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    The Bungee Line was an audio podcast for web developers, covering web API's, software development, and the creation of richly interactive web applications.

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Is Steve Jobs Killing Housecats?


Magsafe: Dealer of Feline Death?

Droves of house cats may be dying, and Apple’s Steve Jobs may be to blame. Apple’s latest revision of the Magsafe power adapter has a new cable coating that seems to be purposely tailored to lure innocent kittens to a convulsive, incendiary death.

The as-yet unconfirmed but increasingly popular rumor is that specifications sourcing from One Infinite Loop in Cupertino are directing sweatshop laborers in Jiangsu to mix concentrated cat nip extract into the formula used for the latest Magsafe cable coating.

I only recently became aware of this when a friend reported to me that his cat had chewed through the cables of both of his brand new power adapters. Some short research revealed that my friend and his furry, fried feline not alone:

Certainly, these are merely a few examples, and none actually lethal. But as with all things reported via the Internet Tubes, each incident must be multiplied by one million (at least) to devine an estimate for how many incidents have gone unreported. Who knows how many of these have ended in tragedy?

OS X names aside (“Snow Leopard” indeed!), it’s a well known factoid that Steve Jobs hates cats. We should have seen this coming.

With INTERPOL occupied by ongoing WikiLeaks investigations and the record for US police agencies turning a blind eye to cat crimes (those K-9 units? we know whose side you’re on), a wave of vigilante tabbies may be emerging:

Note No cats were actually harmed in the creation of this blog entry.

Congrats to Polar Rose


Late last year, I met with Jan Erik Solem and Carl Silbersky to learn about Polar Rose‘s facial recognition technology. Their command of the tech, and stats compared to iPhoto and Picasa’s success rate, impressed me immensely. To the average MBA student, they likely seemed to be yet another tech startup with no real  business viability. If the competition are huge companies that make similar tech available at no cost, why would anyone pay?

But Jan Erik was very clear about Polar Rose: they were focused on R&D. They aimed to develop such a high mark of competency, that they would distinguish themselves through tech. The business would follow.

So when a former colleague at Mozy emailed me a link to “Apple Snatches Up Facial Recognition Software Firm,” it made me smile. They did it. They engineered their way to success. Congratulations, guys!

Foursquare & Gowalla: Heralding The Age of Ubiquitous Loyalty?


Two habit-forming, game-like mobile apps are competing to gain user base. Their names are Foursquare and Gowalla. Each has fairly similar “game play” involving GPS-related check-ins at points-of-interest–bars, restaurants, parks, plazas and so forth, most of which were originally entered by the users. By checking into a site, friends with whom you have connected can see where you have checked in and come join you.

So, big deal, you might say, yet another “social” application. Yes, at first blush, these apps may seem trivial, even pointless. I assure you, they are not. These apps reveal a lucrative future, and one or both may strike start-up gold.

Welcome to Carmel, Mr. Eastwood
Both apps involve jacking into the brain’s psychological payout hooks: rewards, achievements, status–the very same hooks so expertly employed by computer game creators to make gameplay as addictive as possible. Level up, baby. You’re getting somewhere.

But of the two apps, Foursquare was first to establish special status for being the most frequent visitor to a site. That person becomes established as the “Mayor” for that site. The name is dumb, but the concept is golden.

A few savvy restaurants and bars picked up on this status and started offering discounts to whomever currently holds the mayorship. In other words, Foursquare has stumbled into a simple loyalty program that pits customer against customer.

Prediction: Very soon, Gowalla will introduce something similar to Foursquare’s “Mayor” status recognition (maybe with a better name).

Hey, Make Me Feel Special
Over ten years ago, savant marketer Seth Godin delivered a manifesto. Permission Marketing explained how the Internet was permanently changing how businesses market to their constituents. Highlighting the intersection of frequent flyer-style points programs, video game achievement levels, and quid pro quo relationships between customers and companies, Godin declared the imminent diminish or demise of “interruption marketing.” The future of marketing was about membership, exclusivity, recognition, and personal connection between companies and their constituents.

Huge, specialized companies like airlines can establish rewards programs or communities and recognize their MVP’s. But many businesses struggle to create similar programs that are adequate. It’s an old saw that regulars are the mainstay of restaurants and many retail business types. But how do you acquire them? How do you keep them? Points programs are tough to create, manage and run. Their implementation is out of reach. The costs are too high. The nuances require too much attention. And for consumers, how many bar-coded loyalty cards do you really want to carry?

That means that there is opportunity for innovation. Bigtime.

Prediction: Either Gowalla or Foursquare will introduce an “Owner’s Circle” concept, allowing businesses to claim their sites, and then to recognize not simply “the mayor,” but top tens or hundreds of customers with special favors for their loyalty. This will be how Foursquare/Gowalla suddenly become economically relevant.

The Last Foot
The term “last foot” comes from NAVTEQ’s Marc Naddel, who I met during my time at Alcatel-Lucent. GPS solves what NAVTEQ calls the “last mile” problem. You know someone was close. But GPS is imprecise. How do you know that someone who checked into a location didn’t simply claim they were there, when they merely walked by? Especially since GPS is pretty much useless indoors.

This is where Foursquare or Gowalla will need to go beyond GPS. Bar codes may be a solid way to get the job done. A phone can display a bar code, and many businesses have bar code readers. But Near-field Communication (NFC),  a passive RFID technology currently available in a very limited number of mobile phones, would be much  better. NFC works at a range from 4 to 10 centimeters, so it can be used to verify not just that you were close, but that you were really there.

Prediction: Loyalty programs will drive adoption of NFC technology in the United States. First in the form of too many NFC loyalty cards, but soon after, they will converge one ID card, which will swiftly get replaced by NFC in mobile phones.

Bridging the Interim Gap

USB NFC Reader

Low cost NFC readers like this one work with NFC phones and passive RFID tags.

If a company like Gowalla or Foursquare made a play into loyalty programs, they could consolidate the proliferation of numerous bar-code loyalty cards into a single Foursquare or Gowalla NFC card.  This would accommodate the interim from multiple loyalty cards to using your NFC-equipped mobile phones (which are too few today). With USB readers available for under $40, NFC is low-enough cost for even the smallest companies to adopt if they want to run a simple loyalty program. The only shortcoming right now is that no one is considering the tiniest businesses as a prime target.

Prediction: Even if it’s not NFC, it will be among the small business space–retailers and restaurants–that a democratization of loyalty programs will come about–because small companies want a solution, and won’t care so much that they don’t “own” the identities.

Conclusion
Gowalla and Foursquare are not piddly little social apps. They’re seeming simplicity belies a sophisticated understanding of software psychology, which will reveal itself rapidly–quite possibly faster than most observers can follow. At least one of these companies will prevail through loyalty–helping location-based businesses better connect to their customers. When that happens, demand will rapidly push sophistication beyond the constraints of GPS. Finally, the businesses who jump into this will prevail over those that don’t, or those that do but use it poorly (such as for spamming).

Related Reading

The Sleeping Disorder of the MacBook Pro


I have two MacBooks. One is from early 2007, the other from late 2009. Both have intermittent problems waking up from sleep often enough, and similarly enough, to indicate that the perfectionist culture rumored to drive Apple’s every move has its severe blind spots.

This morning, when I tried to wake my sleeping older model, the screen stayed dark, resisting my plaintive cajoling for a response. The hard shut-down: hold the power key, and watch the stalwart, white LED on its front darken like a dying Cylon Centurion’s fading red eye.

After rebooting, Apple’s “Gosh, something apparently went wrong during my sleep!” dialog appeared, asking whether it could send a report to Apple. I expanded the comments field and started to provide details, thinking that I would help them solve this. But if the problem persists  year after year, model after model, and remains an infrequent, yet persistent issue, then they must get a lot of these. Perhaps people have so far simply been ineffective at explaining the circumstances.

I did the best I could:

Stupid thing looked like it was asleep, but the display would not turn on. It was brutal. I called for re-inforcements. A grapefruit appeared, winking at me menacingly. There we several moments of silence, and the room filled with fog. Someone was playing an old phonograph record of Lazy Larry singing “Hallelujah, On the Bum” to a banjo. The strumming kind. Not the picking kind. Suddenly it was September of 1956, and my hair had thinned and grayed. All the while I could sense in my spine the dry crackling of shake shingles on the rooftop slowly turning to chalk, even though the house had curved terra cotta tiles atop it. Then I saw it: across the room, the cat held a Kleenex to it’s nose with both forepaws, as he claimed profusely that it was a mere nosebleed. My mother leaned over to me and whispered, “It’s really not okay. He’s a hemophiliac.” A breeze carried the smell of bacon, and I wondered if the cat could smell it.

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