Tag: Corvallis

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.

You’re invited: Strands demoing private beta tomorrow

StrandsCorvallis-based Strands, the company that develops technologies to better understand people’s taste and help them discover things they like, is holding a Portland meetup to unveil some of the new stuff they’ve been building.

And they’re promising big things:

On May 28th, we will be opening up our newest service, Strands.com under private beta, a very early version of what we think will be something very relevant for people, very ambitious in the data portability space. We’ve organized a meet-up for the Portland community and would love for you to attend.

The event will be held at CubeSpace, Wednesday, May 28, beginning at 7 PM. To RSVP, visit the Strands Portland Meetup page on Upcoming.

Strands improves its net worth with NetworthIQ acquisition (Now it can be told)

Sometimes, you just have to wait to share the good news. And, Corvallis-based Strands acquiring Portland-based NetworthIQ is just one of those such deals.

Ryan Williams, the guy who has worked to make the NetworthIQ service one of the more popular personal finance management services on the Web, finally announced the news this morning, bringing to fruition the news at which he hinted long, long ago. (Looks like Ryan’s old Twitter account has been deleted, but here are a couple of my and Jason Harris’ replies to some of Ryan’s cryptic hints.)

So, now the news is out. And it’s great news for a couple of Silicon Forest startups.

News, in fact, that a number of outlets have already beat me to covering—The Oregonian, the Portland Business Journal, GigaOm… oh a little blog you may have heard of called TechCrunch, which had this to say:

Just over two weeks ago Strands acquired Expensr, and now the company is announcing its acquisition of NetworthIQ. Both are personal finance applications that Strands wanted mostly for their human capital, but also for some of their technology assets. The terms of both deals were not disclosed.

Ryan provided some insight in his post entitled “Breaking the silence“:

It was just over 3 years ago that we started working on NetworthIQ. It was a bit of a bumpy ride. In the first couple months, I wasn’t sure if it was going to make it, but with a couple of high-profile press mentions we were off and running. The idea for NetworthIQ was pretty basic, apply the popular Web 2.0 principles of the time (social networking, public sharing, collective intelligence) and apply it to personal finance, something that hadn’t been done before. There was the occasional “this is the dumbest site ever” comment, but for the most part we always got great response and feedback from those that signed up, which was what kept me going.

But, as usual, I just wasn’t satisfied. So I asked Ryan if he could give me some more insight on how the deal went down and what it meant for the future. And Ryan was kind enough to share some additional thoughts on this momentous occasion.

Surprisingly, the news that took so long to make it to the public, actually came about pretty quickly.

“It’s funny, in the weeks before I was contacted by Strands, I had been scanning their jobs after the latest funding round,” said Williams. “Just to see, you know? Nothing serious. But, then I heard from them and the talks progressed pretty quickly.”

A music recommendation service and a personal finance management service would have seemed like strange bedfellows at the time. But that was because none of us knew about moneyStrands until just recently.

But Strands and Williams knew.

“It was easy to see there was a good fit with what we were doing on NetworthIQ and where Strands was going with the moneyStrands project,” he said. “In a matter of a couple weeks I was ready to come onboard.”

A Cinderella story? A side project turned full time? Absolutely.

“Since starting NetworthIQ, I was working towards being able to work on a startup full-time, but as a relatively older web entrepreneur, there were more things to worry about. I hadn’t yet reached the point of being able to drop the day job,” said Williams. “This was a chance to make that happen, and with the talented and driven Strands team, it made the decision easy.”

But, even at this moment of victory, the humble Williams downplays the whole thing.

“I know for many, it’s not the most exciting technology to be working on—personal finance tools—but I’m really drawn to building things that are useful to me personally,” he said. “And personal finance tools are what I spend a good amount of time in. Plus with the way things are going with the economy and our increasing dependence on consumer debt, I think it’s a very important area to innovate in.”

So what does the future hold for Strands and its new technology? And where is that innovation going to take place?

Unfortunately, that’s another secret for which we’ll have to wait.

Strands announces Expensr acquisition, expanded recommending

moneyStrandsCorvallis-based Strands, the service that recommends things you might like based on your behavior, has announced the acquisition of Expensr, a move that takes its recommendation services beyond the realm of entertainment to personal finance.

Expensr will be brought into the Strands fold as moneyStrands, a personal money management solution based on Strands recommendation technology.

moneyStrands is an online money management solution that allows users to aggregate their online financial information in one place, providing them with an instant snapshot of all their finances. With moneyStrands, users can anonymously compare themselves to others with similar traits, such as demographics.

The move also allows Strands to more clearly define the areas into which they’re planning to introduce recommendations, like business recommendation solutions that help people find content on sites, social media recommendation solutions that use online behavior to make recommendations, and personal finance recommendation solutions that helps individuals take more control of personal finance decisions.

Rest assured, there are also some other interesting undercurrents here—that I’m not yet at liberty to disclose—that promise to cause some interesting ripples here in the Silicon Forest startup scene.

To register for an invitation to the private BETA, visit moneyStrands. For more information on the plans for the product, see the Strands blog post on the Expensr acquisition. For more on the company, I’d recommend (get it?) visiting Strands.

Our Strands: MyStrands rebrands as Strands

StrandsOur favorite Corvallis-based recommender solution, MyStrands, is now know as, simply, Strands. And the change carries with it a whole new look and feel.

Why the name change?

The word “strands” has a particular meaning for us: it represents the sequences of digital events that connect our lives. Strands’ mission is to help people discover new things. We do this by analyzing and understanding people’s tastes based on strands of sequences (links between digital items such as the songs found in a playlist, events in an activity stream or transactional data such as monthly purchases).

Silicon Florist: Job postings

I wanted to highlight some of the interesting (read “the only”) jobs that have been posted to the Silicon Florist gig board, this week.

  • Marshall Kirkpatrick is looking for freelance Web design talent
    “I’m looking to have a couple of people I can refer to consulting clients who need web design help. These requests come my way every once in a while and I don’t know anyone who’s available and awesome. Let’s save the world from ugly web apps!”
  • MyStrands is looking for a Community Manager – Evangelist
    “This position will play a key role in creating a community around upcoming services. You will evangelize, create, execute, and evaluate community building and online marketing campaigns in line with MyStrands’ overall strategy. You will develop marketing campaigns, community programs and proactively drive communications, with a strong focus in Portland, Oregon and the Northwest.”

Remember, if you’re interested in test driving the Silicon Florist gig board, now would be a great time to stick your toe in the proverbial water. Until the end of March, you can post up to three jobs the first 20 jobs posted will be absolutely free of charge. (Turns out the Jobamatic discount code total isn’t “per user” as I had assumed.) First come, first served. Simply use the discount code “earlybird” at checkout.

MyStrands wants to invest $100,000 in your startup

Corvallis-based MyStrands has just announced a program designed to find the best early-stage startup focused on “recommendation” technologies. And, once found, to fund that startup to the tune of 6-figures of investment.

The $100,000 investment prize will be awarded to:

[T]he best early-stage project in the area of recommendation technologies, considering the technology, business opportunity and team behind the project (without limitations as to which field the technology is applied).

This is a worldwide competition, but I’m confident that some of you Portland and Silicon Forest types—side project or otherwise—have got some cool technology that has a chance of winning this thing.

Why not give it a shot?

All Proposals will be judged using the following judging criteria: (a) implementation and integration of recommendation technologies, (b) originality and creativity, (c) likelihood of long-term success and scalability, (d) effectiveness in addressing a need in the marketplace, and (e) team bios.

Get into the finals and you’re off to Switzerland to present.

Five Finalists will be invited to present their projects during the ACM Conference on Recommender Systems (RecSys08) next October 23rd to 25th, 2008 in Lausanne, Switzerland. Finalists will be announced on October 6th.

So what are you waiting for? I think you can win this. And I’m sure the investment would help make your dream a reality. And if you’re not going to do it, then maybe our idea for Portland Startup Weekend should be based on recommendation technology.

Entries will be accepted until September 15, 2008.

For more information on the contest and requirements, see MyStrands’ post on the contest.

[Update: I just noticed that ReadWrite Web has posted on the contest, as well, encouraging MyStrands to continue its work in implementing open data standards.]

ORBlogs releases iPhone interface

Corvallis-based ORBlogs, the Oregon-focused blog aggregator, has announced the release of an iPhone interface. Interested users can access the simplified iPhone version via m.orblogs.com. (You can access that URL via a Web browser, as well, if you’re interested in a really big interface.)

ORBlogs’ new interface provides a stripped down view of its site content:

[Y]ou can browse all posts, Oregon-related posts, popular posts, and the top 15 topics from the last seven days. Clicking a post excerpt will take you directly to the post on the original blog.

iPhone users will also be happy to know that there is a custom icon for your iPhone desktop, if you choose to add it as a Web clip.

More is planned for the m.orblogs.com, including city-focused pages similar to those found on the ORBlogs site.

ORBlogs is run by Paul Bausch, one of the original developers on Blogger. An admitted side-project, ORBlogs provides a valuable resource to all Oregon-based bloggers by aggregating stories from across the state. For more information, visit ORBlogs.

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