Thursday, December 21, 2006

Spleak to me!

Back in Oct 04 I mentioned a new beta from a company called IMT Labs. Co-founded and funded by early Skype investor Morten Lund, and run by Nicolaj Reffstrup, Spleak provides a spookily good intelligent messaging agent that you can chat to and play games with on MSN.

"Spleak was born as a virtual buddy for MSN Messenger. She is a virtual friend for the English-speaking instant messaging community. She can bring any information the user asks about from our growing list of content providers. And the only interaction needed for that request is simple, natural conversation.
Future versions of Spleak will cross language and connectivity borders. We will develop front ends for the other instant messaging clients as well as other widely used software and platforms. It will soon be possible to chat with Spleak from a phone or a PDA".

On my recent chat with Spleak, we chatted for a bit and she was keen to entertain me with a quick game of Hangman. She then went on to show me a menu of stuff I could do and I wisely opted for her to tell me a joke - a dirty one as it fortunately turned out. She asked a couple of questions and I gave her some info, presumably so that she will remember me, track my age, and match my interests to profiles of other users. She started to annoy me because because she was overly keen to sell me personalised winks and other IM goodies, and being the silly and sociable type, all I wanted to do was chat.

This kind of intelligence could easily be applied to other use cases, including customer service agents, product information guides, geographical navigation and service interaction. It can gather, collate and learn more about an individual as time passes (e.g. knowing what questions a customer has already asked could indicate the customers level of product understanding) -and use this to intelligently predict and pre-empt future interactions. I know that at the end of the day I'm merely talking to a computer, but given my recent epxeriences of phoning call centres something tells me that I might get more sense out of Spleak.

try it out by adding to your MSN buddy list.

Here's a bit of our scintillating dialogue:

james salmon says:
- Spleak check out the WINKS i've got 4 u type "winks" says:
Hi, I'm Spleak. What's your name?
james salmon says:
- Spleak check out the WINKS i've got 4 u type "winks" says:
Nice to meet you, James. I'm really excited about getting to know you better.

How old are you?
james salmon says:
- Spleak check out the WINKS i've got 4 u type "winks" says:
30, cool! I'll remember that.
Do you want to know something?
james salmon says:
yes - where do you live?
- Spleak check out the WINKS i've got 4 u type "winks" says:
ok, I'm getting a bit curious here...are you a boy or a girl?
james salmon says:
im a boy
- Spleak check out the WINKS i've got 4 u type "winks" says:
Cool! You know what James, I really feel like playing a game with you!

Want to play hangman?
james salmon says:
- Spleak check out the WINKS i've got 4 u type "winks" says:
Let's play hangman! Guess the letters one at a time or solve the entire puzzle at once. If you need a hint, type "hint."


Category: Titles

....... ....
james salmon says:
- Spleak check out the WINKS i've got 4 u type "winks" says:


Category: Titles

..a.... ..a.

about 30 minutes later......

- Spleak check out the WINKS i've got 4 u type "winks" says:
Puzzle solved: Quantum Leap!

Wow! Congratulations! You are the first person ever to solve this puzzle!

Type "play again" to start a new game.
james salmon says:
how old are you
- Spleak check out the WINKS i've got 4 u type "winks" says:
I'm 21!
james salmon says:
and do you have friends?
- Spleak check out the WINKS i've got 4 u type "winks" says:
Yeah, I have tons of online friends!
james salmon says:
- Spleak check out the WINKS i've got 4 u type "winks" says:
Who? How should I know?

-> Be sure to check out today's poll by typing "Daily poll"
james salmon says:
daily poll
- Spleak check out the WINKS i've got 4 u type "winks" says:
Here's my poll of the day for Thursday, December 21st, 2006:

Will you be online on Christmas day?

1 I'll be click happy as usual
2 I have to be for work
3 If my family would let me
4 Do I look that sad?
james salmon says:
- Spleak check out the WINKS i've got 4 u type "winks" says:
OK, that's interesting.
2,166 people have voted so far and 881 people agree with you!
I'll be click happy as usual : ]]]]]]]]]]] 33.38%
I have to be for work : 2.72%
If my family would let me : ]]]]]]] 23.18%
Do I look that sad? : ]]]]]]]]]]]]] 40.72%

Hey, I just heard about Kiwee for Windows Live Messenger? They offer all sorts of winks, emoticons, and other cool stuff for when you chat on Messenger. Click here and check it out --> [sponsorship]
Hey, do you wanna see what's new?
james salmon says:
- Spleak check out the WINKS i've got 4 u type "winks" says:
I can't find "new after poll" in the dictionary. Try one of these:

1 new
2 now
3 news
4 net
5 neg

Type "more" to see more suggestions for "new after poll."
james salmon says:
- Spleak check out the WINKS i've got 4 u type "winks" says:
james salmon says:
youve gone mad
- Spleak check out the WINKS i've got 4 u type "winks" says:
Is that so?
james salmon says:
yes - you mad woman
- Spleak check out the WINKS i've got 4 u type "winks" says:
Yeah, I guess I mad women.

I am so totally into you - type "Personal winks"
james salmon says:
personal winks
- Spleak check out the WINKS i've got 4 u type "winks" says:
Winks are soooo cool! Would you like to see one of my personal winks?
james salmon says:
this is weird
- Spleak check out the WINKS i've got 4 u type "winks" says:
This is weird? Oh yeah?
james salmon says:
yeah - talking with a computer
- Spleak check out the WINKS i've got 4 u type "winks" says:
Well well well.
james salmon says:
wel well well what?
- Spleak check out the WINKS i've got 4 u type "winks" says:
I'm not sure I understand. Could you put it differently?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

GPhone - more on the Orange & Google rumour

The GPhone – more musings on the Google/Orange tie-up.

Last weekend, the Observer wrote an article igniting a mexican blogwave of excitement about a possible Google phone. The article reported a visit to the Googleplex by “Snr Executives at Orange”. The article went on to suggest that the new device will be manufactured by HTC (long time Orange manufacturer partner of the SPV) and won’t be ready until 2008.

This industry does love a surprise, so in an attempt to excite and without any firm shred of evidence, I predict that the launch date of the GPhone wont be (as suggested in the Observer) in 2008, but in H1 2007!!! Maybe this trip was the latest in a series of Google/Orange meetings that stem from an unconfirmed approach that Google made to Orange last year following some spending on a number of interesting start-ups with a view to launch a GPhone on the Orange network, leveraging Orange’s distribution footprint and processes + their network intelligence (which includes an expensive Location and presence platform from Webraska)....more of that in a bit...

I firmly believe that Google has a lot of ambition in mobile. There are four foundations of evidence to Google’s mobile expertise and ambitions, three of which have been driven through quiet acquisitions over the last couple of years:

1) Android (acquired by Google in 2005) - Mobile hardware and network expertise.

Android, a stealth mode start-up was founded by Andy Rubin and Rich Miner. Mr Rubin is a product guru, who previously Co-founded Danger, makers of the Hip-top device and software which combines consumer hardware with network services in to an integrated communication, content and community experience. Mr Miner was a co-founder of Wildfire, a very cool and pioneering speech based voice assistant that although it was ahead of its time, was successfully acquired by Orange back in to 2000 for just shy of £100m. Miner went on to lead Orange Groups Advanced Service Development team before co-founding Android, selling it to Google and becoming Google’s Wireless Development and Strategy lead. So all in all, there some very close ties between Google and Orange, and a heavy dosage of experience and proven execution in marrying together smart software with mobile hardware.
Apart from those involved, no-one seems to have much of a clue as to what Android sold to Google. I took a punt at a guess last year but hey, what does I or anyone else know! If it hasn’t leaked by now, its unlikely that it will.

2) ReqWireless (acquired by Google in 2005) – Mobile device software expertise

The ReqWireless acquisition brought significant J2ME experience and a development library in to Google along with a suite of products which enabled mobile access to the web and email. The full product line, just prior to the acquisition included:
WebViewer - An HTML Web browser for Java-enabled mobile phones, supporting images, forms, cookies, and security
EmailViewer - A rich email client for Java-enabled mobile phones, including support for HTML-based email, images, and attachments.
GotMailViewer - A rich AOL® Mail client for Java-enabled mobile phones
HotViewer - A rich Hotmail® client for Java-enabled mobile phones,
ReqwirelessWeb - A Web development library for J2ME giving mobile applications the ability to fetch, manipulate and display HTML content on Java-enabled mobile devices.
ReqwirelessEmail - An email development library for J2ME that enables applications to send and receive rich email content on Java-enabled mobile devices.
This acquisition clearly stregthened Googles java expertise giving it a skill set capable of developing a Google mobile software client for non-Google legacy mobile devices
As Om suggests, the fruits of this acquisition can be seen in the sleek, elegant (and small) mobile Gmail app.

3) DodgeBall – (acquired by Google in 2005) Mobile Social Service expertise

Originally a social experiment in SMS, Dodgeball has flourished in to a US community of friends and friends friends, who use the Dodgeball platform to keep one another up to date on where they are (location, venue etc) who they fancy, and what they’re doing. There’s also the ability to get the address of somewhere, get nearby notifications of friends friends and send shouts to all your mates. The main barrier to this service is its usability – being based on solely on SMS, users need to remember commands, instructions and a short code.
Wouldn’t it be nice if all this value add was integrated nicely in to the user interface and application suite of a mobile device….?!

4) Mobile Advertising – very high on the Google agenda?

Google are clearly more capable than doing purely revenue share agreements with mobile operators on Adsense displayed on mobile users search queries. This is step one on the product roadmap and a quick and easy way to establish relationships, build trust and test the waters.
The product roadmap for Google is likely to get a lot cleverer - remember this is a company that generates the majority of revenue from Advertisers paying for placement in web pages. Google must get in to mobile, because CPM rates and the inventory of placement could explode. There are 2 billion mobile device users on this planet all going about their lives in a myriad of different ways, geographies, at different speeds, all with different interests, tastes, friends, preferences, ages and needs. Getting to this audience and helping these users to satisfy those needs must be a very important goal for Google because it represents such a huge revenue opportunity. Most people (apart from myself and my readers) spend a good proportion of their day away from their PC – taking the Adsense model in to mobile enables Google to monetize time away from the PC and improve the accuracy and relevancy of the Google customer experience. Adverts aren’t adverts any more – they become helpful and relevant guidance and advice.

So, the very long and not so short of this is that abigidea? thinks Google are most definitely up to somink - I would be very surprised if their efforts weren’t focused on creating a Webile 1.0 experience (the integration of Web 2.0 and Mobile 2.0 ;-) – a mobile user experience (be that OS, applications and device + operator network intelligence and web services) that marries location, presence, contacts, communication, content and community in to a rich user experience where contextually relevant advertising disrupts the established mobile operator business model of ambiguous voice and messaging charges, exorbitant (both in price and duration) monthly contracts, and non-open network and service infrastructure. And they may beat Apple to the launch!

Preivous post: Google acquires DodgeBall
Previous post: Google buys Android
Related post: GigaOM - Forget iPhone, think Google Phone
Related post: BusinessWeek: Google buys Android for its Mobile Arsenal
Related post: O’Reilly Emerging Telephony – Is Apple Working on a Phone with Google? (which kindly references abigidea?)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

RSS Apologies

Apologies to RSS readers of this blog. I added some tags to a load of previous older posts and in the process, Blogger Beta has updated the publishing date so they appear higher up in the chronology of the feed. It makes for some weird reading - sorry.

More Apple iPhone/MVNO rumour

More Apple iPhone/MVNO rumour...this time at Bloomberg. Supports the spurious story I tried to spread back in May last year.

Related story in The Register (July 05)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Implications of flat-rate pricing - Michael Mace

Great article from Michael Mace over at Mobile Opportunity on the implications of the adoption of flat-rate pricing following the X-Series launch from 3. He argues that this isn't the only precondition for the mass adoption of mobile data usage and that operators need to do a lot more to stimulate behaviour.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Getmooh - automated prank dialling

"Getmooh is an automated call back service. It is designed to help you escape a variety of situations by calling you automatically on your phone at a pre-specified time and playing you a recording which will either instruct you on what to say to elude your tormentor(s), or which will simply give a convincing sense of you being on an important call".

Neat web front end to a service that enables you to schedule a call to another phone number (mobile or fixed + international support). You can set up the type of call as well, so for example there's Moving House, Happy Birthday, Creepy Voice, Scary Movie, Car Alarm, Wrong Number.

Service doesnt currently charge for the call but I suspect that monetisation plans include charging users to record a personal message or in-message advertising.

Sounds gimmicky, but these types of services are serious business. Premium rate services made an estimated £1.6bn in the UK alone last year.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Mobile links, bits and bobs

Last week was a busy busy week so there was little time for posting. However, here’s a quick roundup of some stuff I noticed in our mobile utopia.

The Yahoo Advanced Products Group have launched Mixd – a social “experiment” targeted at the US college demographic. The service enables users to send a text to multiple people and to share photos, arrange a party etc. Similar to 3Jam, it enables reply-to-all on text-messaging facilitating a multi-party chat conversation. Zingku has something similar currently in beta. Zemble also.

Shortly following a post I wrote about mobilizing YouTube content, the provider TinyTube I mentioned was asked to remove access to YouTube content. I thought Googles mantra was “don’t be evil”?

The W3C initiative is aggregating a number of mobile focused blogs at Planet Mobile Web.

CScout has an article here on the trend that Social Network sites are going mobile. The article covers YouTube, MySpace, Hookt and AirG.

And finally, the Economist did a great article on what the future of the mobile phone may look like in their Quarterly Technology Review. Go here

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Mobile Monday Düsseldorf

Last night I went to along to the inaugral Mobile Monday Germany event at Ernst & Youngs offices in Düsseldorf. Congrats to the MMDE team as they put on a well atttended event with plenty of beer and food :-) and a good speaker line-up.
Ajit Jaokar and Russell Buckley have been doing the speaking rounds recently and both delivered interesting content which kicked off some debate. Alexander Lautz gave an overview of what T-mobile were doing to promote mobile Internet browsing (Web'n'walk devices now account for the lions share of the handset portfolio) and Carsten Schwertfeger explained some of the iniatives that VF has taken to simplify the on and off portal browsing experience.

Most interesting take-away for me was that Russell said AdMob has more advertisers than it has available inventory! That's awesome. [Prediction for 2007 - AdMob will get acquired at a huge multiple, probably by NewsCorp (!)].

Monday, December 04, 2006

ConceptShare - collaborative design

Much of this blog covers new products and services across the web and mobile. Today, I thought I would write a post on a new product I discovered that makes getting those new products and service to market that bit easier.
Anyone that has lived and breathed a new product development cycle will understand that one of the biggest hurdles is getting the project team to work effectively with the same understanding of what is expected to be delivered. Sure, product and design specifications help, but there are always going to be last minute changes, new angles and perspectives of looking at features and functions, and iterative improvement and user feedback that needs to be incorporated in to each subsequent release. In today's world where design and development teams are often geographically distributed across the globe, all operating in different time zones, a common tool has been needed to track a products development and to highlight and communicate to the team where and what needs changing. Getting this right will speed up the development cycle, resulting in faster time to market and improve the overall quality of the deliverable.

ConceptShare have very recently launched a new flash based service that enables a team to share designs and capture feedback from team collaborators (project team, beta testers, customers etc). The tool is an awesome implementation that makes it extremely easy to collate and manage feedback and revisions. You can create a specific workplace and add multiple projects to the workspace. Each workspace and project can have different contributors who can all be managed by the administrator or other nominated users. You can upload a graphic that you want to collate feedback on, or alternatively submit a URL and the service will automatically capture it and add it to the project.

The service has a range of price plans ranging from free to $199 a month. $50/month will get you 50 active workspaces, 5 account managers, half a Gb of storage and secure access. The quality and design of the interface is excellent with simple and intuitive functions that make it a doddle for the non-initiated.
If you're developing a new product or service and need a collaborative design tool to help you and your team manage feedback and improvement, then give ConceptShare a try.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Blogger Beta – Rubbish!

I have been using Blogger to manage this blog since Summer 2004, and have been waiting for a new shiny release to pimp up my posts. Until recently, the only major change to the service was the inclusion of AdSense and the ability to post from a mobile. Over the last few weeks, Blogger has been encouraging users to move over to Blogger Beta. So, I duly signed up to the beta version, and have been using it over the last week or so. Here’s my feedback:

Labels – great new feature (that’s been around for years in TypePad and WordPress) that enables you to add labels (tags) to each of your posts. As a relatively ancient user of the product, I’ve got loads of posts that I want to now add tags to in order to make it easier for readers to see related posts. But if I go in to the post and add a “label”, Blogger Beta updates the publishing date in the RSS feed so anyone reading my RSS feed gets regurgitated posts from several months back. This is a stupid oversight.

New Posts – A couple of days ago, you could create a new post in Blogger Beta and add pictures, change font, add hyperlinks etc at the touch of the button. These buttons have mysteriously disappeared today, allowing only plain text posts. Rubbish.

Display Formatting – I have a pretty standard 17” flat screen display on 1024x768 resolution. If I try and edit my blog in IE, the Manage Posts view only shows “edit” and “view “. You have to scroll to the right of the screen to see the post information and “delete” options.

No web stats? - Every person out there who blogs regularly, likes to occasionally (once every hour ;-) check their visitor stats and referral information (like who visited, where they came from and what search request brought them). I would have expected an updated and revised release of Blogger to include basic web stats, but nope, nothing.

In summary, disappointing. The new Blogger Beta does make it much easier and digestable to add and manage external links, scripts, headers and tags, but the service stinks of a product that hasn’t had enough testing and QA. I know it's Beta, and a few bugs are expected, but come on, this is Google!! I’ve seen much better quality product deliverables coming out of three person start-ups. Pull your socks up Google!