SiliconFilter

In a World of Check-Ins and Social Discovery Apps, EchoEcho Keeps it Simple (and Useful)

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Just like last year, this year's edition of SXSW is once again heavily focused on location-based application. While the genre is slowly moving away from check-ins and virtual badges and more towards "social discovery," though, it's still rather debatable how useful apps like Highlight or Glancee are outside of the conference and Silicon Valley bubble. One location app that has long been going against these trends is the Google Venture-funded EchoEcho. The app does one thing – and it does it well: letting you find out where your friends are and making it easy to meet up with them without compromising anybody's privacy.

Just in time for SXSW, the company just rolled out the fourth version of its app (iTunes link), which features a redesigned interface, a mobile web app and the ability to share your location live with a friend for a set period of time (up to 2 hours).

Using the app is as simple as it gets. You just pick a contact from your phone's address book and simply use the app to ask them where they are. Once your contact receives your request and accepts it, you can both see where both of you are (by requesting somebody's location, you also always share your own location). From there, you can use the app to chat and/or suggest a meeting place.

Two major new features in this version make all of this easier (besides the new design, which is much more streamlined that before): live updates that allow you to share your location in the background, so you know how far away your friends are from the meeting place and a new web app that allows your friends to share their location with you without having to install the app themselves (instead of a push notification from the app, your friends will simply get an SMS with a link to the web app).

Just like previous version of the app, the EchoEcho team continuous to ensure that it's available on all the major mobile platforms, including iOS, Android (these have been updated to 4.0 already), as well as Blackberry, Windows Phone and Symbian (I'm not sure the Symbian app will get an update, though).



3:52 pm


PocketCloud: Wyse Wants to Become the Hub of Your Personal Cloud

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Wyse, a company that is better known for offering remote desktop solutions to enterprise companies than for its consumer offerings, is now bringing PocketCloud Explore, its app for easily managing files across multiple desktops, operating systems and mobile devices, to the iPhone (it was already available on Android). I got a demo of the app at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week and it's quite an impressive service that indeed works as seamlessly as the company promises.

What makes Wyse's solution so interesting and different from what, at first glance seem like similar offerings from Box.net or Dropbox, is that the company is combining remote desktop access and easy mobile and web access to files that are running on your computer at home (and that are only accessible while that computer is on and connected to the Internet) with its own cloud-based file-storage service. Wyse also offers a cloud-storage service with 2GB of free storage, the PocketCloud Web Cloubin, which allows users to easily upload documents into the cloud and then share them with their friends and colleagues.

PocketCloud Explore app store

The mobile Explore app for iOS doesn't feature any built-in editing capabilities, but it does integrate with the editing apps that are already on your devices (think QuickOffice or DocumentsToGo, for example).

To get started with the service, users have to register and install a small piece of software on the desktops they want to use.

Pricing

The service uses a fermium model. The paid version, which will only code $1 per month for now, will allow you to access data from more computers (up to 10) and share files up to 500MB in size (up from 25MB in the free version). The free version also restricts the length of audio and video clips you can stream from your computer to your phone to 30 seconds in length. The paid version doesn't have this limitation.



3:45 am


Bottlenose: Fighting Information Overload With a Smarter Social Media Dashboard

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The first time I looked at Bottlenose, a web app that bills itself as “the smartest social media dashboard,” it didn’t leave much of an impression on me. It just looked like a slightly overcomplicated Twitter client at the time, but things have really changed now that the team has released its second beta version. It’s now my go-to client for checking up on what’s happening in my network on Twitter and Facebook. Support for RSS feeds is also planned in a later version.

I'm not really sure what changed (that's how little of an impression the first version left on me), but this new version feels miles ahead of the first beta. Maybe it’s the new three-pane layout that providesmore information at a glance, maybe it’s the fact that media and even web previews are now embedded in your stream, or maybe it’s just that nagging feeling that Twitter itself has simplified its own tools like TweetDeck to the point where they aren’t very useful for power-users anymore and where it feels the company is taking more steps backwards than forwards.

At its core, Bottlenose is a social networking client and its multi-column layout is quite reminiscent of TweetDeck and Seesmic. Its core mission, however, is a bit different. The service wants to help you cope with the massive amount of information that comes at you from your social media sources. Instead of just presenting you with long lists of unfiltered tweets (though Bottlenose will also do that for you if you ask it nicely), the service is more about letting you find the most important stuff. A lot of other apps obviously also promise to do this, but somehow Bottlenose makes it all feel rather natural.

bottlenose_large_multi-column

Your Friendly Bottlenose Assistants

Here is how this works in practice. Bottlenose features a tab called “Assistants,” for example, where you can easily create filtered lists of tweets. If you just want to see tweets about news that were posted by users who have more than 10,000 followers, building that list takes just a few clicks. Bottlenose’s algorithms will decide when a tweet is about news for you. In the same way, you can create a column that just shows gossip stories that also include videos and that were retweeted at least twice.

Maybe the most interesting feature of the service, though, is its “Sonar” tool. Here, you get a tree-diagram view of what the people in your network are talking about. The view changes, depending on which one of your columns you are looking at. This, more than any other Twitter tools I have recently seen, makes it easy to get a quick glance at what the most important topics of the moment are. You can, of course, click on any keyword in the sonar view and see who talked about it and what exactly is being said about it.

bottlenose_sonar_large

Invite Codes

Bottlenose is still in private beta, but you can use the code “getsonar” to get in right now. If you have a Klout score over 30, you can also get access right away.



11:20 am


Tweetbot 2.0: The Best iPhone Twitter Client Just Got Even Better

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As Twitter has decided to focus on simplicity, its iPhone app is now a shadow of its former self for more advanced users (and for Twitter, search and lists apparently qualify as advanced features). Thankfully, there are some very good alternatives on market and among those, Tweetbot has long been my favorite. Today, the app's developers launched version 2.0 of Tweetbot and it’s a worthy upgrade to what was already – in my view – the best iPhone client for iOS.

Speed and New Features

The first thing you will likely notice when you start Tweetbot 2.0 is that it is significantly faster than previous versions. Searches, for example, now feel like they take a quarter of the time to appear on your screen.

Besides the speed, though, the app also now sports a number of new features. The updated timeline view, for example, now lets you immediately click on links and usernames. Before, you first had to select a tweet before these links became active. The timeline now also features in-line image thumbnails that let you quickly view an image with just one click.

Another nifty new feature is support for Readability as a mobilizer service. Just like Apple's Reader feature lets you see a text-only view of a website, you can now set Tweetbot to immediately see a text-only view of any link you click on (or you can toggle back and forth between the Readability view and the regular page).

Here is the full list of new features:[list]

  • Updated timeline view
    • Image thumbnails in timeline
    • Links now colored and single-tappable
    • “Retweeted by” bar now integrated and tappable
    • Cell colors adjusted for better contrast
  • New direct message view.
  • Redesigned “New Tweets” bar (Can be dismissed by tap and configured in Settings > Display)
  • Timed auto-refresh (timeline, mentions, and DM’s will refresh every 5 minutes)
  • Readability added as mobilizer service
  • Much improved tweet replies view
  • Links in user’s bio now tappable
  • “Huge” font size option in Settings > Display
  • Improved scrolling performance[/list]


11:37 am


Hands-On With iBooks Author: eBook Authoring Made Easy, Not Just for Textbooks

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Apple just launched its new free eBook authoring app iBooks Author during an event in New York earlier today. During the event, Apple mostly focused on textbooks and authoring them with iBooks Author. In reality, though, the software will come in handy for a multitude of different kinds of books. It also opens up a whole new world of publishing for those who may want to create paid and free books based on their photography or travel experiences, for example.

We now had some time to test the app, which fits right into the same paradigms that Apple's iWork has already established for productivity apps on the Mac. There are the usual Inspector windows for accessing more advanced features, for example, as well as the pull-out panel on the side of the windows with your paragraph, character and list styles.

Everything feels very fluid and it's obvious that the same team that worked on iWork was also responsible for this product. This isn't iPhoto for books, by any means, though. While it's not Adobe InDesign or a complex design tool like either, it's clearly meant for users who are willing to put in a bit of time to create the best possible product (but then, if you are going to write even a short book, you're obviously pretty dedicated to what you are doing in the first place). Turning this short review into an iBook took about 15 minutes without any prior knowledge of the app, so it's not unthinkable that teachers could do this with their lecture notes, too, for example.

Template Chooser ibooks author

Working with iBooks Author

It's worth noting the first thing you realize when you start using iBooks Author is that this isn't meant to be a replacement for Pages, Word or your favorite text editor. The program expects you to focus mostly on layout and interactivity. Apple provides you with six templates, all focused on textbooks, though you can obviously arrange your box with your own layouts as well. 

Ibooks author reviewAdding Interactivity

This is obviously the most fun part of the whole experience. Apple provides you with 7 widgets that you can use to add interactivity to your book: Gallery, Media, Review, Keynote, Interactive Images, 3D and HTML.

Most of these are self-explanatory: Gallery and Media allow you to add images, audio and video files and Keynote allows you to add Keynote presentation to the documents.

The Review widget is obviously aimed at textbooks and allows you to create multiple-choice quizzes. There doesn't seem to be a way to save the results of these, though, and hence there is no way to tally them up at the end.

Interactive Images allows authors to add call-outs to images and also to have the image automatically zoom in to a specified area.

The 3D widget allows you to add COLLADA files, an open standard for creating 3D models, to your book. It's the same kind of file Google's SketchUp would create, for example. You can't add too much interactivity here, it seems, though, just the ability to see the object from all angles.

Widget 3d

As for the HTML widget, it's worth noting that you can't just import any old HTML file here. They have to be Dashcode-style files, the same kind you would use to build an OSX Dashboard widget. That actually gives developers quite some flexibility (adding maps, advanced interactivity etc.), but it definitely isn't the same as just throwing some HTML together. 

A lot of the highly interactive widgets you see in Apple's demo video were probably made using the HTML widget or Keynote.

Becoming a Published Author

Apple allows you to export your documents in three formats: iBooks (obviously), PDF and as a text document. Given Apple's license restrictions, you are only allowed to sell a book you authored with iBooks Author on the iBookstore. You can't sell your PDF file on your website itself, for example (though you are allowed to distribute a free version "by any available means," meaning you could give away free sample chapters as a PDF, for example).

It's worth noting that to sell a book in the iBookstore, you will also need to get an ISBN number for your book, set up an account with Apple and install the iTunes Producer software for uploading your books to the store.

With your iPad connected to your computer, you can also see a preview of your book at any time, by the way.

Help Center publish

Apple, it seems, will vet the books that it will let into the store. One interesting requirement is that you have to create a "sample book" before your book can be added to the store.

It's worth noting that you can obviously also distribute your book outside of the iBookstore if you just want your class to use it, for example. Users can then upload it to their iPad through iTunes or just tap on it in the iPad's native email program to open it.

This Review as an iBook

Obviously, I couldn't help myself and had to turn this short review into an iBook, too. You can download it here. Just email it to yourself or upload it to your iPad through iTunes. If you are on an iPad, you can also just click the link and open the file on your iPad directly.



9:14 am


Hands-On With OnLive’s Windows 7 iPad App: Nice Tech Demo, Not That Useful Yet

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Earlier this week, we reported that OnLive was about to launch an iPad app that lets you stream a remote, OnLive-hosted Windows 7 desktop to your tablet for free. The free app appeared in the iTunes store earlier tonight and we got a chance to put its through its paces.

Given OnLive's core competency of streaming high-end games across the Internet, it doesn't come as a surprise that streaming a relatively basic Windows 7 desktop doesn't pose much of a problem for the company. Everything runs very smoothly. While there often is some perceptible lag – especially when scrolling through documents or using multi-touch gestures to zoom in and out – it's never so bad as to become a dealbreaker.

OnLive Desktop - Windows 7 on the iPad

Word, Excel and PowerPoint – But No SkyDrive Access and No Browser

So here is what you get with your free account: access to Word, Excel and PowerPoint (the 2010 versions), as well as the ability to sync documents from your desktop. Given that OnLive's business plan depends on selling you additional storage, it doesn't come as too much of a surprise that the productivity apps are pretty locked down. You can't access date your stored in Microsoft's cloud on SkyDrive, for example. Office's "Save & Send" option has been disabled to prevent this.

The free version also doesn't include access to a browser. This will come in the paid versions versions, according to OnLive, but those won't be available for a while.

You do get 2GB of free storage on OnLive's servers, though, as well as Mac and Windows apps to sync folders from your desktop to OnLive.

More Caveats

Here are a few other caveats: the free plan, which is the only one available right now, only provides "as-available" access to your desktop. Access depends on availability, so don't use this as your only option for giving that important presentation. Paid accounts, which will launch later this year, will give you priority access, but apparently won't come with a service guarantee either.

Nice Tech Demo – Not Very Useful (Yet)

For now, then, the OnLive desktop is a nice tech demo. It's clearly the child of a transitional period where we can't do everything we would like to do on our tablets yet. Editing documents isn't one of those things, though, thanks to a growing number of native apps for the iPad and while many will surely install the app just for the sake of it, I venture to guess that the free version won't find too many regular users anytime soon. In the enterprise, there may just be a niche for this, though, but only once administrators can deploy their own apps on these remote desktops.

The OnLive app also clearly shows that Windows 7 wasn't developed with tablets in mind. It works alright, but feels like a chore compared to iOS or Android.

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8:31 pm


Does “Search Plus Your World” Actually Improve Your Search Results? Nope

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There's been a lot of talk in the last 24 hours about how Google may be favoring its own social network Google+ with yesterday's "Search plus Your World" update. Getting lost in this heated discussion is the simple question of whether this update is actually improving the search experience on Google. Google, in its announcement yesterday, said that it is "transforming Google into a search engine that understands not only content, but also people and relationships." After testing the update, though, it feels like Google doesn't quite understand the "people and relationships" part well enough yet to make it such an important part of its flagship product.

To test the update, I decided that instead of just doing artificial searches for the sake of it, I would just go back to my search history and retry a day's worth of searches from last week and compare the personalized and regular results side-by-side.

Too Much Clutter, Too Many Irrelevant Results

Here is my general impression: for the majority of my searches, the personalization didn't really matter, as my online friends never said anything relevant about those queries. Switching between those results and the non-personalized ones yielded virtually the same links.

When the personalization kicked in, though, the search results were now too cluttered with often irrelevant status updates and other digital flotsam. Indeed, as I went through my list, I often found myself wishing that my Google+ friends had nothing to say about that topic.

The Google+ posts that appear in the results are often not really relevant to the search query. They also often include comments (and all those little avatars that go with them), which generally add very little to your search experience.

The Google+ follow suggestions in the sidebar often include people you already follow and this feature just feels like Google is trying to push Google+ a little bit too hard.

Every Google Search is Now an Ego Search

When I search on Google, I want to see new information, not what I did last weekend. The new algorithm puts too much of emphasis on content you created yourself – and especially posts on Google+, of course. When I search on Google, I'm not usually looking for my own stuff and I don't need to see my own photos, blog post or status updates clutter up my search results. Maybe Google could move this into the sidebar, but that wouldn't help its clutter problem either, of course.

Coffee  Google Search  personal

Be Careful Who You Friend

Unless you are very careful about who you friend on Google+, the relevance of Google's new "personal results" can also quickly go down the drain. When we friend people online, we don't do so to improve our search results.

Here is what it comes down to: The fact that we are somebody's "friend" online doesn't necessarily mean that we have common tastes. While there is a high chance that we have something in common that made us connect online in the first place, chances are that this only represents a very small part of our interests and we may only share very little else in common with these people. Until Google – and all the other search engines for that matter, too – are able to understand more of the nuances of our online relationships, social search efforts like personal search will inevitably remain limited and frustrating.

If you want to opt out of the new "personal results," just look for the opt-out toggle here.

 


11:00 am


Scoop.it Launches Mobile App, Lets You Curate On the Go

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"Curation" was, without a doubt, one of the hot topics of 2011 and one that will surely keep us occupied in 2012 as well. Scoop.it is one of the companies in this space that caught my attention quite a while ago and that has – without much hype – quietly build a great service for those who want to collect and publish all the interesting things they find online. With a focus on simplicity and efficiency, the service has found quite a few dedicated fans since launch and the company is now taking its service mobile with the launch of its iPhone app. Indeed, Scoop.it argues that mobile is the "natural form of mobile publishing."

If you are not familiar with Scoop.it, here is a short video that explains the basic ideas behind the service: 

As you would expect, the mobile app brings all of these feature to the iPhone. You can use both the service's own recommendation engine to find "scoopable" content, or install the mobile bookmarklet in Apple's Safari browser. Installing bookmarklets on iOS is a bit of a hassle, but well worth the effort if you plan to use Scoop.it regularly (and the app provides you with helpful setup instructions as well).

Once you publish your finds, Scoop.it will add them to its magazine-like pages. Unlike other service (including the red-hot Pinterest), the service doesn't focus so much on visual content (though you can obviously add images to your posts), but puts an emphasis on text. 

Professional users can also opt for a paid account ($79/month), which allows you to use your own domain name and provides you detailed analytics and support for multiple administrators/curators.

Scoop it mobile

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10:08 pm


Want to Quickly Catch Up on Tech News While on the Go? Try Riversip

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Keeping up with the constant flow of tech news can be hard. Sites like Techmeme make it easy to get a quick overview of what the hottest stories are right now, but it’s a bit harder to see the top stories of the last day or so that may have already fallen out of the tech blogosphere’s collective attention. With the free Riversip app for the iPhone, though, it’s now easy to quickly catch up on the latest tech news, though. Riversip uses its own proprietary algorithms that analyze a mix of social signals to decide how interesting it is. The app then displays them in descending order. You can set the app to display the current crop of top news stories, as well as the top stories of the last day or week.

Riversip tech news reader iphone

The Riversip team says that its mission is to “to give a user the soothing feeling of ‘I know what’s going on’, without having to work at it.” That’s indeed something the app succeeds in. The stories that are featured in the app are often quite similar to those you would see on Techmeme, though often from different sources. The app also assigns tags to every story, which allows you to build your then drill down into these areas (think mobile, web, gadgets etc.) and create your own personalized view of the news.

Algo-Social Recommendations

While the app can incorporate data from your own Twitter and Facebook feeds, this isn’t mandatory. It’s worth noting that this isn’t the highly sophisticated, algorithm-based personalization you would see in apps like Zite or My6sense, but then the idea behind the app isn’t so much to create a personalized magazine for you, but to allow you to get a quick view of what the web as a whole thought was worth reading. Riversip looks at the public conversations around an event to see how notable it is.

Riversip is likely only the first in a range of apps that will use this technology. It’s easy to imagine a Riversip app for political or sports news, for example.

As the company notes, the app should be especially useful for catching up on the news after a holiday or a long weekend away. Given that the Thanksgiving Weekend is just around the corner in the U.S., now would be a good time to give the app a try.

 




7:32 pm


Ducksboard: One Real-Time Dashboard for All Your Metrics

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If you run a website or web service – no matter whether it’s small or large – chances are you are constantly tracking numerous metrics to see how things are going: visits and pageviews, Twitter mentions, Facebook likes, how fast your pages are loading and numerous other statistics, all while managing customer support tickets and internal communication with your team. It doesn’t take much for this information to become overwhelming and close to unmanageable.

What if you could see all this info on just one page, though, with information that updates in real time? That’s exactly what Ducksboard does. The service provides you with a highly customizable dashboard that allows you to plug in about 45 data points (with more coming soon) and monitor them on just one screen.

If you are publisher, for example, you can monitor your Google Analytics data, your page load times from Chartbeat (or your real-time visitor numbers), the results of your latest email campaign on MailChimp and reactions to your latest story on Twitter all on one page.

ducksboard_large

Among the other supported services are Zendesk, Prefinery, GoSquared, Highrise, Lighhouse, Feedburner, Foursquare and Facebook (just showing likes on pages right now). Ducksboard also allows you to have multiple dashboards. This should be especially useful for those who manage multiple sites or services.

Setting up your dashboard shouldn’t take more than five minutes and given that most services now allow you to authenticate without providing your credentials to Ducksboard, your data should remain safe.

Sadly, Ducksboard is still in private beta. You can sign up for an invite on the service’s homepage or take a look at the real-time demo here.



5:59 pm


Kevin Rose’s Oink: Stop Rating Places – Rate the Stuff Inside Them Instead

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Oink, the first product to come out of Digg-founder Kevin Rose‘s Milk project, launched on iOS earlier this week. At this point, the thought of seeing yet another location-based app that lets you rate things may induce some involuntary yawning in you. After testing it for a while now, though, I have to say that while I was highly skeptical of trying yet another app in this space, Oink actually puts enough of a twist on the genre to be interesting and to become a potential challenger to similar services like Foursquare (or even Yelp) in the long run.

The big difference between Oink and Foursquare or Yelp is that Oink doesn’t focus on places so much as on the things inside them. Instead of rating a local restaurant, for example, you would rate the pizza you had there. While it uses your location to make it easier for you to tag your discoveries, it doesn’t bother you with pointless check-ins.

Oink ios discoverThe app features the usual fixings you would expect from this kind of service: an activity stream, the ability to discover popular things around you, access to your profile and, of course, the ability to add your own ratings, photos and comments. While the app is extremely well designed, though, the real game-changer here isn’t so much the app itself, but the idea that users care more about finding interesting things or the best coffee around than the best restaurant or store

Rate Anything

In many ways, adding this granularity to these kinds of apps is really the next evolutionary step. After all, that cool coffee shop where all the hipsters hang out with their Macbook Airs may make a mean espresso, but may not actually make that great iced coffee you really want right now. While it clearly looks forward, though, Oink is also a throwback to the old days of Web 2.0, as its tagging system lets users tag virtually anything with any tag without imposing any clear structure.

Oink also goes beyond location by allowing you to rate and tag virtually anything. There is plenty of talk about books and games on the system right now, for example.

As users rate more items related to tags they are using, they will gain “cred.” This ramification element may attract some of the more competitive folks out there, but there are no Foursquare-like discounts to be had yet (which in return means you don’t have to worry about retaining your mayorship either, of course).

Verdict

Overall, then, Oink puts enough of a twist on this genre to be interesting – something that can’t be said about most of the new entrants in this oversaturated market for ratings+photo sharing apps. As any new service, it suffers from the fact that there isn’t much of a community on it yet – especially if you don’t live in San Francisco – but I’ve got a feeling that it will quickly attract a very dedicated following.



5:30 pm


MelonCard Helps You Reclaim Your Online Privacy

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Guarding your privacy online is becoming increasingly hard, even for those of us who really want to keep our private information to ourselves. All across the net, information brokers have set up shop and will happily sell whatever private information they were able to gather about you to the highest bidder. This includes both marketing companies, as well as services like Radaris that sell “background reports” to consumers. MelonCard, which officially became a member of startup incubator 500 Startups latest class today, wants to help you regain control over your private information. The service check which brokers have compiled a profile of you and your online activities and then allows you to purge your records with just a few clicks.

(Note: the site is going through some growing pains today, so it may be a bit slow or unavailable at times. Just keep trying or check back tomorrow if things don’t work today. It’s worth the wait.)

meloncard_scorecard

MelonCard’s Founders: Privacy Sucks

As the service’s founders Robert Leshner  and Geoff Hayes note, “Privacy sucks.  And by sucks, we mean, the state of privacy sucks, because there’s hardly any of it.  Our personal information has made its way online, and it’s being distributed everywhere.  Our cell-phone numbers, political views, criminal records, shopping transactions, favorite color, you name it, its online.”

Who Knows What About You?

Once you sign up for MelonCard, the service will ping the various online information brokers in its database (including RapLeaf, Acxiom, and Radaris) and give you an idea of the kind of information they have collected about you.

Once you decide you want to delete your information from one of these services, you just click the “remove” button, solve a CAPTCHA and you’re almost done. Depending on the information broker, you may have to confirm your request by email. So it’s not all automatic, but if you value your online privacy, it’s well worth the effort.

In total, MelonCard currently supports removal of your data from 16 providers (and they each may have multiple records for you, too), but only half of these are available with the service’s free plan. To purge your data from sites like PrivateEye, USA People Search or WhitePages, you have to subscribe to the company’s $7/month premium plan.

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8:06 pm


Adobe Carousel: What Apple’s Photo Stream Should Look Like

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Photo Stream is one of the signature features of Apple’s iCloud initiative. It allows you to automatically sync all the photos you snap on your iOS device with every other iOS and Mac you own. It’s a smart system that makes managing photos across multiple devices a bit easier. With Carousel, however, Adobe has developed a set of photo sharing and editing applications for iOS and the Mac (with Android and Windows version coming soon), that easily rivals Apple’s efforts and easily best it in many areas. Carousel, just like Photo Stream, automatically keeps your photo libraries in sync. But unlike Apple, Adobe also includes numerous editing features (using the processing engine found in Photoshop Lightroom) and makes sharing your photos with friends and family members a lot easier.

Pricing

carousel_test_iphoneThere is one caveat, though: using Carousel will cost you. You get a free 30-day trial once you install the app, but after that, you will either have to pay $59.99 per year or $5.99 per month (this is the introductory price, valid until January 31, 2012).

Features

Editing: Unlike Photo Stream, Carousel puts a lot of emphasis on editing. This isn’t Photoshop, by all means, but you do get access to 17 Instagram-like filters, the ability to edit exposure, white balance and contrast, as well as the usual crop and rotate functions.

Syncing: What also makes Carousel stand out is that the syncing between albums is almost instantaneous. If you apply a filter on a photo on your desktop, for example, that edit will be pushed to your iPhone just a second or two later. The same goes for albums (or carousels in Adobe’s parlance) that you share with friends.

Sharing: Indeed, sharing is one of those areas where Apple’s Photo Stream can’t quite compete. Apple doesn’t allow you to share specific albums with friends, while Adobe makes it easy to let others subscribe to your photos. Simply type in the email address of the person you want to share with and that person (assuming they use a Carousel app as well) can then see you photos right away and even edit them with you. These users will not have to subscribe to the service to see your images, by the way.

Verdict

Given that Apple hasn’t quite perfected Photo Stream yet, I think there is an opening in the market for a service like this. I wish it was a little bit cheaper, but you do get to transfer and store an unlimited number of photos in the  cloud with Carousel.

While it’s great at sharing and editing, though, Carousel does have one Achilles heel: importing photos. On the desktop, where most of your photos will likely be, you can only import directories or your complete iPhoto library. It’s a relatively slow process and you can’t just connect your camera and import and manage your photos in Carousel. That makes using iPhoto or Picasa a necessity still and as you’re doing that, you could just as well keep syncing photos the old-fashioned way, unless you really need the sharing and instant syncing features. To be worth the price (at least for me), Carousel would have to add more photo management features on top of the (admittedly great) feature set it currently offers.



4:07 pm


Hands-On: Why Spool Could be the First Real Instapaper, Read It Later Challenger

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Just a few minutes after I posted a story about Instapaper’s latest updates earlier this week, I received my private beta invite for Spool, a free Instapaper-like tool for the browser, iOS and Android. While Instapaper and Read It Later mostly focus on making articles and other written content available for offline reading on mobile devices, Spool also adds audio and video to the mix. For iOS users, this also means that they can watch Flash-based videos on their devices with Spool that would otherwise be unavailable, as Spool’s backend handles the conversion automatically.

This focus on video means, for example, that you can watch videos embedded in a New York Times article, for example, that wouldn’t be available for viewing otherwise. It’s worth noting, though, that these audio and video clips are also available for offline viewing.spool_online

Pros:

Besides the video and audio aspects of the app, Spool does a number of other smart things, too. Because it actually uses a crawler to discover the text and other content on the pages you bookmark, it can also detect multi-page articles (the kind neither readers nor Google really like, but that drive up pageviews for publishers). It then hops from page to page in those articles, saves them all and assembles them back into one long article for you. In my tests, this worked very well, though some of the crud on the pages (page numbers etc.) sometimes found its way into the saved articles.

Using the service also couldn’t be any easier. You just install the Chrome or Firefox extension and you’re good to go. On your phone, you can also use Spool’s built-in browser to discover content and then save it from there (though this isn’t as easy as having a bookmarklet available for mobile Safari).

The service also has built-in support for augmenting links in Google Reader, Google+, Google News, Twitter, Facebook, Quora and Techmeme with an inline Spool button, making adding content very easy.

Cons:

Now, there are obviously some features and tools that are still missing. There are no bookmarklets for mobile browsers, for example (Spool only makes browser plugins available right now). You also can’t organize your bookmarked articles in folders besides Spool’s default Favorites and Archived directories. There is also generally a short delay between bookmarking an article and being able to read it online or on your phone.

There are also still some cosmetic issues here and there. While the overall design of the app is pretty much what you would expect, some of the text formatting is a bit off. Depending on the source of your bookmarks, Spool seems to have a dislike for paragraph breaks, for example.

Verdict:

Having spent quite some time with Spool now, I’m not ready to give up Instapaper yet, but given that this is just a private beta so far, I can’t wait to see where the Spool team takes this app.

All of these services, of course, have to face the fact that Apple itself could be working on a similar product right now. Safari’s Reading Lists so far aren’t quite up to par yet, but Apple will surely continue to develop this feature and may just put all of these firms out of business in the long run (especially those that just focus on iOS).

If you want to give the service a try, head over here to request an invite.

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Pearltrees Finds its Natural Home on the iPad

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Pearltrees, the Paris-based curation and discovery startup, just launched its long-awaited iPad app earlier this week. The company’s service allows users to bookmark interesting websites and arrange them into hierarchically organized tree structures – or “pearls” in the company’s parlance. I’ve been a fan of Pearltrees ever since I first met the team in Paris about two years ago and have been using their service here for my daily “Catching Up” posts. What makes the service stand out from its competitors is the visual appeal of how you collect and organize your “pearls.” The drag-and-drop interface takes the work out of bookmarking, but while the web interface works quite well, one can’t help but feel that the touch interface on the iPad is actually the most natural way to use the service.

Pearltrees ipad large pearls

The Pearltrees team managed to keep the interface very fluid and responsive, while keeping virtually all of the functionality of the web app in place. There are a couple of interesting twists in the iPad app, too, though. While the web interface directly takes you to a website once you click on a pearl, the iPad app actually opens a preview of the site with an Instapaper-like view of the text on the site on the right and a screenshot of the page on the left. Depending on the site, the text may only be an excerpt or the full text, but this is still an easier way to browse than having to load the full page on a potentially slow connection (you can, of course, always bring up the regular website, too).

Another features of the app is the ability to find related sites, which works surprisingly well. As the company’s CEO Patrice Lamothe told me earlier this week, the idea here is to show you interesting content based on what the Pearltrees community has collected. He also stressed that users should think about the service as a social system that based upon shared interests and not so much the follower/fan idea of other networks.

Pearltrees related interestes

Browsing and organizing pearls, then, is pretty easy in the app, but what about the actual curation? Apple, after all, doesn’t allow users to install plugins for mobile Safari. Instapaper and similar app all use JavaScript-based bookmarklets to give their users some of the functionality of their full-blown browser extensions on iOS and Pearltrees decided to do the same. While this process is often a bit daunting, though, the app actually includes a step-by-step guide that makes it pretty easy.

Getting Started

The app is available for free in the iTunes store. An iPhone/iPod touch version is also in the works and should come out before the end of the year. For now, the service remains free. Pearltrees plans to institute a freemium model soon, with a focus on private sharing and curation.

 



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