The Karma is a Different Kind of Hotspot – 3 Observations

About a month ago, I decided to buy a Karma Wi-Fi hotspot. I was curious about the idea of a social hotspot, so I wanted to get a sense for how the experience works. The concept is pretty intriguing and simple. You buy a Karma hotspot and it comes with 1 GB of data. When you need more data, you can buy it from Karma for $14. Unlike subscription plans, there’s no concept of monthly usage or rollover – once you’ve bought or earned extra GB of data, they’re yours to use until you’ve used them up.

I am a bit of a data junkie, so I bought the Karma to supplement the Verizon HotSpot I have on my Samsung Galaxy S3 and the LTE data plan I have for my iPad Mini. More on the differences shortly.

The social part of Karma is what does make it different from other hotspots. When your Karma hotspot is on, other people (strangers) can connect to your hotspot. When they connect to your hotpsot, you and the person who connect earn an additional 100 MB of data for your account.

After using the Karma for about a month, I have a few observations to share:

Karma is not (yet) a replacement for a traditional hotspot based on my needs – The one big drawback I found with the Karma hotspot is the current coverage network. The Karma network runs on Clearwire’s network, so it’s not available everywhere. It works fine in my home area of San Francisco, but it did not work in San Diego. Having a hotspot that doesn’t work in the places where I live and travel means that it will remain a supplementary device for now. Probably not an issue if you live within a coverage zone and don’t travel much.

The social elements of Karma changed how I use the device compared to other hotspots– With my traditional Verizon hotspot, I only turn it on when I want to work. With my Karma, my behavior is really different. I leave it on all the time. I basically leave it on all of the time because I want other people to connect to it and use it (and get some free bandwidth for myself). This is actually almost the polar opposite of how jealously I guard the several megabytes I get per month from Verizon. Having observed my own behavior on this front, I can see how (at scale), Karma could build out a network of access points in urban areas where a consumer would have a reasonably good chance of being able to find a Karma connection nearby. All you would need is a sufficiently dense collection of users who leave their devices on so that others can connect. It’s a pretty clever way to hack building out a mesh or community network of Wi-Fi access, subject to the coverage network that Clearwire can offer.

Also, I have to say that getting an email telling you that someone else is connecting to your hotspot initially felt creepy. But over time, it started to actually feel kind of cool – it was nice to know that I was able to share some Wi-Fi with others and give them Internet access without cutting into my own data budget.

The pre-paid model is a great deal for casual users – Karma is not the only company that could or does offer pre-paid hotspot service. The challenge with hotspot subscription services is the cost – they aren’t cheap and if you don’t regularly use data on the go for a tablet or laptop, it might not be worth it to subscribe. But the Karma offers an interesting bridge – it’s fairly cheap to purchase, extra GB of bandwidth are expensive if you’re a heavy user ($14/GB on Karma vs $20/6B/mo on Verizon) but a deal if you’re only an occasional user and willing to share. I suspect this product will appeal to a different set of customers.

Overall, I think the Karma is an interesting product. Not perfect, but definitely feels worth the money and has given me a new way to think about sharing and getting Internet access.

As always, you can leave a comment below or chat with me directly on Twitter @chudson.

*Disclaimer – I am not an investor in Karma nor do I have any relationship with any of the principals at the company.

Location Sharing In a World of Many Options and Apps

I play with a lot of location products. The more of them I use, the more I get to understand how I think about sharing my own location with people I know and how those products fit into my life. As I’ve used more products, I’ve started to think about the dimensions along which I can classify products and their use cases. I’ve been really trying to wrap my head around the use case for products like Glympse and Twist, which allow me to let people know that I am en route and when I should arrive. It has taken me awhile to understand how they fit into my life and how and where they are valuable.

Before delving into Twist and Glympse, just a quick sense for how I think about the many location products I use. I can coarsely classify them along two core dimensions:

  • Persistent vs. Transient Relationships – For all location sharing applications, I try to think about whether I use the product to share my location with people with whom I have a persistent or a transient relationship.
  • Real-Time Sharing vs. Logging Location – Most of these products talk about location “sharing” but I tend to use some of them more as a log (where I’ve been over a long period of time) as opposed to sharing (this is where I am right now). To me, the difference is that the value of a location share decays quickly in environments where my past locations are not visible (Highlight) versus those where people can browse where I’ve been (foursquare and Facebook).

I can write a pretty short sentence about most products I use and how I use them based on the framework above:

  • I use foursquare (and Path) to share my current location frequently with a smallish group of people with whom I have persistent relationships. I also use it as a log over time.
  • I use Highlight to share my recent location with a fairly large group of friends and friends-of-friends with whom I have both transient and persistent relationships.
  • I use Facebook to share my current location with a large group of people with whom I have persistent relationships for those rare location shares that I think are noteworthy or of interest to many people.
  • I use Twitter to share my current location with a large group of people with whom I have transient or loose relationships for those rare location shares that I think are noteworthy or of interest to many people.

With those four services, I felt like most of my social needs for location sharing were met. When I was first introduced to Twist and Glympse, I was having a hard time finding a gap in the current suite of products I use. I’ve been using both for about a month or two and I can finally articulate how they work for me:

I use Twist to share my current (and future) location with people with whom I have both persistent and transient relationships.

I mostly use Twist these days, but I can say that it does things that I can’t easily do with any of the other options. It’s a pretty useful way to let people know when I’m en route and to have them do the same.

The biggest problem I have with Twist is that most people to whom I’ve sent a Twist have never received one before. So they are discovering the app for the first time and that can be a bit socially awkward. If I knew that more people were using Twist, I’d be more inclined to send them. I’ve gotten a fair number of “what is this?” messages from people – it’s pretty easy to explain after the fact.

Overall, even in what I think of as a crowded category, I still find products that fill unoccupied niches. I like Twist and Glympse and I think there’s a need for these products. I think the biggest risk they face is that the big calendar applications or Google Now / Siri offer this as native functionality.

I’m curious as to how you use location-sharing apps. Feel free to leave a comment below or send me a message on Twitter @chudson.

On Startups Competing with Core Mobile OS Apps

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One thing that’s been on my mind lately is how (and whether) startups can compete with the stock applications that ship with Android and iOS devices. I’ve included a screenshot of my current homescreen – it changes fairly often, but this reflects the apps that I use fairly often today. As the image of m yhome screen shows, I’ve demoted a lot of of the stock apps that ship with iOS from my homescreen. In the case of calendar, maps, browser, and a few other categories, I’ve found 3rd party apps whose UI and functionality I prefer. That’s a good sign that those 3rd party apps have value to me, but that’s separate from what it means for the organizations behind those applications and their respective path to success.

Whether you’re talking about Android or iOS, I divide the core set of stock OS applications into two categories. On the one hand, we have applications that are fundamentally about core utility. On the other hand, there are those applications whose usage has strong elements of network effects or whose usage can be influenced by your friend / social circle’s choice of application. Some of these applications blur the lines, but I’ve tried to categorize them roughly below:

Utility Applications
– Calendar (Fantastical, Sunrise)
– Mail (Sparrow (acquired by Google), Mailbox, Gmail on iOS)
– To Do / Tasks (Astrid, Any.Do, Clear)
– Maps and Navigation (Waze, Google Maps on iOS)
– Browser (Google Chrome on iOS, Dolphin, Opera)

Competing with core utility apps is hard because the incumbents have two big advantages on startups.
First, they have built-in distribution for their stock apps. Every version of iOS and Android ships with a core set of applications in many (if not all) of the core utility categories and using those apps is the default for many folks. Second, and more importantly, the stock utility applications don’t need to have a business model around them as independent businesses. They don’t need to worry about funding user acquisition, covering operating expenses, or having enough revenue to support the next release.

That being said, the successful core utility applications that I use tend to cater to power users or people who really care about a given function. Power user of email? Maybe Mailbox or the Gmail client is a better fit for you than the stock Mail app. Have lots of calendars to track, including social ones? Maybe you’ll be happier with Fantastical or Sunrise. And the list goes on and on. There can be a business around meeting the needs of these users, but it can be harder unless you’re someone like Google who is leveraging its massive desktop / web user base to penetrate iOS. I’m curious to see how startups in this space are thinking about building businesses around their apps.

Social / Network Effects
– Photo (Instagram)
– Video (many)
– Messaging (MessageMe, Viber, WhatsApp, Textfree)

I suspect it will be easier to compete with stock OS apps where there is a strong social or network effect to using that application. I like iMessage on my iPhone, but it’s not particularly compelling when trying to chat with my friends who don’t have iPhones or iPads. Other apps, such as Viber and whatsApp, have cost advantages or flexibility advantages (they are cross-platform, work on Wi-Fi and cellular data networks, and can be cheaper or free when compared to text messaging rates). Others compete by giving users more features and functionality than the vanilla apps that ship with the popular OS variants.

As always, I welcome any comments below or on Twitter @chudson.

Why Google Now Beats Siri

For the past few years I’ve been using two phones every day. I am a bit of a phone nerd, so I normally like to get one of the latest Android devices and the newest iPhone. Having both devices gives me some sense for how the two platforms are developing and where I’m seeing cool app development.

It took me awhile to get Google Now on my Galaxy S3. I was curious to see how the service would work – the landing page made it sound too good to be true. I’ve had Siri on my phone for awhile and I honestly almost never use it. I do, though, use the voice-to-text translation for some web searches, email composition, and notes.

I just don’t find Siri to be an assistant in the way that I think of an assistant. An assistant should “save my rear end” on a regular basis by giving me information that’s timely and useful and makes my life easier. I think of Siri more as a natural language search interface to the data on my phone, including stuff that can be grabbed from the web. But for me to get value from Siri, I have to do something actively – come up with a query, ask Siri to play a song, send a text, etc. That’s not what I expect from an assistant.

My experience with Google Now has been totally different. Google Now just kind of sits in the background and does useful stuff for me when I turn it on. And it does lots of interesting and useful stuff without me having to do much. A few examples of things that made me smile when using Google Now:

  • Alerted me that a package I was expecting had shipped (something I had used Slice to do on my iPhone)
  • Alerted me when I should leave for meeting given the expected transit time from my current location (I’ve been using a variety of apps on my iPhone for that)
  • Automated travel updates for my flight, including one that was massively delayed today (like what I get from TripIt)

Google Now feels like magic to me. Like all magical products, all I did was turn it on – it didn’t ask me to authenicate to a bunch of services or identify a bucnh of data. It just started working and delivering value right away. Every day it seems to surprise me with a bit more useful info, largely because Google sits on top of all of this information already. I think Semil Shah summed up why it’s so magical in a short tweet:

  • Because Google sits on top of rich maps and traffic data and my calendar, Google can tell me when to leave for a meeting.
  • Because Google has access to my gmail account, they can peek in there and pull out useful information about order confirmations, shipments, purchases, or other email communications as the service gets smarter
  • Because Google can see my search queries, it can smart about what I’m thinking about doing or interested in at that moment, including sports, stocks, news, and anything else where I leave a digital query trail.

I think that Google Now is going to make things harder for some of the niche services I’ve seen focused around making my smartphone smarter by extracting information from my calendar and email. Not everyone has as tight a connection with Google as I do, so Google Now will not work for everyone as well as it does for me. But it’s a powerful product.

I’m not sure how easily Siri could replicate the functionality of Google Now unless Apple starts allowing Siri to execute actions in other applications or opens up an interface that allows app developers to Siri-enable their own services. That will take time and I suspect it still won’t feel as integrated because Apple does not control or own those services.

If Google is looking for more features on Android to market, Google Now is one of them – it really is good.

If you are a power user of Google Now or Siri, I’d love to get your thoughts. You can leave a comment below or chat with me on Twitter @chudson.

The Zynga Hate Has Gone Too Far. Maybe They Should Go Private.

I have been working in free-to-play games for the past 5 years and I have been reading a lot of articles describing Zynga’s recent announcement about a soft Q3 2012 on the back of a less than stellar Q2 2012. The public markets clearly don’t like Zynga’s stock – it’s down substantially since its IPO and every piece of bad news seems to hammer the stock even harder. Whether it’s executive departures, delayed games, or flat revenue, the company can’t seem to catch a break. I think the public market hatred of Zynga’s stock might have gone too far. I’ll lay out my case below.

I just want to get all of the standard bias disclaimers out of the way now:

1. I have never worked at Zynga, but I was VP of BD at Serious Business, which Zynga acquired in early 2010.
2. I do not have any position (long or short) in Zynga stock.
3. I do work in the games industry and believe that you cannot have a healthy market for private companies if the public companies in your space are not healthy as well.
4. Zynga is by no means the most beloved company in the games space. But you have to acknowledge what they’ve been able to accomplish on the business side in a very short period of time.
5. Because of the nature of voting control at the company, this is really only something that could happen if management (as opposed to a hostile outsider) chose to pursue this path.

This is a long blog post. But I want to start with some historical perspective.

Zynga won by dominating distribution and monetization on the back of a platform where 50% of that platform’s user base came back on a daily basis. Let’s just quickly revisit how Zynga got to where they are today. More than any other company in the social games, space, I believe Zynga got two core things right. First, they were (and continue to be) masters of distribution on Facebook. They had the foresight or fortune to leverage their business to the Facebook platform. The Facebook platform not only grew at an unbelievable rate (now reaching over 1 billion people on a monthly basis) but also maintained insane usage, with roughly 40-50% of people logging in daily. Winning on a high growth, high engagement platform creates opportunities to build massive businesses. Zynga clearly won that game – I think it’s hard to argue that their combination of distribution expertise and product portfolio has a rival on Facebook. They have a handful of sticky, high monetizing titles (Farmville, Poker, Mafia Wars, Cityville) that continue to both retain users and monetize well.

The one challenge with platform dominance is that you eventually become so dominant on your platform that you suck out all of the oxygen and are ultimately constrained by the growth of the underlying platform. A few years back I speculated that Zynga was running out of Facebook users to acquire, as they had reached 50% penetration. I still stand by that post as a roughly high water mark on the FB platform – growth requires both new users and continued growth on the underlying platform on which you’ve bet the business.

But let’s zoom out and look at Zynga and think about where they are as a business:

Zynga will do over $1 billion in bookings in 2012, most of which will come from platforms that didn’t exist in meaningful form 5 years ago. Despite the decline in stock price, Zynga does roughly $200-300 million per quarter in bookings, the majority of which comes from a platform (Facebook) that didn’t exist in functional, meaningful form 5 years ago and with most of the growth coming from smartphone app stores that didn’t exist 5 years ago either. That’s really impressive growth. To go from zero to $1 billion in bookings is no small feat. It can be easy to lose sight of that fact in the stock price pummeling the company has taken.

Mobile games today is a “small numbers” business today for a company doing $1 billion in bookings. Just think about this. For a company that does over $1 billion in annual bookings, even a $100 million annual run rate for mobile only adds 10% to the top line. That simply isn’t enough to move the needle for Zynga. For mobile to matter in the grand scheme of things, it needs to be more like 20-30% of total revenue. The challenge right now is that while mobile (tablet and smartphone) is growing quickly, it’s still a small total dollars business for them and frankly for everyone else other than the largest Asian games companies. It will take time for mobile to catch up and eventually eclipse Zynga’s web business. In the meantime, their overall growth rate will be burdened by the slow growth of the Facebook platform.

Zynga is in the midst of managing a really difficult platform transition – this is really hard to do as a public company regardless of what industry you’re in. This is not just a games issue. Look at all of the traditional commerce companies that have tried to compete with e-commerce. And all of the print and analog media companies in music and news that have struggled to cope with the transition to digital. One thing is clear to me – fundamental distribution and platform transitions are hard enough to do – doing them in the glare of being a public company is downright impossible. The reason is simple – public companies are measured quarterly and these kinds of transitions require quarters of hard work to effect. Zynga, and just about every knowledgeable analyst that covers the company, understands that the future is in mobile. Making that transition from a Facebook-centric world to one where they have a meaningful contribution on mobile will take time and that’s hard to do in public.

There is no reason that Zynga can’t build up a strong cross-promotion network in mobile that would be reasonably effective in recreating some (if not all) of the advantages they enjoy on the Facebook platform. Part of what made Zynga successful on the Facebook platform was that they both dominated newsfeed and other forms of on-platform social distribution and that they had a large network of users to which to cross-promote new games. There is one fundamental different between mobile and Facebook, though. While most “social” games were surfaced through the core Facebook walled garden experience, this doesn’t hold on mobile. In mobile, games are not ambient social objects that live in a larger Facebook experience – they’re effectively more like a collection of bookmarks that you save on your desktop. As such, you don’t have a time blackhole application like Facebook where you can capture engaged users – it’s just harder on mobile.

But there’s no reason to believe that Zynga can’t build up a strong, meaningful cross-promotion network that rivals what they have on Facebook. Independent companies like Chartboost, Playhaven, and Papaya (AppFlood) have proven that the model can work across developers. And Zynga has some good assets in mobile when you look at Draw Something, Words with Friends, all of the X-With-Friends games, and upcoming IP. The real secret, though, to making this work is that Zynga needs a sufficiently diverse portfolio of offerings in its quiver to have the right game to suggest to the right user at any given point in time. Right now, they are heavily weighted toward casual. I expect they will add more hardcore, midcore, and casino games so that they eventually have something for everyone.

On Facebook, Zynga competed with Playfish, Playdom, Wooga and others to build the strongest cross-promo network. They eventually won. Now they’re competing with a new set of formidable competitors in GREE and DeNA. Unfortunately for Zynga, they are competing with those companies on their home platforms (mobile) – but Zynga will compete and I think we’re still in the early days of seeing how this all plays out.

There are really interesting opportunities available to Zynga – they’re just too risky to do as a public company. There is a lot of greenfield opportunity in front of Zynga. Social casino, both for-fun and real money, are both still markets that can be contested with good products and smart marketing spend. There are interesting opportunities in midcore and hardcore mobile games. And very few companies have really cracked social distribution. All of the segments I’ve mentioned above are speculative – they haven’t settled out yet and there’s still a lot of work to do to figure out what it takes to win. Winning in these market spaces will take experimentation, testing, and will inevitably involve some failure. That sounds more like work to do in private than in public.

Overall, I think Zynga has a lot of work to do but it’s all doable work. I’m just not sure how easily they can make the changes to their model that they need to make without going private first and escaping the glare of public company quarterly earnings reports and scrutiny. These are pretty fundamental (but addressable) challenges – I wonder if it would be easier to address these issues as a private company than as a public one. Curious to hear if you feel differently

Thanks for reading this long post. Believe it or not, I wrote the whole thing on my iPad. Feel free to leave a comment below or send me a message on Twitter @chudson.

3 Reasons It’s Hard to Get Mobile Group Photo Albums Right

I’ve been fascinated by many of the early attempts I’ve seen to create group photo albums. With the continued proliferation of smartphones, it seems like someone should have solved the problem of creating unified photo albums with photos taken from distributed devices.

I had hopes that the original version of Color would fulfill that promise and I’ve seen other products such as afolio and Flock take worthy shots at solving this problem – it’s still too early to know whether they will succeed but they’re using interesting approaches. In thinking about the problem of creating group albums, it also helped me better understand some of the possible thinking between Facebook launching their own Camera app.

In thinking about this problem and playing with a few of the products in the market today, there are 3 things that jumped out at me as design / product decisions that each of these companies have had to wrestle with in building a product. And the decisions made along these lines have profound impact on the overall experience.

1. Explicit or implicit album creation?
In my opinion, the most consequential decision is whether a service in this space asks the user to explicitly create an album or not. The advantage of explicit album creation is clear – you get the explicit creation of an event as a signal to create an event. With explicit album creation, you can also ask the user for other interesting metadata (name of the album, location, etc.). The other advantage of explicit album creation is that it creates a container for all of the relevant photos for a given event – there’s less need to guess which photos should be grouped together and which should not. In theory, more structured data around albums and photos should make it easier to match up albums for the same event after the fact.

The disadvantages to explicit album creation are also clear – you’re introducing friction to the process by asking the user to create an album. If I want to take a picture, I just want to take a picture. Asking me to add explicit meta data like album name and other stuff gets in the way of simply taking photos.

For implicit album creation to work, though, the system has to be smart about using all of the metadata about photos to make sure that you get the matching right. That can include everything from date and time of photos, location (if they are geotagged), other people in the photos, etc. In an even more ideal world, you’d have data about who’s in the picture (tagged people) and the ability to do some sort of matching to get the sense whether the photos were in fact taken in the same place.

Without good smarts around implicit data, you end up with lots of false positives. For example, in Flock I’ve seen a few shared albums where I understand why they are created but they were not in fact from the same album. My friend and I both took some photos in San Francisco on the same day but we were not together and were pretty far apart. But someone will hack this stuff and start to do clever hacks to make things work. One simple hack would be to compare groups of photos to figure out similarity based on how they look, who occurs in them, etc. Making it feel like magic will require clever use of those implicit signals.

2. How do you build the attendee graph? One of the other challenges in building group or shared photos is figuring out whose content should be included in a shared album. In some cases, this is easy because all of the people at the event are already friends on Facebook. But often times, this is not the case – I’ve been to many events where people there are not my friends on Facebook (people do go to events to meet people, after all) or even friends-of-friends. So how do you build the attendee graph? Do you have everyone use a common hashtag or code for their photos? Do you allow people to invite others by SMS or email? One of the key things for making group or shared photo albums work is making it easy for people to create (or otherwise detect) the people whose photos should be contributed. Again, this is an area where I think some smart hacking could figure this stuff out.

3. Native camera or in-app camera for photo capture? One of the other things I’ve been thinking about (and appreciating) more lately is the decision to use the phone’s native camera or to require the user to open an app and use a “camera” from within the app. Again, by controlling the camera and requiring the user to use “your” camera as an app developer, you have a bit more control over what data you grab in the background. And you can control the interface a bit more and potentially do some interesting things. For example, if you’re Facebook, having the Facebook Camera app means that you can make it much easier for photos to be uploaded to Facebook at the point of capture, as opposed to waiting for users to remember to do so after the fact.

I’m really curious about how this space will evolve. If you have thoughts, feel free to leave me a comment or send me a message on Twitter @chudson.

Thoughts on the Latest Version of Highlight – Greater Emphasis on Sharing Out to Facebook

I’ve been enjoying the latest update to Highlight (version 1.2 which issue described on their blog here). For my previous thoughts on Highlight,  I’d encourage you to read this post.

As a fairly active Highlight user, a few things have really jumped out at me about the newest release. Overall,  it feels like this update was designed to encourage me to share more content out to my larger Facebook social graph and to generate more interesting social signal data by expanding the range of activities I can do inside of the app. More on those two topics below:

1. This new release has a much stronger focus on sharing out to my Facebook graphics as opposed to keeping content internal to Highlight. Whether it’s posting a new blurb, creating a location-based nearby post, or highlighting users, there is much more emphasis on sharing activity in Highlight out to my larger Facebook graph.

I haven’t yet fully embraced sharing out from Highlight to my larger social network. In some ways I think it’s strange that I haven’t given that the seed for the service is my Facebook graph and friends-of-friends. I’m just happier keeping what I do in Highlight on Highlight for now, much in the way that I only selectively share activity from Path or foursquare to other social networks.

2. Highlight 1.2 creates many more ways to generate signal and activity in the system. One of the challenges with being an always on background app is that users don’t necessarily open up the app on a regular basis. One way to remain top of mind and relevant as a background app is to fire off timely push notifications. Under the old version of Highlight, the primary notification event was a potential person of interest in your vicinity or another user highlighting you. I doubt that dialing up the volume of those notifications, even if Highlight could achieve a 0% false positive rate, would make the app more interesting. Rather, I’m guessing that the team determined that adding new and varied signals to the system would make for a richer, more interesting experience. I am still wrapping my head around how to use the “Post Nearby” feature, but I do think it will become another interesting way to interact with other Highlight users.

I continue to be really interested by Highlight and the boundaries they are pushing in terms of passive location sharing. Finding the right balance of relevance and reminding users that you’re around and active for an application that runs in the background is an interesting UI/UX/design challenge.

As always, comments are open and you can also message me on Twitter @chudson.

Why I Quora

I’ve been thinking a lot about why I’ve gotten back into Quora – so much so that I’ve started to use “quora” as a verb in the same way that I twitter, blog, or instagram. I liked it a lot when I first found out about it and then kind of stopped participating. But I’ve gotten back into it and it has become a really entertaining piece of my information diet. I don’t consider myself a power user of Quora, but I am reasonably active in reading, posting, and answering posts.

In terms of my general purpose information consumption, there are two participatory platforms that really dominate my time and attention:

Twitter – I use Twitter for sharing bite-sized, interesting stuff that I discover myself or see in my stream. It’s usually links to other people’s content with shareworthy headlines and usually topically focused on games, investing, social applications, or the like. And occasionally sports.

Blogging – I continue to enjoy blogging. But for me, blogging is a medium-to-long form way of expressing things that I find interesting with the hope that others find it interesting as well. I only blog when I have a prompt to write something that’s a few hundred words in length that I think others might find interesting.

Quora is different. Sure, the idea of posting questions and getting feedback from others is interesting and informative, especially if you have enough distribution within Quora or on Twitter or Facebook to get your question seen by people who can answer it. But I can get some of that Q&A experience on my own blog, on Twitter, or by chatting with people. The part of Quora that has drawn me back in is having people nudge me to answer questions (either explicitly through Quora or sending me links to interesting threads). That’s not something that generally happens when I’m blogging – I am responsible for creating the prompt to blog and the subsequent content. But I’ve had quite a few instances lately where the prompt the answer a question has turned into a short blog post style answer – see this one for example.

I enjoy writing but I don’t always have stuff to say that is worthy of a blog post length. Quora has provided me with lots of opportunities to get my writing fix without having to do the work of finding a prompt on my own.

As always, you can leave a comment here or send me a message on Twitter @chudson.

Location-Based People Discovery Networks are for Fun not Business

Short blog post for you. I was on a walkabout with a friend and former colleague and we got on the subject of location-based people discovery services like Highlight, Sonar, and Circle. We got on the subject of whether I’d use those services for professional as opposed to entertainment purposes.

People discovery is a form of entertainment for me. I find it entertaining to see who’s around me and I often reach out to folks on those services when I have some downtime and am in the mood to chat with others. That’s how I use Highlight, which is my favorite, and it has been a good experience. Sometimes I meet people where there is a professional connection, but that’s a relative rarity.

I’ve been struggling to see how I would get value from using one of these services for more professional uses. Professional people discovery seems different to me as it has inherent asymmetry that is made worse by adding in proximity. There are supernodes (investors, founders and execs at high-profile companies, etc.) who are in high demand and already likely have more inbound requests for networking / getting together than they can manage. Adding in proximity seems like it would make things even more difficult for these people – they’d be hounded or flooded even more than they are on email without the inbox as a way to hide.

If you actively use location-based people discovery services, let me know your thoughts. You can always leave a comment below or hit me on Twitter on @chudson.

Sanebox Is Priority Inbox for Gmail Done Awesome

I’ve been using Sanebox for awhile and I absolutely love it – it has changed the way I use Gmail. I was very excited with Priority Inbox for Gmail when it launched, but it didn’t quite hit the mark for me – perhaps it would have gotten better if I had invested more in training it. I found too many emails marked as priority that really weren’t. So I eventually reverted back to the regular view of Gmail.

When I heard about Sanebox, I was initially skeptical. It was hard for me to believe that a product could actually do a good job of sorting my emails into high and low priority emails. But Sanebox proved me wrong. I had two main asks of any product in this space – for me to use it, it has to do meet the following two key criteria:

1. Accurately score the vast majority (95%+) of my inbound emails with the right level of priority. I don’t want to miss too many important emails due to the system scoring.

2. Don’t ask me to do much work in terms of training – the more work I have to do, the less valuable the product is to me.

Sanebox has worked great for me on both counts. All I did was sign up and then connect my Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts. And from the day I turned it on, it gets most of my emails right. I don’t think it’s too hard to figure out which emails are regular ecommerce subscriptions / notifications and put those in a separate place. But where Sanebox really shines is in solving the hardest email problem of all – determining whether a person with whom I have never emailed is in fact an inbound priority or not. Sanebox gets this right 99% of the time. Which makes me trust the service more and worry less about missing important emails.

Also, Sanebox does a good job of putting the emails they’ve filtered out into an easy place to find them – your SaneLater label. I only check it once or twice a day – the advantage of having faith in the accuracy of the Sanebox judgment score around priority is that I don’t have anxiety that I’m missing important emails. And “SaneLater” is the right label for the folder – it’s mostly stuff I should read but just not right now if I’m pressed for time or want to stay focused on the most important stuff.

I also think that it’s really interesting and cool that they’ve taken an anti-freemium approach. While I really like the freemium business model, this is one of those products where I’m glad to pay if it means that the developer will stay in business. Plus, with the design of the product, there is no natural or easy segmentation between what you would give the free and paid users while maintaining a good service for both.

Disclosure: I am not an investor in Sanebox – I’m just a fanboy.