Category Archives: web2.0

Viewfinder Friends – idea for Facebook application

Use case

Photos are inherently-social event markers. We take pictures to remember an occasion and – often – people who were present with us at that point. While most of the photographs are not looked at more than once or twice, the more popular ones become very important in our history.

The same does not happen to other people on our photograph, despite our best efforts to share. Emailing photos is cumbersome and subscribing to Flickr streams requires all people to look at all photos just in case they are in it.

Once upon a time, Riya.com got a lot of attention for promising to fix that. You would upload your photographs to Riya, train it to recognise your friends and family and it would then automatically find those people in newer uploaded photographs and notify them. Riya even had a basic Social Network, so the photos could be tagged collaboratively.

Eventually, Riya has failed and changed focus to become just another Visual Search Engine. I suspect at least part of the downfall was the single-purpose destination of Riya. You had to register, upload photos, train application, invite other people and do many other basic things with fairly small return on such investment of time. It was much easier to just dump photos on Flickr and let others make an effort of subscribing to your feeds.

Enter the Facebook. It is extremely popular, has all the machinery for registration, adding friends and photos and provides free development API. As it is a platform, rather than a single-purpose destination, it is more sticky than, say, LinkedIn. Succeeding as an application inside Facebook can bring more than a million people to your application.

There are many photo related applications inside Facebook now; more than 400 at the latest count. Most of them however are fairly basic. Combining computationally interesting idea with distribution platform of Facebook could be a wining combination.

Basic business flow

  1. You receive a message from Viewfinder Friends Facebook application that somebody in your network has a public photo with you on it. You can install the application to see which particular photo was tagged for you. That’s the viral distribution method, that most of Facebook applications rely on.
  2. Interested, you add the application. At that point, it shows you the photos from your friend’s profile that he/she has marked with your name. It also presents your photographs and asks you to name people in them. The lookup is all inline and the facebook names are automatically auto-completed, so it does not take much time. The application now spreads to the other friends you nominated.
  3. After a while you come back to your profile and there is another picture with you in it from a friend using the application to tag you. That means he/she have thought of you. Delighted, you keep the Viewfinder Friends in hopes for future signs of attention. The aperiodic, but obviously personal nature of the gift makes the application sticky.
  4. The application does not just show the pictures, it recognises where the people on the photograph are and asks to actually map people’s names to their faces. The mapping can be done by you or by your friends that you identified as being in the picture, but are not yet matched to the face. The distributed marking effort makes the application more interesting and easy to use.
  5. Mapping faces to names also allows to train the application on facial recognition (Riya’s original promise) and later to automatically guess the names of people that the photograph show.  Automatic people recognition will increase return on time investment and will make application more sticky. It will also make the application more viral, as knowing that all but one of the faces are identified and have the application installed, increases the pressure on the remaining people to join the Facebook and install the application.

Revenue

  1. You take a picture of a friend at a party, waving a can of beer at you. You upload it to your Facebook account and mark it with your friend’s name (say Kevin). Viewfinder Friends pipes up and mentions that the beer in the picture of Kevin is actually delicious Busch Light and there is currently a taste promotion on it run by the distributor in your area. A link is provided to request a free sample.
  2. This information can appear either as application notification, or as a different-color box on the picture. It could show up to you only, to Kevin or to anybody who can see the application. Either way, this is an advertisement that is strongly targeted and is in context. The cost per click (or per transaction) of such advertisements is much higher than for average banner ads.
  3. You go skiing on a weekend and there is a notice at the hotel saying that if you take a picture of the hotel’s front and upload it to Facebook with Viewfinder Friends application installed, you will receive a personal discount of 15% next time you come and stay at the hotel. Happily, you take a picture of yourself, still red-cheeked from skiing, goofing around in front of the hotel with your best buddies. The application recognises the hotel name (or Data Matrix element) from the picture and messages you and everybody else you identified in the picture the discount code. The advertisement costs nothing to the company beyond the initial setup, is created  by happy visitors and is shown to other people in context of the trip. The impact of such an advertisement would be much higher than a stock message.

Implementation

  • Joyent can provide Facebook hosting that scales up or down depending on demand, making it cheaper to build out the infrastructure. Currently, they even offer some free Facebook application hosting and bandwidth to the limited number of developers.
  • Initial fund for the business can come from one of many Facebook specific funds. The facial recognition part does not have to be implemented until after the application has proven itself popular.

Chumby: Digital picture frame for parents and much more

I want to get my parents a digital picture frame. But at the moment I cannot. That’s because I don’t want my somewhat less-technical parents to have to fiddle with memory cards, choosing and transferring photographs or running Vista.

My ideal digital picture frame for them would be one sitting in a living room or a bedroom with new photos to delight my parents every so often.

Such a device would have to be:

  • Wi-Fi capable – My parents have a wireless router and there is no point for a picture frame to sit next to the computer
  • Able to pull content from private online photo account, such as Flickr or PicasaWeb, to which our extended family could push photos
  • No ongoing monthly costs – subscription would make it a gift that keeps taking, rather than giving
  • Controllable over the internet
  • Ideally with speakers and/or some way to show video to be more future proof

I have been on a lookout for such a device for more than a year and had no luck. Obviously, digital picture frames are still a personal purchase rather than a gift one. Or maybe less technical parents is a smaller niche than I imagine.

But I have hope. Yesterday, I have received a small package that contained a Chumby! Chumby is not a digital picture frame. It is quite small (I think the website’s image is real-size). But it has features that make up for its size.

It has Wi-Fi access, including password-protected; it has no monthly costs; it is configured over the internet and comes with speakers. It also has touch sensitive screen, microphone and accelerometer (like in Wii controller).

Notice I did not say anything about pictures or videos. That’s because Chumby is a more generic device. It allows to choose what widgets run on it and a widget is a program written in Flash, the same environment that allows us to watch Flickr slide-shows and youTube videos, listen to internet radio and play casual games. It can also double as alarm clock and iPod music player.

More importantly, because anybody can develop and share a widget, I am not married to any particular way of presenting photos. Flickr widget exists already, but other photo and video service widgets are on the way.

And, if I am still unhappy, I can write my own widgets. Chumby runs Linux under the covers and Flash Lite 3 interface. And, differently from Apple’s position with iPhone, Chumby Industries encourage people to modify their software, hardware and even basic device shape. Already, there are compilation packages for python, perl and even Java (actually JamVM).

Chumby is not yet for public sale, but that should happen any day now. I was on a mailing list, so got a pre-release invite. That is good, as it means I have some time to really play with my Chumby.

And if all goes well, my Chumby will soon have a new friend or two hiding under the Christmas tree overseas.

“Your local friend” – business idea for travellers

Use case

Many people come to the foreign countries and feel lost/confused traveling around and/or getting services. If possible, they like to go places with a local friend who will point out the best features, explain how things work and/or translate the requests into the local language. This is a service for those who do not have such a friend.

Basic business flow

  1. A service kiosk in the airport (visitor’s center) would hire out he mobile phones with GPS/Camera built-in. A visitor picks up the phone and gives his language preferences.
  2. At any point, the visitor can call the local service number on speed-dial and they will be helped with services that voice+GPS+SMS+Camera can do. For example:
    1. The agent answers the call in visitor’s language and can translate the communication between the visitor and locals (via speaker phone). If it is a sign, poster or written material, it can be photographed and sent to agent for explanation.
    2. The agent knows where the user is located (via GPS) and has internet access to street directories, toilet maps, phone directories, public transport, traffic maps, Google Earth view, local rules, etc.
  3. Therefore the agent can advise the visitor on any issues that visitor needs resolved (in their language). Any notes can be sent via SMS to ensure understanding/recall.

Additional features and up-sell opportunities

  1. If the visitor brought their different-standard phone over, use the service interface to automatically copy the phone numbers onto the new handset with automatic cheap rates via (for example) Rebtel number substitution. Or phone/Skype integration.
  2. Provide alarm, booking, etc services
  3. Provide audio tours via integration with GPS and IVR system
  4. If the visitor provides their social network credentials, integrate with those systems to post sent geocoded pictures to user’s account and/or provide two-way integration between SMS and Skype
  5. Provide language lessons (speed dial 8 for the “target language” taught by “your language” tutor)
  6. The service can be pitched as for emergency use only, so that the fee for hiring the phone without actually using it would be similar to car insurance (couple of dollars per day).

Revenue

  1. The revenue would come from charging for the services (probably per minute) and for mediating 3rd party solutions such as Rebtel (surcharge per minute). Some services that are mostly IVR interface could probably be cheaper than human assisted ones.
  2. None of these services require phone agents to be present in the target country, only the sales agents and DID phone numbers. SIP trunks allow for that.
  3. Even sales agents could be minimised with booking the phone over the Internet, etc. Depending on the cost of the phones, they could be prepaid service or Credit Card deposit type.

This idea is released under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.