Rob Glaser, the founder of Real Networks, is launching SocialEyes at the Demo conference today. It's a new video-calling service that blends Skype and FaceTime features with Facebook's social graph.
On the surface, it seems like just another video-calling service, but its social architecture is unique.
Glaser says, "This is not Skype or YouTube or Facebook." So I asked him, "What is it?" Oddly, he shrugged and said, "We're going to find out." Normally I'd say that not knowing how your product is going to be adopted is a negative … Read more
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--Google is giving its Priority Inbox feature more priority.
Speaking here at the Inbox Love event, Gmail product lead Paul McDonald said the service's priority indicators would soon start showing up even in in-boxes of users who have not turned on the Priority Inbox feature.
Gmail users won't be forced into viewing their in-boxes in the segregated Priority view, but McDonald showed how the little yellow flags that indicate a high-priority message will soon be displayed by default in the standard, unprioritized view. Users will be able to train the feature by turning the indicators … Read more
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--Joshua Baer, CEO of the e-mail company OtherInBox, agitated for a new addition to e-mail standards at the Inbox Love e-mail conference today. He's proposing a standard that would let e-mail messages carry with them the date of their own irrelevance.
E-mails could use the the "x-expires" header to tell the receiving in-box that they become outdated after a certain absolute date, or a certain time relative to when they're sent or received. Baer says this idea has been "bouncing around" for 10 years, but he's learned, "the best … Read more
ShopSquad is a peer-to-peer home shopping network. The service connects people shopping for specific items with live, online experts who know the space. If the user then buys an item the expert is recommending, the expert makes affiliate money minus ShopSquad's cut. The service is general but currently appears to be geared toward new parents; there are more experts and products in the baby gear department than any other.
The judges at the Launch conference, where this product was introduced, believe ShopSquad is on to something, but that the demo here only hinted at the company's potential. First, ShopSquad is heavy into video advice, which is impressive to demo but overkill for shopping advice for many people. Second, the service only connects buyers to experts who are ShopSquad users. As the judges pointed out, if it could somehow find experts elsewhere and rope them into an advice session as needed, the available pool of products and experts to discuss them would be much bigger. Conceptually this means the people writing reviews on Amazon could find a new way to profit from that work. There is still the problem of shills for certain products. An expert rating system might help keep this under control.
Tech businesses pioneered the idea of crowd-sourcing customer support, with message boards and through start-ups like Get Satisfaction. Of course, many businesses have tried to use their fans to also sell products, but ShopSquad's capability to automate, institutionalize, and help consumers profit from their expertise is quite smart. … Read more
When checking in to a hotel, the old advice goes, see the room before you accept it. Don't like it? Sniff dismissively at the bellhop, and talk your way into a better room.
Who has time for this? Start-up Room 77, launching at the Launch Conference, is building a system that gives hotel guests a look at their potential room before they check in.
In a nutshell, the company is building a database of individual hotel rooms, including for each information like distance from elevators, what floor they're on, subjective ratings from people who have stayed in them, and--the sexy feature--a Google Maps image, with 3D buildings, of the view out the window.
If you get the upcoming Room 77 smartphone app, when you're checking in to a hotel you'll be able see if the room you're offered matches what you like, and also check out the view. Bad-for-you rooms will come back red-tagged. You can request another before you leave the desk. … Read more
SAN FRANCISCO--With the restaurant rating and recommendation business being pretty well locked up (by Yelp, OpenTable, Foursquare, etc.), the new game in town is apparently recommendations on individual dishes. Got a hankering for tom kha gai soup? You can check out Spork (live) or TopDish (invite-only beta) to find the best restaurant nearby that serves that particular dish; both companies are presenting in the low-rent "launch pad" sideshow of the Launch conference here.
These two services collect user reviews--ratings and pictures--of dishes to help you make the life-critical decision of where to find the best of whatever you're looking for, or if you're sitting at a restaurant, which dish to order. Both sites let you profile your tastes to help decide for you what you're more likely to like.
Spork is a bit more social at the moment. It connects to your Facebook network to prioritize food ratings from your friends. An upcoming feature will let you gift a dish to a friend via a PayPal credit for the cost of the dish. A future network update may work the credit through restaurants directly.
Co-founder Dan Cheung told me he's also considering adding a "reverse Groupon" feature to the service: If enough users like a restaurant's dish, Spork may ask the restaurant to create a coupon for it, to stimulate demand just a little bit more.
TopDish is a bit newer, still in closed beta. Its recommendations are network-wide, for the time being, and the mobile app isn't out yet. The model is largely the same as Spork's, but co-founder Salil Pandit told me his service's secret sauce will be communication with restaurants: If you run an eatery, you'll be able to see how all your individual dishes rate. This will be a free service for a while, although the value to a restaurant could obviously be quite high. "We just want to help start a conversation," Pandit told me.
The increasing granularity of data in new Web services is an important trend to watch. Highly-specific recommendation databases don't work unless there's enough volume of users and data feeding into them. Without that, you get a lot of empty records and unsatisfied users. But with everyone getting with the program of recommending things to friends, checking in, and Tweeting or Facebooking their every move, it's not surprising that companies like these (and some others, launching tomorrow at this conference) are tying to make sense of these little tidbits of opinion.
Previously, Stack Exchange had charged for the hosting of "white label" Q&A sites, but that model didn't work. In April of 2010 the Stack Exchange sites became free. Influence of the Stack Overflow site (the biggest … Read more
I've said before, and not too long ago, that only people with poor impulse control buy things at retail prices. But I've recently come to understand that deal-seekers, people who habitually try to save money by using social-shopping sites like Groupon or coupon directories like RetailMeNot, may actually be even more valuable to the retail industry than people who buy stuff at list price. Because they spend more.
Cotter Cunningham, CEO of WhaleShark Media, which runs RetailMeNot, explained to me recently why his straightforward coupon site is working well, and how the Internet is changing how pricing and consumer marketing is done.
Affiliate marketing--paid links to commercial destinations--is the third-most efficient way for consumer goods and services companies to get online business, after e-mailing existing customers and doing good SEO. Coupons make for very effective and trackable affiliate links, because users have to click on them to get the deal, not just visit the site selling the product they want.
And coupon sites succeed because the business of aggregating coupons is very strong: each link is a CPA, or cost-per-action link, which pays out at a much higher rate than CPC, or cost-per-click advertising links.
The goal is to become the big site with the most coupons, as getting into that position makes for a virtuous SEO cycle: the more coupons you have, the more people link to and visit the site, and the higher you rise in the search engines. RetailMeNot pursues this strategy by including even nonaffiliate coupon deals in its listings. Unlike some of the original coupon sites, where each coupon has an affiliate or CPA link attached to it, RetailMeNot encourages its users to submit coupon codes they find around the Internet. These coupons don't generate direct revenue for the site (although pages they're on do serve ads), but they do serve the incredibly important function of improving RetailMeNot's depth and thus its SEO juice and its traffic, making its paid links bigger revenue drivers. … Read more
It seems like everyone wants a piece of the restaurant industry. I don't know why. It's a brutal business with low margins, high employee turnover, no way to reach all your customers at once, and generally stressed-out business owners. At least existing inefficiencies make for creative solutions and some good start-up ideas. OpenTable proved that you can improve the simple act of booking a table. Grubhub is trying to bring the same concept to deliveries and takeout. And now Storific is trying to streamline the function of the waiter.
Storific turns your iPhone (other platforms in development) into an order-taking waitbot. You step into your restaurant and as you're seated you get a code for your table. You put that into the app, and then you can see the establishment's menu on your phone, pick things you want, and have those orders delivered to the kitchen. You can also ping the system to send over water, a salt shaker, and so on.
It may appear that this business is about making things better for diners, by making it easier to send orders in. It may also look like it's good for waiters since it makes them more efficient (they can come by to chat up customers and don't have to come back to take an order unless the diner wants that) and thus could improve their tips. But the real benefit of this app is bottom-line financial. It brings impulse buying to restaurant dining. Want another order of fries? Press the button. A second mousse, rapidement? Click.… Read more
I went to see Dave Morin, CEO of Path, because I didn't understand the quirky little photo-sharing service. I had signed up and added a few friends, but found it a spare and unsatisfying social experience.
Path is the anti-Twitter and the anti-Facebook: You can only share your stream with 50 people. Compared with almost all other social services, it is closed off--and to some (like me)--claustrophobic. Path may be tapping into a need, though. Existing social services are too broad and, by design, encourage people to "friend" or follow others with wanton abandon. That, in … Read more