Category: BETA

You’re going to love the way your data looks: Reflect opens public beta

What good is a terabyte of data if you’re lacking an effective way to visualize that data? And why does the task of crafting compelling and beautiful visualizations fall on the development team? Those are among the problems that Portland’s Reflect is working to fix. And today, you can see what they’ve been building. Because they are now in public beta. Read More

ccSync: Bringing the chatroom and IRC dynamic to SMS with group texting

With Portland-based ccSync, suddenly your text messages begin to resemble a chatroom or IRC. Every message goes to every person in the group. Voila. Group SMS.

[Full disclosure: I have consulted with ccSync in the past before they reconfigured their product offering. I was pre-briefed on the launch of this product, but I have not been involved in the launch planning.]

For all the cool Web apps, iPhone apps, and mobile technologies, few things beat SMS for market penetration. That’s what makes it so great. Next to actually calling someone on the phone—but I mean, who does that?—texting is the easiest way to communicate with folks. Because practically anyone carrying a phone in their pocket can send and receive SMS messages—so long as their data plan I allows it.

So as far as having SMS? Great. But using SMS only works for very particular applications. Like one-to-one conversations. If you want to use that technology to communicate with three different people, you’re going to wind up sending that message three different times.

If only there were some way to talk to a group of people—in a controlled confidential way, not a public Twitter way—using this nearly ubiquitous technology. Well, now there is. Introducing ccSync. Read More

Shizzow knows Portland, Oregon. Now get to know Shizzow.

ShizzowSharing information about your current location with people you trust has always held this glimmer of potential. The glimmer of actually finding the time to meet face-to-face during our ever increasingly busy schedules. The glimmer of that impromptu meetup with people whom you would like to get to know better.

To date, that potential has always remained a glimmer.

The reality? That’s been slightly less beneficial. Reality has tended to be a useless stream of updates, declaring your friends are “in Portland, Oregon” or, worse yet, at some random address that holds little to no meaning.

Introducing Shizzow

And that’s why I’m so glad to see Portland-centric Shizzow opening its private beta, today.

What’s Shizzow?

Shizzow provides the technology for you to notify your friends of your location, with as little effort as possible, so you can spend more time hanging out with your peeps and less time trying to coordinate bringing them together through phone, email, SMS and IM.

I hear you. “Another one?” But hold your horses. I think Shizzow’s got a number of things going for it. And, as far as Portland goes? I think Shizzow has nailed it.

First and foremost, Shizzow is for Portland, Oregon. And only Portland, Oregon. Not the world. Not the Northwest. Portland. And that’s it. Shizzow isn’t about the video-game mentality of adding as many followers as possible—followers you may never ever meet in person. Shizzow is about knowing where your friends in Portland are. So that you can meet them, face-to-face, when those opportunities avail themselves.

Simple and local. By Portland, for Portland. And in my book, that’s huge.

Second, Shizzow is designed to understand where you are—and to tell people where you are—as simply and easily as possible. And I’ve been duly impressed by how hard they’ve worked to make sure that the database of locations is as deep and intuitive as possible.

Why is that important? Two reasons:

  1. No more (or far less) “Please enter the address of your location.” When you “shout” with Shizzow, you just need to know the name of the Portland place in which you’re currently standing. Not the address. Not the GPS coordinates. The name of the place. Easy.
  2. I know places better than addresses. When I’m reading the shouts of my Shizzow friends, it’s a lot (a lot!) easier for me to process “EcoTrust Building” than it is for me to process “721 NW 9th Avenue Portland, OR 97209.” That means, that I’m more likely to go meet my friends or plan my trips accordingly.

Sounds good, huh? I know! So let’s get you involved in this private beta.

Beta invites available

Dawn Foster has been helping Shizzow with its community, so if you’re in the Portland area and interested in an invite, she’s the best person to ping… but you better hurry:

Right now, the beta invites are limited to a couple hundred people living in Portland. I’ll be sending out invites today along with the rest of the team.

Even now, I’m already happily getting a flood of new friends (thank you!), so I know the Portland gang is getting involved. I can’t wait to see how this works once we get big group shouting.

A true side project to startup story

And the final reason that I’m so happy for these guys? They’ve truly made the leap from side project to startup:

Each member of the Shizzow crew has a full-time job outside of Shizzow, and it’s taken a ton of sweat equity and sleep-deprived nights to bring Shizzow to fruition. But because we’ve believed in our vision and believed in the idea of bringing friends and like-minded people together, the sacrifices we’ve made have not seemed like work but instead like… something we simply had to do. And now, 10 months and tens of thousands of lines of code later, we’re ready…

I can’t really put into words how proud I am of these guys. And how excited I am to get everyone in Portland on this service.

That said, what if you don’t happen to make the initial round of invites? Fear not, gentle reader. There’s still another way to get into shouting with Shizzow. As Dawn says:

If you want an invite, and don’t hear from me today, you can get one from me at Lunch 2.0 on Wednesday.

That’s right! Shizzow will be the guest of honor at the Silicon Florist’s Portland Lunch 2.0, this Wednesday. So come on down to CubeSpace, grab some lunch, meet some people face-to-face, and get signed up with Shizzow, so that you can continue those discussions—and continue getting to know your Portland peers.

Call me evil and conniving, but I’m seriously hoping you don’t get an invite. Because that way I get the chance to see you, in person.

In any case, I’m really, really looking forward to all the shouts from CubeSpace, this Wednesday. And to running into you in person—thanks to Shizzow—in the near future.

 

Shizzow is a location-driven social networking service that encourages quality relationships via face-to-face interaction. Dig in at http://shizzow.com . For more information on the launch and Shizzow’s story, see the Shizzow blog.

Strands: Friendlier than FriendFeed (or everyone’s lifestream just got more valuable)

StrandsCorvallis-based Strands, the company that is working to apply its recommender technology to help folks find more stuff to like, has been going through a bit of a metamorphosis as of late. And while they’re not quite ready to emerge from the chrysalis, they are starting to show some hints of where they’re going.

One such hint was released in private BETA yesterday: the new Strands.

I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to sit in on a group demo that the Strands folks provided on Wednesday evening. Nathan Bell, Adam DuVander, Troy H., Aaron Hockley, Don Park, Bram Pitoyo, Josh Pyles, and Olga Pyles (among others) were all in attendance, as well. So you may see posts from them, too.

So what is this new Strands thingamajig? Long story short, Strands is now offering a social lifestreaming service. But with a twist.

What’s lifestreaming?

I realize that many of you out there may have a big “WTF is lifestreaming?” bubble floating over your head right now. So rather than continue to geekily blather on about it, I thought I would take the opportunity to step back and define “lifestreaming.”

Then, we’ll all be on the same proverbial page.

Lifestreaming consists of aggregating all your disparate online activities into one single feed of information.

So, for example, you post photos on flickr, you update your Facebook profile, you send a few tweets to Twitter, you favorite a video on YouTube, you add some bookmarks to ma.gnolia, and you post a message to your blog.

All of these are data points relating to you but they’re all beholden to those respective services.

Using a lifestream, you collect these data points in one spot—aggregating all of these activities into a chronological stream—and in so doing, you provide contextual reference for those seemingly disparate activities.

Think “one stop” for all of your activities on the Web.

Still not clicking? ReadWriteWeb posted a great write-up on lifestreaming services in January 2008 which may be of interest.

Okay. So that’s lifestreaming. Why do it?

Good question. Because, to date, lifestreaming has been yet another flavor of navel gazing. Another channel of noise to monitor. Especially if you tend to follow people on individual services and then follow their respective lifestreams.

You’re getting everything in stereo stereo.

The real value—apart from one-point access to a variety of datastreams—has been difficult to define. Yes, we can do it, but should we do it?

Well, now, that answer may very well be “Yes.” You see, with Strands, there’s now actually a reason to do it. And there’s value in doing it.

But before we can get on to the cool Strands stuff, there’s a huge elephant in this room into which I keep bumping. So let’s resolve that, shall we?

Isn’t this just another flavor of FriendFeed?

In the tech industry, we’re constantly searching for analogies to describe new services. And it’s a struggle. So when someone comes along and introduces a concept, they gain more than first-mover advantage: they become the analogy.

So, yes, the comparisons to FriendFeed are immediate, obvious, and deserved. But that comparison shouldn’t serve as a means of dismissing the Strands service.

Why? Well, two primary reasons.

First of all, a little over six months ago, none of us even knew what FriendFeed was. Granted, a great deal has changed since that point in time, with FriendFeed quickly moving into “media darling” status. But fact of the matter is that, before that point, tumblr could have easily been deemed the leading lifestreaming service. But FriendFeed raised the bar.

Now, Strands has raised that lifestreaming bar higher.

And I believe they’ve raised it in a way that actually moves sharing and comparing lifestreams from the realm of fleeting interest and curiosity to the realm of actually being helpful and valuable to those who choose to participate.

Second reason we shouldn’t simply dismiss Strands as an also ran? Well, it’s an opportunity for me to use one of my favorite platitudes: Google wasn’t the first search engine.

Or, in other words, just because you’re first and popular doesn’t mean you automatically win—or that you’ve solved the problem. (Or maybe it does. If you can find anyone from Alta Vista to attest to winning that search engine race, I’m all ears.)

So yes, Strands has some similarities to FriendFeed. And it stands up quite well, toe-to-toe, on those similarities.

But where it shines, of course, is in the areas that Strands differs from FriendFeed.

What makes Strands different?

What makes Strands different is not necessarily the tangible features there today.

Don’t get me wrong. There are a number of cool features, even in this early version of the service: a desktop client, filtering, interesting graphs of activity, and some smooth AJAXy transitions. From an aesthetic standpoint, Strands is prettier than FriendFeed. There’s more eye candy. There’s this little thing over here. And that little thing over there.

I could go on and on, but the Strands team has posted detailed feature list for the service on their blog. So, I’ll let them describe what’s there, currently.

Or we could complain about what’s not there. Where’s the RSS? Where’s the API? Why can’t I login with OpenID?

There are a lot of things still on the road map. But it’s a private BETA, so that’s to be expected.

All that I’m saying is that I don’t think focusing on a feature-by-feature write-up is the best place to spend our time. (Especially after forcing you to read through that overbearing intro.)

So where should we focus? Well, I’m most impressed with the concept—which holds a great deal of potential—and the vision for where this could possibly go. Because I actually get it.

I have to admit, I never quite got FriendFeed. I’m sure it’s there to get. But I just never quite grokked it. I couldn’t get over the hump. Despite my minimal efforts to do so.

With Strands, I get it.

So I’m going to focus less on “what it does” and more on “why I’m definitely going to use it.”

I’m going to use it because it gives my lifestream value—and it gives me more valuable resources through participation. By applying its recommender technology to your lifestream and the lifestreams of the folks you’re following, Strands will start delivering recommendations to you.

I do something and I get rewarded for sharing that data. I get other stuff that I might find cool—stuff I may have never found otherwise.

And that, to me, is valuable. Exceedingly valuable. Because I like new stuff. And I especially like cool new stuff.

So now, instead of just getting a chronological aggregation of data, you and I will get the opportunity to start making sense of all that noise. As more and more data is added to the various lifestreams of the folks you’re following, you’ll start to see trends, popular items, and recommendations of things that you might like.

Jason Harris put it this way:

The service aims to take the social media aggregation FriendFeed offers to the next level by offering social recommendations on top of it. The company aims to use your friends as a filter to “hot” content you’ll be interested in.

Or to put it another way, the stuff that may be important to you bubbles to the top. Where you can see it. And act on it. And this stuff may even be stuff that you didn’t realize was important. It may be something entirely new.

So what’s the catch?

The catch is the classic catch: none of this works without a sheer girth of users and data.

A recommendation engine needs data fuel on which to run, otherwise it can’t make any recommendations.

But that seems like an easy problem to solve.

So let’s start solving it.

Interested in trying out Strands? Well, head on over to the signup page and use the promo code “portland.” That will get you an account on Strands (well, the first 100 or so of you, anyway).

[Update: Seems as if there has been some confusion about where to use the promo code. To clarify…]

Strands - How to use the promo code

Then, add some folks.

Feel free to add my Silicon Florist test account or you can add the turoczy account I’ll be using in the future.

And that will help solve this problem of “getting people to use the service.” And then we’ll get to see how this recommendation stuff really works. And how well the algorithm functions. And if we’re really finding cool new stuff or not.

Again, it’s private BETA, so it’s not for the faint of heart. But I’d love to see you over there. And I’d love to get your take on the new service.

I think it has the potential to change the way we influence one and another.

And that’s pretty exciting.

Tastymate adds an extra ingredient to restaurant reviews

Whether it’s true or not, folks in Portland like to claim that we’ve got more restaurants and bars per capita than any city in the United States. And that has a lot of folks thinking about the ranking and reviewing of those restaurants and bars.

I mean, we have a ton of restaurants. But they’re not all good.

Enter tastymate, a new restaurant review tool, which has quietly launched a BETA of its service.

A Ruby-on-Rails side-project for Graeme Nelson, tastymate was designed to be simple, straightforward, and quick, with a simple premise:

I created tastymate because I wanted a better way to find and share tasty restaurants and bars. I wanted to be able to find tasty spots through my friends and their friends.

“Voting” is based on how many people have added the restaurant or bar to their personal lists of “tasty spots.”

So, it’s another restaurant-review site, you say. What’s the extra ingredient?

The little extra ingredient that makes tastymate interesting—besides its inherent simplicity—is tastymate’s Twitter integration.

Follow tastymate on Twitter and you’ll receive notifications when new folks join or when restaurants are added.

If you have Twitter on all-day, it provides a pretty compelling way to answer the “where should I go to eat?” question when you have recommendations flowing in via your Twitter stream. Especially as the user base continues to grow.

For more information or to register for an account, visit tastymate.

Uncloaking: Imindi

Profiled previously on Silicon Florist while in stealth mode, Portland-based Imindi, a new Web-based thought engine, has officially uncloaked and is now offering BETA invites to selected users.

What makes Imindi different from other mind-mapping tools?

At its core Imindi is a “Thought Engine” because it is an engine that augments the way that we think of new ideas, concepts and questions as opposed to a Search Engine which helps you find information or answers to questions that you have already formed in your mind.

On a practical level Imindi will help you to express your own thoughts and expand them by connecting your thoughts with others. In some ways its a bit like the popular web application Flickr except instead of using it for collecting and sharing your photos you use it for collecting your thoughts.

If you’re interested in testing the Imindi tool, leave your email address after the beep.

Newsvetter seeks to rescue media from flood of boring press releases

Portland-based Newsvetter, a service designed to enhance the relationship between the media and those who would love to influence them, has released a BETA version of its product to the public.

The product provides a simple—but much needed—filter that promises to help both sides of the media exchange communicate more clearly and intelligently with one another.

News presenters submit story ideas after completing an online vetting questionnaire. The vetting questionnaire contains a list of key questions asked by the news media when evaluating stories for publication. News media review the submissions, provide feedback in the form of ratings and comments, and, if warranted, contact news presenters to discuss possible publication of their story ideas.

While there isn’t a great deal of content to be found in the service at this point (you could do something to change that, hint hint), the idea has definite merit. I think it’s worth a test drive. And if you’d like to consider using it as a way to pitch stories to the Silicon Florist (again, hint hint), please feel free.

Newsvetter was released by Single Cell, a Portland-area public relations firm. For more information or to test drive the service, visit Newsvetter.

(Hat tip Lev Tsypin)

Picktastic bets on public BETA

Portland-based Picktastic, the sports-oriented social network that promises all of the addictive fun of sports betting without that messy “losing money” element, has announced the opening of the Picktastic public BETA.

Pick a sport that interests you. See those glassy buttons? Click the one for the team you think will win. Click on the link above the buttons for more game details, to talk trash, or make wagers.

For more information or to proceed directly to losing your (virtual) shirt, visit Picktastic.

CLIQ promises additional reporting features

CLIQ, the dynamic blogroll widget built by Portland-based StepChange, continues to roll through its public BETA. And word is that initial feedback has provided some valuable guidance.

Personally, I’ve been happy to have another source for stats on what types of articles people like to read. That’s why the upcoming features at which StepChange hints are extremely intriguing:

We are re-working Reports to be more specific to what’s going on with your particular CLIQ Widget (“How many times it was viewed”, and “What posts were clicked on”). And we’re also working on a way to ‘show’ how readers are moving between the blogs within your CLIQ.

CLIQ is currently in public BETA. For more information or to sign-up for the BETA, visit the CLIQ site.

Rumor: Goboz looking to take on CitySearch

So, we’ve already touched on the “more bars per capita” statistic, we might as well hit the “more restaurants per capita” statistic, too. As we all know, in Portland, finding somewhere to eat can be as problematic as, well, finding a happy hour.

Enter Goboz.

While there’s not much to the Goboz site at this point, a quick glance at the backend shows that they’re targeting CitySearch and Portland retail and professional services.

The code contains a bevy of keywords—including “restraunt” and “automitive”—and a table-based layout. So, other than that, I have nothing.

The site is currently slated to launch September 6, at which point I’ll bring you a full scoop. In the meantime, if someone from Goboz or their communications team wants to drop me a line to provide more details, please feel free.

(Via a tip from PDX Companies)

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