2 New Tools for the Social Media and Cloud Lifers: Memolane and Greplin

When I left college in 2004 I took with me 3 hard drives that had over a terabyte of movies, music, documents and more.  All of the content I had created or saved was a file on one of those hard drives amongst thousands of disorganized folders.  It took Google Desktop to ultimately deliver a search product strong enough to help me find anything I wanted amidst the horde of files.

Fast forward to today, where those hard drives with thousands of files sit dusty on my shelf.  It's not because I've replaced them with files on my latest computer, it's because, for the most part, I no longer have use for files on a computer at all.  Now thanks to my obsession with social media, and my aggressive transition to everything "cloud", all of my documents are scattered across thousands of websites.  Microsoft Office and Outlook have been replaced by Google Docs and Gmail.  My photos and videos sit on Flickr and YouTube.  In fact, tens of thousands of pieces of content are scattered across way too many social sites and web applications- so much so that it's getting impossible to remember exactly where I put any single thing, let alone find it again.

Enter Memolane and Greplin, two products to save the social media and cloud computing obsessed.  Memolane and Greplin share the noble purposes of helping you rediscover the content you have spread around the web, though each focus on a different subset of content and solve it in different ways:
  • Memolane links up to all of your social networks (11 so far, and any RSS feed) and visualizes your activity in a really cool interactive timeline.  It allows you to view all of your photos, status messages, location check-ins and more organized day-by-day.  With Memolane you can do a basic search of your activity, but more impressively you can travel to any point in your social media history view a beautiful timeline and view what your experience was as told by your foursquare + Flickr + YouTube + Twitter + Facebook activity (and more) at that moment.  Memolane uses all sorts of meta data to put the timeline together, and even successfully managed to import and accurately assign photo's I'd taken in 2002 and uploaded to Flickr years later.
  • Greplin connects to the top few social networks, but focuses more on cloud computing sites like Gmail, Google Docs and Dropbox.  You can't browse your documents visually, but you can instantly search across all of your sites to find anything you need.  Greplin returns search results really fast and organizes them by message, event, people and file to help you find what you're looking for more easily.  Greplin is a freemium service, meaning some of the accounts it links to come free, but others (like Google Business Apps and Evernote) are paid additions.  Greplin isn't as sexy as Memolane, but it's incredibly powerful and useful as working in the cloud becomes more common.
While Memolane and Greplin tackle similar problems, they each focus on a different set of content and help you rediscover it in different ways.  Since I am putting more and more content online each day, I expect to use both of these services often.  Have you tried them yet? If so, what do you think?  What features do you think they need to be more helpful, or what are other services that are helping you organize your cloud life?


Three reasons why I'm so excited for Foursquare v.3 #4sq3

Last night Foursquare launched the latest version of their iPhone app, Foursquare v3.  This marks the third year in a row they're launching at SXSWi, the perfect stage for the Foursquare team to show off what they've been up to and why it's going to change everything.  This year's refresh is an awesome overhaul, and really proves how hard the Foursquare team is working to make the platform into something immersive and valuable.  Here are the top reasons why I'm so excited about the latest version of Foursquare application:

  • Powerful new personalized recommendations
    Foursquare launched a new tab in the mobile app "Explore" that houses all kinds of recommendations for you.  You can view trending places, pick a category or search for a topic in particular.  What makes this more intriguing than just about any other recommendation engine I've seen though is that every recommendation comes with "reasons why" Foursquare is suggesting this place.  It could be because your close friends keep going there, because there are a lot of new tips there, because you go to a whole bunch of places like it, or more.  I immediately trust recommendations that are transparent, even when the reason given is "this place is totally different than you're usual" (which you might just see).
  • More compelling loyalty and rewards opportunities
    Two big challenges with earlier versions of Foursquare were that deals were hard to find, and they usually only applied to the mayor.  Both of these have been fixed, and then some.  Now when you pull up nearby places you see an alert at the bottom of how many specials are close, and have the option to browse only those specials.  There are also 6 new types of specials that businesses can offer, such as deals for friends that check-in together, regular customers, 'swarm deals' and more.  This makes Foursquare even more capable as the backbone of business loyalty programs, and makes deals a lot more value to customers.
  • More interesting data and gaming metrics
    Foursquare says the gaming mechanism is entirely rebuilt, with dozens of ways to earn points in ways that will encourage you to try and do more, such as points for returning to places you used to frequent, trying a new type of food or catching up with an old friend.  You also see updates to your game ranking ranking every time you take an action, and the game is now always based on the "latest 7 days."  I'm also really excited to see personal data being brought into the application.  On your profile tab is now a section that shows your most explored categories, which you and your friends can visit to see what you are most likely an expert on.
These new features in Foursquare, along with their earlier additions of photos and commenting on check-ins, complete Foursquare's transition from novelty game to powerful platform.  A lot of people have dropped off from using Foursquare after they tried it because they didn't see the value; this is Foursquare saying they heard you.  Give it another try, spend some time exploring the features, see more of what makes mobile / geo social networking so interesting, and let me know what you think.


The Return of Appointment Television

For many years, as DVR and online streaming have taken over a big portion of television consumption, we have increasingly said goodbye to the notion of "appointment television" (watching TV shows when they originally air on broadcast). There are a few exceptions of course, mainly sports and news, but for the most part at this point the tech savvy consider television something we can consume when and where we want.

Recently, however, I am noticing myself more interested in catching the initial broadcast (the appointment) of my favorite shows. And it's not because I can't get the video elsewhere, it's because increasingly the first view is a richer, more entertaining experience. Broadcast companies and brand partners are learning how to add unique value for those who participate in the original airing of a new show/episode airing. This is great for us because we are getting options for "premium experiences" if we choose, and great for them because they get more eyeballs on their most valuable asset: the live (mostly non-skippable) broadcast. So how is this transition back to appointment television happening? Here are a few ways:

1. Rewards
Broadcast companies are partnering with the rising crop of "entertainment check-in" companies like GetGlue and Miso to provide tangible ad intangible rewards for people who watch a show while it's airing and "check-in." The rewards so far have been anything from virtual badges to discounts on show memorabilia.  Showtime, for example, not only rewards viewers with badges for popular shows like Californication, but also gives fans a chance to win free DVD's if they check-in at least 10 times during a live airing.  Even Foursquare, which typically focuses on real-world locations, is getting in on the action.  During the Super Bowl Foursquare and the NFL partnered to offer team memorabilia discounts to people who checked-in with their favorite team during the Super Bowl.

Even more interesting might be IntoNow, a newer entrant into the social TV app marketplace.  IntoNow is actually able to check-in for viewers automatically based on the video it hears being played in the background.  Their ability to recognize audio footprints isn't just a cool trick, it also helps verify that a user is really watching shows, rather than just checking in for the reward.  IntoNow jumped quickly into the partnership game, linking up with MTV for the a promotion around the premiere of Jersey Shore.

2. Access
Another way shows are enhancing the viewing experience is launching additional content available through computer or iPad that is available during the show.  One breakthrough example of this is from a surprising source: Grey's Anatomy.  The Grey's Anatomy iPad app releases interactive content in real-time while the show is airing.  The application uses Nielsen audio foot-printing to sync content with the show as it's airing. This type of second-screen experience is also starting to show up in theaters.  Best Buy developed an iPhone app for movie Despicable Me that delivered special content to users on their iPhone during the movie, again triggered by audio cues.

The 2011 Oscars also pushed the boundaries of access to additional content through their iPad app Oscars Back Stage Pass.  The Oscars app actually provided a before, during and after experience via second screen.  Before the show the app delivered special interviews and behind-the-scenes clips.  Once the Oscars started airing on TV the app enabled viewers to watch additional camera angles of the Red Carpet and from inside the awards theater.  In addition to the iPad app, Oscars host James Franco actually live-tweeted from on stage.  This gave viewers an unusual first-hand perspective right from on-stage.  Content like Twitter streams can be viewed later on, but it's most compelling during the original viewing as it happens in real-time.

3. Community
The third, and perhaps most important, way live television is becoming more compelling is the rich social media driven community that builds around the broadcast.  Increasingly television watchers are sitting in front of the TV with Twitter or Facebook loaded on another device in front of them.  As the show progresses they are taking to social networks to voice their opinion and talk about the show with other fans.  This experience is usually not even tied to the broadcast company, but shows are benefiting from this new real-time water cooler.  This live community makes shows more fun to watch when they're happening, and can generate a feeling of "missing out" when you have to watch later.  In fact, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone mentioned in a recent interview that Twitter is driving "let's watch it when it's on" behavior.

In addition to fans taking to the Internet themselves, some shows are beginning to experiment with leading the community conversation by having cast members live-tweet during the airing of new episodes.  Fox show Fringe, for example, announces on their website which cast members will be tweeting during the next episode.  Always Sunny in Philadelphia, on the other hand, doesn't have cast members tweeting but does host the real-time social conversation right on their own show community page during new episodes.

It's a surprising turnaround in a time when disaggregation and on-demand are transforming media, but 2011 just might be the return to appointment television.  Incentivized by rewards, access and community viewers are starting to prioritize watching the original real-time broadcast for a better viewing experience.  This trend is not only benefiting shows and fans, it also means big returns for brands.  For one, live-viewing helps ensure viewership of commercial spots.  What I hope to see, however, is smart brands finding ways to join relevant conversations and provide additive content as participants in the viewership experience.  This could lead to a stronger, more valuable relationship with audiences down the line.

For additional thoughts on this topic, check out Ford's Social Media Director Scott Monty, who published a similar article about "Must See Twitter" while I was drafting this.