Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sonos S5

Almost exactly four years ago (crap, seems like yesterday!) Fred wrote about his first experience with Sonos. He summed up the experience pretty well:
[The Sonos system] delivered a premium experience for me and if you are looking for a simple, elegant solution for integrating digital music and music services like Rhapsody and Internet radio into your home audio system, you should give Sonos a really good look.

It rocks.
I remember being intrigued, and a few months later Fred dropped in to say hi to the Sonos team, and talked about what a remarkable group they were.

I don't know why that post stuck with me, but it did. A few months later, Google acquired FeedBurner. I splurged and bought a Sonos bundle, similar to this package that you can buy at Amazon. I wrote about my initial impressions in August of '07, remarking that "I couldn’t be happier. If you’re a music lover, you need one of these. It’s as revolutionary for audio as TiVo was for video."

Two and a half years later, I remain as happy with the purchase as I was then. They released an iPhone app, which made the overall system even more valuable (now both Robin and I could control the Sonos from anywhere, without needing to have a laptop on or be near the Sonos remote). We added a zone, giving us a total of three separate zones (one of which I plugged two sets of speakers into, so technically we have the Sonos delivering music to four zones in the house). From an iPhone (or a computer, or the Sonos remote), we can instantly pull up any of millions of tracks from Rhapsody (we pay a monthly subscription to Rhapsody), or stream any of Pandora's music anywhere in the house, or listen to just about any Internet radio station in the world (including our favorite, WMVY from Martha's Vineyard), or listen to our own MP3s. You get the idea.

Recently, Sonos announced the S5, an all-in-one music device that's a bit different from their usual fare. Unlike the devices I've got (which either connect directly to speakers or to a receiver, which carries the music to the speakers), the S5 is a set of speakers, along with the hardware that connects the device to your network. We used to own a Bose Sounddock, which we would park our iPod into... the S5 has a similar form factor, and invites comparison to that class of product.

Over the last couple years, I've gotten to know Thomas, the guy who manages PR for Sonos. I've sent some suggestions for the Sonos (a few of which have found their way into the product, a few of which he's explained - politely! - why it's unlikely to happen), and he's occasionally given me an early glimpse into upcoming Sonos releases.

A couple weeks ago he pinged me and asked if I'd bought an S5 yet. I told him I was intrigued, but hadn't figured out how to convince my wife that we needed one. To be clear, if there's any technology I've purchased in the last decade that Robin couldn't live without, it'd be the Sonos. It's given us more to listen to, encouraged us to sample music we wouldn't ordinarily sample, and track artists who we'd otherwise miss. But I didn't think I'd get away with adding to the system. Thomas, eager to get my feedback on the unit, put one in the mail. (More on this in a minute.)

I unpacked it last night, and am floored: within a couple minutes (literally - it might have been under two minutes) of plugging the unit in, I was streaming crystal-clear music from Pandora. It's immediately linked to my other Sonos zones (and therefore has access to my credentials for the services I've already configured; new users would have a few minutes of setup to get to that point), and was instantly controllable from my iPhone.

Sonos S5 ZonePlayer Wireless Multi-Room Music System
Sonos S5
The biggest question for any all-in-one device like this is the sound quality. I shouldn't be surprised, given my prior experience with Sonos, but I was still floored at how rich the sound from the unit was. I have decent speakers at the house, so I was prepared to hear a less full (and certainly less bass) sound... and I was completely wrong. I can't come up with anything other than "full" to describe how rich it sounds. Really impressive.

It's hard to imagine why you'd spend several hundred dollars for a higher-end iPod dock when you get so much more from the S5. In addition to your entire music collection(s) (on any hard drive connected to your home network), you get the advantages of all of the Internet-connected services (like Rhapsody, Pandora, and as well as hundreds of streaming radio stations. I can't recommend the S5 highly enough - and unlike the earlier Sonos price points that are $1k for the bundle and $500+ for individual zones (without speakers), the S5 is a great way to jump in at just $399. Bottom line - it's just a perfect example of what a great team can build when they remain laser-focused on the user experience.

Disclosure: As mentioned above, the S5 was sent to me at no cost from Thomas at Sonos. My other 3 Sonos zones are all purchased units.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Google Buzz monitoring

When I ran the publisher team at FeedBurner, I made it a habit to watch for any discussions about FeedBurner. Back in those days, there was a fair amount of concern about using a third party to syndicate your RSS feed - would we force ads into every post? Would we start charging? What if FeedBurner went down? I, along with the rest of the team, regularly engaged with users and often turned skeptics into fans, simply by answering their questions or correcting inaccuracies.

These days, it's useful to have a few Blogsearch queries looking for mentions of your product, your name, or other related topics... but much of the "buzz" (sorry, couldn't resist!) is about "real time" searches. Who's talking about you on Twitter? Facebook? Google Buzz?

I use Twitter's saved searches to look for mentions of terms that matter to me: @blogger, "rick klau", "blogger ftp" are a few obvious ones I monitor these days. With last week's launch of Google Buzz, I thought I'd share how I replicate that monitoring in Google Buzz.

Not everyone knows you can search Buzz, so for starters look up to the top of Gmail when you click on "Buzz": the search box switches from "Search Mail" to "Search Buzz". You can type any query into the box, and it will search all public Buzz posts from all users for that query. There's likely some good stuff amongst the millions of posts.

But that's not enough: if you have more than one or two queries, or you want to periodically check in, it'd be nice to return to these queries once in a while to see what's new. Here's what I do:

Enable Gmail's "Quick Links" lab. This puts a box below your labels in Gmail, which starts out empty.

Go to Buzz, type in your query. Here I'm searching for my blog's URL, so I can see any Buzz posts that include a link to one of my blog posts:

Click "Add Quick Link" in the Quick Links box. This creates a bookmark to the query, which you can now click on from your Gmail sidebar whenever you want.

Making these queries one click away makes it easier to revisit them, which will help you find interesting people who are talking about the things that matter to you. And as you engage with them, they'll often reciprocate - sharing info with you, steering threads your way, and advocating on your behalf.

In many ways, this is the same feedback loop we tried to incubate at FeedBurner 5 years ago... but now the tools are more sophisticated, and the fact that it's happening in near-real-time means that it's easier than ever to amplify successes and respond immediately to fires.