Bar and Bullit Bar – and I am glad I lost these.  I still love the venues, but am glad I don’t have the mayor title. It means I have been going to other areas for my happy hour and weekend outings.

Until Foursquare becomes much more mainstream the mayor system is flawed because you are the mayor among people in the Foursquare ecosystem. Barely any of my friends use Foursquare, else they would likely be the mayor instead for many places. So basically you are winning mayorships over people you don’t know.

Overall I think Foursquare is hot, but the point/mayor/ranking system needs an overhaul. Maybe something more game like similar to MyTown. I am not going to comment on Gowalla because I haven’t used it enough.

Rather than put a focus on becoming the mayor of a place more focus (and perhaps a point system of sorts) should be put on being at places with your Foursquare friends (who are hopefully your real friends where as in with Twitter they might be random people). Maybe group mayorships, bar crawls (I know the swarm badge is kind of like this), group badges (that would be fun), etc.

Now, time to go check-in somewhere…new.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Bali - Candidasa

Days 12 to 14 (November 18th – November 20th, 2009)

(My continued, long overdue Bali trip details)

The last morning at Villa Amala was spent just relaxing. At about 1 pm two drivers took us to our next destination, Candidasa.

Map picture

The ride was going to take about two hours. On the way there I stopped at the ATM for the first time of the trip.  I remember not feeling too well during the drive and mostly tried to sleep it off but wanted to see the cities we were driving through.

Before long we arrived at Villa Gils which was more or less right on the water. It was owned by a very boisterous Australian woman who now resided in Bali. She owned three villas in a cluster on the Candidasa shore. I didn’t have any accommodations when I arrived and she graciously gave me one of the rooms for 30$ a night – which was pretty much a steal.

Here are some pics of the villa and shore:

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That first night we had a pretty mellow dinner at at seaside restaurant. Huge thunder clouds were forming in the distance but never quite reached us.


After we had some drinks and everyone turned in relatively earlier – we had a big snorkeling trip planned for the next day.  After waking up and reading my book for about an hour we had breakfast and were picked up at around 9am by our ride to the beach.

The plan was to take two outriggers (our was named Reed Schapper - note the spelling error), seating three of us a piece, to the Blue Lagoon Bay where the snorkeling was supposed to be pretty good – and it was. Here are some pics of the outriggers, me in my snorkeling get-up, and the gorgeous view:

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After snorkeling the outriggers took us past our villas a way for lunch at Puri Oka restaurant. I had – surprise surprise – grilled fish (probably snapper) and a Bintang.

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We were driven back to Villa Gils and the rest of the day was spent drinking cocktails in the pool until dinner. That night we went to a high concept restaurant called Le 48. It was interesting and more or less failed. The highlight was the concrete squares placed in a pond that you had to navigate to get to the tables….doing it drunk would have been a disaster.

The next day was an adventuring day.  Almost all of us piled into the car and trekked north. Our first stop was one a set of buildings I am going to dub a water palace: Taman Ujung.  My guidebook wasn’t too into the place, but I thought it was beautiful.  The King had a room in the central building which was surrounded my manicured lawns, fountains, a large pool and numerous ornate statues.

Pics of Taman Ujung



After getting our fill of Taman Ujung we headed to Tirta Gangga

Taman Tirta Gangga is a beautiful water palace built by the same King who built Taman Ujung. In addition to its pools and plant life it also has a maze like pond that you can walk on (see pics), a huge banyan tree, and if you really want to you can take a swim. At one point I was walking on the pond maze and a couple was coming toward me. As far as who had the right away to move or step aside onto a neighboring disc I have no idea, but a local guide more or less commanded me to jump to the grass bordering the pond. Luckily I have long legs :).

After walking through the palace we decided to eat there (there are accommodations at the actual palace – it might sound touristy, but doesn’t have that feel).

Pics at Taman Tirta Gangga


While we were in the area our driver suggested we go and see an actual silver smith. Some of these “trips” are in fact fake and the people working the silver are just a ruse to get you to buy jewelry from the store. However this one was pretty legit and watching the people work the silver was interesting.

I didn’t buy anything and spent most of the time outside talking to the roosters and looking at the chickens…


After getting back in the car and getting caught in a monsoon we arrived at Virgin Beach (White Sand Beach) which would cap off our  day of travelling. I was the only one in the group to take a dip. Everyone else kept in real by downing a Bintang.


Upon arriving back at the Villa we started drinking, watched the rain fall and had an excellent dinner prepared by the staff. The next day I was going to separate from the group and head north while they headed west.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I would like one Square of Mint please…

I think Square is perhaps the coolest thing I have seen since Mint with respect to personal finance management. Square is a new service aimed at helping both the payer and the payee. As someone making payments, with a Square account receipts are instantly at your fingertips through either email or a mobile device. As someone taking payments, with a Square account the payer can swipe their card on a dongle that fits onto a mobile device. This enables virtually anyone to begin accepting credit card payments. Think of the possibilities.  No cash but want to buy a hot dog from the street vendor, no problem.

Here is a pic of an example receipt. Note the location of the purchase, the number of times the payer has been there, the signature, and how the transaction will appear on an actual credit card statement.


(Copyright Square, Inc)

Much more can be learned about Square at the website. What I think would be very cool is if Square and Mint joined forces. As an active Mint user I want to see my Square account and Square receipts in the Mint user interface. No more having to track down what some cryptic restaurant or bar is.

If Square really takes off it could be much larger than Mint would ever be. It is disappointing that Intuit purchased Mint in what I considered an early part of its initial product offering. Mint has a long way to go at becoming the end-all-be-all of personal financial  management. A scenario can be imagined where Square takes off and needs an intuitive UI to manage users’ payments – that is Mint’s strength. Unfortunately Mint is no longer a private entity.

Hopefully some of the innovations Square is pioneering will find a way to be integrated with Mint in a first-class solution. Basically I want my Mint^2.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Photosynth of Four Seasons Hotel at Sayan near Ubud

Here is a simple photosynth I created of the Four Seasons Hotel in Bali. You enter on the “roof” which is a huge circular pond with stairs leading down to the actual hotel.

Check out the panorama below…

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Bali – Villa at Keliki near Ubud

Days 9 and 10

I woke up determined to find my friends somehow. I assumed their internet was down or not present at all so I figured I would just trek up to their villa and surprise them. The owner of my bungalows, Madi, offered to take me up to the village of Keliki (about 20 minute drive) for 100,000 Rp. That was the price of one night at her bungalow. I shopped around and that was the going rate.

Before we left I got my second massage – they are so cheap here. It was pretty good and cost about 60,000 Rp (six dollars).

We set off out of Ubud and into the surrounding villages. I had once thought I could ride a bike to this next village, but am very glad I thought better of it. There were many hills to climb. We eventually passed Seliba and the villa was supposed to be in between Seliba and Keliki. At last we came upon it. Down a long narrow driveway and between two rice fields and backed by a jungle was Villa Amala. The only problem was that my friends weren’t here. They had just left to go to Ubud for the day for lunch. After a phone call between Madi and the driver of my friends car we found them. They were eating in Ubud where I had just come from.

Madi and I got back in the car and drove into Ubud. I eventually found them and said goodbye to Madi. We all had lunch – I just had a pizza and after they took some photos of Ubud proper we got back in the car and made our way back to the villa which I hadn’t really seen yet.

Villa Amala would mark the first time I have ever really been at a villa where there is staff, a cook, etc. The villa itself was very cool. I will let the picture do the talking. I spent two nights here in my own swanky little room and bath (and the occasional huge fucking spider … uggh).

That day I immediately jumped into the infinity pool and a quick little monsoon started up. Very few things are as relaxing as laying on the edge of an pool as rain is pouring down on you. At least for me. After some Bintangs and some appetizers it was time to get ready for dinner.

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Here is a vid of the monsoon:

The group had already planned on going to dinner at the Chedi Club which was on the opposite side of Ubud. With the exception of my lobster dinner I was due for another more indulgent meal. I hadn’t really planned on going out to any nice outings however and only packed t-shirts and shorts. Fortunately Brett packed a bunch of linen shirts and pants and gave me some stuff to look more appropriate in.

The Chedi Club lies on huge spacious grounds filled with ponds, pools, statues, and tropical plants. The actual resort itself does not have that many rooms. After snapping a bunch of photos and walking around the grounds we settled at a table where we could catch the sunset going down over the rice paddies and the jungle beyond. The drink of choice was a purple basil cocktail – I think I had three or four.

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Dinner at the Chedi Club resort was in a huge open air building that looked out over the rice paddies. What was really cool was that set amidst the rice paddies were stone lanterns that someone had to – each night – go and manually light up. The effect after the sun went down was very cool. I have a pic before the lanterns were lit:


We were seated at the far end of the building right next to the rice paddies. As dinner commenced we were the only people eating which felt kind of strange but as the night went on more people showed up. Dinner was great, the drinks were good, and the dessert filled me up too much (one scoop of ice cream is enough – no need for three– but it was butterscotch!).

There was also a cool bird in a cafe there that would do a little dance for you:

That night everyone promptly crashed – except for me. I had a nice little visitor waiting for me in my room…


Now this picture doesn’t do the size justice but that thing is huge. Everyone who knows me knows I have a strong sense of arachnophobia.  This spider was large enough that it wouldn’t just crunch when you killed it; it would crunch, ooze, and pop. It was huge. And there it was just chilling five feet from my bed (thank god the room was huge).

I resorted to throwing things at it. First a sock, then another, then a shoe. It eventually scurried towards the floor to ceiling doors that open up into the jungle (and had been closed during the day) and went behind the drape you see it on above. So I didn’t kill it, but it didn’t bother me anymore. I have a video I will try to post later of me being quite squeamish and cursing a lot under my breath.

Sleep eventually overcame me and I woke up to a gorgeous morning and and the staff started spreading out a huge breakfast spread:


The fruit in the middle is called mangosteen and is super good. I don’t believe you can get it in the states – yet.

Half the group went to go on a tour given by a Balinese man through his “backyard” to give you a glimpse of how they live. Jeff and I decided to use the bikes at the villa and ride up to the next village, Keliki, and beyond.

The bike ride was short – its too damn hot – but was fun. The way up to Keliki was up hill just slightly which made the ride back down fast and fun. At one point a van almost brushed me (people drive crazy here) but other than that it was a clear ride.

The rice paddies and the people working them are pretty amazing. People walk around with scythes chopping away, others have sheaths of rice bundled on their heads. Some are “ca-cawing” at the heavens to scare away birds, and lastly you might see someone herding ducks to a rice paddy. The ducks keep bugs out.


After the bike ride I just chilled at the pool and read my book (surprise surprise).  Uber relaxing. Pool. Rice paddies. Jungle. Drinks. Book.


The rest of the crew eventually came back and everyone settled in for lunch which was huge. Brett had originally requested that the staff keep lunch light because everyone but me was going to go to Mozaic for dinner that night. Mozaic is a really nice restaurant that was just to far out of my budget. Something got lost in translation and a huge plethora of meat was laid before us:


I think we ate almost everything and just had some chicken left over. The rest of the day was spent just chilling at the pool, drinking, and reading.

That night the idea was to go check out the Four Seasons hotel in Ubud for some drinks and then we were going to split off – myself to Naughty Nuri’s for diner and the rest of the group to Mozaic.

The Four Seasons hotel was amazing. We had just one (long) drink here after walking the grounds. The hotel pools are built right along the edge of the river. The hotel bar is about two stories up. The entrance to the hotel is actually the top story. You walk out onto a huge circular pond that has a staircase in the center. The jungle is surrounding you on virtually all sides. Again, I will let pictures do the explaining.

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After dinner the driver dropped everyone off at Mozaic and then took me to Naughty Nuri’s. The menu at Naughty Nuri’s was all meat and that was the exact opposite of what I wanted given the lunch we had.  I decided to go eat at Casa Luna again. It was good the first time and just as good the second. I did some emailing there, ate my dinner and then the driver took me back to Mozaic to pick everyone up. Back at the villa everyone slept and luckily there were no spiders in my room …

Zune Card