Monday, November 29, 2010

Christmas gift idea - Kodak Pulse picture frame

For my birthday, Robin and the kids got me a Kodak Pulse digital picture frame. I adore it.

Years ago, we bought my grandmother a Ceiva frame. One of the advantages to the Ceiva is that it doesn't require Internet access - you just plug the frame into a phone line, and it updates nightly. For my grandmother (who didn't have Internet access when we got her the frame), this was an ideal answer. No setup required, and she got (mostly) regular updates from us when we sent pictures. Each year at Christmas, we renew her subscription - Ceiva charges $100/year for the service.

Well guess what? For the exact same amount of money, I can get a far better photo frame that has no additional yearly subscription fees. In addition to card readers that can read photos directly from your memory cards, the frame also has a wifi radio that will receive photos via e-mail (you get a dedicated account) or from your Facebook account.

This last point is both a highlight and a frustration for me: I love the simplicity of linking my frame to my Facebook account. Last night, I uploaded pictures from our Disney vacation, and when I got to work this morning, they were already on the frame. I get the choice of adding pictures from other Facebook friends as well, so as Robin adds photos to her account, I'll see them on the frame too.

The frustration is that it doesn't support other photo services. In the past I've used Flickr, and more recently use Picasa - though other frames support those services (even other Kodak frames), that doesn't seem to be a priority for the Pulse frame at this point. In the end it's frustrating but not a deal-breaker; though Picasa is where I store my photos, the vast majority of photos shared with me are via Facebook.

Overall, I highly recommend this frame. Surprisingly affordable, extremely easy to set up and a great way to share family pictures. (Interestingly, there's also a 10" version, if you want to spend a bit more for a larger display.)

For more on the frame, you can visit Kodak's site.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Google TV - couch surfing

I was fortunate to get an early prototype of GoogleTV over the summer (the Sony stand-alone box). I was particularly happy to see it worked with my existing setup - I have a TiVo HD running through an Onxkyo receiver which is connected to my Samsung TV. I routed the TiVo HDMI connection through the GoogleTV box, and with a couple minutes setup, it just worked. (The GoogleTV controls the TiVo via an IR-blaster.)

Early reviews focused on the remote, with TechCrunch proclaiming it "an absolute user experience nightmare" for consumers. My experience suggests otherwise - my 8 and 10 year-old sons both use the GoogleTV regularly without any issues.

But I want to talk about the moment that GoogleTV changed how we use computers at our house. As a family, we periodically loan money to entrepreneurs through Kiva, the microlending site. I'd received an e-mail that one of our loans had been fully repaid, and I wanted to have the kids help my wife and I decide where to loan that money.

In the past, this would have involved all of us crowding around my laptop. Inevitably, one (or more) of the five of us couldn't see the screen, resulting in whines about who's getting special viewing. This time, we decided to fire up Chrome on the TV, using the "10,000 button nightmare" (TechCrunch's words!) remote control that comes with the Sony GoogleTV unit.

The version of Chrome that ships with GoogleTV is a fully-functional browser. It plays Flash, it lays pages out exactly as they appear on your desktop. And it does it on your TV - in my case, a 52" HDTV. The result? All five of us sat on the couch, easily able to browse through dozens of potential recipients of our next Kiva loan.

It was a phenomenal experience, one that's played out several times since then. Searching for YouTube videos is a pleasure (compared to TiVo, where I must use the up-up-down-down-left-down-left-down remote to select letters as I type out my query), as is navigating to various websites to show on the big screen. When my parents visited over the summer, I showed them the family tree research I'd done, able to easily navigate through the various branches of the family tree. One night after dinner, the boys and I looked at LOLcats for almost an hour.

I realize there's been quite a bit of discussion about whether or not you actually want a web browser in your family room. Based on our experience over the last several months, I can tell you that it's been a big win for us. Partly it's a byproduct of having a good remote; partly it's a result of having a fully-featured browser. The end result is a nice addition to the family room, one that'd be hard to give up now that it's there.

(I suppose I should add, for anyone who just happens to stumble across this article from a web search: I work at Google, and the GoogleTV unit I've been using is an internal version for testing. I did not pay for it, and expect I'll need to return it before too long - at which point I'll buy one.)
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Marketing in the digital age

We took a brief vacation to Disneyland last week since the kids were off from school on Thursday and Friday. Upon arriving at the park, I checked into Disneyland on Foursquare, and since the Android app prompted me to alert Twitter and Facebook, I opted to route the checkin to those services as well.

Photo by Ginger
Later in the day, I checked Twitter and had a reply from @kloutperks. The tweet invited me to click through to a microsite about Tangled, the upcoming Disney animated film about Rapunzel. Intrigued, I signed up.

Yesterday, a box arrived - including a collection of Tangled Silly Bandz, a limited edition lithograph from the film, a Tangled t-shirt, and a stuffed animal (apparently the character is Pascal the chameleon). I believe we will also be able to attend a pre-screening of the film, but don't have details on that yet.

I'm fascinated by this. As near as I can tell, Disney is monitoring Twitter for mentions of its brands, and reaching out to users who meet a certain audience threshold (I had just under 6,000 followers when they reached out). They are very up front requesting that you disclose the give-away, and further state that they are not expecting, requiring or otherwise requesting coverage. It's up to the recipient to decide whether and how to chat about the film.

From what I can see, it's working. This mom received a kit (apparently not a result of mentioning Disney, but because of her high rank according to Klout), and was excited because of their approach:
I’m not writing about this today to kiss Disney’s toosh and promote the movie. I’m writing it as a very impressed consumer and marketer.... I guarantee my four-year-old will be talking about this for a while. He’s worn the silly-bandz every day and shown his friends. He wants to bring the chameleon for share day at preschool. I told a friend, and I’m telling you. I know this is what they want, which is fine.

I’m curious to see the future of this…. it just so happens that I’m the perfect audience for this particular perk. ...I love being a part of the evolution of marketing… I’m not going to buy your product because you tell me to. I’m going to buy it because a friend did, or you demonstrated WHY I should, which Disney did today.
And it's not just Klout, Disney also announced a big partnership with Foursquare competitor Gowalla this morning. It's fun to see innovation happening in social media, and companies like Disney thinking creatively about how to engage with their customers.

Disclosure: As noted above, I received a couple free items from Klout/Disney as a result of a tweet I made. As stated here, there was no requirement or expectation that I'd write about them. I haven't seen the film yet (though, as a father of a five year-old daughter who just spent hundreds of dollars visiting Disneyland, I think it's in my parental contract that I will) and if I get a chance, will write about it once I do.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Do More Faster

A couple years ago, Brad Feld reached out to me and asked me to be a mentor to TechStars. In 2008, I joined Dick Costolo, my old boss at FeedBurner who's now the CEO at Twitter, for a two hour session in Boulder that basically told a room full of young start-up founders the story of FeedBurner.

For those who don't know, in addition to being a great CEO, Dick's also a pretty funny guy. (He was at one point a professional improv comic.) And if you're going to be sitting next to Dick for two hours, you have to go in knowing you're going to be his straight man.

By far the funniest moment of the night was when Dick recounted my early days as FeedBurner's VP of business development. As my title suggested, I was to go out and, well, develop business. FeedBurner's model was pretty simple: become a distribution hub for RSS content, give publishers insight into their feed consumption, and then monetize that consumption through an ad network. I was responsible for the publisher relationships (we later changed my title to VP, Publisher Services).

After a trip to New York in 2005, Dick asked how it went. I told him it was great - in fact, in addition to a number of successful meetings with media companies, I squeezed in a meeting with a financial services firm. Not a typical FeedBurner customer, but they were thinking about RSS in interesting ways, and wanted to pay us money to do some stuff for them. The money was non-trivial - particularly in our early days, when we were still building out the ad network - but Dick held firm. That wasn't the business we were in, so he said no, and I explained to the bewildered would-be customer that that wasn't what we were interested in.

It was a valuable lesson, and it's one all startups need to learn. The sooner they get clarity into the business they're in - and conviction about the businesses they're not in - the sooner they'll hit their stride.

But because it was Dick retelling the lesson, it was much, much funnier. Predictably, it involved me looking a bit, shall we say, comical. (It's my blog, that's as far as I'll go.)

Back to Brad Feld. He and David Cohen (TechStars CEO) have a new book out, a collection of lessons from CEOs and founders they've worked with. It's a great read - the book's broken out into sections covering People, Execution, Product, Fundraising, Legal and Structure and Work/Life Balance. Within each section are essays by well-known startup founders, and often accompanied by commentary by David or Brad about their perception of that essay or team.

Enough of the setup. You can read a snippet from the book below, courtesy of Google Books, where you get to see how Dick spins a tale about me, RSS feeds, and rabbits. Really. Enjoy: