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Tag: iPhone

The wisdom of the crowds

 

This post is based on the excellent session, “Crowdsource Your Success”, that was given in Affiliate Summit East 2010 though I expanded it and added my own perspective.

 
Crowdsourcing is becoming increasingly popular these days. According to Wikipedia, Crowdsourcing “is the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to a large group of people or community (a crowd), through an open call“.

 

Using Crowdsourcing, you can submit a job description and get multiple bids each already satisfying the specifications you desire. Since you get multiple people trying to create what you want, the results are potentially diverse and can be surprisingly creative. Of course, this is usually more expensive than just using regular outsourcing sites such as oDesk or Elance – but the disadvantage of those is that no matter how good your contractor, you are ’stuck’ with a single design.

 
Crowdsourcing works because of the ‘wisdom of the crowds’ principle: the idea that a crowd – a collection of individuals – is much more likely to get the right answer than a single individual.

 
A good example is the game show “Who wants to be a millionaire?”. Asking the audience for the answer is more likely to result in the right answer than asking your friend or Regis Philbin.

 
This principle has been adopted by computer science as well (and probably other fields). In my academic career I used to create multiple artificial neural – instead of a single one – networks that solved a problem. The right solution was determined by taking the solution that the largest number of networks ‘voted’ would work best.

 
Here are some suggestions given at the talk to get the maximum from crowdsourcing:

  1. You reap what you sow: define your project properly or you may get something very different from what you had in mind.
  2. Tight deadlines are very effective as people like discovering quickly whether they’ve won a bid.
  3. Don’t be a jerk: Designers thrive on feedback, give feedback and recognition.
  4. The project has to require your involvement: a crowdsourcing project is not ’set and forget’.
  5. Keep it simple: be realistic in your expectations and ask for what is reasonable.
  6. Don’t be too cheap: most people aren’t going to be paid, so keep this in mind.
  7. Announce there will be multiple winners to boost designer participation (assuming that is the case!)

Until the talk in Affiliate Summit, I (naively) thought crowdsourcing is limited to graphic design/web design and 1-2 other types of applications. I was mainly familiar with 99design.

 
The following is a list of crowdsourcing resources given at the talk. I had no idea there were so many! When I’ve done a Google search I found even more though it’s hard to tell which are good. If you are familiar with anything that is not included and is a good resource, please let me know and I’ll add it.

 
Note that I’m still looking for a place to crowdsource copywriting (sadly, not my strength!) – so if you are familiar with a good site for that purpose, suggestions would be welcome.

 
Banner, landing page and graphic design
99designs: the most well known resource for Crowdsourcing.

 
Landing page optimization:
FiveSecondTest: allows you to get quick feedback on landing page designs.

  • Are your calls to action standing out? Get people clicking on hot spots
  • Can visitors understand what the site is about?
  • Give viewers a memory test: what can they remember about the landing page?

 
PPC management
Trada: Allows you to turn over PPC management to a group of AdWords qualified professionals.

 
Ad copy
BoostCTR: allows you to outsource your ad copy so that your CTR is boosted. Guaranteed improvement!

 
Videos
GeniusRocket: professional videos and animations.

 
Product development
Quirky: submit new ideas for products or influence products currently in production (and earn cash)

 
Feature Requests
UserVoice: a giant suggestion box. You get a lot of comments which are prioritized. Best ideas are voted to the top.

SuggestionBox

 
Software development
TopCoder: an excellent resource for software developers.

 
Find JV partners
Jigsaw: a massive crowsourced database of contact information

 
Content writing
Spudaroo: useful for web content as well as resumes, leases, etc.

 
Beta Testing
UserTesting: usability testing for your website.

CrowdFlower

 
Ideas/Names
Amazon Mturk: Although the Amazon Mechanical Turk is not exactly a crowdsourcing resource, by offering to pay a small amount for ideas, you can effectively crowdsource names. An example was given of a person who paid $27.50 to get name ideas for his iPhone app (the result was iReadFast). Note that there used to be a site (which I vaguely remember) that was used for this purpose but has been apparently closed.

 

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stupid phone


 
If I could do it easily, I would run a poll: “how many of you use a Smartphone vs. a traditional, old-style cell phone?”. I’m sure the vast majority would be using the former. Not that the readers of this blog represent, in my opinion, the phone user demographics properly, but that’s not my point.

 
Well, I’m not. The last time I switched phones was almost two years ago. Back then I intended to migrate to a Blackberry. But when I reached the store, it just seemed unnecessary. All I wanted was a phone with a big keyboard so that it would be easy to write emails and send text messages, which I got (the image above is the type of phone I’m using).

 
I would be lying if I said I regretted this decision. Though as time passed, I kept missing some features that others had. For example, I had no easy way of accessing my email or Twitter: I had to open a browser and type the URLs. I also had no way of uploading photos directly to email, Twitter, Facebook. Nor could I use applications like Foursquare – I’m not sure I would, but I’d definitely give these a try.

 
A few months ago I decided to upgrade: in 2008 all of my urgent emails were work based, so were answered at work. Now that I am self-employed, I really need to answer some emails when I’m away. I already do it if I really have to, but my phone really isn’t designed for this, so it’s not very convenient (purely in terms of interface). In addition, my phone has reached old age: it has an annoying habit of turning off in the middle of conversations – somehow, always when I’m trying to meet someone outdoors – or turn itself on in my pocket and dial random people (if one is reading this: my apologies!). It clearly needs to be retired (possibly even put down. It will be humane, I promise).

 
What are my choices?

 
iPhone: I know most people just looooove iPhones. I respect that. However, I have an iPod touch I’m not using at all. I can’t stand the touch screen interface, I don’t like the navigation interface… I just don’t like it. My iPod sits and gathers dust and I really need to just sell it.

 
Android: I decided I’m not getting one because it’s Google based. They already have too much information about me and the rest of the world, I’m not about to give them more. I imagine a scary scenario: it’s the year 2020 and Google can suspend/ban you from its applications if you go into certain areas: “You’ve been to MICROSOFT’s HEADQUARTERS? No GMAIL FOR YOU!”. Ask any affiliate marketer and they won’t deny that this is a plausible scenario (even if a bit exaggerated). We’ve seen Google at its worst (at least I hope that this is its worst).

 
Palm: I have heard good things about the palm, but when I saw it, it looked too similar to the iPhone for my taste.

 
Blackberry: that was my original choice. I know they are convenient for email management, they do hold the largest share of the Smartphone market, and I like the fact you don’t need to touch the screen on most of them.

 
So a quick summary of my goals:

  1. Get a phone experience that’s better than what I have.
  2. Be able to manage emails/Twitter/Facebook much better than I currently can.
  3. Be able to use apps – and I honestly care which app store, whether the Blackberry app store or Palm’s, etc.

 
Today I went to the store determined to make the transition. I left – pretty disappointed – without making one.

 
I played with all the phones. Most of the touch screen interfaces weren’t so inconvenient as I thought they’d be, so I decided to reconsider those. Some of the Androids had a physical keyboard, so I decided to risk the doomsday scenario I described (I deserve the criticism, I know) and include those as well.

 
Most seemed like good phones. But none, not even a single one, was as good for typing as my old style phone. Even the phones that included a keyboard were too small, or were designed in an inconvenient way.

 
People used to to tell me “Oh, you’ll get used to X’s way of entering text” (usually X was the iPhone). But no, I don’t want to! I don’t want to get used to a bad thing, I want to upgrade! When I switched to my current phone, typing immediately became pleasant and easy – I didn’t have to get “used to it”. Particularly now that I intend to use it for email much more, I don’t want to start hating my (new) phone! Not to mention, switching to a Smartphone increases one’s phone bill (though that’s not and never was the issue).

 
I’ll also state I have carpal tunnel syndrome (well, not exactly – something similar) – as a result of almost 30 years of typing – so typing on a small keyboard is always an unpleasant task for me.

 
I tried one after the other. They all sucked in this respect. I don’t get it: why can’t a single Smartphone manufacturer include in its device a keyboard that opens like mine? I’m not going to get a Smartphone just to be “cool” if it makes my life harder!

 
I started looking at the new models of my existing phone… these definitely improved in two years. But I didn’t feel I could make this decision, staying with a “stupid”, “moronic”, “clueless”, phone (i.e. not a Smartphone) without at least getting more information on the alternatives.

 
Therefore, I wrote this post.

 
Any ideas? I’m hoping someone would say that there is a mythical model, offered by company X, that does exactly what I want. And it’s either too expensive to be sold (I’ll pay the price!), or no one likes it so it’s almost free (even better). If I need to travel to China to get it, I’ll go there. If I need to sacrifice a small goat to the God of mobile phones, I’ll even do that. It is time to move forward. But really move forward.

 
Help?

 

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iStethoscope


 
I thought I’ll share this story with my readers because I find it inspiring and because it happened to a good friend of mine.

 
My (ex) Ph.D. supervisor and friend, Peter Bentley, has an iPhone he really loves (I mean it, he really loves it). I became Peter’s student after I read one of his books – he’s published quite a number of academic texts and popular science books. Peter is a great writer, and I learned a lot from him (regardless of the fact I got a doctorate thanks to him!). Here’s Peter’s Wikipedia page (yes, I’m mentioned there too).

 
One day, purely for fun, Peter created an iPhone app: it was called iStethoscope and with it you could basically use your iPhone as a stethoscope: listen to your heartbeat, etc. Since he genuinely created it without any intentions of profit, he distributed it for free, and it became quite popular. I remember recommending it to a friend of mine who downloaded it and thought it was quite cool. I never used it myself since I don’t have an iPhone (or any other Smartphone), but that’s another story.

 
It turns out such an application has commercial usages. Peter was contacted by a cardiologist who was really interested in the application and suggested creating a commercial version: one which will allow people to record their heartbeats and send it to him to check for irregularities. Apparently this is much more powerful than many existing “real” medical applications. Moreover, people from all over the world can use it to get the services of a good cardiologist, as long as they have an iPhone and an internet connection. Peter naturally agreed, and the result is iStethoscope Pro, a commercial iPhone application that’s being now sold.

 
When he told me about this I thought it’s a really cool story: this truly demonstrates the strength of our present day society which is backed by modern technology, everything is so well connected that potentially someone in the other side of the world can utilize something you’ve created for yourself as long as you’ve shared it – or talked about it – online. Collaborations become easy, and as this story demonstrates, at times you don’t even need to seek them – they’ll come to you (though I assume usually that is not the case).

 
I like this kind of story, where someone does something for altruistic reasons and it results not only in helping people in a far greater extent than he anticipated, but he also ends up getting a reward for his efforts. In particular I like them when they happen to a friend of mine.

 
To read more about iStethoscope Pro, check out its page on Peter’s site.

 
I’m also going to share a number of videos Peter created to demonstrate how to use it which are useful.. but I also find them quite funny too since he doesn’t say a word in any of the videos! :)

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man hiding from twitter

This is my third post in a row about Twitter. I don’t intend for this to be a Twitter blog, but I guess because I’ve been so into Twitter lately, it’s just often on my mind.

 
Ok, so what’s for today.

 
Recently I realized that tweeting a lot carries with it both professional and personal hazards. I guess this is also true for Facebook, but since my profile has never been public, I never actually felt it.

 
The problem is this: you receive an email, a phone call or a message telling you “this is urgent, deal with it NOW”. Normally, I – and I assume you too – prioritize. If it’s truly urgent, I do it immediately. If it’s not, it waits a bit. Sometimes even slightly longer than a bit. I believe the vast majority of time I am able to get whatever I need to do in a the right amount of time, so that’s fine.

 
However, when you Twitter a lot, it’s kind of hard to hide what you’re doing since it’s all so public. Here are two examples.

 
Question: “Say, didn’t you said you’re going to visit your parents? How come you were Tweeting about watching TV at home?”
Udi: “Emmm…”.

 
Question: “Say, didn’t you say you were going to return that email ASAP? How come you were quoting Robin Williams in Twitter?”
Udi: “Emmm…”.

 
And the worst of all:

 
Question: “Say, didn’t you say you’re too busy to take our son from daycare? How come you were tweeting with that cute girl with the name I can’t remember?”
Udi: “Emmm……*slight note of fear*”.

 
What makes it worse for me is that in my ’stupidity’, I actually added my last tweets to my blog (see top right corner), and each includes message and time. So you don’t even to be familiar with Twitter. My mother can go to my website and see exactly whether I’m home (if there’s no Tweet for 5 hours, I’m either extremely busy or not home). I can already imagine the questions: “you were home and you didn’t pick up the phone. I am SO disappointed in you, my eldest son.”

 
This creates problems, as you can imagine. Moreover, as the world becomes more connected, i.e. some personal gadgets can tell where you currently are (for example geo-location is available on cell phones, and certain iPhone applications use that), we lose more and more of our privacy.

 
Until now I was fairly immune to this, but I guess this is a major change, and by actually writing about this, I’m exposing myself to more scrutiny (since some friends/family haven’t thought about this). In my specific case, I can always say tweeting is part of my work (and that should get me off the hook, though I’ll probably have a hard time convincing my parents this is indeed true!)

 
Ah, the problems of the the second decade (almost) of the 21st century. I wonder what the future holds. I’m sure we’ll adapt and our kids will find it hard to believe this was actually not a problem once (just like teenagers nowadays can’t imagine the time their parents not being available on a cell phone when they were their age).

 
Personally, I can’t wait to see what happens next! I just hope some shred of privacy remains.

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