Archives For Tech

Brewster

July 12, 2012 — Leave a comment

Today marked the launch of a new firm backed by Union Square Ventures, Brewster.

Brewster aims to make managing your contacts, across all of your social platforms, an easier and more enjoyable experience. I downloaded Brewster this morning, and connected it to my gmail, twitter, linkedin, and iphone contacts. About fifteen minutes later I received a push notification telling me my contacts had been aggregated.

The app seems to know a good deal about me already, just by pulling data off of my social networks. It suggested my favorites, which are fairly close to my favorites on my iPhone. One thing that I’m unsure of, is how it decides which photo to pull. Take my mother for example, I have a photo on my phone that I LOVE of her, and on Brewster her photo is empty. Also, the default photo it choose for me on my personal profile page is my twitter. I’ve deliberately left out my Facebook because I’m trying to wind down my usage of that network. From my preliminary perspective it seems to me that Brewster chooses the photo to display based upon what method of communication you use most.

I certainly see Brewster as being a time saving device for me in the future. Rather than  having to jump around various social media outlets I can text, tweet, email, or call a person all from this one app. In future iterations I’d really like to see a Rapportive style contact builder, so that once I connect to someone via email it suggests I follow them on twitter.

Over the coming weeks I look forward to using all of the features of this app. Fred Wilson, in his blog post said, “this is an address book that can handle a search query like “knicks game” or “sushi tonight” or “band of horses concert”. We are always querying our brain with questions like that. Now we can ask our address books those kinds of questions.” I expect that this feature will come in handy.

The team for Brewster consists of 15 individuals, according to the NY Times, who have been working for the past two years. Brewster is led by Steve Greenwood, a former McKinsey Consultant who worked on Drop.io until it was acquired by Facebook. Fred’s blog post talks about Steve’s massive spreadsheet where he kept detailed records about how he met people. I’m guessing its passion like that which led USV to lead a Seed round.

Good luck to Steve and all of the team at Brewster.

The Brewster U.I.

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The Kindle Fire

July 11, 2012 — Leave a comment

For my birthday my parents got me a Kindle Fire. After a few days of use though, I opted to return it for a Kindle Touch.

The Fire is a good tablet, but its no competition for the the Touch, as its not an e-reader. I wanted a Kindle for one thing – reading books – and the Fire is not great for that. I found that the Fire’s screen was hard to read in the sun, and I was often distracted while reading from all the other features of the Fire.

I question Amazon’s branding strategy for the Fire. Its a good product, but branding it as a Kindle weakens the e-reader’s image. My parents assumed that as a Kindle it would be great for reading, though that isn’t the case. Amazon produces the best e-reader in the business. I’ve used the iPad on several occasions, and the Fire just doesn’t hold up. Conversely, the iPad is no match for the Kindle Touch when it comes to reading books. The main distinction here is the e-ink screen, which makes reading on a digital device as easy as a printed paper. There have been some great projects around the Kindle, take a look at The Domino Project for more information.

Amazon needs to reevaluate their strengths, and consider their e-book branding. The iPad has a Kindle App, why shouldn’t the Fire? Why is Amazon cannibalizing e-reader sales for the fire? Now that the Kindle is branded as a tablet they’ll have to compete with Google’s Nexus.

 

 

MTV Scratch

July 9, 2012 — Leave a comment

For the fifth week of the Breaker Project we were hosted by MTV Scratch for an ‘ideating’ session. According to their website,

“Scratch is a SWAT team that channels the reach, connection and creative force of Viacom in new ways to drive culture and commerce. Through consumer insights, consulting and award-winning creative, Scratch is engaging with our partners to transform industries and activate audiences.”

What does that actually mean? Scratch is part consultancy and part creative agency. They leverage the research, insights, and connection to culture within Viacom to help clients make an impact among their target makret.

Our brainstorming session was fantastic, it was led with the framework of ‘yes, and’. Meaning that as we talked about ideas the Scratchers forced us to dig deeper into each thought. This one day enabled us to take our weeks of research and boil them down to the beginnings of several potential firms.

The patterns of our research that emerged during this session were:

  • Our values for this project are not monetary, we seek people to make a time commitment to motivate change
  • Story is very important to us, and we seek a solution which will capture people’s attention

As a Breaker I cannot thank the Scratch team enough for helping us to refine our ideas. I look forward to hearing their feedback at our mid-project presentation next week!

(This post is cross-listed on the Breaker Blog)

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I recently came across a great report by the Economist Intelligence Unit – Fostering innovation-led clusters: A review of leading global practices.

This report focuses on what government can do to drive innovation within their economy, and how best they can work with the private sector. Below are some of my takeaways from the report:

  • Talent is the most important aspect of innovation – and government should focus on providing quality education
  • Governments are successful when they promote a culture of innovation
  • Specialized clusters work best, especially when they can compete
  • Accelerate the natural entrepreneurship model
  • Governments can realize success just by hosting networking events for corporate executives and government leaders – this is a low cost high reward initiative

 

One interesting focus of this report was “top-down or bottom-up”? Essentially the questions asked was are clusters better when they’re led by the government or led by the market? There are compelling arguments for both, from Silicon Valley (top-down) to Silicon Fen (bottom-up). Both areas feature world class universities, government funded research, and ample amounts of private financial capital. It seems to me that these clusters require much work between the public and private sectors.

As I prepare myself for a year in Sri Lanka, I have been researching their innovation community. There is not much on the web, as this nation is still at the early stages of economic development. Private companies, such as Microsoft  are hosting innovation competitions.  Microsoft’s Software for the 21st Century competition has invested $1.5mm over the past four years in Sri Lanka to raise their national standard of education. This is a long term strategic bet on Sri Lanka as a knowledge center.

While the Government, through the National Science Foundation and its Universities, are providing grants to encourage local innovation.

I’m quite excited to get  on the ground and learn more about whats going on in this quickly developing economy.

Economic development should not just be seen as a way to increase monetary wealth. It is a tool to foster political and social stability. A recent paper by the Council on Foreign Relations argues this. I haven’t read the full paper yet, but there is a great synopsis from the author on HBR’s Blog. Creating these innovation clusters should not just be a matter of national economic policy for individual countries, but a matter of foreign policy for all developed nations.

 

Productive Uses

June 6, 2012 — Leave a comment

As a Breaker I had the privilege of  hearing five visionaries speak about Civil Engagement and society last week at TED’s offices in NYC. It was an amazing night, and has laid the foundation for what I expect will be an amazing project.

One of the visionaries, Clay Shirky, told us something that blew me away:

  •  Wikipedia, the largest online reference tool, took 100 million hours of human thought to build and update
  • Americans spend 200 billion hours a year watching television

Think about that for a moment, Wikipedia is paramount to the amount of time we watch commercials on the weekend. There is an enormous amount of intellectual capacity which is not utilized every year. My background in economics leads me to think about this huge inefficiency in our economy, and I wonder what improvements could be made to our world if people turned off their televisions.

I’m not asking you to swear off television, but I urge you to consider your motives the next time you sit down to watch a sitcom. Is there a project you can’t seem to make time for? A loved one you don’t get to see as often as you’d like?