Share Your Life With a Stranger?

I’m jaded, at times. Mass technology seems to serve only the bottom line. The potential of interconnected humanity surpressed and squandered in the name of profit.

"The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks."
- Jeff Hammerbacher, Data God

But occasionally, out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimmer of hope. Like 20 Day Stranger, an app by The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT. It lets you anonymously share your life with one person for 20 days in exchange for the same. There is no messaging, but at the end of the experience you can choose to send one thought to your unknown phone pal.

"There’s an old idea from David Foster Wallace which is that one of the fundamental mistakes we all make as we move through the day is to mistake ourselves for the protagonist…If this works, and if other things like this work, we can start to build the idea that in fact you exist in parallel to at least one other person."
- Kevin Slavin, MIT Media Lab

Out of curiosity. Maybe to even restore some faith. I’ve signed on to the beta. Question is, will you…stranger?

Rise of the Machines: Phoning it In

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Artificial-intelligence (AI) could spell the end of war, poverty, disease and environmental calamity. OR, as Stephen Hawkings recently warned, the end of us.

One can imagine such technology…out-manipulating human leaders and developing weapons we cannot even understand.

The iconic physist states that are no physical laws stopping us from creating AI more powerful than the human brain. The gut reaction is that computers can’t transcend, because they lack humanity.

But think about it. You are currently helping to populate history’s most comprehensive behavioral database. Every time you use your smartphone.

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I’ll Let You in on a Little Secret

Ephemeral.

That’s the word of the day when it comes to mobile messaging apps. Especially when everyone, wanting to be in the position to turn down $3 billion in cash, is trying to build the next Snapchat (good luck!). However, a new entrant, Secret, is taking a different tact by enabling you to make anonymous posts to your social circles.

While other apps have played in the same space, the difference with Secret is that you have a connection to the people who see your anonymous posts.

It’s like a masquerade ball…or some sexypants game I’m going to invent where you make-out with 5 of your hottest friends in a pitch black room. 

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Ready for this Jelly?: Biz Stone Launches Social Search App

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I initially test drove Jelly because it was launched by Twitter co-founder, Biz Stone. Granted, some might think that’s akin to being lured to a movie because it’s “by the associate producer of that blockbuster you probably liked”, but that’s another discussion.

Anyhow, Jelly is simple, you post a picture and accompanying question to your extended social network (for an in-depth review, go here). So far, most of the commentary about the app has revolved around its utility. And let me address that with an anecdote

What struck me with Jelly is how many of the posts had to do with…Jelly. Users were questioning the interface, flaming spammy marketing content and generally chopping it down at the knees.

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Instagram Video: On a/the Roll

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At work (I do that sometimes) we were looking for a way to load previously shot video on to Instagram for a client. We found one, but it was sloppy, as hacks tend to be. Presto, in version 4.1, you can now import video from your camera roll. The decently implemented feature also includes cropping for a square aspect ratio and, of course, length. Another cool touch is that you can splice together numerous videos as long as they cumulatively don’t exceed 15 seconds.

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Piictu - Photo Sharing Meets Game Mechanics

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Foursquare’s masterstroke took the group check-in paradigm from Dodgeball and made into a single player game (which I happen to loathe). Likewise, Scvngr’s entire business model was developed assuming game mechanics will soon rule the world. So it’s of little surprise that mobile photo sharing now has a play-based app and even less that it has a painfully cutesy name - Piictu.  

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#Lazyweb - Twitter’s People Powered Google

Twitter’s success is a classic case of its users taking an initially barebones offering and better defining its featureset (e.g. @designations and #hashtags). Several generations in and it’s getting more interesting, take #Lazyweb. This hashtag lets you outsource questions to the Twitterverse that, frankly, you could probably Google on your own. The infographic below does a smashup job of providing the facts on how its used. Even though #Lazyweb might be on the decline, three million questions are asked on Twitter each month. 

Given that social media is increasingly a mobile service, what’s fascinating is having persistent access to meat-based respondents who can succinctly respond to questions that might stump the GoogleTron (e.g. “Why am I so AWESOME!??”). Despite limitations such as needing a large follower base to get answers, this model has great potential. There are a lot of things you could request, tons of different types of people to ask and a sh*tload of scenarios that could shape the responses. Just like Twitter photo sharing was addressed by Twitpic  (which was just used by its founder while getting arrested for public nudity), the realm of tweet Q&A is begging for a dedicated app. Any takers?

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Dunbar’s Number, Mobile Photography & U

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Take my word, every few months, for the foreseeable future, you’re going to run across an article about Dunbar’s number. That’s the amount of close relationships your neocortex can handle, and it clocks in at about 150. The theory has been recently reinforced by a four year study of more than three million Twitter users and 380 million tweets. So every time social media surges, the media can trot out an empirical counterpoint about how all all those Facebook friends and Twitter followers can’t really amount to real world connections because of our limited, little mindsacks. 

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Lytro Focus-Free Cameras (You heard right)

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Camera’s capture images. Central to that functionality is (manually or automatically) selecting focus and exposure. Well, upstart Lytro has something to say about that - f**k it! Their technology captures entire light fields, resulting in photos where the user chooses the focal point, exposure level and even render in 3-D…after the shot is taken. As icing on the cake, file sizes and equipment costs are comparable to the current crop of point-and-shoots. Revolution?

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App Armageddon: Facebook’s Secret Photo Project

If you think Apple’s iOS 5 updates will kill off a few start-ups, time to get that bulk order of cyanide pills ready. As reported on TechCrunch Facebook has been working on a comprehensive mobile photo sharing application.

The app seems to be a combination of Instagram, Color, Path, and even Path’s new side project,With….It would make a lot of sense for Facebook, which is by far the largest photo service on the Internet with close to 100 billion photos, to make their own dedicated photo app.

This will definitely do a lot to validate the space and pull in/create even more rabid mobile photographers. It will also be interesting to see if users will migrate from other services. While having apps for every aspect of iPhoneography is empowering, it can also lead to an unnecessarily bulky workflow. My average shot involves 3-5 apps and I’m a power user. I can see how having it all within the context of a service I use on the regular anyhow would be appealing for the average Facebook drone user.

As for competitors, time to move laterally folks.