The Idea Dude

CONNECTING THE DOTS ONE AT A TIME

Monday, October 29, 2012

Curation is the new blogging



From connecting dots to connecting pixels.

A long time ago (at least by Internet standards), blogging was The Thing. People delighted in crafting their stories, memories and experiences. And many still do. Back then, there was no Twitter. Facebook was a baby face and Tumblr was a twinkle in someone's eye. I was inspired by what people said, the way they said it and the way they made me feel.

I spent a period connecting dots, linking thoughts across blog posts. I was a soldier of serendipity. The facilitator of the blog community. I delighted in showcasing others and as my blog says at the top, connecting dots in the blogosphere (do they still call it that anymore?). I was convinced there were gems in many blogs but they were unheralded like diamonds waiting to be discovered.

But every week got tougher, because people seldom have gems every week and often what was beautiful and original became rhetoric. I had to cast my net wider and wider until, the time it took to connect several dots felt like a chore, a laborious task I had to undertake every Sunday morning.

I often wonder if real, original content has kept pace with the Internet or has technology just enabled us to create more junk more quickly. And if someone is good, we simply retweet, reblog, repin or re-whatever to death.

I'm convinced curation is the new blogging. Because it is easier to repurpose than to recreate. And I for one am also guilty of that. Picture Flow runs 24/7 on my desktop. I glance at it dozens of times a day waiting for a new photo from 500px or Flickr to inspire. Interestingly though, what inspires me is seldom a single picture but the combination of images that randomly appears. Often it feels like there is some hidden curator, orchestrating the collage of photos just for my viewing pleasure. But I know better, since I wrote the code. It is entirely random.

Often, I would stop the display and hastily send the collage of common colors or objects to friends with the message, 'look what I found'...or more correctly look what Picture Flow produced. Of course, what it has really done is provided a platform of discovery. "Don't like this photo, wait a few seconds and I'll show you another", the app will say. And like television, there lies the addiction, the fact that everytime you look, there is something new and wait long enough, there will be something to delight.

I realized over the weekend, that rather than share my discovery with just my friends, I should indeed share it with the world. Just as I did with blogs but instead of sharing and promoting words, I now passionately and excitedly share photos. I resolved that every day, I would post my favorite collages on our Picture Flow website.

In spirit of sharing, I have kept the collages small, so each photo inside the collage is thumbnail size. The aim is not to disseminate the photos but to provide a treat, a tasty morsel, enticing  you to explore more from the photographer at the source. I hope they see it the way it is intended, a celebration of great photographers with passionate eyes and consummate skills.

And so I have moved on from connecting dots to connecting pixels. Themes, colors, hues, moods and anything that simply makes me stop and gasp at the beauty people have shared with us through their photos.

Picture Flow has become my serendipity.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The most important app in my life

I've written a ton of apps in my lifetime, some for myself and some for customers. I guess the most important one is usually the one you're working on or the last one you finished. Picture Flow maybe just be that, the most important app because it is the last one Tealeaf and I worked on. But I think it's more, so today I decided to tell you why.

Firstly, there is a myth that says if you have a great idea, you can make it an app and be successful like Angry Birds. We know it is a common myth because we get suggestions from people all the time. The myth goes, "I have a great idea, I'll share it with you and you write the code and we will both make a ton of money". Reality changes that to "Yes you have a great idea, I'll spend a ton of time and money to write the code and the chances are it will be a great app but we won't make any money".  The problem is exposure, attention span and low selling price. Oh and don't forget, you need lots of luck.

But I digress, we used to write apps and websites for functionality and feature-sake. You need to do or show something and we're very good at making it happen. At Play Dynamics, we try to use a different metric. Sure, we have the checkboxes for important features and core functionality but the ultimate test must be, 'How did it make me feel'. Not so weird when you think about people who are obssessed, in love or infatuated with something. Usually the object is never worth 1000x what the people thinks it is or so logic would tell you. But the 'how it or he/she makes you feel' increase the worth 1000 fold.

Picture Flow has done just that for me. We probably work 12 hours solid, 5 days a week sometimes 7. Much as I love my iPad, it probably gets an hour or less a day of my time. And so the idea of Picture Flow was born. It's just a digital picture frame you say. But I wrote it exactly the way I wanted my picture frame to be.

a) Simple - you had to get the idea the first time
b) Easy - no setup required, switch on, add photo album and done
c) Always interesting - note how you stop looking at the same poster every morning on the way to work. You probably stopped looking on Day 3.

Simple - you get a limited number of layouts, the ones that make your photos look good. Rotate was important, so you get a frame either landscape or portrait. Most important, it should be a companion not a distraction so no crazy colors, backgrounds and no transitions (the biggest culprit).

Easy - tap on a photo album, Facebook album, or Instagram and it just works. You can generate a photo stream in seconds not hours. The best part, you can choose to ignore it or glance at it throughout the day for photos you forgotten or interesting photos suggested by 500px or Flickr.

Always interesting - this was purely empirical. Early on, we took our prototype and, being engineers, we made it deterministic, photos would fill the frames sequentially. We found after a day, we stopped looking at the app. Our ability to filter and block extraneous information meant the app became unimportant because we learnt to subconsciously predict what the images will be. So photos appear at random, creating interesting and unexpected collages.

So the functional objective of Picture Flow is to be a digital photo frame. However the emotional objective is to be a source of delight, discovery and inspiration. I'm hoping those who choose to try it will go from Aha! it's a picture frame, to Wow, that's a beautiful collage of photos I love. And of course, to share that discovery with others.



Sunday, September 09, 2012

Picture Flow is live



Wow, we finally did it. A while back, I was staring at my largely unused iPad. Like most people it gets used 2 hours or less day. But it is hands down my favorite device just not the one to do all my development work on.

Fast forward to today, Picture Flow is launched and free in the Apple Appstore. For us it was definitely a labor of love.

What is Picture Flow? It's simply a picture frame on steroids where you can add your photos from your iPad, Facebook and Instagram. It doesn't have all the bubbles, stickers and other glitzy stuff you see in the store. Just a simple, clean and classic picture frame. It's on my desk every single day. Love it to distraction!

Bored with your own pictures, it will show other photo streams like 500px and Flickr, giving other great photographers the love they deserve too! Find an interesting combination of photos, freeze the frame and email it or post it to Facebook.

You can find more details about Picture Flow at http://www.picture-flow.com

Warning: highly addictive, if you let it play for several minutes, you will never look back...just at your new gorgeous iPad with all the pictures you love.


Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Aha, Wow, Of course

I was inspired today by an article on What the 3 stages of Love Teach You about Crafting Great Services. Fjord's Olof Schybergson, succinctly summarizes this as: Matchmaking, Dating and True Love.

 He says the matching is the discovery or the "aha" moment when someone is introduced to your service. At that point, the dating process kicks in and if you succeed leads to the "wow" moment. Finally if all goes well, they progress to the ardent fan level of true love when commitment is just a natural progression, the "of course" moment.

Seems like we can simplify a lot of what we do with our customers to these 3 basic metrics,

a) did we achieve the "aha" moment? and then
b) "wow" our customers to a point they would commit without thinking...
c) "of course!".

Friday, April 27, 2012

The song must go on

One of our fans brought to our attention that by shutting down TheGoodBlogs service we had also disabled the ocarina converter. A long time ago, I had bought the ocarina app for my iPhone. We were so inspired that we wrote a small utility to convert midi files to ocarina format. In the weeks that followed, we got quite a few emails from folks that found us through the Smule forum. We also had a number of queries from other fans of the physical ocarina instrument.

 Today, we extricated the code from TheGoodBlogs codebase and we're pleased to announce the ocarina converter is now available at http://www.ideasunplugged.com/thegoodblogs.

 Hopefully, it will bring a new song to new ears.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Law of Complexity

Complexity is never destroyed, it is just moved from one programmer to another.

A close fried of complexity is entropy. Software without substantial intervention will only from bad to worse.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Invest in Yourself

Found an interesting image today and made a card. Coincidently, I read a title about personal wealth management that this morning that said, 'pay yourself first'. This sort of reinforces that.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Choosing the right metaphor

I just upgraded to OSX Lion on the weekend. The first thing I noticed was that the trackpad gestures were doing the opposite of what I was used to. To scroll down a document, you would use the up gesture on the trackpad. I realized it was because they were trying to mirror how you would use gestures on an iPhone or iPad, i.e. if you wanted to see the bottom of the document you would place your fingers on the document and drag upwards.

I found out that Apple calls this the natural scroll direction. The irony is that isn't natural. I have an iPad too and found no problem moving around documents even though it was opposite to what I was doing on the iPad. Finally I realized the issue.

a) On the iPad and the iPhone, you are actually putting your fingers on top of the document so it is natural to pull the document upwards to see the bottom. There is a disconnect between moving your fingers on the trackpad and watching something moving on the screen (your fingers are not visually on the document). This is why new computer users struggle with the mouse. It's like scratching your right knee because your left ear itches.

b) We spent many years training our selves to use the trackpad like our mouse. Now we have to adjust to doing things in the opposite direction because it is deemed natural.

It's a case of mixed metaphors. Before Lion, the trackpad metaphor was the mouse metaphor. After Lion, the trackpad metaphor is the document metaphor. But it's really hard to switch. After a frustrating day, I relented and switched the trackpad to way I used to use it.

Changing a metaphor is a dangerous thing. Like learning to drive on the wrong side of the road. If you drove cars with manual stick shifts, you'll know how hard it is to change gears with your right hand instead of your left after doing so for the last 20 years.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Workflow for Genius

I really enjoyed the latest John Maxwell article on think. I've always believed that we are defined by our ideas and our ideals. The article talks about thinking your way to the top. I particularly liked the steps to make your ideas fly.

1) Find a place to think your thoughts
2) Find a place to shape your thoughts
3) Find a place to stretch your thoughts
4) Find a place to land your thoughts
5) Find a place to fly your thoughts.

Think, shape, stretch, land and fly. An amazing workflow to genius

He also shares several gems from the smart and famous.

"No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking." ~ Voltaire

"Too often we...enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." ~ John F. Kennedy

"If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking." ~ George S. Patton

"Mental fight means thinking against the current, not with it." ~ Viriginia Woolf

Saturday, March 10, 2012

My Goodbye to TheGoodBlogs

We finally shut TheGoodBlogs website down today. It's been a really interesting 6 years. We started coding in July 2006. Back then, Twitter had just launched with a horrendous interface with Google Adsense ads. Facebook was still focused on college and school kids. Reddit was relatively unknown and MySpace was king of the hill as was Wordpress and Typepad. The words Groupon, Pinterest, Tumblr didn't exist. There were no iPhones and Android had just been acquired by Google.

Back in 2006, blogging was the de facto method for self-expression. Companies began using it as a medium to reach their users. It was then the stream of web consciousness. We were part of that, like MyBlogLog and other widgets, fought for a piece of real-estate on your blog. We were all about promoting blogs and bloggers and connecting each other in the blogosphere. I think we did that incredibly well, our widget was seen millions of times and the phrase, 'I found you through TheGoodBlogs' was often found in blog comments. I laughed with the Moms and their amazing blogs and learned much from the marketing and business blogs. The art blogs showed me all about human creativity. Alas, altruism is not a business model but we kept the site alive, probably longer than we should have.

Today, blogging continues to be a resource for sharing but it has to compete with social networks like Facebook, Reddit and Twitter. Even for geeks, while there are many blogs describing coding techniques for iPhones etc, much of that information is now unstructured, dynamic and found on sites like StackOverflow.

The web has changed. Blogging is still important but perhaps a little less so than it used to be. Today, the sheer volume of information that flows through the web means that we can only swallow smaller pieces, packaged as Facebook comments, 140 character Tweets. Today, we live in a world of soundbites.

TheGoodBlogs website is no longer as relevant in the digital world today and hence we have taken the painful and personal decision to shut it down. TheGoodBlogs, the company and the founders (Tealeaf and TheIdeaDude) are very much alive. As the digital world around us changes, we must reinvent ourselves before we too become irrelevant.

As they say in the classics, TheGoodBlogs is dead, long live TheGoodBlogs.