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Archive for May, 2012

#34 – Mobile Mall

I wanted to go shopping today after work in order to get a few things for my upcoming trip to San Francisco. Unfortunately, my only option near my downtown office is Century 21 which isn’t really a viable option since I’m pretty sure the 21 refers to the fact that you’re outnumbered by tourists two to one.

What I wound up doing is going to a few department stores in Union Square but that was a clusterfuck of homeless people, hipsters, and harmone fueled teenagers and it wasn’t worth the hassle. I can’t believe that I’m actually about to say this but I actually miss the mall, one of Long Island’s patented calling cards along with late night diners and snobby women with thick accents. But much to my chagrin there are no such options in Lower Manhattan.

Luckily for future generations of Manhattanites I have come up with a solution: a mobile mall on a retrofitted cruise ship. The mall would sail around Manhattan picking up would be shoppers at various locations. Patrons would never again have to schlep all the way to the mall as the mall would come to them.

As one of my co workers suggested perhaps the ship could even venture out into international waters so that purchases wouldn’t be subjected to state sales tax. Why should the drunks and chronic gamblers have all the fun on their Booze Cruises and Gambling Excursions? There’s plenty of ocean to go around to allow the shoppers to get in on the action too.

Before you dismiss this idea and think it to be farfetched, consider this: the people who would have to green light this project are the same people who funded the hideously deformed monstrosity known as Xanadu, the World’s ugliest mall in Northern New Jersey. If that thing can get approved then why not a mobile mall that brings pure shopping joy to the masses!

This mall is so ugly that it makes New Jersey look good…

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Just like an episode of Law & Order this idea is ripped from the headlines as I saw it in yesterday’s New York Daily News (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/space-drink-slows-aging-process-article-1.1085479).  The article asserts that a drink created by NASA which was designed to protect astronauts from being exposed to harmful levels of radiation can actually be used to reduce UV spots and wrinkles.

NASA may not be able to find life on other planets but they may have found something even more scientifically profound:  the proverbial Fountain of Youth.  Am I the only person who finds it ironic that for all the millions of dollars that pharmaceutical companies spend on new drugs one of the the solutions that they’ve been searching for may have been lying under a (space) rock at NASA’s headquarters?

I’m left wondering what other scientific breakthroughs are just lying around at some government installation collecting dust because nobody realizes what other applications they have.  Is the Next Big Thing sitting on someone’s desk at the Pentagon?  Is it in a supply closet at DARPA?  Only time will tell.  Luckily, now we can all look a lot younger while we wait.

Before and after shot as seen in the New York Daily News.

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We should treat walking the way we treat driving complete with different lanes for people walking at different speeds.  We should also  teach people how to walk starting in elementary school and I think that everyone should have to pass a walking test as well in order to get a walking license.

How come Word with Friends will notify me when I haven’t made an acceptable word but they won’t let me know when I have?  Shouldn’t there be a way to find out if you have an acceptable word before making your move so that you can try out several moves before settling on the one that will earn you the most points?

Why do we have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day but not a Sibling Day?

Why does anyone watch game shows?  Do I really care whether or not someone else wins money?  I could care less about how much money you get and I don’t think that anyone else really does either.  That’s why no one has ever randomly asked you how much of a tax return you got.

Why doesn’t Facebook remind you of your own birthday?

Is this the greatest idea ever?:

This device clips onto the edge of a table to hold up your purse. Amazing.

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Technology has reached the point where some news reporting, especially that of sporting events, is now being done exclusively by robots that take game recaps and pre-programmed cliches and mash them up into articles, which are quite frankly hard to distinguish from their human counterparts.  (http://thenextweb.com/media/2011/04/18/robot-journalist-writes-a-better-story-than-human-sports-reporter/)  At this rate it may only be a matter of time until a robot does pass a Turing Test but as fascinating as that may be that’s not what I wanted to highlight in this post.  Rather I wanted to take this time to point out that if we are headed towards a World where sports reporting is done by robots we’d be missing out on great insights such as this: sports can be predicted based on studying the relevant story lines of the players, coaches, and teams involved.   This is the kind of story behind the story, game within the game, insight that no robot will ever be able to figure out.  But more importantly than all that is whether or not this assertion is actually true.  Can sports actually be predicted based on story lines?  The answer in my opinion is a resounding yes.

To prove my point let’s examine this year’s NBA playoffs.  Take for example the young, upstart Oklahoma City Thunder led by MVP candidate Kevin Durant, one of the best players in the league.  This year the Oklahoma City Thunder have defeated the Dallas Mavericks and the Los  Angeles Lakers, the two teams that knocked them out of the playoffs in each of the last two years.  Consider this the Thunder’s revenge tour and it could culminate in the team winning their first championship.  But that’s not the only story line of note to consider.  Flashback a few weeks ago to win Lakes forward Meta World Peace elbowed Thunder guard James Harden in the head, a play which resulted in Harden sustaining a concussion and in Artest receiving a suspension that kept him out for most of the first round of the playoffs.  As soon as that happened you just knew that it was inevitable that these two teams would meet again in the playoffs and that there would once again be some sort of incident, which there was, and that ultimately the Thunder would get their revenge and prevail, which they did.

Over in the Eastern Conference the major story line that’s dominating the back page of newspapers is the idea of the Big Three headlined by Miami’s hated trio of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh who have teamed up in pursuit of a championship.  That’s why it was only fitting that the Heat’s opponent in the first round would be the New York Knicks who attempted to build their own version of the Big Three when they put Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler together.  That didn’t work out so well for the Knicks who are now watching from home as the Heat, minus an injured Bosh, take on the original Big Three as they meet Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and the rest of the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.  The Heat are obviously going to win to show that they are the new and improved version of the Big Three where they will then advance to the NBA Finals to take on either the Thunder’s Big Three of Durant, Harden, and Russell Westbrook or the San Antonio Spurs big three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili.  In other words, if you’re a NBA team in this year’s post season without a “big three” then you had no chance.

But it’s not just enough to be in tune with this year’s dominant story line of the Big Three.  Now that all four teams that remain have a Big Three something has to give if you want to accurately predict who will win the NBA Finals.  Will the difference making story line be about the Spurs 19 game winning streak?  Will it be about a potential James and Wade rift over who should take the final shot?  Can the Thunder’s young core finally break through?  Can the Celtics aging core win one more time before sailing off into the sunset?  It’s hard to say.  All I know for sure is that regardless of who wins there will be a great story line playing out.  Do you know which one it’ll be?

This bracket is easy to fill out if you know what story lines to follow…

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#30 – Foodregistry.com

In mid June I’ll be having a joint birthday party in Central Park with one of my friends.  We may decide to have the party in an area where we can BBQ for everyone but it’s actually more likely that we’ll wind up having a Potluck Picnic where we ask all of the guests to bring something.

Sounds like a great idea until you consider the logistical nightmare that it’s going to be in trying to coordinate what to bring with over 50 people.  And there’s no way around a coordinated effort.  Left to our own devices it’s likely that we’ll have 37 home made containers of Spinach Dip.  Yuck!

This is why it would be great if there was a website that could take care of all of these arrangements for you.  It could be called foodregistry.com and would operate just like a wedding registry with guests picking different items to bring.  You could even build this into a grouponesque site with various companies offering discounts to the items that you’ve chosen to list in your registry.

Coordinating your next picnic could be a lot easier with the help of foodregistry.com

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The Netflix recommendation algorithm thinks that I’ll like Breaking Bad.  It also thinks that I’ll like Hot Tub Time Machine.  Only one of those two recommendations is accurate.  Well, let me rephrase that.  Only one of those two recommendations is relevant…to me.  That’s because I share my account with my roommate.  But since the algorithm has no way of knowing which one of us is watching something at any given time the recommendations that it makes aren’t going to be very useful the majority of the time.  At least not to me.

The same holds true on other sites that utilize a recommendation algorithm such as Amazon.com.  Just because I shopped for Wa Wa Wuzzby toys as a gift for my cousin doesn’t mean that I want more toy recommendations.  Well, let me rephrase that again.  I might want more toy recommendations again in the future but not all the time and not at the present moment.

So, how do we reconcile these differences?  How about creating sub accounts for each user?  For example, my amazon.com account could be broken down into sub accounts for personal shopping, gift shopping for wife/husband, gift shopping for child, etc.  That way the recommendations that I get will be matched to the specific sub account that I chose to log into.  The same approach could work for Netflix as well allowing me and my roommate to each have our own sub account complete with separate queues within our primary account.

Of course Netflix would never go for this because they want to discourage account sharing and force each person to pay for their own account.  Unfortunately, the World doesn’t work the way that they want.  If it did no one would have objected when they rolled out Qwikster.  If they were smart they would accept the fact that accounts get shared and adapt appropriately to ensure that their beloved recommendation engine remains helpful so that their customers continue to get a useful product.  Otherwise it may not matter much what movies are being recommended if nobody is using their service anymore.

Would utilizing sub accounts save the vaunted Netflix recommendation algorithm?

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On the heels of the most highly anticipated IPO of all time and subsequent public relations backlash when word got out that the price was allegedly set unfairly one thing seems obvious to me:  Facebook is broken.  Not completely broken mind you.  Not Myspace broken.  But broken nonetheless.  Broken to the point where investors have a right to be legitimately concerned about the company’s long term financial prospects.  If Facebook is ever going to ease those concerns and live up to their 100 billion dollar valuation they’re going to have to do a few things differently.  Here’s a look at some of my suggestions:
  • Enhance their app:  James Pearce, head of mobile developer relations for Facebook, has famously (infamously?) said, “if Facebook was built today, it would be a mobile app.”  To me this implies that the way in which it was built was short sighted and therefore inherently flawed.  Essentially, Facebook was built so that Mark Zuckerberg could sit in his dorm room, in front of a computer, and input information about his life in a controlled manner in order to get accepted socially.  That approach worked well for several years but now thanks to the popularity of the ipad and iphone the World is shifting towards a mobile platform.  As location based services become more popular and become intertwined with augmented reality it’s clear that the future of computing is going to be mobile.  If Facebook wants to become a part of that future then they’re going to need a great mobile app.  But unfortunately their current app is lacking and can’t support ads as well as the full site can which is going to kill their revenues.  I believe that they recognize this and will be working towards fixing it but even if they do they’d still be a lot of work to do in order to monetize the site.  One way to do that would be to…
  • Offer a Premium Model:  For a long time users have said that they would leave Facebook if they ever had to pay for it and now that Twitter is a viable option they probably would.  However, there are still unobtrusive ways to charge users without turning the site into a paid subscription and that’s to make two versions.  The first version would be a free version which would contain all of the same basic services that are being offered now.  The second version would be an enhanced version where users would pay to receive special features.  What would those special features be?  How about a…
  • Dating service:  In a previous post (https://greatestideaever.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/5-findmeadate-com/) I discussed an idea for a new online dating service called findmeadate.com that would pay people who successfully played matchmaker for their friends.  This concept or any other similar concept that makes it easy to find single people in your social circles would work really well within the Facebook platform.   The same can be said about integrating a Linkedinesque job searching service into the site and that has already happened with the launch of BranchOut.  But even with better built in services the site’s functionality still needs work as I currently have no need to ever go into someone else’s profile other than to write on their wall.  But that can change with the creation of…
  • Profile Sections:  Correct me if I’m wrong but I thought that the whole point of Facebook was to create an online representation of yourself.  I thought that this was supposed to be a place where you share things about your life.  The things that make you who you are, that define you, that represent you.  And yet if you look at my profile you would have no idea what I’m really all about.  Sure, you could gleam some information from my sporadic status updates and piece together some information from “pages” that I like but is any of that minutia actually useful?  You’d know that I like fantasy sports but you’d have no idea how any of my teams are doing.  You’d know that I like science fiction based television shows but you’d have no idea what I watched last night.  We’re all spending a lot of time talking about ourselves but no one is really saying anything.  For as great as Facebook is for  keeping in touch with old friends it falls short in actually providing useful information about our current friends.  Detailed profile sections linked to your real world activities could change that.  But I wouldn’t just stop there.  While we’re at it let’s also….
  • Fix the News Feed:  I post updates to Facebook whenever I release a new batch of blog posts and I’d like to think that my entire network sees this update so that they’ll know to check out my blog and yet I’m pretty sure that’s not happening.  I’m left wondering whether or not there’s a method to the madness that is the news feed.  If posts could be guaranteed to reach certain groups of people or your entire network that may be something that would be worth paying for.  Speaking of things that are worth paying for…
  • Targeted ads:  The best way to monetize Facebook is to ensure that advertisers foot the bill.  The best way to do that would be through targeted ads that would respond to what you and your friends are talking about or would be based on what your interests are.  For example, if you like movies maybe the only ads you see would be movie posters.  Such targeted ad campaigns could even follow you across the web as you browse other sites.  And last by not least…
  • Add a dislike button:  In fact, don’t just stop there.  Add all kinds of buttons for various emotions.

Yes it does but it could be doing it better….

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