My Parents’ New York City

To my parents, New York is – or at least was – a dirty, crowded, and dangerous place. They like to tell stories about their trip there as newlyweds in the early 70’s. We returned there twice as a family, although I never quite understood why. It was a tough place to take a suburban family for a road trip, especially one from Toronto. The New York that I know is completely different from that of my parents. It as clean and as safe as an American city can be. It is vast, dense, and open for exploration. It also has a long history as a dense urban center – one that San Francisco still lacks, and Toronto may never have.

Here is a great set of photos of New York in the 1970’s from Allan Tannenbaum. Enjoy.


Dear Facebook: You are either evil or dumb. You broke our deal.

I could accept you pushing me to make things public, and share my information with developers. Why? Because I could control what you said to whom. My Facebook profile was still my own. I could pick my friends, group them, and determine who saw what.

It was a decent bargain: you gave me a friction-free way to keep in touch with my friends and I gave you some data that you could use to target me discreetly.

You just broke that bargain. And not only with me, but with my parents and friends who won’t even know it. They won’t understand that when they convert their Likes, Interests, Education and Work information it will all become public. And they will get burned. This is the new malware.

Sic transit, baby.

How to Delete Facebook Applications – and Why you Should – from ReadWriteWeb.

Check-ins are a hack.

Now that the f8 keynote has passed, everyone is wondering why Facebook didn’t launch a check-in feature. The reality is that check-ins are just a hack — a workaround for the fact that smart phones are still pretty dumb when it comes to location — at least in terms of the features that App developers can freely use. Smarter devices, near-field communication (NFC), better applications and more savvy advertisers are going to revolutionize how we go about our daily business. Mike Melanson at ReadWriteWeb just nailed it:

This sort of technology would be a different take on location-based checkin systems, wherein the user has the onus of owning the proper technology. Giving users RFID chips and having the venues bear the burden of expensive technology (in the form of RFID readers in this case) – as long as the incentive to purchase this technology is there – approaches location-based services from the opposite direction and could potentially bring location to a large number of users.

Steve Chaney also runs through the limitations of current devices, and what it will take for products to succeed in this space.

Facebook realizes that they don’t need a check-in feature – what they need is reliable, in-store location detection. And they now have the heft to push device vendors, carriers, app developers and retailers into rolling this out.

Health Care Reform Passed. Now What?

The bill just signed into law, is, at best a first step in solving the U.S. health care crisis. Rather than solving the problem of rising health care costs, it seems to commit the U.S. government to having to solve the problem without actually laying out how costs will be cut. Larry Smith does a great job of summing up why this is the case.

When Location Matters

Wow, what a few months. A wedding, a trip to Africa, and a tumultuous return to work that included a last-minute invitation to sit on a panel at the semantic web conference.

Unrelated to all of this I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about location-specific mobile applications. Foursquare, Gowalla, MyTown, Yelp! and other apps have people checking in, buying places, and generating a lot of structured data tied to location and community. Having this data – and the basic services, like check-in, that you need to collect it – is only the first step. Owning a collection of users with locations, friends, and interests gives you the foundation of a useful, location-based mobile service. The exciting question is what gets built on that foundation. (Chris Dixon dubbed all of this the geo stack.)

To make a real business you’ve got to build something on top that someone – a consumer, advertiser, or both – will actually pay for. There are a few different approaches already in use:

  • The Listings Business (Yelp and others)
  • The Local Coupon Business (foursquare, Yelp, Aloqa…)
  • The Search Ads Business (Google Local Search, Yahoo!…)
  • Virtual Currency / In-Game Items (myTown)
  • Premium Services (Skout)
  • Subscription Services (, Inrix, and others)

What’s interesting is that we’re seeing innovation in both the free to consumer and pay-per-use models. Unlike the wired web, mobile web is taking off after users are already used to paying for services used on their phones – even if they’re just buying ringtones. Apple and Google (and, arguably, Microsoft with Zune) have removed a lot of the friction by setting up online payment platforms and providing strong incentives to get users connected. So all you have to do is tap buy.

That said, relatively few of these applications are really enabled by the mobile context. Local search, most mobile games, and traffic information is almost as useful on a PC as it is on a phone. The most interesting apps – like Skout – make immediate use of your location to provide something of value. They’re still limited by hardware – for example, you can’t do location-based notification on an iPhone – but you can see where things are going.

Toolbars and sidebars and widgets, oh my!

Turning to my day job — I’m going to be moderating a panel at Add-on-Con this Friday with Patrick Murphy from Brand Thunder and Adam Boyden from Conduit. We’re going to be talking about how publishers, OEMs, hardware vendors, and others can use browser Add-ons to generate revenue, or otherwise add value to their products.

A lot of the buzz will be about Google finally adding extensions to the Beta of Chrome. I love Firefox, but I also love what Google has done with Chrome. Google took a minimalist, performance first approach to what a browser should be and the result is pretty fantastic. Looking forward to playing with it over the next few days. Happy Tuesday!

foursquare – Like twitter, but Useful :)

foursquare launched their API yesterday (Mashable, Techcrunch). With it, developers can:

  • identify what city the user is in
  • read/write user and friends’ check-in data
  • look up information for a particular location
  • make/send friend requests
  • retrieve venue data
  • perform a local search that includes information from your friends’ check-ins
  • add venues, tips, and to-dos

This enables some pretty cool applications. For example, what about an AR app that shows me where all of my friends are? Or a navigation app that automatically checks in when I arrive at a location? It also opens up some interesting possibilities for advertisers. Want to create a location-aware application that can target relevant local offers – build a foursquare-aware version of Urbanspoon.

You could also use it to push foursquare data out of their own user base and to the public at large. For example, I could build an uber-app that would allow me to tell my family that I’m running late for Thanksgiving dinner, bundle in some traffic data to estimate an ETA, and push notifications out to foursquare, twitter, or even plain old SMS.

The comparisons to twitter are obvious but understated. Unlike twitter, foursquare has a historical record of high-value, targetable, structured data. It’s hard to make sense of a single twitter stream, let alone millions of them. But location data has structure – it can easily be parsed and sorted; relationships can be identified between people, locations, times – and that can be used to target advertising, tailor mobile services or even implement discretionary pricing.

Unlike twitter, an open foursquare solves a user, carrier, and advertiser problem with ready, revenue generating implications. As much as I hate to admit it, maybe Scoble was right – foursquare will be bigger than twitter.