In Brief Technology

How Path is winning me over

I’m trying to get into Path more. While the idea of a social network with an extremely low friend limit (150 friends) is hard for me to grasp given my assumptions that anything I publish online is for public consumption, I’m won over by its excellent design — indeed, it has a timeline implementation that Facebook could only dream of — and its ability to be a universal publisher to the big four social sites (Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and Tumblr).

By far the most interesting use of Path I’ve seen so far is by Jon Mitchell on ReadWriteWeb, where he uses Path to illustrate a story on his experiences serving on a jury and what they mean for the social Web. It only works, too, because Path is so well-designed and thought out.

It will be fun to watch Path’s path. It could be quite a contender in 2012.


Pivot towards a cliff: Brightkite (Checkins), RIP

Removing the Brightkite app from my iPhone.

Letting go: removing the Brightkite app from my iPhone.

Today marks the end of Brightkite’s location-based social network, as the company repositions itself firmly in the “group texting” camp. It was my first introduction to location-based social networking, and I’m going to miss it. Brightkite was the only location-based social network that really nailed privacy controls: you could set privacy per-post, per-checkin, be vague to some users but not others, and more. It amazes me that none of its surviving competitors have similar privacy controls today. Placestreams were a really useful feature, featuring notes and photos of people who have left them behind, telling a story about a location. The market leader, Foursquare, still does not yet support attaching pictures to a place. What’s with that?

Update, 12/20/2010: Foursquare will now support photos on checkins and tips.

Brightkite’s service is another example of forward thinking in location-based networking. By doing the work to match disparate locations between several different services in the database, it provided for an accurate checkin across many services. Gowalla recently released a crossposting feature in its latest client; as I discovered the other night, though, it doesn’t seem go to the trouble of using an already-created Foursquare venue to check in. Rather, it will create a temporary place and check you in there. Angling for a mayorship to score a discount? Avoid the Gowalla app. will help you get there, though. (It, too, is waving in the winds at the moment, but hopefully will be picked up for active development at some point.)

In the end, though, a social network is only as good as the number of friends you have on it. (If technical considerations were how social networks won the race, Pownce would have bought Twitter out.) I also think that Brightkite may have been ahead of its time; Foursquare made the placestream concept easier to grok (“venue” is, indeed, a more accessible term) and gave users a reason to check in other than for the sake of checking in.

Brightkite as a company will live on as a group text company — just like PingChat, Kik, and many, many other players. I wish them the best of luck, but I have no need for another group text app right now — as the screenshot above illustrates.


Foursquare hits Charleston

Joe Riley may no longer have a mayoral stranglehold in Charleston, as Foursquare, the location-based social game, has expanded to the entire world after a limited beta in certain cities.

Location-based social networking isn’t a terribly new concept anymore, but it hasn’t really caught on in the mainstream. I’ve been using Brightkite for location-based networking since 2008 or so, and it’s proven to be a very useful tool. However, I’ve heard on more than one occasion that it’s a “stalker tool” — and, yes, if used without discretion, it could have some unintended consequences — but with careful usage, it can be a very powerful tool. However, Foursquare’s competitive aspect makes the idea of giving away location on the Internet a little bit more palatable to the general public. It also helps that Foursquare focuses on social venues without putting on undue pressure to check in at work, at home, and the like. Its business partnerships add a lot of value for users, businesses, and Foursquare itself. The to-do list feature, which lets you assign things to do at specific venues and check them off for points, is a cool way to find things to do at a new place.

As a utility, though, I think Foursquare falls a little short. For example, it doesn’t let you attach pictures to a place, which is something that Brightkite does extremely well. It also doesn’t make much sense to use Foursquare in a newsgathering situation (which, admittedly, most people won’t do). A case in point: I’m working on a project right now to create a mobile storm lab to augment my weather data-gathering and reporting efforts. I plan on using a special Charleston Weather Brightkite account to track and broadcast my movements. And despite its lack of popularity compared to Foursquare, Brightkite wins here hands down for a few reasons:

  • The ability to check in at a relative location, such as an intersection, rather than a solid venue;
  • Brightkite’s aforementioned ability to associate and geotag photos with a location, and then post those photos to Flickr and Twitter;
  • The game feature seems extraneous for the intended use — after all, if my mobile storm lab should check in at a place enough to become mayor of it, the place sounds just a tad uninsurable, doesn’t it?

Time will tell to see if Foursquare adds these features, but Brightkite’s focus seems to be on pushing the location-based envelope, as its foray into augmented reality advertising shows. That’s why Brightkite will continue to be the location-based social network of choice for this geek.

I’ve heard a lot about how Foursquare going global means Brightkite’s death knell, but I don’t agree at all. Brightkite’s purpose is different than Foursquare’s and I don’t see why they can’t coexist. I look forward to using both for different things — Foursquare for the rare occasion I try to be a socialite, and Brightkite for other applications that require location but not necessarily the competitive aspect. (I’d like Gowalla, too, but they’re iPhone and Android only — not even their mobile site works on a BlackBerry, and there doesn’t seem to be any alternative method to operate the service.)

Want to give all this a shot? Compete with me on Foursquare, or friend me on Brightkite to see pictures and notes about the places I end up.

Observations Technology

Where Facebook’s Student Exclusivity Rocked

Editor’s note: It’s so nice to write a non-hurricane post. I bet it’s even better for you to be able to read a non-hurricane post. :)

I’ve been preparing for the restart of classes this week, and I got to thinking about an old Facebook feature that I found incredibly useful for scouting out who was in what class of mine: Courses.

Back in the good ol’ days when Facebook was a students-only kind of thing, there was a Courses feature that, true to what one may expect, let you put in what classes you’re taking (including the section). Once you entered that information, you could then click on the course or specific section and see who else entered the same information. It was cool for getting a general idea of who’d be in my classes; maybe I’d have a friend in a class I wasn’t aware of. It was also an incredibly useful tool for finding folks for notes and other things in situations where I had to miss and maybe didn’t know folks yet. People were usually really, really cool about those messages (I was, when I received them) and helping out where the need arose.

Then, a couple funny things happened: Facebook went mainstream, and opened up the Facebook API. That combination effectively nixed the Courses feature. Unlike features like Photos and Videos and such, Facebook never officially reimplemented Courses, leaving it to the community to implement it. And implement it, it did — there’s like a bajillion different apps now to manage courses. I’m giving Courses 2.0 by a shot, which I actually have four friends using. However, it took work to hunt down and find the application, authorize it to steal my soul, and then start throwing courses in. The older Courses feature was built-in; thus, more students were actually likely to use it, as it required less work to get going. This is not to say that apps like Courses 2.0 aren’t nice, though; it displays a graphical breakout of my schedule, allows the input of ISBN numbers for textbooks, and is compatible with the new Facebook format by permitting the addition of a tab (which I have done). Again, though, I had to seek it out — something I know a lot of students just won’t do.

It’s for this reason that I suspect there could once again be a market for a closed social network for college students. Facebook’s original tools for managing academic as well as social relationships were actually quite useful, and it’s a shame that they’ve been farmed out, and as a result, become less useful and, unfortunately, siloed.

If you’re using one of these apps for academic networking, which one are you (and your friends) using?

As Per Whatever

I should try this


Walls of an auditorium were covered with thousands of sheets of paper — printouts from MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and other online sites that were filled with back-stabbing gossip, unflattering images, and details about partying and dating exploits.

Each posting was easily accessed online, no password needed. But seeing them on paper — and in some cases, being asked to read them aloud — grabbed the attention of members of the North American Federation of Temple Youth, who gathered earlier this year at a camp outside New York City. That each of the pages mentioned their organization in some way only made it that much more embarrassing.

You know, I bet if I printed out a bunch of CofC MySpace and Facebook pages and stapled them to the bulletin boards around campus, there would be a lot of unhappy campers around here…


Insomnia, For The Loss!

Random insomnia-borne observations:

  • A couple days after realigning the room, I’m really a big fan. Why didn’t I do it this way the first time?
  • I tried to watch Abrams & Bettes on The Weather Channel last night. Couldn’t do it. I like both their personalities, but I can’t watch the show. Something about it seems really forced, like they’re trying to crowbar a newscast into a lineup full of…newscasts. So, they make it extra newscasty, which, in my mind, just doesn’t seem to work. Watching A&B made me long for the days of the early-to-mid ’90s again.
  • I remember the last time a pitcher went to an NL West team for over $100 million. What are the odds of Barry Zito turning out like Kevin Brown in San Francisco? Zito’s magic avoidance of injury thus far in his career has been impressive, but any guy with a hook like he has is asking for arm problems down the road. The Giants paid a lot of money and once again took this offseason to ridiculously new heights, as if that was even possible. A pitcher the likes of Johan Santana should easily command $20-$25 million a year now on the free agent market. Look for small market teams to be much more guarded with their farm systems as the years roll on.
  • Nothing says Christmas like marshmallow-stuffed snowmen. Nothing.
  • Vacations that take a lot of work and are over-planned totally defeat the purpose, IMO. I’ve been talking to a friend for a few days who has been absolutely exhausted from her vacation in Florida, which was planned out point by point. What’s the point of a vacation where one MUST be up at 9:30 every morning? That’s low value. This friend is now taking a vacation from vacations.
  • Brian Goode’s calling it: Rain on New Year’s Eve. It’s looking pretty solid for that, too. The more I think about it, the more likely I am to stay in at this point, though wandering to a random bar to be selected is not totally out of the question (unless someone wishes to kindly save me from this kind of low value fate).
  • I signed into Classmates for the first time in about a year and a half this weekend, and was reminded why I stayed away in the first place: Errors, ads, and then not being able to do anything without paying a fee…in other words, it’s totally incompatible with Web 2.0. Facebook and MySpace effectively render sites like Classmates pretty much obsolete thanks to their unbridled FREE accessibility and more expressive profile options.
  • I’m looking forward to the new semester, real bad. I’m in several media courses and am really looking forward to getting into the meat of the major.
  • If you have LiveJournal, I’ve got The Blog crossposting to mine now. Add me to your friends list if you like. :)
  • Finally…I have a lot of work to do in Flight Simulator 2004. I’ve been struggling badly with my landings…

It’s bedtime for real now, before the sun comes up. :) Later folks.


There seems to be a lot of concern these days about putting stuff on MySpace or Facebook accounts (to name a couple types) that may be incriminating. Justified? Totally. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if police agencies, employers, etc. are poking around there looking for clues about you and your activities. Whether this is right or not is an extremely loaded topic for another day. Regardless of whatever ethics are involved, people absolutely should watch what they write on their MySpace accounts. The Internet is wide-open to the entire world. What’s posted on one site can be read anywhere else. People talk about this as if it’s a new thing; seasoned Web publishers know from the early days of the Internet not to post anything they wouldn’t want to see in a newspaper that their parents, friends, co-workers, lovers, etc. would read the next day.

For the first time, however, this rule is hitting the mainstream in a huge way. MySpace has made Web publishing (I use the term loosely) accessible to a vast majority of people who would have never considered it before. It doesn’t matter how good you are with computers to do it; they’ve made it nearly foolproof to do so. Unfortunately, this is like a bunch of people jumping into cars without ever learning the rules of the road, and as a result, it’s not difficult to find sites laden with pictures or written accounts of activities that may be considered sub-legal. However, there is an illusion amongst unseasoned Internet publishers that what they write can only be seen by their friends, etc. They’re sorely mistaken if this is what they think. The rule ALWAYS applies – if your friends can read it, so can everyone else with access to a computer with Internet connectivity — and this doesn’t exclude people one would want NOT to read their profile.

So yes, the hype is perfectly justified, but nothing to fear – it’s just time to play by the same rules I and (most) other Web content publishers have adhered to for the last 10+ years.