Monday, May 27, 2013

Getting Buffer

A couple of years ago a friend introduced me to what was then a relatively new service called Buffer. It instantly became one of my favorite applications, since I like to share what I’m reading online but only have a set time during the day when I get most of my reading done. For many people this is a problem because we are in multiple time zones, or because it means we are slamming the network all at once.

Buffer solves this by allowing you to share organically but schedule those tweets or posts to a predetermined schedule on whatever networks I choose. Sounds like Hoot Suite or Tweet Deck, but Buffer is much simpler and feels a lot more like the way I want to share. In other words, this utility really nailed the user experience.

Getting Buffer

Buffer has gotten way buffer since the release of their iOS application -- beefing up on lot's of nice integrations. The once little known web application with a Chrome plugin is now a platform supported by dozens of applications, as well as the big boys Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin. According to TNW, Buffer reached 500K users earlier this year and continues to grow. No doubt, since they continue to iterate with new and very useful features like “buffering” retweets for Twitter, and integrating with super products like Feedily.

Filler Features

Buffer does what you have always wished a social media utility to do:

1. Painlessly add stories or your own content to your “buffer” from awesome services like Chrome, Feedily, Twitter (retweets too!), and more.

2. Share them to your network via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn... you can choose which one as you’re adding to your buffer -- some content is appropriate for LinkedIn, others just twitter, etc.  

3. Adjust your post schedule to meet your audience’s needs and keep yourself from spamming them with an barrage of posts -- without complicated excel spreadsheets.

4. Killer analytics to better understand your audience.

Buffer Rocks

Buffer has been slowly building an incredible product. I’ve worked with dozens of people (entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs) during the past 3-4 years who focus on 1M downloads, or 10M users, perfecting (identifying?) that killer feature, etc. It’s discouraging. Sure, those are important milestones, but the focus both early-on and for the long-term must be on building a great product.

Buffer should be praised for their resilience and for remaining focused on building a great product, that people want to pay for. They nailed the user experience, building a useful product that their target audience loves.

TNW interviewed Buffer’s CEO Joel Gascoigne, you should check it out! He really nailed the pain points of professionals who want to -- or have to -- keep up with their social media but just have 15-30 minutes in the morning or evening to really focus on trends in their field.

Buffer is your elixir. If you aren’t using it yet, best start now!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Future Of The Cloud? The Crowd.

Iran isn't the only one launching monkeys to space these days. Launch Festival 2012 winner of best startup, Space Monkey, finally launched last month on Kickstarter. Boy I’m so excited and so should you!  

What Clouds Are You On?

For most people, the cloud is an amorphous thing that exists somewhere online. In reality, the cloud services consumers use (i.e. Dropbox, iCloud, etc) are supported by massive data centers and enterprise software built and operated by Amazon, IBM, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and a host of companies you've probably never heard of. New players are entering the Big Data fray too, such as VMWare, whose data centers are scheduled to go live next month in a few US states (more locations coming soon). 

While most people have at least heard of Dropbox, the Big Data vendors are where the real monkey is. An open source professional community called Wikibon published a list of Big Data vendors, along with their revenues which exceeded $11B in 2012. Gigaom reported that IDC  forecasts Big Data revenue will reach upwards of $70B... or $20B by 2017 -- um, yeah they’re not sure, it's “like herding cats."

Anyway, according to the Wikibon community, these companies should have a 31% compound growth rate for the period of 2012 - 2017. Holy Cow! Indeed, we are all moving to the cloud. What’s next, outer space? Sort of.

Monkeys Astronauts Are Everywhere!

Most cloud services are built on these massive Big Data vendors, and the migration to cloud based computing means these vendors are building new data centers in rural (supposed secure) locations in the rural United States and elsewhere everyday. However, two guys set out to change the way we do we use the cloud.

And boy did they pick a cool name: Space Monkey.

Space Monkey has a different vision for the cloud, and it starts with you. When you subscribe to the service you get a 2TB storage device. This device (which looks really awesome - btw) is connected to all the other Space Monkeys in the world, each sharing 1TB or 50% of the storage space available to distribute the data across the Space Monkey network.

Sounds like it would be hard to do right? Well, the device itself is apparently not that complicated... but the founders are geniuses so no kidding! The really amazing part of this company is not just the technology though, it is they are really building a distributed storage network with real users. While Dropbox and other cloud services are forking out cash to rent space at Amazon’s (et al) data centers, Space Monkey is building a crowd-based data center where each user is contributing to the total capacity and efficiency of the service.

Is It Better?

Ten Times Better. They don’t have to lease from Big Data vendors so Space Monkey can offer x10 more storage for a fraction of the price. Don’t believe me?

1TB of storage on Google Drive will run you $50 per month. Dropbox... forget about it. When you sign-up for Space Monkey, you get a 1TB for $10 per month... $120 per year. Plus you get this really rad looking device to show-off to your friends. The user experience is way better too, since you can store everything virtually without taking up precious space on your local disk. Basically you can afford to have enough storage where backing up and storing files you can access from anywhere is a totally pain-free experience.

… There Is Another

Interestingly, all the hype around Space Monkey has overshadowed a very similar product.

Symform also offers a new type of cloud that also leverages distributed data storage in a similar way to Space Monkey (or kind of like torrents actually). Symform allows you to use your local hard drive to contribute to the cloud community, and offers a really unique pricing scheme. 10GB is free, and you get 1GB for every 2GB you donate. Cool!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Endless Fun With KPCB’s Next Big Winner

My son, 27 months, read my t-shirt the other day. Sure, he has no idea what “unsweetened juice” means, but he was reading it phonetically.

As you know, Ed Tech is booming -- or ballooning in the opinion of some who believe there is a bubble. Among the famous investors joining the fray is the acclaimed Venture Capital firm Kleiner Perkins (KPCB), and they have once again backed the right horse: Callaway Digital Arts.

Endless Alphabet

For the past 6 weeks or so my son has been thoroughly enjoying Callaway Digital Arts flagship application, Endless Alphabet (or Endless ABCs). Like most parents, particularly those with bilingual children, there is a sense of urgency around getting language learning started early. Loads of development data shows us that this is critical for future achievement. So my wife and I scour the web and app stores for the latest new applications for learning literacy.

However, most of the time they fall short. Either they are too much fun and not enough learning, or they are too much learning (too difficult for that early age when we parents are anxious). Enter the Endless Alphabet.

Endless Fun AND Learning

The application has received critical acclaim from every “kids apps” review site, has been featured by Apple, and written up in Wired’s Geek Mom section. Geek Mom’s Kelly Knox said her daughter “squeals in delight when a new” word is ready in the app.... same here. And it deserves all the praise. 

Children absolutely love the application, and play with it for as long as you will let them. Replaying the hilarious and brilliantly animated definitions, and giggling through the touch-and-drag letters as they transform into ridiculous monsters that spew phonetics repeatedly until they are placed in the correct position.
See it for yourself, and try it with your own children. My son continues to be enthralled by Endless Alphabet, and more words are being added all the time. 

But most importantly, it works. Not only is he trying to read words that have never appeared in the application (thanks to the fun phonetics) he is using new words he learns via Endless Alphabet in the correct context (thanks to the brilliant animations).

For example, the other day when he ate some food he didn’t find particularly appealing he said “yucky!” Excuse me? Yes, and he never learned it from me.  

About Callaway Digital Arts

Callaway (CDA) is fastly becoming a serious player in the vastly lucrative educational content market. To date they have received $6M in funding from a list of A Team investors led by the iconic Kleiner Perkins.  Founded back in 2011, the company has released several successful applications in the Ed space, with partners indicative of their investors’ network value such as Sesame Street and Hasbro.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Penguin's New Breakthrough

In case you haven’t noticed, Ed Tech continues to boom. Last year Ed Tech startups grabbed more than $1B in funding -- ONE-BILLION-DOLLARS... just looks bigger that way. Since my first passion in business was actually educational technology, from time to time I’ll post about Ed Tech applications. Here’s the first!

Penguin Publishing is an old company, they’ve been around since 1935. Most people probably consider publishing a dull and non-innovative space. Some may even believe that with advent of Amazon Self-Publishing traditional publishing companies are already in decline. I beg to differ... and Penguin’s new app really blew me away.

Poems By Heart

This is probably my new favorite app, really!

Why? I guess some people are forever hopelessly romantic long after high-school. Poems By Heart is a really fun and simple way to memorize poems. You can impress your friends or, if you’re like me, someone special to you by reciting to them poems of all kinds, from William Blake to Emily Dickinson, and more.

This app isn’t just my favorite because if the value it gives me -- that is, my wife loves it when I recite to her a romantic poem -- it is my favorite because it is one of the most innovative ideas I’ve seen in a long time. Penguin Publishing has taken something many people probably had forgotten about, and made it interesting and modern all over again. Truth is, we all wish we could rattle-off poetry like they do in the movies, don’t we?

Poems By Heart is a game, with levels of difficulty for different poems. The app takes you through stages, removing words from stanzas or lines to help you memorize. You select the correct words from several below the stanza or line you’re memorizing. For your final mission you have to recite the poem by heart to the app, and it records it for you. You get points for doing missions quickly and filling in the blanks with the correct words.

Not only is it fun, it’s educational since you are engaging with literary history (the poem) multiple times, learning vocabulary and usage -- not to mention learning about the poets themselves (or just poets period!).

But it gets better. From a business perspective, this app is a brilliant innovation. It’s clear that Penguin invested a lot of time and talent to leverage it’s massive store of content to generate new revenue through mobile. While the app offers new users with two free poems, to memorize more poems -- or specific poems that you love -- you have to purchase sets. The sets are sold as poetry genres now, but you can imagine with all the poetry in the world the possibilities for Penguin are endless.

Hat’s off to Penguin... then again, “He who binds to himself a joy / Does the winged life destroy....” We’ll see if it sticks, but so far looks like a big win for Pearson and for poetry all around.