Friday, July 13, 2007

iPhone: The Good and the Bad

I've had my iPhone for about two weeks now. Thought I'd weigh in with what's great and not so great about it:

  • Overall interface rocks! Who knew a cell phone could be fun to use? About 90% of the phone is completely intuitive. I glanced at the manual for about 30 seconds and was able to figure everything out. That's a feat of user interface design!
  • Maps. Who knew you could get so dependent on a phone mapping program in a matter of a week? I'm in New York for the summer and the iPhone mapping feature has been awesome in locating restaurants, stores, etc. This weekend I'm using it for driving directions. Just great all around.
  • Web browsing. I switched from a Treo to the iPhone and I hated, hated, hated trying to surf the web on the Treo. The iPhone's hi-res screen combined with Safari makes web surfing a joy, especially when on a wi-fi network.
  • Email is awesome. The interface for checking Gmail is beautiful!
  • Photos. The entire interface for browsing and zooming in on photos is amazing. Can't say I use it that much, but it's nice to show off. :-)

The Not-So-Great:

  • No task lists! I had become entirely dependent on the Treo's task list feature. It keeps bugging you to do something until you have actually got it done. The iPhone has Apple's iCal program, but no efficient way of adding tasks. I've started adding tasks as appointments in the calendar, but this takes awhile and there's no way to dismiss a reminder and have it remind you again later, like there is on the Treo. I definitely hope Apple adds this functionality to the next version of the iPhone.
  • Keyboard. There's been endless discussion about the keyboard or lack thereof on the iPhone. I find the on screen keyboard very hard to use, at least so far. I had become pretty adept at typing with two thumbs on the Treo. This seems to be virtually impossible on the iPhone. I have to hold the phone in one hand anf then tap the keyboard with the index finger of my other hand. Not very efficient. Even when using my index finger I find that I type the wrong keys on a regular basis. Hopefully this will get better with time, but so far it's pretty annoying. One thing that Apple could do on the next release is allow the keyboard to swivel horizontally when you turn the iPhone on its side.
  • The AT&T network. Painfully slow. I was already on Cingular, so I knew how slow it was going in to this, but since the iPhone makes it so much easier to surf and check email I find that I'm using the network much more now.
So, overall, would I buy the iPhone again? Yes, I think I would. But I tend not to use the phone too heavily for business applications. If I was depending on the phone to type the majority of my email or keep up with tasks, I would have stayed with the Treo.

Friday, April 27, 2007

3 Ideas to Get CNET Moving

As a long-time CNET shareholder, I was more than a little disappointed by the company's most recent lackluster quarterly earnings report. Quarterly revenue rose just 10% year-over-year and CNET broke even on a continuing basis. Not horrendous, but certainly not what one expects from a fast growing Internet company.

It's been quite awhile since CNET displayed real signs of life. Here are three ideas to kickstart the company:
  • Pare down. While CNET has undergone waves of layoffs, it's still not enough. CNET needs to focus on more efficient ways of creating content. The company has to take a hard look at its business lines and ruthlessly cut those that are underperforming. Any division that's not growing revenues by at least 15% year should be axed. Is this easy? Of course not, but trimming the dead weight allows CNET to focus its resources on areas that have the potential for rapid growth.
  • Harness user-generated content. One of CNET's biggest successes in recent years has been, a site that attracts 19 million users a month and is powered almost entirely by user created content. There is a built-in advertiser base of TV networks and an incredibly low cost to run the site. Why not take this unbelievably efficient model and apply it to complementary areas? CNET has a huge user base (144 million people visit CNET properties each month) that could be leveraged to get community sites going on a variety of topics. How about a user generated music site? A gadgets site? Let users connect in areas that are important to them - that's what web 2.0 is all about. To its credit, it looks like CNET is starting to do this with its new FilmSpot site. But the company should be running 100 miles an hour in this direction, not taking baby steps.
  • Buy or co-opt blogs. How does CNET maintain its user base while cutting back its business lines? Tap into the blogosphere. Blogs are an infinitely more efficient publishing platform than traditional content creation with its layers of editors, designers, copywriters, etc. CNET has two options in this area. It can go buy some of the most prominent (and fast growing) tech blogs. Or, better yet, create a tech blog advertising network. CNET already has the deep ties into technology advertisers. Why not select a handful of the best tech blogs, make them "CNET Approved" and agree to sell advertising for them, splitting revenues 50/50. Even with a 50% revenue share, these small blogs would still be making a lot more money from the higher ad rates CNET could achieve. This gives CNET more ad pages without spending a dime.
CNET has a lot going for it: a strong brand, an enormous tech-savvy audience that advertisers should be lusting after, and a fundamentally sound business model. With the right guidance CNET could a great Internet company. But half-steps won't get you there - bold moves will.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Art & Websites

I went to SFMOMA today to check out the excellent Brice Marden exhibition. If you live in the Bay Area and like painting, do not miss this show. As I stood transfixed by some of Marden's amazing canvases, I saw people flying by, spending just seconds on each painting and it reminded me how much I need art on a regular basis.

Good art, like Marden's, slows you down. It forces you to really look at something - the details, the colors, the shapes - and to be sensitive to the effect it has on you. Marden's colors are so evocative of places and times and memories, but only if you give them a moment to work on you. If you walk by quickly, all you see are boring rectangles or lines of colors and the magic is lost.

The speed by which people passed by these quiet paintings was not surprising. Nothing about contemporary life is about slowing down, so when you're faced with something that demands sustained attention it's hard.

Nowhere is life sped up more than on the web. I was reading somewhere that a typical user spends five seconds in front of a new website. If they don't get it immediately they move on. I'm not criticizing - I do it too. As someone who is currently working on a website, knowing this fact forces me to simplify and clarify the user experience and that's a good thing.

The downside to all this rushing, however, is that it becomes harder and harder to slow down. And that's when we miss really special experiences like being mesmerized by great painting.

Friday, April 13, 2007

10 Worst Web 2.0 Names

Picking a name for a website these days is hard - really hard. I know - I've just been through the process. We went through three different site names before finally landing on YourStreet (which, by the way, launches today). There are so many name squatters out there - people who have registered domain names with no intention of ever using them - that pretty much any name you can dream up is now taken.

Seems like there's an unwritten rule now that to be considered a Web 2.0 company your name has to end in "io", "eo" "ia", etc. But the difficulty in finding a name is no excuse for some of the abominations we see out there. It's never easy to tell someone their company name sucks, but someone's gotta do it. So here is my take on the top 10 worst Web 2.0 names:

10. Blufr, Grazr, SoonR, Socializr, Stockpickr, Talkr, Zapr - enough with "r"s already! Yes, Flickr sounds cool. Blufr does not.

9. Neighboroo, Newroo, Squidoo - what's with all the "oo" names? Are these companies trying to market themselves to kindergarteners?

8. Famster - this is a social network for families. The site's hamster-looking mascot only re-emphasizes what a horrid name this is.

7. PageFlakes - does your site have dandruff?

6. Megite - I'm not even sure why I don't like this one. It just makes my teeth hurt.

5. Citizendium - Believe me, adding "dium" after citizen does not make it any sexier.

4. Agloco - quite the mouthful

3. Competitous - great - have a boring name that you can't spell and means nothing

2. Tailrank - "tail" meaning hindquarters, "rank" meaning smelly or foul. Why on God's green earth would you want to combine these two words?

1. Klostu - where to begin with this one? Quick word association: colostomy, klutz - not good words to be associating with your company.

OK, I will be the first to admit I'm being hard on these companies. And I also want to emphasize that I cast no aspersions on their business models. All of these companies may turn out to be wildly successful. But it will not be because of their names.

Next up: 10 Best Web 2.0 names (and yes, there are 10 good ones out there, believe it or not).

Wednesday, April 11, 2007 Launches This Friday the 13th

We've chosen lucky Friday the 13th of April to officially launch the website. is a new online community that brings neighbors together to learn and share vital details about their local area. is the only real estate website to link up homeowners, buyers and renters at the neighborhood level. empowers consumers to make smarter decisions about where to buy or rent. Learning about a neighborhood is a crucial step in the home buying or renting process, but until now community information online has consisted of business reviews or dry statistics. brings neighborhoods to life by tapping into the unique perspectives of local experts – the people who live there. Local residents and those from outside an area can gain valuable insider knowledge about a community by learning what neighbors say about topics like the quality of local schools, how the housing market is faring in their area, how long the commute is, and how new developments will affect the neighborhood.

For a press release on the launch as well as screenshots and logos, see the YourStreet Blog.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

YourStreet Beta Testing Starts

I'm pleased to announce that the YourStreet real estate site has started public beta testing. Head on over to and give it a try.

We're still working out all the kinks and adding all the content, so the site is a bit rough around the edges. However, you'll be able to experience the functionality that will create the most comprehensive real estate information and community site on the web.

Your feedback is important to help us build a better site, so please click on the Feedback link at the bottom of each page, or leave a comment here to let me know what you think.

I hope you like it!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Introducing YourStreet - A New Kind of Real Estate Website

I obviously haven't been posting to this blog very often recently and that's because all my time is being taken up on my new start-up: YourStreet is a new kind of real estate website. Instead of reams of house listings you'll find a vibrant community of homebuyers, sellers, real estate enthusiasts, and real estate professionals all contributing valuable perspectives about local markets around the country.

At YourStreet you'll be able to connect with people in your neighborhood and discover the most detailed real estate information available anywhere on the web. YourStreet is launching soon. If you'd like to participate in beta testing the site, go to the home page and leave your email address.

Most of my blogging will now be taking place at the YourStreet Blog where I'll be writing about the experience of getting an Internet start-up off the ground. Please come visit over there.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Frustrations of Craigslist

Craigslist is an Internet dinosaur. It's been around since the early days of the web and its simple, non-nonsense interface shows it. The site has thrived because it focuses on giving users information they need - whether it's getting a date, buying furniture or, in my case, finding an apartment.

I recently moved from New York to San Francisco and I've been relying exclusively on Craigslist to find apartment listings. In a place like SF - the birthplace of Craigslist - there is no more comprehensive site for apartments to rent. As a user, the comprehensiveness is what keeps me coming back, but the interface for Craigslist could be so much better with just a few small tweaks.

Here are just a couple of ideas to make the site better for renters:
  • Allow users to create a page to save listings. There is no way of saving a listing other than bookmarking the page, which is extremely cumbersome when you want to save a lot of listings.
  • Mapping! mashed up Craigslist listings with Google maps so a user can see where each listing is on a map. The only problem is that Housingmaps doesn't seem to be in synch with Craigslist. I see lots of listings on Craigslist that never make it to Housingmaps, which as a user who values comprehensiveness, is disturbing. Craigslist should either develop this functionality in house (which is not difficult) or buy Housingmaps for a few hundred thousand dollars.
It's fascinating to see a site like Craigslist that succeeds not because of its interface, but in spite of it. So many sites spend countless hours perfecting their user interface, while Craigslist apparently spends not one minute on it. Don't get me wrong - Craigslist is an indispensable website. But as someone who has used and enjoyed Craigslist for nearly 10 years it's frustrating to see the site not be all it could be.