Connecting people and ideas through improvisation

Instagram adds video, so what’s next for Vine?

When something gets trendy everybody wants to pile on the bandwagon, and it’s no different in the world of social media.

Instagram, the picture sharing service owned by Facebook, just added the ability to share video in their most recent update. The videos can be up to 15 seconds long, and you create them inside Instagram by recording little snippets of video until you’re happy. It wouldn’t be Instagram if it didn’t have filters, so you can then apply all sorts of goofy effects to your video before you post it.

The way it works feels very similar to Vine, which is the short video sharing service owned by Twitter. The difference there is, um… well, the videos are only six seconds long and there are no filters. But Vine has been gaining momentum the past few months so it came as no big shock that Facebook/Instagram would want to steal some of that action. The people at Vine have made some jokes about the new features and released their own teaser videos hinting at new features.

Check out the clip above to watch me discuss the whole affair (and the new Facebook comment images feature) with the crew at Fox 10 in Phoenix.

Will those features be something useful or just an attempt to re-differentiate themselves from Facebook? Who knows. Video apps are hot right now and there could be a lot more copycatting back and forth before the dust settles.

In the meantime it will be interesting to see how much of my Instagram feed turns from pictures to video, and what all those people do who just like to take pictures of their food. If they all start posting videos of them eating it, it’s going to get disgusting in a hurry.

 

First thoughts with my shiny Pebble smart watch

Pebble in the box

Pebble in the box

I finally got my Pebble!

Pebble is a “smart watch” launched by the most successful Kickstarter Campaign to date. I was one of the first backers, so have been looking forward to playing with this thing for over a year. I had to wait even longer than some people because I’m a fan of color and chose the red version. Most people chose black (yawn), so I had to wait until all the black watches were made shipped until they got around to the color ones. Late last week my patience was rewarded and my watch finally showed up!

It came in a nice, compact box with the watch, rubber watch band, and the custom charging cable. It reminded me of the efficient packaging Amazon uses on their Kindles. Simple, clean, and effective. I had it up and working in about a minute.

Why use a smart watch?

Google Glass gets a lot of press, but I really have no interest in it. I have no desire to document every second of my day, and I don’t need to constantly be connected online. I simply want seamless, easy access to the information and tools I have, which is why Pebble appealed to me.

Pebble is a nice looking watch that connects to my iPhone via Bluetooth and acts as a convienient extra screen and mini-remote control from my phone. Nice and simple. Check out the Pebble Kickstarter video for more details.

If my phone is in my pocket or bag and I get a call, the caller-id shows up on my Pebble and I can press a button to answer or ignore the call. If I get a text message I can look at Pebble to read it. I can control my iTunes app and change my music if my phone is out of reach. Those are just the basic features so far. The people who make the watch have created an software developer’s kit (SDK) that will let developers write their own apps to take advantage of the watch.

Pebble also lets you load custom watch faces onto the display, which is a minor but fun feature. There is already a website full of custom Pebble faces you can add to your phone. I’m hoping that sort of community creation starts hitting apps soon and gives me all sorts of things to tinker with.

Running with Pebble

Pebble with RunKeeper

Pebble with RunKeeper

One of the first third-party apps to support Pebble is the popular RunKeeper fitness app. I already use RunKeeper for tracking my cardio, so even though my back was a little sore I decided to take it out for a run and see how the new integration worked.

The RunKeeper app saw my Pebble, which lit up with my run time, distance, and current pace. Since this was the first major app to support Pebble I was prepared for a little tinkering to get it to work, but was happy to find it worked seamlessly. The display on my wrist was much handier than trying to see the screen in the armband, or use the voice over status. I think it will be even more useful when I get back to regular runs and want to check my pace over different intervals.

My only gripe is that it doesn’t allow me to change the song that’s playing while running, which is a shame. Fortunately I’ve already cultivated a few good playlists for running that don’t need much editing.

Verdict: Fun but still limited

Right now it is a fun toy, but without a lot of apps out there yet it is hard to say if it is a game changer. If I had to bet, I would say that Pebble will likely become a handy convenience in a lot of small areas rather than a killer must-have accessory.

Lots of other companies are rumored to be looking into smart watches after seeing how red-hot the Pebble Kickstarter became. Unless you love being an early adopter or like toys, I’d say wait until the Fall and see which apps are available for the Pebble and which other smart watches hit the market.

Pebble Smart Watch: $150 at GetPebble.com

 

What the bleep is a Bitcoin?

It’s been around for years, but it’s only recently been getting mainstream attention. Depending who you talk to, Bitcoin is either the next generation of currency, or just a crazy, unsustainable experiment. Either way it’s utterly fascinating.

What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a virtual currency that exists only online. It has an exchange rate like a regular currency so you can purchase them, trade them for goods, and do most of the things you can do with traditional money. Instead of being printed on paper or minted in metal, a bitcoin exists as a set of very complex algorithms that is virtually impossible to fake or forge. You may see pictures of “bitcoins”, but these are either just models or special coins that refer back to the virtual coins.

Bitcoin was created in 2009, and has been use ever since. It’s gained enormous popularity recently with investors in Cyprus grabbing Bitcoins to get their wealth out of the financial mess their country is in. The result has driven the value of Bitcoins from around $15 at the start of 2013 to over $200 as of this moment.  If you look at the bitcoin value over the past few months it’s easy to see why people are buzzing. It’s serious enough that there are sites that track the Bitcoin exchange rate, and there is over one billion dollars worth of bitcoins currently in circulation.

What can you buy with Bitcoin?

bitcoinPurchasing things has been tricky, but it is getting easier. You can use third party sites to convert them to things like Amazon gift cards, and there is a growing list of places that accept bitcoins directly.

One of the first purchases via bitcoin was in 2010 when someone paid 10,000 bitcoins for a pizza. It was mainly done to prove it was possible to use bitcoins as “real money,” but people like to point out that at the current value that was a $1,000,000 pizza!

Having more places accept bitcoins is one of the biggest things bitcoin supporters push for, so expect this to keep growing.

Why do people like Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is not backed by a Government, and is controlled by a decentralized system of computers to prevent any one group from manipulating it. The way bitcoins come into existence was determined when the system was first made, and only about 21 million of them will ever exist . It’s similar to gold in that at some point there just isn’t more gold being mined, and the value is determined by what people will pay for it.

Supporters claim no Government can regulate bitcoins or devalue them by printing more (like they do with their own money), there is no tax on bitcoins (just a transfer fee), and it is very, very anonymous. These all make bitcoins a popular tool for people engaging in activities they do not want the Government to track. If bitcoin keeps its popularity, though, I will just about guarantee Governments will start getting involved in some form, and it will be interesting to watch.

How can I get a bitcoin?

To get a bitcoin you need a virtual wallet. One choice is to download bitcoin wallet software you can run on your computer. The advantage to this approach is that it is more secure, but if you lose your computer or the file, you’re out of luck. There is no bank to go back to who will fix it for you. The other choice is to register for a virtual bitcoin wallet online. The advantage here is access from anywhere, and you’re not tied to one computer. The downside is that these sites are the subject of malicious attacks and if they disappear so can your bitcoins.

Bitcoin’s popularity has already spawned hundreds of conversations in governments, magazines, and businesses around how currency works in a digital age. The Royal Canadian Mint even has their own digital currency project called MintChip now.

Will bitcoin be an interesting bubble or change the face of currency? It’s way too early to tell, but either way will be amazing to watch.

(Really) Geeky Valentine’s Day Ideas

I do a lot with social media, but really all things techy and geeky entertain me. So this past week I went on Fox 10 here in Phoenix to discuss ideas for the geek in your life on Valentine’s Day. Two of the items are gifts, and two are more ideas for having fun.

Unusual Gifts for Geeks

Here are the different items features in the segment, and links to their sites:

Hoodie Laptop/iPad Sleeve
A gift to help your techie significant other keep their gear safe, warm, and stylish. Made from hoodies in all sorts of colors, they’re soft, stylish, unusual, and a pretty safe little case!

Speak No Evil Bowtie
Very odd bow tie, pretty much guaranteed to be something they don’t already have. And beyond just being uniquely stylish, there is a microchip in it that contains the world’s wisdom! If there is a zombie uprising, your loved one with have Army field manuals, language books, and the entire contents of Wikipedia in their bow tie. Also showed off two keychains from the same company, made from recycled computer parts.

iPico mobile project for iPhone
Snaps right onto your iPhone to let you project video or pictures on the wall. Make your date more romantic with some background pictures of your time together, or just to add some ambiance.

StickNFind
Bluetooth powered ultra small location stickers. You can use your smartphone like a radar to track down any of these stickers hidden around. Use them to set up a scavenger hunt around your house leading to gifts or other surprises you have planned.

I’m posting this a bit late for anyone in panic mode for a gift idea for Valentine’s Day this year, but I find you can get extra bonus points for doing something nice for your geek sweetheart (Geekheart?) any day of the year.

Oh, and I’m not paid for promoting any of these things, but I did keep a hoodie cover because they look cool, and one of the tech keychains because, hey, I’m not getting caught unawares when the zombies come!