Connecting people and ideas through improvisation

Twitter launches Vine… but what is it?

Vine logoRecently Twitter launched Vine, an app that allows people to quickly record and share very short videos.

This isn’t the first short-video service to hit the internet, but its tight relationship with Twitter may mean this the one that finally catches on.

How Vine works

It couldn’t get much simpler. You see your camera window on your phone, and just touch your screen to record. Lift your finger and it stops. This allows you to switch perspective or move around to cram as much as possible into your six-second video.

Yes, going off Twitter’s philosophy that shorter is better, six-seconds is all you get. Once you’ve recorded that much video you can share it out to the Vine network (which looks a little like Instagram), or onto Twitter or Facebook. The videos include sound, though it is sometimes off by default depending on where people watch it. It also loops endlessly, which can seem a little strange at first.

You can see how easy (and fun) it is to play with Vine in a video spot I did on a local TV station. Normally the do not get nearly this excited about the things I talk about, but Kristin Anderson made a Vine video live while we talked.

Right now the Vine app is free for the iPhone, but an Android app is coming soon. I also fully expect it to be integrated into the core Twitter app before too long.

How are people using Vine?

Vine started with lots of silly videos of people desks, but things escalated quickly. There are the usual videos of dogs and food, but the format makes it easy to play with things like stop animation. People are also playing with the looping effect, creating eternally playing little scenes and music.

Some companies and brands are using Vine, like NBC News, but these are just early adopters playing around. It’s too early to tell if this will catch on with companies or be a passing fad.

On the other end of the spectrum it didn’t take long for people to start recording porn on Vine. Vine fought back by limiting pornographic search terms, but just like every other image and video sharing site on the internet, porn will always be lurking somewhere.

Most interestingly to me (so far), is the site Vinepeek, which allows you to watch random, streaming Vines from around the world. It’s a weird, hypnotic, addictive site that lets you hop into stranger’s lives for six seconds at a time. Did I mention addictive? Yeah, watch at your own risk.

What’s next for Vine?

Their next steps will be getting clients out for Android, and developing the Vine community. I’d expect that community to start looking increasingly like Instagram as they make it easier to find friends, find new views, and explore. Ultimately the Vine community may end up combining with your Twitter followers if the Vine and Twitter apps combine into one.

What will really be telling is whether Vine keeps their dead simple interface or not. People are already asking for the ability to upload videos from your phone, Instagram-like filters, video time beyond six seconds, and lots more. The features Vine adds (or rejects) at this early stage could go a long way to shaping how many people really use Vine as part of how they share their lives, versus just a cute toy they play with and drop.

Personally, I’m looking forward to some creative people using the format in interesting ways. I like that Vine has it’s own style, and I don’t want it just becoming a mini YouTube. We shall see.

Turning your commute into a game worth playing

E3 Expo 2012 - GREE booth driving game by Pop Culture Geek

GREE booth driving game by Pop Culture Geek

Companies are trying to change the way you drive, but this time they’re not using shock videos and pages of statistics. They’re making driving a game, and people are happy to play.

The idea here is something often called “gamification“, where you bring game-like elements to normally mundane tasks. A extremely popular example is Foursquare, where checking in at a location can earn you badges, achievements (discounts!), and even a title (Mayor).

People are competitive, and turning things into a game, even a simple one, can cause people to change their behaviors in remarkable ways. I know people who come totally unglued over losing a Foursquare mayorship, while a new badge can make their day.

Navigating traffic with Waze

Gamification on the road is getting some critical mass in a driving app called Waze (pronounces “ways”). On the surface Waze looks like just another mapping application, but it goes deeper. When you run Waze you’re also sharing information on your speed and location back to the application, which helps everyone else plan better routes. If you’re going 20 mph on the freeway, Waze knows traffic is backed up and will change recommendations accordingly.

It turns everyone using Waze into a traffic reporter, and the more people reporting the better Waze gets. But what if people already know how to get from Point A to Point B? Why should they bother to run Waze anyway? Because you get points, of course! Points for just racking up miles with Waze turned on, and also for reporting traffic accidents, road construction, or even (ahem) sneakily hidden police cars.

As you rack up points you can customize the Waze icon that others see on their maps, and other small things. The net result is that the more fun it is to use Waze, the more Waze benefits by becoming a more valuable tool. And if you save more time off your commute, everybody wins.

The video is from an interview I did with the Fox Morning Show in Phoenix on Waze, which shows the app in action. Waze is available for iPhone, Android, and Windows phones.

Prius tricks you into saving gas

I’m currently driving around a Prius as part of a promotional campaign here in Phoenix, and it’s interesting how it encourages you to save as much gas as possible.

There is an obvious ploy where you can enter in the price of gas into the dashboard, and it will just calculate exactly how much each trip just cost you in fuel. A bit heavy handed for my taste, but still a behavior changer.

Prius fuel savings dashboardMore interesting to me was the display that shows real time how your engine is using power, and what mpg you’re getting. If your indicator goes out of “ECO” mode all the way to the right in the “PWR” section, then you’re burning more gas than normal. On the other hand, if you’re being extra good then the bar actually goes to the left into the “CHG” indicator, which means you’re recharging the Prius’ batteries. You can see how far along you are there by the handy battery icon.

Almost immediately after we got our Priuses, one of the other bloggers posted how many mpg he was getting, and how he was changing his driving habits to increase it. A few of us posted our own mpg and a mini competition started. That’s when I realized this was a baby video game trying to change my driving behavior, and it was working!

Why? Because how you drive a Prius contributes directly to your gas mileage. Fast starts and stops do poorly, while smooth acceleration and coasting will drive it up. The more gas I save the more I’m going to talk about it, and the better rep the Prius will have for efficiency, so Toyota has a good reason to encourage drivers to be as efficient as possible. Sneaky.

Is it worth playing?

Overall, I’m not a huge fan of gamification. I’m tired of badges and achievements for every silly thing that happens online. But it can have some interesting applications once all the hype dies down, and encouraging collaborative traffic management and individual gas savings both seem worth playing along.


Wondering how Microsoft’s new mobile phone stacks up

Microsoft "Mango" Smartphone

I’ve always been a gadget geek, but developed a serious mobile focus after my stint at Intel. Not only do I love the tech behind smartphones, tablets, and the like, but I’m fascinated with how our increased mobility is shaping the way we communicate and live our lives. We’re connected constantly. There’s no waiting until we get home to post our latest news on Facebook – we’re doing it as it happens. The way we interact with these tiny devices is also amazing to explore. The user interface (UI) and usability issues are evolving at an incredible pace to try and keep up so we can manage more information in less space. Pinching, shaking, and swiping are all commonplace now, but were unheard of just a few years ago.

Sadly I don’t get to play with as many of toys as I used to, but I still follow several of major mobile news blogs and keep my nose in things. So I was intrigued when I received an invitation to a Microsoft event for their new Mobile OS. Microsoft has been playing a long game of catch-up in the mobile space behind Apple and Android, and a few people I mentioned it to didn’t even know Microsoft had a phone out.

Sampling the Mango

Turns out, people have had good things to say about the new Windows Mobile OS, code-named Mango. Wired said it took the Windows phones from “good to great“, and the new “People Hub” looks interesting. From what I can tell from the People Hub videos, Microsoft has really been playing with their UI. I like to tailor screens to my own (odd) way of managing information, so I wonder how flexible it is. The limited ability to change my iPhone’s home screen (unless I jailbreak it) is one of my beefs with my current phone.

Microsoft is still the baby on the smartphone block with less than 4% of the market, but they never give up, so I’m looking forward to seeing what they’re up to and playing the HTC Radar they offered me. Free gadget to play with? Oh noes, don’t twist my arm…

I’m also horribly curious what this product event will look like. I’m an honestly bi-OSual computer geek, with a healthy supply of both Microsoft and Apple systems nearby (and a Linux or two), so I like to think I can be rather unbiased. That’s why I feel comfortable saying of all Microsoft’s strengths, social promotion efforts is not among them. Their incredible Windows 7 Launch Parties were just cringeworthy and inspired some hysterical parodies. This some seems much less contrived, and they’ve given away phones with Windows Mobile on it at events like this before, but I’m still curious to see it for myself. I plan on documenting it thoroughly with my iPhone.

Want to come? It’s free!

If you’re in Phoenix and interested in checking out some of the gadgets and seeing what Microsoft is up to, it’s free to attend. They will have their new phones to show off, and free cocktails and appetizers. I’d love to have someone else there to geek out (and drink) with.

What: Windows Phone Launch Event
: Blue Martini, 5455 E High St, Phoenix, AZ 85054
When: Thursday, Nov 17th, 6pm – 9pm
Register (optional): Windows Phone Inner Circle Event

Any suggestions?

I’ll post my thoughts once I get a chance to play with the phone, but any suggestions on things to look for at the event? Or if you’re a Windows Phone user I’d love to hear what you think about it.