While I like to wax on about Portland being the de facto hub of open source, truth of the matter is that—just to the south of us—there’s a literal hub for open source: the Oregon State University Open Source Lab.
Corvallis-headquartered Strands has always had a definitive focus on the power of recommender technology—a technology that use an amalgamation of personal actions, actions of like-minded individuals, and inferences from those actions to make recommendations. But they’ve struggled a bit finding the appropriate and market worthy applications of that technology. They’ve pursued music, lifestreaming, and—most recently—exercise.
I’m a huge fan of the OSU Open Source Lab down in Corvallis. Not only do they provide an incredibly important resource for the open source community, but their folks are always nice enough to make the trek up to Portland on a regular basis. And it’s always great to have them involved in events like BarCamp Portland and Open Source Bridge.
So when they get good news, I want people to know about it. Today is one of those days.
When it comes to Oregon companies competing for Angel funding, I’m always going to pull for the Web-based apps. It’s just kind of how I am. And those folks are definitely starting to turn heads, whether it’s at speed pitching events like the Big Idea Bash or through competitions like Angel Oregon.
Yet all the while, the moneyStrands team was busily slaving away. Building cool features. Running private betas. Working to build a tool for helping people better manage their finances.
Well now, all of that hard work has paid off: moneyStrands is now open for business.
What does moneyStrands do?
After a very informative private beta phase we are happy to have finally taken the critical step of opening up our registration to new users. This officially kicks off a new and exciting phase of our journey to help people better manage their financial lives.
I’ve just started mucking with moneyStrands, but at the outset, it strikes me as very much like Mint, the popular personal finance tool. Still, it has something more: Strands recommender technology.
moneyStrands’ intelligent recommendation engine searches expert tips, relevant facts, and product offers from many sources to nd the best deals and advice that match your financial profile. As your life changes, your financial goals also change. moneyStrands learns, anticipates and adapts to your needs and priorities along the way.
Plus—thanks no doubt to their NetworthIQ acquistion—you can share and compare details with others:
Find and connect with like-minded members who share your goals and your traits. See how you compare, share your thoughts on best bargains or just exchange financial tips and money missteps. Your experience is as valuable as any others and there is no better insider track than following to the word of mouth.
For more details on all the ways moneyStrands can help you with your personal finances, download the moneyStrands poster. To take it for a spin, visit moneyStrands (if you’re a Strands user, you can use the same login.)
What kinds of leaps and bounds? I’m glad you asked.
But does it stop there? Oh no, my friend. Not by a long shot.
Sniff sniff. Our little Beer and Blog is all growed up.
Congratulations to Justin, his Portland-based team, and all of the chapter leads! It’s great to see something that has so strengthened the Portland tech community getting the chance to work its magic in other towns.
[HTML2]How? Much in the same way they took the time to clean up their Web-based UI, the Strands folks announced that they have put their design ingenuity into optimizing the Strands mobile site for the popular Apple products.
And it’s looking really good. What’s more, it’s much easier to deal with than loading the old Web UI.
But don’t just take my word for it. There are much more reputable types chiming in on the release (and I’m not just saying that because I appear in their screenshots).
Louis Gray finds the interface making definite strides forward:
Back in August, when I first discussed the lifestreaming site’s beta offering, I found myself fairly critical of its user interface, saying it minimized some of the best features, including the actual feeds from your friends’ activity. In the last few months, thanks to feedback from its growing user base, the team has doubled down efforts to simplify the UI, and they managed to do well enough that the site works well, even in my 3.5″ wide iPhone.
And Duncan Riley agreed:
Lifestreaming service Strands continues to impress with its rapid growth in features, with a new mobile interface being launched targeted at iPhone users.
I remain a fan of Strands and their, um, strides. And I can’t hardly wait for the next big leap forward, when their recommender technology enters the picture. That, my friends, is when we’ll see the true power of this platform.
What’s that? You’ve somehow missed out on trying Strands? Have no fear, gentle reader. Simply leave a comment below with a valid email address, and I’ll make sure that you get in to try it out.
I can’t help you with the iPhone, though.
To its credit, the Strands team was open to criticism—taking its detractors head-on—and, as such, they continued to elicit tons of valuable feedback on ways to improve the service.
Now, you get the chance to see some of those improvements with the latest release of Strands.
Gone are the dark and constrained streams of information. Now, they’re open, legible, and much more inviting.
It’s definitely a marked improvement. And one that will likely draw me back into a more participatory role. As opposed to my current use: allowing Strands to churn along—ignored in the background as it works at capturing my lifestream.
This update makes me want to get back into the fray. Because, now, it seems so much more usable.
And I’m not the only one.
While it hasn’t yet gotten the buzz of some other social aggregators and lifestreaming projects, Strands is quietly going about making a product on par with the market leaders, letting the community find new content and people, and enabling micro-conversations.
I couldn’t be happier to see Strands getting these kinds of strokes.
If you’re a current Strands user (and I know a ton of you in Portland and Corvallis are), I’d highly recommend heading back over to Strands to give it a second look.
If you’re interested in trying Strands, comment below and I’ll be happy to get you an invite. I’ve got about 13 left. First come, first served.
Take two well-known Oregon tech types—Portland’s Matt “matthowie” Haughey (of Metafilter fame) and Corvallis’ Paul Bausch (of Blogger and ORBlogs fame). Give them a problem, like skyrocketing fuel prices. And a couple of weeks.
Shake. Stir. Code. Sprinkle in some social networking and some cutting edge app development and what do you get?
Fuelly, a service designed to help you keep track of your fuel use and improve your fuel economy through social
pressure err… networking.
As simple and straightforward apps go, Fuelly is a winner.
Don’t believe me? Well, okay. But maybe you’ll believe Gina Trapani of Lifehacker, who says:
Overall the point of Fuelly is to make saving fuel more fun by connecting your stats with your friends, and at this early point in its life, it does a pretty great job.
What’s that? You need more proof? Man oh man. Gas prices have definitely made you grumpy and cynical.
Okay, how about Get Rich Slowly, which offers:
I think this is a great idea. Fuelly taps the power of the masses to compile real fuel efficiency data so that users can find ways to save money. Brilliant.
With kudos like that, it didn’t take Fuelly long to catch on.
Me? I’m just happy to see these two Oregon folks getting some of the recognition they so richly deserve for solving yet another problem with a simple and thoughtful solution.
I’m looking forward to seeing how Fuelly helps me and my family reduce our fuel consumption.
Fuelly is a site that lets you track, share, and compare your gas mileage. Simply sign up, add a car, and begin tracking your mileage. By recording and analyzing your mileage, you can see how much money you can save with small driving changes. You can also see how your mileage compares with EPA estimates and the mileage of other drivers using Fuelly. Tips and a discussion forum also offer ways to save. The site is free to use, so sign up to start tracking your miles today.
(Hat tip Travis Cannon)
Corvallis-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.
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.
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…]
Then, add some folks.
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.