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Far From the Madding Crowd Sourcing

These days I found myself lost in Thomas Hardy’s opening poem by Thomas Gray (thank you Wikipedia).

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

The poem is a bittersweet lament at the new industrial world invading the pastoral setting of England.

Here’s a look at some of the popular apps that rely on the crowd, and your proximity to a crowd. For the most part, they’re designed to facilitate human encounters in the cyborgian world of mobile apps.

When You Meet a Stranger

Yobongo is a chat room that launched to help people chat with those nearby.  Recently they were acquired by Mixbook – a company that creates customized photo books. One can now expect to see photo books go mobile.  Now does someone a few seats down from you on the subway care to share your photo book?  Who knows?

Another “meet a stranger” site that’s taking Sxsw by storm is Highlight . If someone around you is also a Highlight user, then their profile show up on your phone. You can see their name, their photos, friends, and interests. Think Facebook with promise of meeting new friends with shared interest within close proximity.  Fascinating, yes? Highlight is available for free in the iPhone App Store.

Another darling at SXSW is Glancee, an app that combines your location with the likes and dislikes of other smartphone users nearby.  It’s avaialbe for iOS, Android and on Facebook.

Similarly EchoEcho http://www.echoecho.me/default.aspx supports all smartphones and will let you share your location with anyone in any of your address books.

Visual Group Think

Echoer is currently available in Canada, but will be available on iOS in the US soon.  Think “thought bubbles”. Now imagine that the bubble that’s got the most “followers” is biggest.  That’s the simple idea behind the very visual Echoer.  Ideas that are most worthwhile are echoed the loudest — that could be anything from thoughts shared during a political debate, to a great burger deal in town, to the way to a party you’re just finding out about.

Finding the Best Venues

CrowdCloud focuses on real-time information for local venues: restaurants, merchants, mass transit systems and other community events. The iPhone app is offered free to users. The company is working with partners to provide special perks and deals. Share your best restaurant tips or even let friends know you’re at your fav venue.

Business Focus

Mingle is a social app for the professional crowd — kind of the LinkedIn of ambient crowd sourcing apps.  Looking for a researcher at a conference?  It’s the way to go.  I looked at NYC which was pretty thin on professionals but I could have my pick of restaurateurs’ to mingle with .

Going Somewhere?

Pick upPal is a social network rideshare service that connects drivers and passengers everywhere. Use PickupPal to find or give a ride to work this morning, go to a conference tomorrow and get to a concert on the weekend. PickUpPal is available for the iPhone.  Try Piggyback for the Android.

What PickUp Pal does for car travel, Zamp does for air travel.  It’ll let you find  other nearby travelers, find friends or soon-to-be friends on your flight.. Zamp can even get you access to travel lounges and special affinity points.

Bookrenter’s New Gig: Rafter

Bookrenter, a sponsor of our HigherEdTech Summit is moving beyond online textbook rentals, creating a new parent company called Rafter.

In an interview with Wired, Bookrenter CEO Mehdi Maghsoodnia announced “The future of education is a platform. But whose platform is it? Will there be an iTunes or Facebook that can address 500 universities and 1 million students?”

Hoping to capture this market, Rafter’s first product is Rafter Discover. Discover uses data on the textbook trade gathered by Bookrenter to launch a multiplatform for service teachers and administrators. Rafter Supply IQ is a similar product for schools and bookstores. For the complete story, check out Wired.

Gauging interest in Pinterest!

As a teen my mom gave me one wall to stick up those torn out pages from teen mags like Tiger Beat, pin up my “I love George” button, and build my wall of aspiration. Fast forward a few decades and meet Pinterest—a collective wall where people share photos of whatever gets them through the day.

The basic idea is that you have a photo or video you like and you share it by pinning it on your pinboard. You organize our board based on some topic, places to go, food love, personal style, etc. You can share your pinboard with others and repin other photos from people that you follow. All of this ends up looking a bit like a glossy magazine layout on your screen.

Since the interest in Pinterest is skyrocketing, I sent out some mail to about 2,000 friends asking them to tell me about their Pinterest interest.

Here are the major findings:

Pinterest is for girls: As Don Willmott, a tech writer, commented, “it seems to be exponentially more attractive to women than men.” Adding some cred to Don’s hunch is this recent study from BlogHer. When asked whether they trusted different social media sources, 81 percent of women representing the general U.S. population said they trusted blogs and Pinterest, while 67 percent said they trusted Facebook and 73 percent said they trusted Twitter. Maybe because it’s because Pinterest hasn’t yet been infested by the marketing world? The irony of the girl thing is that the site was started by 3 guys. (OK, one had a stamp and coin collection so he comes by his Pinterest legitimately).

Pinterest is for the visually inclined: With 11 million unique visitors a month (according to recent numbers from comScore), Pinterest got its big push, not from the tech community, but the design community. That explains a lot. Fashion, décor, landscaping—it’s a scrapbook of lusciousness. Judy Bott, a long time tech consultant attributes her “visual inclination” to her love of Pinterest.

Virtual Collections are Tidy: Haircuts to show my haircutter, outfits to remember to try on, weekend craft instructions, no more tear sheets and messy paper. Camilla Webster, author of The Seven Pearls of Financial Freedom, calls it “the bomb for designers”. Liora Bram, a PR agent thanks Pinterest for keeping her organized about storing recipes and design ideas. She’ll use her iPhone while shopping to check Pinterest see if the chair she’s looking at is like the one she pinned. Beth Segal, a designer, says is her visual inspiration. It helps limit the chaos of pages torn from visual magazines floating around the apartment.

Casual Browsing: Most everyone admitted their Pinterest was, at this point, a casual browse for eye-catching stuff. Does it have the potential to become more? At Forbes, contributor Erica Swallow warned companies against “haphazardly joining Pinterest” without a smart, well-considered strategy. Namely, “posting visually stimulating, marketing-free content” intended for the site’s key demographic of “mature female consumers.” And Pat Meir Johnson pointed me towards http://www.hubspot.com/how-to-use-pinterest-for-business/download/ an ebook to help use Pinterest in your business. (Though she worries about affiliate marketing.)

  • Social Research: Search on the hashtag #pinterest and 90% of what you get are people asking each other what they’re using it for and how they like it. The other 10% are starting to lean heavily to the “look at my pinterest” – sometimes with a purchase in mind. Its’ pretty clear that Pinterest is at the “throw it against the wall” phase and its users are searching for the ROI on their time and investment.
  • Is it legal? Today I read about a lawyer who took down her pinboards after reading the fine print. While people are supposed to attribute where the photos they post come from, it’s happening pretty fast and furious out there. The fine print on the user agreement basically says that the user is responsible for their pins; Pinterest is just the board. Trouble? Could be. Here’s the fine print: “YOU ACKNOWLEDGE AND AGREE THAT, TO THE MAXIMUM EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW, THE ENTIRE RISK ARISING OUT OF YOUR ACCESS TO AND USE OF THE SITE, APPLICATION, SERVICES AND SITE CONTENT REMAINS WITH YOU.”
  • What will it be when it grows up? According to Creative Beans, Pinterest today has over 3.5 million users and it’s growing faster than either Facebook and Twitter did. People are sharing on Pinterest more than anything else, with over 80% of pins being ‘repins’ rather than new content. And Pinterest has grown 148% since the first of the year.

It could look like many things.

Mary Couzins, a toy expert has both personal and business pin boards and is fascinated that her Toy and Game Inventor board has so many followers. It could look like eBay—with all sorts of things for sale. It could look like Itzy for crafters and artisans. It could be a vacation market, a wedding planner, a tour guide service—no shortage of ways to monetize what’s there. It’s doubtful it’ll turn into a music sharing network or book buying site. There are already plenty of those. And while politicians and sites like ProPublica are trying to get Pinterest into the Election 2012 world, it’s doubtful that will happen, too.

For me, Pinterest is one my slice of my social media pie that will need attention. So far, I’ve got a walking tour of dead people in Paris, a few books I like, and a bunch of photos from my company’s events. Much of that work was redundant – already on Google+ , Facebook and our company websites. How’s a girl supposed to manage? We’ll just have to, I guess.

The best line I saw about Pinterest scrolled by so quickly on Twitter that I can’t attribute it: Pinterest is to women as masturbation is to guys. And we can’t understand why the opposite sex spends so much time doing it, either.

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She Knows: Fitness Tech Gadgets

From She Knows, fitness tech gadgets are still the talk of CES. You’ll recognize many of them from the summit.

Where do you go to school to major in video game programming?

For the third year in a row, The Princeton Review names the University of Southern California as the top school in the nation for studying Video Game Design – both the graduate and undergraduate programs. The program is a joint effort between the Interactive Media Division in the USC School of Cinematic Arts and the Computer Science Department in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. According to Princeton Review, Michael Zyda, Professor of Computer Science in the Viterbi School of Engineering and Director of USC’s GamePipe Laboratory says that the school’s graduates have developed games reaching over 436 million players.

The top 10 undergraduate schools to study video game design for 2012 are:

  • University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA)
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA)
  • University of Utah (Salt Lake City, UT)
  • DigiPen Institute of Technology (Redmond, WA)
  • The Art Institute of Vancouver (Vancouver, BC)
  • Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, NY)
  • Shawnee State University (Portsmouth, OH)
  • Savannah College of Art and Design (Savannah, GA)
  • University of New Mexico (Albuquerque, NM)
  • Becker College (Worcester, MA)

The top graduate schools to study video game design for 2012 are:

  • University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA)
  • Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, NY)
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA)
  • University of Central Florida (Orlando, FL)
  • Southern Methodist University (SMU) (Plano, TX)
  • Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA)
  • Savannah College of Art and Design (Savannah, GA)
  • DigiPen Institute of Technology (Redmond, WA)
  • Univ. of California, Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz, CA)

My Date With Solid State Storage

The demand for storage is endless, but the demand for speed of access may be even greater. Even when you have the cloud storing your music/photos/books and movies, it’s still slow going. If it is speed you’re looking for, there’s only one way to go – that’s an SSD. While they hold less in capacity, they are incredibly fast and incredibly long lasting.

Traditional hard drives are the Grade B horror movie of laptop components.  If something breaks, it’s likely to the drive. And even when they’re not broken, they can be noisy, hot, and slow.

Unlike a traditional hard drive, an SSD – which stands for Solid State Drive – has no moving parts. No spinning platters, no noise, and blazing fast start up times. They have their own CPUs on board to manage data storage, and hence, they are a lot faster than conventional hard disks.

Your iPad and most tablets use solid state drives. The drives are more durable and shock absorbent, and are generally better for things you lug around all day, every day. The biggest problem with them has been the expense.

So obviously I was pretty psyched when Samsung lent me their new 830 Series SSD drive upgrade kit. The idea is to replace my hard drive in my SONY VAIO notebook (which is noisy) with a shapely SSD drive.

I hit my first “second thought” when I read about needing a small Phillips-head screwdriver to remove my existing drive.  My next “second thought” came when they suggested that I have my computer manual available and be prepared to set up the new drive’s BIOS.  The third snag: I needed to use Norton Ghost to make a copy of everything on my existing hard drive on the new SSD drive. Other little items in the Samsung manual like “be sure you remove any static electricity before handling your SSD drive” did not leave me any more reassured.

The good news is that Samsung has made as easy as possible to prepare your new SSD drive.  It connects via a special cable to the USB on your laptop. You run Norton Ghost to move the files you need. And then you simply remove your current drive and replace it with the new SSD.

Did I do it?  Well, I came close…I ghosted the new drive, but have to admit I lost my nerve for a number of reasons.

Norton Ghost is not directly supported by Samsung, or in this process by Symantec since its part of a bundled system. And SONY – well since I had to give the SSD drive back to Samsung after my little experiment, I was nervous about relying on them for technical support in the event that I had trouble restoring my settings.

PC Magazine gave high marks to the Samsung drive and loved the demure 2.5-inch form factor drive, which measures only 7mm in height.

But calling it a consumer product is a bit of stretch. It’s the kind of installation only someone at PC Mag would call a consumer product. Most of us aren’t pros like them.

As for me… my next notebook will definitely have a solid state drive, and I’m willing to pay the premium for it. But for now, I’ll deal with noise, heat, and sluggishness.

Prices ranges from $134.99 ($104.99 on the street) for a 64GB drive to $1,009.99 ($779.99) for a 512GB drive, with 128 and 256BG drives falling in the middle, which compares most favorably to other SSD drives with the same capacities.