Infographics Made Simple: Visual.ly

I am completely loving the new infographics site, Visual.ly.

Not only is it a gallery, where graphic artists can upload, share, critique, etc.. ( finally taking digital art networking seriously) it also includes an online toolset for everyday folks to create cool infographics.

While the toolset is still limited (they say growth will happen quickly, )

I was pleased with the results of the Twitterizer tool:

is what it came up with for my personal Twitter account. I was most intrigued when it came up with a couple of my apparently “made up” words as frequent topics of interest. Other than that, it is not too far off base… pretty impressive for an under 5 minute process.

location, location, location…. NOT

With the glamour of new technology approaching seeming magic, we are being drawn into location applications “just because we can”. Foursquare and GoWalla are battling it out in the location tracker app service, but they are just the first big players to the plate… the hoards are following, but more like lemmings than with any sense of value. I contend that the value for end users is not in location, but in action or intent.

Undeniably, the ability to tag into GPS( or other location data) and place yourself on the map is cool. The apps are fun to play for a while. But the value add for the users ends quickly as the newness wears off. I was one of the first on both services in my small town and had fun making marks and then watching as other users came along and found them. And then that got pretty boring. Do I really care who has been to other places? Not really. What I care about, what draws me in– is what they are doing there.

Certain that there is some use case for a location based social networking app, I have pondered this inside out, but I am stumped. Consider the following:

1) Using it to connect with people at a conference or event. Yeah, not so much. Someone I know checks into a talk or an event? OK. but I want to know what the event is, or WHY they are there before I decide to go. If they are a good enough friend that their mere presence draws me there, we are already text msg, twitter or god forbid calling each other to coordinate.

2) Using it to build an ego presence as a regular at a location and get cool discounts? OK, maybe– but really- if you are a regular, the store will know. Loyalty cards, etc.. give the same benefits.

3) Using it to find other people who like to go to the same places you do. Nice idea, but doesn’t really work that way. Yes, I can check into a location and see who else has… but really have no mechanism for connecting with those people in any meaningful way. Even given that.. is the fact that we shop at the same grocery store going to be a friendship building point– or the fact that we both love to get the same brand of sauce for our BBQ?

Am I missing something? What really cool use have you fallen in love with a location based social networking application for?

There is a point and a usefulness to location apps- I love being able to log in in a new location and seeing what is nearby. But there are tons of services and applications that allow me to do this ( still waiting for the best of breed to emerge, honestly…) and this does not in any way build a social network. James Burke entranced us all with the fact that the things we do impact others– and build connections. Connections 1 (5 – Disc Set) While there is amusement and entertainment in the “George Washington slept here” impact, it is short lived. George Washington Slept Here [VHS]
Map overlay does not have lasting human impact.

The one application that I think could come close to this, but has not yet is @getglue. They recently released an iPhone app, but I am waiting for the android version for my Evo. If I could take a picture of the cool new gadget in BestBuy ( or scan the bar code) and see an overlay of reviews from people who bought it/used it ( regardless of location)- that provides real value. And if I buy it and love it, I can choose to connect with other people who loved it as well. Will we become friends? maybe, maybe not- but there is more of a reason to believe that a network of people with shared interests will last. Will you really care who else stood in the same spot as you on some other day 6 months from now?

Slime Mold Splendor- System inspirations


As a grad student, I was TA for a developmental biology class (it was, for a while, my PhD target). Almost all of the aspects of the lab excited and fascinated me, but I was especially taken by the slime mold. It remains one of my favorite organisms ever.

Back in 2000, when I first saw Javaspaces demonstrated at the JavaOne conference, I immediately got excited and started babbling to fellow geeks about how the ultimate design for a self discovery middleware/messaging system would be modeled after slime mold. They are the perfect model for small message/self discovery systems. They mostly looked at me like I was slightly insane.

I love that others are now using slime mold as a model for networks, and have mathematically mapped the algorithms of slime mold network forming. Time for us to realize that we are not always discovering brand new things, but are just describing things that much simpler organisms discovered millenia ago. I think I want that algorithm… there is a next generation self assembling messaging system buried in it.

What biolgical inspirations drive your designs??

Tweetie2- very sweetie

I recently mentioned in an article about my iPod Touch that I was falling in love with Tweetie2 for twitter use – even across multiple accounts. I love it so much that even though I still hate and despise the Touch keyboard, I find myself at home picking up the touch to twitter with this Apple Design award winner rather than any of the computers I have access to. I am not going to waste time listing all the features available, you can click the link and read the website yourself. Instead, here are the top 5 reasons I love Tweetie2 enough to abandon a real keyboard.

1) Offline Sync: Since I have a touch and not an iPhone, I do not have constant connections. But I can download all the latest tweets, hit the road, respond while traveling ( while someone else drives) and have it auto sync when I get a connection again.

2) Bounce to update: There is really no technical or life changing reason why this is important. it is just simple, elegant and seriously fun. Simply pull down the list from the top and release to have the app update.

3) “Email this tweet”: There are really a multitude of ways you can simply respond to a tweet, but the addition of being able to email it is a bonus. I still have important people in my life who are *gasp* not on twitter ( the Ogre is the main one). There are often times I want to share a link or message with him and this has always involved cutting and pasting and having multiple apps open. Being able to simply select “email this tweet”has made life much easier.

4) The Blue Light Special: Switching between your timeline, @replies and DMs is as simple as clicking icons at the bottom of your screen. Even better, when you have new activity in one of those streams, it glows blue. My timeline is active enough that I just ignore that one and update at will, but having DM notifications ( which I sometimes do not monitor closely enough) is very nice. If you are a low volume twitterer, all of these would be handy.

5) Threaded DMs: If you have had some back and forth exchange of messages with someone via DM, you get to see the whole exchange history when you open the most recent DM. I absolutely love this feature and wish I could get it for @replies as well.

There are other features… maybe some you love even more and I have not glommed onto. Do you use Tweetie? If so, which features do you love most?

Email: The Nail in the Coffin

I have been musing for a while now about the seemingly imminent death of email, but last night I became convinced that personal email is already dead, we are just hammering the nails in the coffin.

Yes, there is no doubt that business email is still alive ( and broken and annoying)- but that is another post. Let’s focus on Personal email.

I was on a phone call with my mom when the ringing of the hammer sounded clearly.

“We decided to talk to Verizon and get off of AOL and just use our Verizon email.”

Excellent news! AOL ( stop cringing) was the right choice for my parents back in 1990, when the web was new and there were not many user friendly email interfaces. Now, it just inevitably led them to clicking on links in ways that launch that horrid AOL browser and things were broken. Plus, it is spending money on a service they really don’t need. Times are tight and money is not free.

“Your Dad was reluctant and is concerned about how the email will look, but I told him it really did not matter, hardly anyone we know uses email any more. When I look at my email, it is almost all junk or ads or things people forwarded me. We don’t have many people who send us stuff any more- you all moved to Facebook”.

Wow. Astute for a basically computer challenged person who strongly resists change of any kind. She was not happy about the shift, mind you- ( I did not even want to boggle her with the plethora of social networks where I have a home… we will just leave it as Facebook for now).

“I am going to have to get on Facebook if I want to keep in touch, and just when I learn it, you will all probably move someplace else. But there is no doubt that email is just dead.”

This from a 64 year old woman who is far from a computer analyst and does not know Facebook at all, apart from her grandaughters talking about it and the little bit we showed her over the Easter Holiday.

If she is not on Facebook soon, I have no doubt she will be on by the end of my daughters’ week-long visit with them the first week of June. Honestly, I think she will like it better than AOL email.. but for my sanity and hers, I hope someone solves the interoperability/open authetication/platform communication before they leave and migrate to the next great social networking platform and leave her behind on Facebook wthout a linkage.

Testing Google Voice- Need some help

My GrandCentral account (finally) got converted and I am busy testing all of the GoogleVoice features. Be sure to check back in a week for a full update, but in the meantime, I need your help. Please click on the widget below and help me test out the embedded call feature. Your call should automatically go to a voicemail I recorded just for you. If you leave me a message that makes me smile, it might show up in the review post and you could be (sorta) famous. Be sure to tell me if you do NOT want your message to be published, but please leave me some love anyway.

Twitter Dream or TwitterMare?

The flow of information over on Twitter has become a raging torrent these days. This is not a bad thing. I love diving in and out of the information flow,playing tag with bits and pieces of conversations and news blurbs. As an information consumer, this pattern of Twitter usage feels comfortable and is not overwhelming in the least. I follow a little over a thousand people and for the most part just use the standard web interface.

From an information dissemination point of view, this becomes problematic. Although I have more than a thousand followers, no single tweet gets seen by all of my followers. With people dipping in and out of the river, only DMs or @s are persistent and will be seen by followers across time – other tweets flow past. To paraphrase Heraclitus , “you can not read the same Twitterstream twice”.

When I am asking a casual question such as “what is a famous brand of rootbeer“, or “ please recommend a web development company for non-profits“, then I am likely to get a small handful of answers and solve my dilemma. I do not need to reach all of my followers at once to get the information I need.

But if I am trying to use Twitter as a marketing tool for an event or a project, the number of my fllowers who will see ( and potentially re-tweet) my otice is small at any given point in time. Add to this the concept of twitter groups becoming more common, and how long before we see a mass Twitter tol that is a Marketer’s dream? More importantly, wil this tool be useful for the twitter masses as well, or will it become a twitterMare?
Here is the vision:
Log into a web page ( or use a desktop client) set up and config your groups.
Type in the 140 characters ( or less) of your message.
Select the group and click “updateGroup”
The twitter mass mailer will then auto @ your message to each of the members of the group. ( up to some groups size limit, due to API limitations…)

Do you see this as a potentially useful tool, or the next Magpie Tweetmare ? Tell me what you think.

Looking for design that drives intelligent behavior

I am tired of software that is trying to be “intuitive” or “friendly”, but instead forces its users into behaviors that make it impossible to feel like an intelligent adult.

Let me given you an example. The company I work for recently switched to Interwise for Web-based conferencing. Interwise has this nifty “raise hand” feature. If you are a participant in a session, you can click the raise hand button to let the leader/speaker know that you have a question. Polite, helps discussion flow, would seem to make sense. The problem comes when you actually click the button. Your hand is raised as seen by the leader, but nothing in the interface changes for the participant. There is no obvious way to “lower” your hand. The correct answer is “click ‘raisehand’ a second time to lower it”, but this is FAR from intuitive. I have been in a number of meetings just this week where I had to listen to intelligent, creative adults reduced to saying things like “can you lower my hand for me?” or “I am sorry, you have to lower your own hands”.

This might make you smile reading this, but situations like that do not foster continued intelligent conversation. Taking architects/designers or executives into a situation where they have to feel like they are sitting in the small desks in a classroom again does not assist with the collaborative process.

I am waiting for the software designers who really ‘get’ what online collaboration should feel like to be most effective. Do you have suggestions or experiences?
Do you have other examples of design that forces “awkward” behavior? Help me feel like I am not the only one frustrated and comment below.

Shape the future of Software services

We have previously touched on the idea of purchasing cycles of compute time from a service provider as a way for small or mid size businesses to do simulations or data analysis without investing in infrastructure. This is also a useful model for large companies who need a way to manage peak flow, or even as a “try before you buy” model to prove out ROI. There is a review article in the works comparing/contrasting the different service providers to help you better make decisions. Almost all of these vendors provide raw compute cycles, you have to provide the software and the expert domain knowledge. Yesterday here at SC08 I had the chance to meet and talk with a company who is taking a slightly different approach. Cycle Computing is not just selling raw compute cycles, they are selling HPC software runs as a service. They work with ISVs, purchase appropriate software licenses and make sure the software runs on the hardware. All you have to do is supply data through the secured pipe and receive results. Application interfaces can current be SSH, a RESTful web interface, or even a VPN into your business network.

They have been successful with this model in the financial and pharmaceutical verticals and are looking to expand into other areas of manufacturing. What are the implications of this for your manufacturing businesses? HPC results without the HPC headaches. No hardware to purchase, install, configure and administer. No software license purchases, management or renewals. No long term contracts for software services you only use twice a year– pay only for the compute cycles you actually use. What will it take to make this a winner? If the services,speed and price are right, this could be a huge win for many businesses. And at this point in time, you have the ability to help shape the service into something that works for you. Cycle computing is looking for feedback on what software packages you would make the best use of. I say this is your time to give them feedback on all points of the service. What is your price point requirement? (I do not think that Free is an option at this point….) What are the technical requirements/security considerations that would make or break this as you try to sell it to your management? You can comment below and let them know what your dream HPC software service would look like.

Hidden Gems- bread crumbs to a vision?

Every day in almost every plant in the US, Dell provides great value. There are low cost, high efficiency Dell computers assisting us in running plant floor systems better spread all over the world. I was then, excited to hear that Michael Dell, CEO of Dell computers was giving the opening keynote at SC08 here in Austin. Perhaps that is also the reason for the deepness of my disappointment in the talk (you can see my stream of consciousness thoughts on the keynote as it was going by using this Twitter RSS feed).
Don’t get me wrong, it was entertaining. The art department at Dell creates gorgeous slides. More importantly, buried in amongst the 40 minute Dell commercial, there were some hidden gems for the folks in manufacturing to contemplate. While I do not think that these qualify a a true vision, they are perhaps breadcrumbs on the path to having a vision for HPC. Consider the following points:

  • Dell is predicting that by 2010 processors will contain 80+ cores. If you think that the software pricing model for your plant floor software and back end databases is a budget busting nightmare with dual or quad core processors now, imagine what will happen in a few years when the smallest processors have 20 or so cores on them and high end processors are 80 cores. Now is the time for manufacturers as a group to start working with vendors to get the software pricing problem fixed.
  • Michael Dell admitted that the recent “core war” started recently and escalated fast, but he was very firm in the idea that it was not going to end soon. Software is the big gap in all of this. If super multi-core machines are going to be available on the plant floor soon, which vendors are poising themselves to take advantage of that power? Even though tasks like scheduling could be written to take advantage of parallel computing power, I do not know of any out of the box programs that do. I certainly can not know everything, so please comment if you know of some. Yes, there are companies out there (FedEx comes to mind first) who are writing custom algorithms and software, but that requires a huge investment in time, talent and money. I will point out to the plant floor software vendors amongst us Michael Dell’s thoughts “..there is a need for petascale software to take advantage of all of this computing hardware …..if you can be the first to figure out a way to use all this hardware power, there is a lot of financial advantage to be made”.
  • It was pointed out how deeply prices for compute power have dropped in the last 5 years. In 2003, 2 teraflops of compute power cost roughly a million dollars. That put 2 teraflop questions firmly out of reach for most manufacturers. The benefit gained was not worth adding a million dollars to production costs. Today, you can get 25 teraflops for a million dollars. In the current economy, you are even less likely to want to add a million dollars to production costs- but that scale means that for at most 80 thousand dollars, you can get 2 teraflops of compute power.
    What 2 teraflop questions/problems are you not tackling because you are still thinking in terms of 2003 pricing? What simulations or real time data analysis could be giving you a competitive edge, that you have not even considered for fear of sticker shock??

    I am off to try to set up some one on one time with Dell’s manufacturing outreach folks. If you have specific questions for Dell related to their use in manufacturing, comment them below so I can get responses for you. Perhaps they will be able to give me more interesting insights in the vision at Dell, since Mike missed the mark.