March 1st, 2006

plane feet

I'm "intown2" have a meeting; are you "intown2"?

Social networking sites are so last year, events sites are very this year - and intown2 is trying to cover both bases. If you're in London, or Seattle, or San Francisco or wherever for a day or so, and a friend of yours happens to be there too, why not meet up? Well, usually because you don't know they're there at the time. Put your address book and your calendar into intown2 and as long as they do the same, you'll be able to catch up with people.

This has the same barriers to entry as any other social networking site: you have to put in all your friends (by hand or by importing a CSV file) and so do they, plus you have to enter your travels one at a time. Obviously there are privacy issues with importing your address book and calendar into a public site wholesale, but there has to be a better solution.
- Offer the service as an add-on for existing social networking sites like Linked In, where you can cross-check against your address book, you've already done most of the work and where there is a big enough pool of other people who have too.
- It would be a natural add-on for Plaxo, where you're already trusting them to keep addresses up to date.
- Offer to scrape your address book in the same polite way Linked In does rather than making you export a file by hand, and offer to scrape the calendar for multi-day events as a starting point (always with the option to leave an event out).
- Or go the distributed route like FOAF; when more people have calendar info published on line, a site could aggregate it and help you find passing friends that way.
It's quite late to start a social networking site from scratch, even with a clever idea like matching locations. If a lot of people have to do a lot of work for an non-deterministic reward (you might not find any travelling friends going your way), even a free site has a high cost.

And the free account only allows you to add 10 friends; I think I can keep in touch with that many people by email, actually. The public events categories are an odd mix of sport, theatre and gay pride marches. The site asks for the cities you visit most but doesn't offer those as quick options when you create a trip. There's no widget to put on your web site encouraging people to click through to intown2 to check if they're going your way. It's a nice idea, but there are a lot of rough edges.


Email exercise

After Steve Ballmer's health scare, I heard rumours that he and Bill Gates can be found reading email on exercise bikes at the gym. Now they could switch to dancing through the messages. Imagine jumping on mail from your boss or kicking spam out of the way.

The StepMail application uses an off-the-shelf "dance pad"to let a user carry out commands in e-mail - such as scroll, open, close, delete, flag and place messages in folders - by tapping a set of six buttons on the floor. Another prototype application, StepPhoto, allows foot-controlled scrolling and sorting through digital photographs.

“Many information workers spend a majority of their time trapped at their desk dealing with e-mail. We wanted to provide them with an alternative,” said Brian Meyers, a member of the Step User Interface Project Group involved in the prototype. “By allowing information workers to stand and continue to read, delete and flag e-mail messages, StepMail gives them a break from the keyboard and mouse, which reduces the risk of repetitive stress injury in their hands and wrists and engages more of their bodies’ muscles.”

It also reminds me of a set of tech support war stories published by, I think, Compaq, where someone phoned up because the 'foot pedal' on their notebook wasn't very responsive. The foot pedal on my sewing machine gives me acceleration and deceleration as well as on and off. I've been playing Tux Racing on a THinkPad X41 using the accelerometer in the hard drive to detect how I wave the notebook around in mid-air. I love controlling the PlayStation through the EyeToy camera. One the one hand there's the sense of wonder you used to get from controlling a computer at all; on the other, it's a more intimate connection because you don't need to only use your fingers and your eyes. The MS researchers behind this are in the VIBE team (Visualization and Interaction for Business and Entertainment)  who do a lot of cool things. I interviewed the Senior Researcher, Mary Czerwinski, a couple of years ago for a piece on how our brains adjust to using two screens side by side (you very quickly tune out the bezel of the screen in the middle and perceive the split screen as one information source).