➟ How Netflix Reverse Engineered Hollywood

Alexis Madrigal, for The Atlantic:

What emerged from the work is this conclusion: Netflix has meticulously analyzed and tagged every movie and TV show imaginable. They possess a stockpile of data about Hollywood entertainment that is absolutely unprecedented.

Using large teams of people specially trained to watch movies, Netflix deconstructed Hollywood. They paid people to watch films and tag them with all kinds of metadata. This process is so sophisticated and precise that taggers receive a 36-page training document that teaches them how to rate movies on their sexually suggestive content, goriness, romance levels, and even narrative elements like plot conclusiveness.

The data can’t tell them how to make a TV show, but it can tell them what they should be making. When they create a show like House of Cards, they aren’t guessing at what people want.

What a huge undertaking, and a demonstration of Amazon-like patience for a company like Netflix—slowly, quietly, build a long-view competitive advantage in technology and process that becomes impossible for others to copy, and that eventually enables a whole new range of products that are themselves hard to compete with.

This sort of rich metadata is what I’d expect IMDB to have, but a categorization exercise of so much subjective material benefits from the guidance of a single hand, while self-policing committees take much too long.

Image

Singapore’s Pacific Rim Jaeger: URBAN REDEVELOPMENT

Pacific Rim has a load of digital marketing bits out online, some created by Qualcomm Snapdragon (official microprocessor of the film’s Jaeger robots) on their Facebook page. One of the best is this Jaeger Designer app, which lets you modify a Unity 3D model with different parts and colors, and then render a poster featuring your own country’s robot defender, which you can also name. I think Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment sits nicely alongside the U.S.’s Gipsy Danger and Japan’s Coyote Tango.

Seeing the movie this Friday night in IMAX 3D and pretty damned excited.

Finding a Home for Your Copywriting Portfolio or: How I Learned to Stop Channeling an Art Director and Love the Words

Lots of portfolio tools advertise the ability to create a gorgeous website online within minutes, but how many are suited to showcasing a copywriter’s work? This post covers getting a basic presence up for a handful of your projects. More comprehensive site builders are only briefly mentioned.

It’s often said that people only look into their CVs between jobs, but taking stock of what you’ve accomplished on a regular basis is a really good practice. But with a standard resumé, updating a paragraph about your current employment several times a year isn’t attractive. Fortunately for people in the creative industries, there’s the portfolio, which can be very satisfying to compile, if only to remind ourselves how little victories on a project tend to make up a bigger result.

Not Your Creative Director’s Portfolio

Over the last few years, I’ve seen a fair few creative portfolios, and increasingly, when one asks to see some work, a URL gets sent instead of a PDF. When I was starting out in advertising about 8 years ago, we routinely brought physical folders of printouts to interviews. If you wanted the job, you might make an extra copy to leave behind. If you’ve heard some creatives calling their folios “books”, it’s because that’s what they really were.

Another thing that’s changed since the mid-noughties is how the presentation of a copywriter’s work has gone from showing a few ads and/or documents with long-form writing samples, to being very close to how the art guys do it. Big, colorful pictures that would reel even an illiterate eye in. Some writers’ books now haven’t got a word in them.

Carbonmade
Carbonmade: Your online portfolio, the door to a bright future in children’s illustrations

Most of the people I’ve met showed off work on portfolio cum social networking sites for creatives. Places with start-uppy Web 2.x names like Carbonmade, Krop, the Behance Network, Cargo, Coroflot, and to some extent, Dribbble. Some respectable, shirt-wearing creatives had portfolio sites on their own domains, and the ones who didn’t return their pencils used blogging services like Tumblr.

What I’ve noticed is that very few of these solutions are suited to the needs of creatives who self-identify as copywriters.

Copywriters Are A Needy Bunch

Designers, illustrators, and art directors are well served by the many visual portfolio tools out there. Flip through a few examples and you’ll notice a tendency to not explain the images — when it comes to showing off craft, the work often speaks for itself. Maybe it’s because most tools just don’t allow text at all, but I’ll come to that later.

I think a writer needs a little room to take his viewer through the work. So much of what we do is problem solving and just not visible in the finished consumer-facing work (nor should it be). Some of the things a writer could supply to complement a piece of work are: some background info, a project or team story, the strategic line between proposition and product, an elucidation of the idea (if one exists), how the piece works with a wider campaign or positioning that the brand has pursued, and any measured results that came out of it. Touching on just a little of the above, versus a caption reading “Banner Execution #2” on a photo of a toothpaste tube telling a joke, can help explain yourself come Judgement Day.

Five Steps to Happier Portfolioing

The more I saw, the more I started to wonder, where should a copywriter put their work online? To answer that question, I signed up for a bunch and put them through their paces, and also asked colleagues and industry friends for their (possibly subjective) opinions on the leading ones. Here’s what I know, filtered through what I didn’t like.

1. Keep Good Company

Maybe this won’t apply where you are, but Cargo (or CargoCollective) ostensibly carries a reputation for being full of student work. I don’t know where that comes from; too many cans of Heinz baked beans styled like Warhol prints? That said, there’s probably nothing wrong with using Cargo if you ARE a student. Coroflot seems to be another good place for junior creatives to get their work in front of recruiters and large brands. DeviantArt was ranked below the two, because your application will disappear into an HR drawer labeled ‘Slashfic Writers’.

Krop
Krop: Your killer headlines will need killer headlines

For professionalism, I was advised to try Krop. It charges a not-insignificant monthly price of US$10, in the league of premium site-building services like Squarespace. I didn’t see anything that justified the price against Krop’s drawbacks. Amongst those I asked, Behance enjoys a neutral to positive reputation that will not stand in the way of your looking righteous.

As far as domains and URLs are concerned, it’s also about the right associations. If you’re on a site built for creative work, then piggybacking on their domain isn’t an issue. For example, having “behance.net/name” is okay, but “name.tumblr.com” looks like a collection of meme gifs. Using a “name.com” is great as long it’s not the “best-name-online.com” that GoDaddy recommends when your name of choice is taken.

2. Know the Tools You’ll Need

Behance
Behance: Owned by Adobe now, so you’ll have to hit refresh for minor HTML updates every 10 minutes

Plenty of sites simply don’t let you annotate or supply a paragraph of text beside your large and beautiful images. It’s practically textist. Krop is a major offender. And since we’re talking your garden-variety copywriter here, and not those mystical hybrid writer-designers who can tastefully superimpose text within their images, an ideal tool would allow writers to enter text on the page itself. In that regard, Behance trumps Krop, which only allows a short caption for each image. Not only is Behance free, it allows the mixing of as many images, embedded videos, and text blocks on a project page as needed.

Most importantly, if you’re going to be uploading work where you’re especially proud of the writing, make sure it can be read! Being able to click and zoom in (or load the original image) is table stakes, but plenty of sites I’ve seen don’t do it. This is the point where your portfolio’s tab gets closed and your reader goes back to a ‘Hunger Games Wedding Ideas’ board on Pinterest.

For this reason, I do not recommend using ‘free’ services that reserve this ability for paying customers, e.g. Carbonmade. Behance won’t zoom either, but you can at least reproduce your copy on the page using a text block.

3. Create a Gallery, Not a Blog

Your Tumblr should look like this
If you must Tumblr, your portfolio should look a lil’ sumthin like this wicka wicka

When a portfolio site is built on a blogging CMS, and looks like a linear blog, expectations are set for a diary of constantly evolving works-in-progress. Visitors will be less impressed by your last post being 18 months old, even if it was ahead of its time.

Of the sites I’ve seen built on simplistic platforms like Posterous, Tumblr, Blogger, Pinterest (you gotta see this Hunger Games wedding), too few employ themes with a static front page serving as a table of contents. If your platform of choice doesn’t let you do that, find a new one. A scrolling page of entries without proper navigation is counterintuitive to your purpose: showing your recent work at a glance, and putting more details one click away.

Some sites will also format and present a version of your resumé in addition to your portfolio. Behance and Coroflot are two that stood out for me.

4. Decide If You Want Feedback with That

Socially enabled sites like Behance are proud of their communities. You can follow people doing interesting work, and browse a stream of their recent work right from your front page. Gold stars, comments, resharing; all that stuff. But there’s a real need for portfolios that don’t talk back, and if you’re familiar with the teen movie trope of parents embarrassing their sons with baby stories whenever a girl comes over, you’ll understand not letting a potential mentor or employer see the “helpful” suggestions you’ve been given by others. Or your witty mom-centric replies.

Moreover, as we’ve already covered, many of these sites are for designers and not copywriters. I’ve heard this sentiment several times: “Designers have Dribbble, but where do copywriters go to share their work and get constructive feedback from peers?” It’s a gap that no one has filled. Until then, my advice would be to keep the two as separate as you can. Find an avenue for copy feedback that works for you, and display your work on a pedestal where it belongs.

5. Keep Open Secrets

Another feature that’s rather important but not always available: the ability to secure projects with a password. Some client work can never be fully public, but if there’s a story in there worth telling, you might open it up to select viewers. Please don’t set your password to “password” or your first name, or have no password at all and instruct the HR person to ‘just press Enter’, because that just makes it look like passwords are a new concept to you.

Choose Your Own Ad Venture

The first conclusion I drew is that you’ll want to spend some money to get this right, although it doesn’t have to be a lot. Whatever your choice, make sure it looks good on mobile devices and doesn’t rely on Flash.

Squarespace theming
Squarespace: Can you handle this much customization? Find out with a free 14-day trial.

My preferred solution has always been to create pages on a personal site, using whatever CMS you’re comfortable with, but that involves a fair amount of set-up and manual work. In contrast, the allure of these modern portfolio services is undeniable. Most come with the promise of page views from fellow creatives baked in, and who doesn’t like getting ‘Liked’? The drag-and-drop features and professionally designed templates are also particularly good for copywriters. Uploading a bunch of comps and artwork almost always results in a presentable page.

Of all these services I evaluated, the only free one that would meet the needs outlined was Behance. Their paid option is called ProSite, but its fancy templates frustratingly strip away the extra text that makes their free pages compelling for writers. If that gets fixed, it would be a complete winner.

If you’re willing to get your hands a little dirty, then Squarespace, Breezi, Virb, and WordPress are sound bets. The first two have no free options and start at around $8/mo for a standards-compliant, responsive design site. With templates as starting points and pixel-level control over every detail, they are suited to people with knowledge of web design but who don’t want to code.

Virb
Virb: If it’s good enough for a coffee bar in Portland, why not your portfolio?

Virb is another all-in-one hosted site & blog solution that costs the same as Krop ($10/mo) but lets you do more. There are templates that let you bundle images and text together quite simply and beautifully.

The open-source WordPress.org software is pretty much the gold standard for consumer CMS on the web, and if you don’t want the hassle of installing it on your own servers, WordPress.com has an ad-supported “hosted service” that takes care of everything for you, with few compromises. A number of portfolio-ready themes are available, but do pay for the domain mapping upgrade, because “name.wordpress.com” looks almost as bad as it would if it said Tumblr. Almost.

Link

[Branch] Do we still need to physically experience music shopping?

[Branch] Do we still need to physically experience music shopping?

I thought I was perfectly fine with digital discovery, Spotify-style apps and the iTunes Store, but at the risk of losing the last big retailer in town (HMV), and remembering how one could wander for hours and come out with armfuls of new music, I think I’m going to miss the tactile/spatial experience of old. There’s something about walking in and seeing with your own eyes a handmade display promoting an album you’d never heard of, and becoming curious. A thumbnail doesn’t do that.

Branch is a relatively new startup and service that allows anyone to set up ad-hoc, public discussion spaces. The person who sets the topic (or question) can invite others over Twitter or email, and any other viewer can ask to join in by simply writing what they would say if they were already part of the discussion. After that’s approved, they’re in. It’s an elegant and well-designed system, but still relatively unfriendly to some.*

For my first attempt, I asked the question that came to mind after a late visit to the local HMV last night, after the news broke that their UK offices are now in receivership (broke ass). I’ve already enjoyed the experience immensely, even with just two other participants, and look forward to using this more.

As for the topic of discussion, it’s something I want to think about more. I still believe in the power and value of music discovery outside of clickable lists and webpages. Creating a different sort of physical music retail presence is something I’d love to work on for a future client.

* One friend who I invited balked at the standard Twitter authorization screen that said ‘this app is asking for permission to “See who follows you on Twitter” and “Tweet on your behalf”‘ — pretty standard and harmless stuff that most frequent Twitter users don’t even blink at, but frightening language for others all the same.

Why Can’t Twitter Be Like Foursquare?

Turf Geography Club

I never thought little ol’ Foursquare could lead the way for Twitter, but their approach to the third-party access and monetization problem shows more class and understanding. For the past few weeks now, instead of investing in a user experience that users would choose, Twitter’s stated solution has been to make their apps the only ones in town.

Thanks to a tweet from @tarngerine today, I discovered Turf Geography Club, a location-based iPhone game built atop Foursquare’s place database, with additional Monopoly-like mechanics for upgrading and defending your property. It stands out from all the other “check-in and own this location” type apps by taking a flat-out fun (as opposed to a utility) approach: retro 16-bit style graphics, a Wes Anderson-inspired aesthetic (evident in the name, video trailer, and writing), bears, compasses, illustrated logbooks, and nonsensical references to an eternal struggle between man and nature.

What I liked was how I could suddenly start using Turf as my Foursquare client of choice, checking in as I usually do, but also playing this separate, app-specific metagame at the same time. Likewise, I can choose to use Path to document my movements with friends, and share a subset of those actions to Foursquare, for my other contacts to see them. Or I could document something private in Day One, the journaling app, and still check in to Foursquare from there where the location made sense (publicly, without sharing the contents of my journal entry).

Whatever you think of Foursquare and the people who use it, you can’t deny that this is what everyone would love Twitter to continue being, and what the company seems bent on defying: a confident social platform open to innovative ways of being used.

Foursquare recently updated their mobile apps in a big way, taking focus away from previous key features such as Mayorships, and emphasizing discovery and recommendations instead. The Foursquare app is now really good at showing you things of interest nearby, in categories such as food, shopping, and sightseeing, based on recommendations from other users. I can’t get those in Path or Turf, but my one-way actions in those apps feed back into the enrichment of Foursquare. That’s reason enough for me to keep the Foursquare app on my phone in addition to all the other ones that offer check-in functionality.

Twitter’s mobile apps also do a couple of things that third-party apps aren’t allowed to. It shows interactions that your friends have had on the service: tweets they’ve liked, people they’ve recently started following, and it shows supposedly personalized things of interest: local trending topics, and popular links being shared. The latter is where their advertising monetization is meant to happen, and it’s something that no one loves because it’s often dead wrong about what we want to see.

Imagine if Foursquare’s app showed you places you would never go, or check-ins from people you didn’t know or like. What would be the value in that? Instead, contextual intelligence and expert data mining help Foursquare stay valuable and interesting to users when they want to explore, while their availability to third party apps keeps users active and in the equation. The people at Twitter can’t go wrong throwing everything behind the creation of that value, in the interests of long-term viability, instead of shutting down the future of their service that may come from apps like Turf.

Switched from SingNet DSL to StarHub Fiber today. Here are the Speedtest results.

Singnet-dsl-vs-starhub-fiber

We never got the theoretical maximum speed of SingNet’s 6mbps down, 512kbps up plan, so I don’t consider it to be a bottleneck for download speeds (even in the best case scenario of a Singapore-based server, it didn’t come up against the 6mbps ceiling). The StarHub fiber plan is capped at 50mbps down, 15mbps up. For international surfing, StarHub says the connection is capped at 15mbps down. I’m just happy that it’s better, and that uploads are so significantly better. It’s going to be great for uploading photos to Flickr.

I tried out a couple of moderately-seeded torrents and saw max download speeds of about 4 times higher than I used to get with SingNet. Your mileage may vary, but it’s a promising start. I think a 1.5GB image came down in about 15 minutes.

➟ Smokescreen

If I hadn’t just seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed this was possible. Smokescreen is a soon to be open-sourced technology that converts Adobe Flash content to HTML5/Javascript, in real time. It’s essentially Flash without a plugin, and it works with animation and sound just fine in my desktop Safari.

The company behind it describes itself as “an ad network” that wanted to see the richness of Flash ads come to devices like the iPad, without the need to rewrite code. It’ll be released soon, but have a look at the demos they’ve got up now with your Flash blocker on.

Link [smokescreen.us]

Google Search Trends for Singapore, 14 May 2010, 2AM

Google publishes statistics on popular web searches the same way Twitter has its trending topics. Some of this stuff stays up on the charts for days, while other vague, ungrokkable keyword combinations burn brightly and then mysteriously slip away. Let’s have a look at what’s hot now:

Far as I can tell, Habib Ali is the name of a 96-year-old “shaman” who lives in Batu Pahat, Malaysia. Why his name is trending, I haven’t a clue. Either he did something awesome or he bought it. The top result is a site that tries to explain why he’s a shaman, but it’s just stuff like not turning his back on guests, to the point of shuffling backwards out of a room. To me, that just says he’s a respectful host or he’s had some valuables stolen in the past.
A local online shopping site that lets you set up a virtual store of your own, or subscribe to a list of your favorite merchants. The company calls it building your own virtual “mall”, but I refuse to acknowledge that kind of marketing BS until someone actually pays me rent. It does have some cool social features though, like showing your friends the stuff you want to buy and asking them repeatedly if you should get them. Should I, huh? But, if only, then again, maybe, how?! It’s just like shopping with me in the real world. The ever-sunny, floral-scented Sheylara has a blog post on it.
The MediaCorp Radio DJ has done something newsworthy, but I can’t figure out what that might be. A Twitter search didn’t turn up anything either, but did you know she was at Provence in Holland Village two nights ago and has really nice legs?? Alright, I’ll stop now. I feel like the AsiaOne home page.
This has something to do with a video of a male student from Siglap Secondary School repeatedly slapping a female student across the face. Some links suggest the male student has an association with a gay dance group I’d never heard of before, called Voguelicious. What a name! It conjures up images of Glee, Madonna, Beyonce, Women’s wear floors in major department stores, shoulder pads, patent leather, and that giant Sephora store in Paris! So gay.
The name of a hot Chinese girl, what else? I think she’s a forehead model.
—–
Okay, that’s all! Tune in next time for more insight into what Singaporeans use this internet thing for.
Update: I posted this last night, and now I have a Jibapan ad appearing on my site. So, uh, go get started on those virtual malls!

Fear of a Pad Planet

There’s been a certain reaction to the iPad from some quarters of the tech-inclined community, inspired by the belief that the device signals a shift towards a new form of computing that old people can finally understand. That reaction has been fear and apprehension.

It begins by looking at the iPad as a better personal computer for the majority of people. After all, it surfs the web, does email, plays games, and that’s what most people do with their computers most of the time, right? Better yet, it does all of those things without a long boot-up sequence, viruses, and confusing computery concepts like a filesystem, administrator rights, directories (recently renamed ‘Folders’ for these same users), registries, multi-step installation procedures, and the list goes on. Parents will finally stop calling us for help with strange error messages, and we will forget that it was ever hard.

But if people start to prefer the iPad and its descendants to ‘real’ computers, so the argument goes, then we will have robbed the next generation of a basic foundational understanding of computers. Because there will be no tinkering in Apple’s clinical workshop, they will never see the crucial workings of a program beneath its simplified user interface, and we will not have people to build the next Google, YouTube, or Bittorrent. The iPad/iPhone were built to enable end-users to consume content, and so it must be that creativity stands to suffer.

As I wrote yesterday, I currently see the iPad as a great way to access information and interact with media, freed from the physical contraints of an iPhone’s smaller screen and shorter battery life. Apple sees it, quite necessarily, as something more*. Which is why they built iWork productivity apps and demonstrated Brushes, an application that lets the large screen be used as a drawing surface for artists.

Offering a new breed of computer to an older person and seeing them take to it with joy and wonderment, as opposed to frustration and confusion, is a wonderful image and what the industry should work towards, but just because a filesystem is obscured doesn’t mean the curious can’t get to it. One might argue that jailbreaking an iPad is no different from the things people did to their computers in the past. There will always be unauthorized tools for messing around, and one day you may even be able to write, compile, and test code for an iPad on the thing itself. I wouldn’t worry about the younger generation of hackers.

My parents online
I want to talk about two tasks I’ve observed my parents and people their age doing on their computers.

1 – My mother mainly works with email. She receives documents relating to her church activities, which she must save locally before editing and sending them out again to other members of her group. She organizes these files in folders, which are really good metaphors that she understands, and often keeps multiple dated versions.

Of course, the iPad of today can’t save email attachments for working on in the Pages word processor. One day it will. But that sort of management is bound to increase the level of complexity. Lists of documents, tags or folders, deleting and renaming, and so on. I thought of introducing her to Google Docs, which would let her work with live documents in the cloud, and even collaborate in real-time with her friends. When changes are made, instead of emailing a copy of a document to other people, she would only have to send invites to view the document online. The iPad would work well with that approach – no local storage necessary. The responsibility and blame for any complexity is passed off onto the web service provider, in this case Google, leaving the iPad’s reputation to remain spotless.

2 – My father (and other fathers I hear about) likes to download videos off YouTube for later viewing, both on the desktop and on his iPhone. These are usually music videos and funny but horrifying accidents. This requires using a program or website like KeepVid to save them locally, and then often another program to re-encode the clips for use on the iPhone.

I believe saving videos off Youtube is a copyright gray area that Apple will never touch by sanctioning an app that exists to do it. Music videos are often removed from Youtube when found to be unauthorized uploads, which might explain the compulsion to save them. But even if they stayed online, is streaming instead of saving an ideal solution? That’s a lot of wasted bandwidth, and what if they want a Taylor Swift video or two while traveling by air? Apple will never allow the Youtube app to save video and compete with iTunes sales.

Both of these scenarios and their cloud-based natures highlight the need for increased openness and cooperation on the web. If we can’t have open computing systems, then we need an open internet to take its place. My mother’s friends shouldn’t all have to have Google accounts to access her shared documents, and Youtube shouldn’t have a monopoly on streaming video just because the iPad comes with an app built-in. The widespread adoption of HTML5 video in lieu of Flash would be fantastic, and remove the need for a native Youtube viewer. Likewise, online storage accounts like the ones offered by Dropbox and Microsoft Live Mesh should be able to trade files and work together. Productivity and content creation services should have a way of talking to each other across networks.

I like Google Wave’s implementation of federated servers. You can run your own private Wave system, really make it your own for whatever purposes, but the underlying protocol can communicate with every other Wave server if/when you need it to.

If that kind of openness were applied to all other services, companies would stand to lose their ‘stickiness’, but they’d surely find other ways to retain users. Should a landscape of interoperability and sharing ever come to pass in every corner of the web, it would be to the benefit of us all. How fitting, then, if we were steered in that direction by the threat of having to work on oversimplified computers.

—-

With apologies to Public Enemy for the title.

* When Nintendo first launched the DS in 2004, they called it a “third pillar” to allay fears that the company was going mad and replacing its popular and very profitable Game Boy Advance series with a risky touchscreen experiment. The DS went on to become a huge hit, accelerating the GBA’s demise and eventually becoming their main handheld product. You may wish to see Apple’s positioning of the iPad as a similar play: someday it may overtake the MacBook completely.

iPhone app review doublebill: Birdhouse & Twitbit

(This iPhone review and others like it have been moved to my new app review site, positivemachine.com. Why not have a look?)

Birdhouse / Twitbit – $3.99 & $4.99 respectively


Why Pay? It starts with a free app, Twitterrific or TwitterFon for most people, and for awhile it seems like you’ll never have a need for one of those “Pro” Twitter clients that your geekier friends talk about. Reply a message here, send out a cute quote there, it’s all good. Cut to a couple hundred followers later, and you’re riding the doubt train harder than a doped up pop star with 50 concert dates to deliver. You need a little something extra to keep your edge. You ask your live-in doctor for one of these:


Birdhouse is like a Twitter ninja. A ninja who’s spent his entire life learning to unsheathe his blade, stab a man, and put it away again in under half a second. He can’t climb walls, farts loudly all the time, and is 99% colorblind as well as good ol’ regular blind, but if the man you want assassinating is right there in front of him, there’s no one else you’d sooner hire.

You can’t read tweets or search hashtags in Birdhouse. You can’t see who’s mentioning you, and you sure as hell can’t see anyone’s avatar pictures. You can’t see anyone, period. But what you CAN do is train up a hundred of your best jokes, sharpen them on the stone of Favrd destiny, and then go out to cut some motherfuckers up. The downside: if you don’t have any jokes, it calls up your ex-girlfriends to make fun of your package.


Twitbit almost didn’t make it onto my list. Its first version was a little bit like Rain Man, you know, but I won’t get into specifics because people tend to send me hate mail when I talk about the retard in that movie. Suffice to say, Twitbit showed up a little over a month ago with a single winning trick up its sleeve: Push Notifications.

For example, you could be doing something else on your iPhone, like making a kick-ass playlist of Billy Joel and Air Supply songs, but if someone tweeted “@sangsara your music library sucks, faggot! Btw I’m sitting behind you on the bus”, you’d get it immediately as a pop-up on your screen. The rest of the app was a little behind the curve until a recent update added threaded DMs, a photo browser, saved searches, and many other refinements. The result is one of the best general purpose Twitter apps five bucks could want to buy. Plus, chicks dig the fat bird on a speech bubble-egg icon.


Birdhouse Rating: B
Twitbit Rating: A

Buy Birdhouse on the iTunes App Store.
Buy Twitbit on the iTunes App Store.




Birdhouse media:



Twitbit media:



iPhone app review: WorldView Live

(This iPhone review and others like it have been moved to my new app review site, positivemachine.com. Why not have a look?)


Name/Category: WorldView Live / Travel
Price: US$2.99 (free version available)


What it does: Displays live images from thousands of public webcams around the world

If you’re anything like me or Mr. T (that is to say you have travel issues), WorldView Live is a godsend. It costs less than a can of beer on a budget airline – believe me you’ll need more than one to get through the rocky screamfests that are equatorial updrafts, at least when I’m screaming – and gives you pretty much the same results as real travel. In fact, it’s even better. You get all the sights, from the majesty of the Eiffel Tower and Mount Fuji to the soggy streets of London, without having to suffer the French, learn Japanese, or get dragged into a hen night. You won’t have your passport or girlfriend stolen by a charming local, find your luggage switched with a transvestite’s, wander down a dodgy street late at night wearing said transvestite’s wardrobe, wake up in the morning with blood running… ok, you get the idea.

The app lets you search for webcams by city, keywords, as well as GPS/map location. Some are refreshed every 5 minutes or so, while others are live feeds that update every second. WorldView’s free edition lets you see many of the static cameras, while the paid WorldView Live version adds video and other useful features like search suggestions. Webcams.travel provides the images, and can be freely accessed from any computer. In essence, WorldView Live is a $2.99 native iPhone viewer for the site, but still one worth having if you care at all for looking out your window.


Rating: A-

Buy WorldView Live on the iTunes App Store.
Get WorldView (Free) on the iTunes App Store.



Palm Pre ads with Tamara Hope

These commercials for the Palm Pre smartphone have been given largely negative reviews, with most reactions going something like “WTF”, “that girl is so creepy/ugly”, and “show more features of the phone!”

Of course, I’m posting them here because I disagree. I’m not saying it’s the most effective route Palm could have chosen, but when you’re putting out a new line of devices in a crowded playing field where one competitor dominates mindshare, and everyone else puts out ads highlighting a long list of techie features or superficial accoutrements, you need to do something bold.

These are branding ads. These are look at me and remember me ads. The worst examples of these leave viewers angry, cursing the fact that they spent energy being annoyed. Nevertheless, the images remain with them. For me, these ads are a thing of queer beauty. They’re a little creepy, yes. But they are well written, and they are different. Some of them are a little too hippie, with their New Age songs and talk of reincarnation, but such missteps are redeemed by the genius that chose such shots as the one where she turns her back on the camera twice, and the ethereal, painting-like scenes that flow behind her. I also think they were drawing inspiration from Max Headroom, and one can’t go wrong with that.

I’ve read that Palm and their US partner Sprint are running other ads in support of the Pre. Those purportedly target other demographics, while I believe these are tremendously appealing to those who don’t have strong feelings about technology. The kind of people who need a phone for business, and right now it’s a Blackberry or a very old basic phone. These aren’t the only tools in their campaign. TV ads don’t need to contain all the facts. Watch one of these, and you get the idea of what being connected, multitasking, and having GPS can do for your life, without a single bullet-point having to appear on screen.

The last and latest one, Mind Reader, is my favorite. It’s a poem to technology, read with confidence. Her final line, “Of course it does, it’s mine”, is a powerful sentiment that every geek can understand. My iPhone certainly knows me well, between the data I store on it, the connections it helps me make, and the choices that go into each of its nine pages of apps.