SiliconFilter

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


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


Instagram 2.0 Introduces Real-Time Filters, High-Res Images

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While the competition in the photo-sharing market is immense, one company has continually managed to stay above the fray: Instagram. Today, the company is launching the 2.0 version of its iOS app. Among the new features are live filters (so you don’t have to wait for them to be applied), instant tilt-shift, four new filters and a major boost to the resolution of the images it saves to your camera roll after you take a picture in the app. Sadly, your photos on Instagram’s web-based share pages remain at the current low resolution, though.

Real-Time Filters and Tilt-Shift

Instagram Real-Time Filters

Besides these new features, Instagram has also made some changes to the user interface. Most of these are subtle, but the camera UI is now definitely more usable than ever before and gives you faster access to the service’s feature like tilt-shift and your flash settings. Maybe the coolest new feature here is that both the regular filters and tilt-shift functionality now work in real-time as you are composing your picture.

 



5:15 pm


Katango: Organizing Your Facebook Friends Has Never Been Easier

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Google+ was developed around the concept of Circles – groups of people you organize according to your interests and relationship with them (tech bloggers, family members, etc.). While Google was working on Circles for its new social network, though, another company – Katango (formerly known as Cafébots) – was also working on a similar concept for organizing your friends. While Google makes you organize your groups manually, though, Katango developed a set of very smart algorithms that can automatically organize your Facebook friends into groups. Today, the company – which was funded by Kleiner Perkins’ sFund – is releasing its first product that uses this system: a group messaging app for the iPhone.

screen02This app, which is also called Katango (iTunes link), takes a look at who you are friends with on Facebook (the company plans to start working with other networks in the near future) and then organizes them into groups and lets you share content with them.

Using an Algorithm to Organize Your Friends

Unless the algorithms work very well, this kind of approach is obviously prone to being more of a hassle than just manually setting up groups, but luckily, the app actually works very well. The company’s VP of product Yee Lee gave me a demo of the service’s abilities earlier last week. Seconds after I gave it my Facebook credentials, Katango had organized my friends into instantly recognizable groups. The service, for example, recognized all my old work contacts from my last job at ReadWriteWeb and put them into one group. It also set up groups for all of my friends in Germany, as well as for my family members. I don’t have a massive amount of friends on Facebook, but according to Lee, other users with more contacts will also see groups based on where they live, who they play sports with or go to church with and share other interests with.

In the iOS app, users will also be able to add their contacts to groups. None of this data is ever made public, so while the service gets a pretty intimate look at who your friends are, none of this data is ever shared with anybody.

Having groups, of course, only makes sense if you can do something with them, so Katango focuses on sharing photos and other content with your friends. If your contacts are on Facebook but don’t use the app, they will see your content on Facebook. If they use neither, they will get an email.

Feature or Product?

To some degree, of course, Katango is really more of a feature than a standalone service and I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody like Twitter, Google or Facebook would take an interest in buying the company. Lists, after all, are now a central part of all major social networking services and being able to automate this process is something most of these companies are likely looking at.

As for acquisitions or partnerships, Lee was obviously tight-lipped, but he did note that the company has talked to the “big two” players in the social networking space (I take this to mean Twitter and Facebook).



11:34 pm


Trover: The Best Location-Based Discovery App You’re Not Using (Yet)

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We all got our fair share of laughs out of the failed launch of the over-hyped photo-sharing/social networking service Color. While the idea behind the service was smart, the execution was abysmally bad. Trover, which quietly launched earlier this month, takes some of Color’s most basic ideas and puts them into an easy to use free iOS app (iTunes link). The app is based around the idea that you want to share photos of cool places around you with the rest of the world. There is also a location-based social networking aspect to the app, but you could easily ignore this aspect of the service without losing it’s basic functionality.

Location-based social networking based on photo sharing sounds like a complete buzzword overload, but oddly enough, it actually works out very well in Trover. In some ways, it’s the kind of app you would expect Flickr to make if Flickr still had an ounce of innovation left in it.

trover_screenshots

How it Works

The idea behind Trover is very simple: it allows you to publicly share geotagged images with anybody else on the service. That is, admittedly, nothing too original, but it’s very well implemented. The main view of the app shows you all of the images around you, organized by distance. By default, you will see all the images around you, but you can also filter this down to seeing just the images of the people in your social network on Trover (you sign in with your Facebook account, but the app won’t automatically add your Facebook friends to your network).

Share Your Discoveries – Whatever They May Be

Because of the app’s open approach, you can virtually share anything you want. The people around me have shared anything from photos of restaurant menus and food to pictures of local sights, interesting stores and weird stuff they found while walking down the street (no dearth of that here in Portland). Of course, this also means that some people just take pictures of the food they made at home, but so far, I’ve seen surprisingly little of this.

Trover’s Currency: A Simple ‘Thank You’

Unlike other apps like Foursquare and Gowalla, where the focus is more on amassing virtual badges and collecting digital flotsam, the currency on Trover is a simple ‘thank you.’ To thank others, you don’t have to be part of their social network. This makes it easy to thank other and it’s surprisingly rewarding to be thanked by others.

For the most part, the service has been flying under the radar. Hopefully this will change soon. You can download the app here.



10:29 am


Proposed Update Will Make Color Even Less Useful

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Last night, Color, the photo-sharing app with $41 million backing from major Valley VC firms, launched to much hype and an even greater backlash. There is no point in rehashing the discussion about it, but my personal opinion is pretty clear: the app’s concept may do well at conferences and other events (and hence I’m surprised it wasn’t launched at SXSW), but the current user experience is bad and the concept just doesn’t sound appealing to a mainstream audience. Now, however, Color’s CEO Bill Nguyen has told Mashable that “his team has heard the criticism loud and clear, and is moving fast to make changes to the app to fix its biggest problem: that people feel lonely when they use the app all by themselves.”

Here are the proposed changes:

1) if you launch the app “in the middle of nowhere,” the app simply won’t do anything – you’ll be locked out. That solves the problem of people opening the app and not knowing what to do, but it also means that 99% of potential users will face this locked down mode when they first open the app. And guess what they will do: close it and forget about it. The fact that Nguyen thinks that’s a good solution makes me doubt the future of the app even more.

2) Instead of just grouping together photos that were taken in close proximity to each other and linking the people that took it into an “elastic” group, the app will now “dynamically calculate the distance required for somebody to be considered ‘nearby.’” This, of course, waters down the whole concept of the app to the point where it’s nonsensical. If the dynamic network suddenly has a radius of half a mile instead of 150 feet, I will most likely care even less about the people who took the pictures. Sure, this will solve the “loneliness” problem – but at what cost?

The update should hit the app store by the middle of the week. The app currently has a two-star rating in Apple’s store (many users complain about crashes and – as expected – the fact that they can’t figure out what the app is supposed to do).



7:37 pm


What's the Point of Color?

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The minds behind Lala, the ingenious online music service that Apple bought and immediately shut down, just launched their newest project  tonight: Color.

Color is a photo-sharing app for iOS (iTunes link) and Android with $41 million in backing from major venture capital firms. Forbes calls it “a new photo app that could change the way you interact with people,” but leaving aside the question why an app like this needs $41 million, my main problem with the service is that I can’t quite figure out why I would want to use it.

What Color Does

color_screensHere is what Colors does: Unlike apps like Instagram, picplz or Path, every picture you take is public and there is no option to make it private. More importantly, the app groups together both the photos that were taken at the same location and the people that took them. To do this, the service uses some admittedly smart algorithms that look at where your phone was pointing, the ambient noise around you and other factors to determine that these pictures were indeed taken in the same place. The service then organizes you into an “elastic” social network with all the people around you who took picture at the same place. It basically creates the social network for you as you use the app (and dissolves your “friendships” automatically if you don’t take pictures close to each other for a while).

Why Would You Want to Use It?

Overall, this sounds like a smart idea, but I have a hard time imagining why I would want to use this app. If I’m already in a certain place – say a tourist sight – I don’t need to see the pictures that others took there. I’m already there to see things myself after all.

Maybe this will be useful in a restaurant, where you can then see a dish before you order it, but that assumes that there are actually enough people out there who would want to use the app. Even today, if you are outside of the tech bubble, you can still find plenty of places where nobody has ever checked in on Foursquare.

take-photos-togetherSupposedly, grouping these pictures will help you meet new people and make new friends. I just have a hard time imagining this in the real world where you probably don’t want to talk to a stranger just because he/she frequented the same restaurant one night or went to the same concert.

As Tom Foremski notes in his piece about the app, “I say hello to my neighbors but that’s about the most interaction I want with them. […] If I wanted to get to know my neighbors better I would try to make friends with them, but I don’t and they don’t.” I think that’s the social problem Color faces and one that I don’t think it is one that can be easily overcome.

Sadly, the app also itself does little to explain what it actually does, which will likely turn first-time users away rather quickly. There are no help menus and the only indication of what the app does is the opening screen which tells you to “take photos together.” The app’s homepage on the Web also does little to explain its functionality (“Simultaneously use multiple iPhones and Androids to capture photos, videos, and conversations into a group album. There’s no attaching, uploading, or friending to do. “).

Maybe I’m missing something important here – or the huge hype around the app is just making me grumpy – but while I admire the idea behind Color, I just don’t see the point of it.



9:12 pm