Tags: pownce

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Re-finding five numbers

So, remember when I posted all those episodes of Simon Singh’s Five Numbers radio series on Pownce so that they’d have permanent URLs? Yeah, well, so much for that.

Fortunately Brian had saved all the MP3s. I’ve posted them on S3 and huffduffed them all. I can be fairly confident that Huffduffer won’t be going the way of Pownce, Magnolia, Geocities, and so many more.

Anyway, if you want to listen to the fifteen episodes of the three radio series’ on mathematics, you can subscribe to the podcast at https://huffduffer.com/adactio/tags/five+numbers/rss.

Or you can listen to each episode at these permanent URLs:

  1. Five Numbers

    1. A Countdown to Zero
    2. Simple as Pi
    3. The Golden Ratio
    4. The Imaginary Number
    5. Infinity
  2. Another Five Numbers

    1. The Number Four
    2. The Number Seven
    3. The Largest Prime Number
    4. Kepler’s Conjecture
    5. Game Theory
  3. A Further Five Numbers

    1. 1 — The Most Popular Number
    2. 2 — At The Double
    3. 6 Degrees of Separation
    4. 6.67 x 10^-11 – The Number That Defines the Universe
    5. 1729 — The First Taxicab Number

Automatic eagle

I’m looking forward to getting to San Francisco this weekend. Mostly that’s because I’ll be seeing so many of my friends there. But there’s a lesser reason that’s so geeky I’m almost ashamed to admit it…

At some stage while I’m online in San Francisco, I will, no doubt, visit my Pownce profile—where I post something almost every day—and I will take great delight in seeing my location listed as San Francisco, CA rather than the usual Brighton, UK because that’s what Fire Eagle will have told Pownce. Fire Eagle will know this because my visit to San Francisco is listed on my Dopplr account. Dopplr talks to Fire Eagle. Pownce talks to Fire Eagle. In a roundabout way, Dopplr talks to Pownce.

In case you missed it, Fire Eagle is out of beta. Go forth and explore the apps.

What’s missing from that list is a kick-ass iPhone app that would do its this app wants to know your location trick to update Fire Eagle (and therefore Pownce, Dopplr and soon, Twitter) on the go. I hereby invoke the LazyMobileWeb to build such an app. I wish I could offer some kind of modern day version of a for geeks on the move.

Finding five numbers

I like Tumblr. I like Pownce. They both make it very quick and easy to post discrete quanta of information. I use Pownce for posting audio files and links to videos. I use Tumblr to post quotations. But both services suffer from the same problem: refindability.

Magnolia and Delicious encourage tagging. Those tags can then surface some pretty interesting aggregate behaviour but first and foremost, they’re useful for the individual doing the tagging. It’s pretty easy for me to track down something I bookmarked on Magnolia even if it was quite a while back. I don’t need to keep a list of all the tags I’ve ever used: I just need to search for a word that I think I might have used when I was tagging a bookmark. While it would be very difficult for me to try to second-guess how someone else might describe something, it’s usually pretty easy to put myself in the shoes of my past self.

As my store of data on Pownce and Tumblr increases, I’m starting to miss tagging (or any kind of search) more and more. Then again, I can understand why both services would resist that kind of scope creep. Both services rely on their simplicity. Adding another field to fill in could potentially be a road block between the user and the task they want to accomplish (although it doesn’t feel that way with Delicious or Magnolia). Update: it turns out that you can tag in Tumblr but it’s hidden behind the “advanced” link. Thanks to Keith Bell for pointing that out.

Here’s a case in point. Over time I’ve been posting MP3 files to Pownce of a series of radio programmes by Simon Singh, author of The Code Book — a superb piece of work. The audio from the radio programmes is available from the BBC website but only in Real Audio which, let’s face it, is complete pants. I originally got the MP3 files from Brian but after a catastrophic hard drive crash, I realised that it would be better to store them at an addressable URL. Besides, I wanted to geek out with my mathematically-minded friends. Pownce’s raison d’être is sharing stuff with friends so it seemed like the perfect home for the Singh files.

But without any kind of tagging or search, there’s no easy way for me or anyone else to revisit just those files at a later date. As a temporary patch, I’m listing the URLs for the Pownce posts that correspond to each episode. If you want to download the files, you’ll need to log in to Pownce.

  1. Five Numbers

    1. A Countdown to Zero
    2. Simple as Pi
    3. The Golden Ratio
    4. The Imaginary Number
    5. Infinity
  2. Another Five Numbers

    1. The Number Four
    2. The Number Seven
    3. The Largest Prime Number
    4. Kepler’s Conjecture
    5. Game Theory
  3. A Further Five Numbers

    1. 1 — The Most Popular Number!
    2. 2 — At the Double
    3. 6 Degrees of Separation
    4. 6.67 x 10-11 — The Number that Defines the Universe
    5. 1729 — The First Taxicab Number

Iteration and You

Daniel gets off to a great start by plugging my blog. Oh, yeah! The excellence continues with his first slide which features the looming head of Trammell.

Daniel asks for a show of hands. Who works on one website? Who works on many different client websites? A good mix, it seems.

We’ll be hearing lots from Stewart Brand’s book, How Buildings Learn. Buildings don’t change much (on the outside at least …but let’s not go into right now). That’s certainly true of High Road architecture. But there’s also Low Road architecture which is much more modular. A lot of websites are like that. Frameworks like Django help there, as do Web Standards. With Low Road architecture you can easily build a castle as someone has actually done with mobile homes. White trash nirvana!

Establish a visual vocabulary to avoid building a . That worked with Pownce. Notched rectangles are used throughout, right through to the branding. On Digg, a lot of the visual language stems from the Digg button. It was initially inspired by a design element by Dave, used on Mozilla and refined on Digg where it influenced the overall design. Facebook also has a visual vocabulary based around blue rectangles and single-pixel lines. App developers can take this visual language and work with it to ensure their products fit in with the Facebook look and feel.

Design paths. That’s paving the cowpaths to you and me. Launch your website with the base set of features; don’t try to anticipate everything everyone will want to do. Instead, watch what people do and build on that. That’s how images came to Digg—emergence through user behaviour. Threaded comments also emerged from watching how people used a basic single-thread comment.

Adapt to scale. It’s a great problem to have. The original Digg button couldn’t handle figures with more than three digits.

Subtraction is iteration too (so true! I witnessed a great example of this in action just the other day in the Clearleft office). Remove clutter. You can add functionality and reduce complexity at the same time.

Realign, don’t redesign. That’s a direct quote from Cameron. You don’t have to rip everything out and start from scratch. When the Martha Stewart site redesigned, it really confused long-time users (like Daniel’s sister and the girl who sat next to Daniel on the flight to the UK). Unless there’s a really good reason to raze something to the ground, try instead to adapt what’s already there.

Now for the Stewart Butterfield quote:

Every time I hear a designer say the word innovation, I reach for my revolver… I want to shoot them in the face.

It’s okay to reuse something if it’s what works.

Make time for iteration (oh man, I hear ya!) — don’t overbook yourself on the new stuff. Release early, release often. Get it out the door even if it’s not perfect. Daniel illustrates this point with one of my Flickr pics.

But at the same time, don’t panic! You’re going to get an avalanche of feedback. Stop. Listen. Learn. Don’t overreact.

So to sum up:

  • Low road design is easier to adapt.
  • Realign, don’t redesign.
  • Create a visual language.
  • Remove as much as you add.
  • Don’t be over reactive.
  • Make time for iteration.

That’s it. Great advice! Any questions?

  • How do you sell iteration time to clients? That’s always tough—the politics. Choose your clients well.
  • How about using A/B testing to test features? It’s a great idea but Daniel hasn’t had a chance to implement it himself. If you can do it, it’s awesome but it requires the right infrastructure.
  • As an in-house designer, how to you get your bosses and management to buy into iteration? Didn’t we already have this question?
  • On the point of visual language, how much do you use a style guide? Daniel’s never used an official style guide, it’s more of a de-facto thing. At Mozilla they had some dos and don’ts but nothing hardcore.
  • Last question: You know when talked about the visual language? At what point do you decide that it’s too much to deploy everywhere? You can shake it up a bit. If it doesn’t fit, don’t use it. Variations are fine.

Bravo, Daniel! And indeed, Delta Tango!

Pownce

The latest social networking app de jour is called Pownce. Like most people, I signed up a few days ago and starting playing around.

If you read the 140 character reviews of Pownce on Twitter, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Pownce is some kind of Twitter clone. Here, for example, is the collected wisdom of Paul Boag:

Just dont get pownce. Just feels like Twitter but i need to invite all my friends again

Not sure I can be bothered to update both twitter and pownce. Might have to make a decision soon.

It’s understandable, I suppose. Pownce lets you send little updates… just like Twitter. You can share links… just like Del.icio.us. You can share share events… just like Upcoming. So comparing Pownce to any of these services is understandable, I suppose. But I am reminded of the story of the blind men and the elephant. It seems that many of my own friends are displaying a disappointing lack of imagination by only comparing Pownce to what they already know.

The key feature of Pownce is the ability to share files. If you read the about page, the service is defined in a nutshell:

Pownce is a way to send stuff to your friends.

Stuff + friends. And like all the best apps, it was built to scratch an itch:

Pownce is brought to you by a bunch of geeks who were frustrated trying to send stuff from one cube to another.

If you want to compare it to anything, Dropsend feels like the closest competitor. Pownce is a pain-free way of sharing music, video and images amongst a discrete group of people.

And that’s the other key point: groups of people. It’s no coincidence that this app has support for groups built in from the start. The combination of file sharing with groups could potentially make it a killer app. It could be a social app like Twitter or whatever, but I think it could just as easily be a productivity app, more akin to something from 37 Signals.

Here’s an example: I’ve got everyone in the Clearleft office signed up. Each of us can have as many friends as we want but as long as we each have a Clearleft group, we can share files, links, events and notes with one another.

I’ve also created a Britpack group. If enough of my fellow Illuminati sign up, I can share stuff privately with them—something I can’t do on the mailing list because it quite rightly strips out attachments.

Another potential use would be for my band, Salter Cane. Emailing songs around is a royal pain. Being able to share MP3 files with an addressable but private URL could be really handy.

Far from being another Twitter or Jaiku, Pownce is a completely different part of the ecosystem of the social web.

I still plan to put public events on Upcoming and videos on YouTube, Viddler, Vimeo or wherever. But for that space between private and public, when I want to share something with a certain number of people, Pownce sure beats CCing a bunch of email addresses.

There’s another unspoken advantage that Pownce has over other social uploading sites like YouTube. If you’re sharing a file that might be slightly bending the law around license agreements or copyright, the ability to restrict the circulation could save everyone a lot of hassle. What the RIAA and MPAA don’t know won’t hurt ‘em.

The utility of Pownce isn’t the only reason I like it. It’s also really nicely designed. I don’t just mean the visual design—which is lovely, thanks to Daniel. The interaction design is well thought-out.

This is a surprisingly full-featured app considering that just four people put it together. There was just one full-time programmer for the website: Leah Culver. In spite of that, the site has launched (still in Alpha) with a whole bunch of features. The notifications and privacy settings, for example, are really nicely done. There’s also a nice “friends of friends” feature to help you track down people you might know.

Oh, and it’s got one of the best 404 pages ever.

Under the hood, everything has been put together with Django with storage handled by Amazon’s Simple Storage Service. If you peek into the markup, you’ll also find a bunch of nice microformats.

There’s also a desktop app for the service. It’s built using AIR née Apollo. It’s pretty slick and frankly, seeing an independent product like this is going to be far more likely to convince me of the benefits of the platform than any product demo from Adobe.

There are whole bunch of other little things that I like about Pownce that add to its personality—like the gender options in the profile form or the ability to choose themes—but I’ll stop going on about it. The key thing is that I can see this service filling a need through the combination of groups + file sharing.

If you’ve tried Pownce and come away feeling that it’s just like Twitter, you’re doing it wrong.

Social networking

Here’s a list of websites on which I have an account and which involve some form of social networking. I’m listing them in order of how often I visit. I’m also listing how many contacts/buddies/friends/connections/people I have on each site.

My Social Networks
WebsiteVisitsConnections
FlickrDaily154
TwitterDaily205
Del.icio.usDaily4
UpcomingFrequently95
Last.fmFrequently66
DopplrFrequently96
JaikuWeekly34
AnobiiWeekly2
CorkdInfrequently27
PownceInfrequently22
RevishInfrequenty9
FicletsInfrequently4
NewsvineInfrequently4
FacebookInfrequently59
Ma.gnoliaRarely7
Linked inRarely90
OdeoRarely10
XingNever2
DiggNever0

This is just a snapshot of activity so some of the data may be slightly skewed. Pownce, for instance, is quite a new site so my visits may increase or decrease dramatically over time. Also, though I’ve listed Del.icio.us as a daily visit, it’s really just the bookmarklet or Adactio Elsewhere that I use every day—I hardly ever visit the site itself.

Other sites that I visit on a daily basis don’t have a social networking component: blogs, news sites, Technorati, The Session (hmmm… must do something about that).

In general, the more often I use a service, the more likely I am to have many connections there. But there are some glaring exceptions. I have hardly any connections on Del.icio.us because the social networking aspect is fairly tangential to the site’s main purpose.

More interestingly, there are some exceptions that run in the other direction. I have lots of connections on Linked in and Facebook but I don’t use them much at all. In the case of Linked in, that’s because I don’t really have any incentive. I’m sure it would be a different story if I were looking for a job.

As for Facebook, I really don’t like the way it tries to be a one-stop shop for everything. It feels like a walled garden to me. I much prefer services that choose to do one thing but do it really well:

Mind you, there’s now some crossover in the events space when the events are musical in nature. The next Salter Cane concert is on Last.fm but it links off to the Upcoming event … which then loops back to Last.fm.

I haven’t settled on a book reading site yet. It’s a toss-up between Anobbii and Revish. It could go either way. One of the deciding factors will be how many of friends use each service. That’s the reason why I use Twitter more than Jaiku. Jaiku is superior in almost every way but more of my friends use Twitter. Inertia keeps me on Twitter. It’s probably just inertia that keeps me Del.icio.us rather than Ma.gnolia.

The sum total of all my connections on all these services comes to 890. But of course most of these are the same people showing up on different sites. I reckon the total amount of individual people doesn’t exceed 250. Of that, there’s probably a core of 50 people who I have connected to on at least 5 services. It’s for these people that I would really, really like to have portable social networks.

Each one of the services I’ve listed should follow these three steps. In order of difficulty:

  1. Provide a publicly addressable list of my connections. Nearly all the sites listed already do this.
  2. Mark up the list of connections with hCard and, where appropriate, XFN. Twitter, Flickr, Ma.gnolia, Pownce, Cork’d and Upcoming already do this.
  3. Provide a form with a field to paste the URL of another service where I have suitably marked-up connections. Parse and attempt to import connections found there.

That last step is the tricky one. Dopplr is the first site to attempt this. That’s the way to do it. Other social networking sites, take note.

It’s time that social networking sites really made an effort to allow not just the free flow of data, but also the free flow of relationships.