The Tao of Apple

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The Tao of Apple

Greetings from the land of App Store submission preparation, where all the fields are grey and marked with asterisks. 

26,000 apps are submitted to the App Store each week. Per Tim Cook,  around 30% of them are rejected "for failure to meet developer guidelines."  

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The Curse of Corporate Email Overload

When we started building the app now known as Skimbox, we knew corporate email overload was a problem--for us, it was the problem. What we hadn't realized was just how big a problem it was.

Big top big. Godzilla big. China's-population-in-comparison-to-Japan's big. 

For starters, corporate email itself is big. According to the oft-cited Radicati, there are 85 million corporate email accounts today, and that number is growing. These accounts sent 89 billion (!) emails a day. A day, people. 

As you might have guessed, many of those emails range from "totally superfluous" to "not that important." And these emails, or, as Microsoft calls them, graymail, are the primary cause of email overload.  

There are roughly 17,251 blog posts about defeating email overload, so I'm not going to lay another one on you. But, over the course of user testing, pitch deck-building, and video brainstorming, I've come across a number of eye-grabby statistics on corporate email overload. [1]
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corporate_email_overload.jpg

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Knife Skillz: How to Deploy a REST Server Using Knife EC2

Photo credit: Daily Ampersand

Photo credit: Daily Ampersand

Knife is the command line interface between your local Chef repository and a Chef-controlled node or Chef server.  Use it instead of the Chef server GUI--it's much faster. 



Part 1: Bootstrapping a new instance

To set up a new EC2 instance running a REST server (let's call it PinkTango), run the following command:

knife ec2 server create --run-list recipe[recipe_name::deploy_pink_tango]

This command will automatically deploy the latest version of master (default). Upon completion the node will be registered with the chef server. This command assumes you have configured some of the knife-ec2 switches in your .knife configuration file located in your local chef repository.

Part 2: Passing json attributes when bootstrapping a new instance 

Sometimes when deploying a new node, you want to specify different attributes than the defaults set for the recipe/cookbook. You can pass node json attributes when bootstrapping a node at the command line.

To set up a new EC2 instance running PinkTango run the following command. 

knife ec2 server create --run-list recipe[recipe_name::deploy_pink_tango] -N name_to_give_ec2_and_chef_node -j '{ "key": "value"}'

Then, set the node attribute called recipe_name:pink_tango_domain to the specified value:

knife ec2 server create --run-list recipe[recipe_name::deploy_atomic_tangerine] -N AT01_test -j '{ "recipe_name": { "atomic_tangerine_domain": "other.json_attribute." } }'

Part 3: Performing a master branch code deploy

(These steps assume the instance exists and is registered with the chef server.)

Run knife ssh "name:node_name" "sudo chef-client"

The argument after the name refers to the chef node name. For additional query syntax, see the opscode docs.

Part 4: Performing a non-master branch code deploy using json attributes

(These steps assume the instance exists and is registered with the chef server.) 

There is a node attribute called recipe_name:pink_tango_deploy_branch that will allow you to specify a branch or commit number. 

  • Step 1: Edit/Add the recipe_name:pink_tango_deploy_branch value to the node's json attribute list:

knife node edit node_name (i.e. i-7dd0761f) 

Here is a sample. I'm going to deploy the service-locator branch:

{

"name": "i-7dd0761f",

"chef_environment": "_default",

"normal": {

"tags": [

],

"rvm": {

"install_pkgs": [

"sed",

"grep",

"tar",

"gzip",

"bzip2",

"bash",

"curl",

"git-core"

]

},

"recipe_name": {

"deploy_branch": "service-locator"

}

},

"run_list": [

"recipe[recipe_name::deploy_pink_tango]"

]

}
  • Step 2:  Run knife ssh "name:node_name" "sudo chef-client"

You can also edit node json attributes directly from Chef server web console.

 

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A Proper Response: Desktop vs Mobile Response Times

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One of the complaints we got while testing the web app version of Gander was that it was too slow (Facebook found this to be the case as well). Now that we've begun building out the native app, Skimbox, we're determined to escape that criticism. However, while we are well aware of what slow is; we're on shakier grounds vis-a-vis what it isn't. 

Nielsen's rules of thumb give the following guidelines:

0 - .1 second: feels instantaneous

.2 - 1 second: users will notice the delay

~/+ 10 seconds: users will want to perform other tasks

Nielsen wrote these in 1993, but claims they've held true for the last several decades. For desktop, I agree, but I hold that this changes on mobile. 

Of course, there's a lot to be said about designing for tasks and to make sure people are able to do what they need to do. In "The Truth About Download Time," users cited certain websites as "fast" that were in fact slower in comparison to websites perceived as "slow".  Here, the fast/slow continuum is really a helpful/frustrating one.  


That being said, one does want to be sure not to make users wait unduly. So what is unduly?


Roto and Oulasvitra found while downloading, mobile users' typical gaze time in mobile environments are 4-8 seconds on average. In a lab setting, this increases to an average of 14.3 seconds.


They recommend to notify users if the task is expected to take more than 4 seconds, instead of Nielsen's 10 seconds. I generally agree, with some tweaks. 


Any interaction should have accurate feedback within .1 second.

.2 seconds - 4 seconds: have some sort of animation to fill in the time (one example is the Gmail app's color-shifting orb.

Any loading of text or emails should happen within 4 seconds.

Downloading emails or anything that would take longer than 8 seconds should trigger a time estimate/additional user feedback (notification to come back or progress bar or the like).

Above all: Make sure it's not frustrating to use.


Your thoughts?

  

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Redirecting Squarespace HTTPS requests to HTTP using nginx and AWS.

squarespace https warning.png

We have a couple of marketing sites hosted at SquareSpace that don't require the use of SSL. However, if a user accidentally types in https or browser plugin forces https when browsing to our domain, they are presented with an invalid certificate warning. The reason behind this is because SquareSpace supports custom domains, but does not support uploading SSL certificates for custom domains. I inquired if Squarespace could handle the SSL rewrite as a support request, but this is not an option.

To avoid SSL warnings, our solution was proxy the HTTPS connections and redirect the requests as HTTP to our SquareSpace site. You still need to terminate the SSL connection with a valid certificate. We used an EC2 micro instance using nginx with SSL termination to accomplish this.

This is a rough outline of the steps. 

Warning: I would not recommend proceeding without some knowledge of EC2, ubuntu, nginx, DNS, SSL, certificates, and general networking.

Instructions are based on Ubuntu 12.04.

  1. Create or aquire an SSL certificate for your custom domain (We use Digicert (free plug)). Instructions to generate the CSR and obtain the plublic cert are typically on the provider's site.
  2. Create an Ubuntu micro instance (everyone receives a 1 free EC2 micro tier instance a month for 1 year)
  3. Assign the instance and Elastic ip (eg static ip)
  4. Verify the instance is open to 80, 443, and 22 (you may need to modify the EC2 instance security group to do this)
  5. SSH to the instance
  6. Update the repository packages
  7. Update the server 
  8. Install nginx
  9. Disable the default site (ubuntu specific) : sudo rm /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/default
  10. Create a new config file (substituting your domain name in the server_name directive): sudo vi /etc/nginx/sites-available/squarespace_redirect (or w/e) and copy in the config below.
  11. Copy the SSL certificate public key and private key to the location speficied in the ssl_certificate directive.
server {
listen 443 ssl;
ssl_certificate /etc/nginx/ssl/server.crt;
ssl_certificate_key /etc/nginx/ssl/server.key;
server_name your_custom_domain.com;
location / {
proxy_redirect off;
proxy_set_header X-Real-IP $remote_addr;
proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-For $proxy_add_x_forwarded_for;
proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-Proto $scheme;
proxy_set_header Host $http_host;
proxy_set_header X-NginX-Proxy true;
proxy_set_header Connection "";
proxy_http_version 1.1;
proxy_pass http://65.39.205.57;
}
}

12.  Link the new config file: sudo ln -s /etc/nginx/sites-available/squarespace_redirect /etc/nginx/sites-enable/squarespace_redirect

13.  Restart nginx 

14.  Verify 80 and 443 are listening (netstat or w/e)

15.  Modify your public DNS A record to point to the elastic ip set earlier.

16.  Wait for DNS change to propagate.

17.  Lastly, document your setup (trust me, dont' be THAT guy)

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Through the Looking PRISM: Dystopian Novels for the Paranoid Android

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The writer admits she is not particularly keen on dystopian novels, because they are a) depressing and b) fictional in a way that creates distance between characters and reader. (Distance that is welcome given these novels' chilling settings, but the writer likes to feel close enough to the characters that she could conceivably swap places with them.)

However, given the recent NSA document leak and its revelations about the organization's extensive, untargeted personal data collection habits, the writer is reminded that dystopian novels provide a public service. 

The writer feels the following are tops for Cassandra-style anti-surveillance state warnings. Read one if ever your skepticism and attachment to personal privacy begins to wane. 

5. A Wrinkle in Time

By: Madeline L'Engle

Deets: Social outcast Meg Murray, her younger, uber-precocious brother Charles Wallace, and her possible love-interest Calvin travel through space and time on a mission to find Meg's scientist father. The children are accompanied by another, supernatural trio, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, former stars who combusted fighting The Black Thing, a massive, evil black cloud. The Mrs W's are capable of tessering, or wrinkling time, which is what Dr. Murray was researching when he vanished. After tessering to a happy planet, Uriel, where they see the Black Thing has partially covered the earth, the group goes on to planet that has been entirely covered by Black Thing. This planet is Camacotz, and it is ruled by a telepathic disembodied brain, IT. Thanks to IT's powers, everything and everyone on Camazotz is exactly the same--everyone that is except for Dr. Murray, who is being held prisoner in a transparent cylinder. Meg manages to get through to her father, and he tessers her and Calvin away to another planet, but Charles Wallace, who has already fallen under IT's reach, is left behind. In the end, it's up to Meg to use an innate gift to save her brother. 

The writer last read A Wrinkle in Time, oh, at least fifteen years ago, but man, the memory of Camazotz's creepy conformityville and that pulsating brain has stayed with her. 

Read it.


4. We

By: Yevgeny Zamyatin

Deets: Remember Camazotz? One State is like that, only with an evil governing body (the Benefactor) instead of an evil brain. Every action a citizen, sorry, number of One State might take is governed by the Table of Hours, resulting in a largely thoughtless e pluribus unum. While the Benefactor prepares to conquer outer space, the number D-503, an engineer in charge of building the spaceship, decides to document his thoughts on the days leading up to the launch. D-503 has been assigned a lore, 0-90, but he finds himself falling for the iconoclastic I-330. 1-330 takes D-503 to the Ancient House, a museum at the edge of the Wall that houses artifacts from long ago. The experience unlocks new feelings and thoughts in D-503, and he becomes unwittingly entangled in a plot to overthrow the One State. 

We has a lot of things going for it, particularly its mathematically-influenced, epistolary format and the naiveté of its narrator. It predates Brave New World by a decade, and as such is considered the grandaddy of dystopician fiction. 

Read it.

3. Neuromancer

By: William Gibson

Deets: Cyberspace is a virtual world of 3D data, which humans can legally jack in to and navigate. Case is a former database hacker rendered unable to hack after his employer injected him with a Russian mycotoxin as revenge for theft. A shadowy employer, represented by a frontman who goes by Armitrage, restores Case's nervous system in exchange for his hacking skills. Case, accompanied by mirror-eyed street samurai Molly, sociopath thief Peter Riviera, and Armitrage, follows breadcrumbs to an orbiting AI called Wintermute, which is the creation of Tessier-Ashpool, a super-rich dynasty who also built an second AI, Neuromancer, to get around the Turing Law Code. As it turns out, ol' Wintermute itself is Armitrage's employer, and it needs the ragtag gang to unite it with Neuromancer. 

Gibson's novel, fittingly published in 1984, is the first of the cyberpunk genre, and it predicted some cool innovations like the world wide web and cyberspace. It's not a surveillance state novel so much as a post-survelliance state one, in which corporations and cyberspace cowboys rule. 

Read it.

2. Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison

By: Michel Foucault

Deets: Ok, this ain't no novel--though you're going to wish the opening scene were fiction. Foucault traces the changing attitude towards punishment, from public, physical spectacle to hidden discipline. One might think this shift is a positive (certainly seems better than drawing and quartering!), but it also renders punishment abstract, out of the public conscious, and thus frees justice from the responsibility of carrying it out and any ensuing repercussions. The whole of it makes for a very compelling argument against our current prison industrial complex (if you needed one), but I wanted to spotlight an architectural surveillance structure called the Panopticon, which is both reality and theory. First introduced by Jeremy Bentham, the physical Panopticon is a windowed tower that is placed in the center of a ring of cells, which have two windows that align with those of the tower, so that each prisoner is backlit and exposed in the watchman's periphery, but invisible to one another. Foucault's theory is that by decentralizing surveillance and making it constant, the Panopticon fosters a self-disciplining society. 

You can extend the physical Panopticon to other institutions where observation is needed; you can also extend Panopticism beyond the physical to the electronic and technological, which, one might well argue, is what PRISM represents. 

Read it.  


1. 1984

By: George Orwell

Deets: In 1984, the superstate of Oceania is ruled by a nearly omniscient government that keeps its people in perpetual states of warfare, hunger, torture, and deception under the guises of peace, plenty, love, and truth. Thanks to doublethink and fear of thoughtcrime repercussions, most citizens don't question the Party, but the novel's protagonist does. Winston Smith is a news revisionist for the state's paper, charged with rewriting news in accordance with the party line, and as such has insight into the true past. Eventually Winston's search for truth leads to he and his equally anti-party girlfriend's capture by the Thought Police, and after bouts of interrogation and torture, both denounce the other and accept the Party's definition of reality. 

Orwell's novel, published in 1949, is probably the best known and most read dystopic work of all time, and has enriched our lexicon with a slew of surveillance society terms like thoughtcrime, Big Brother, and doublethink. 

Read it.

 

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Meteor Boston Meetup: None Shall Pass: Security in Meteor JS

meteor meetup.png

Spring is here, summer's a'comin, and we're celebrating with our second Meteor meetup! Because nothing says "hello, nice weather!" like server-side javascript, amiright? 

Last time, we walked you through building your first Meteor app. This time, we're going to talk about security. Hopefully you'll talk back.

Why security? Actually, if you ask that you'll make us doubt our choice, because word on the street is: there's lots of confusion/consternation around security in Meteor. This meetup aims to alleviate that. As we learned whilst building v1 of Gander, Meteor a) has security and b) it's good, provided you know how to use it. 

On the docket:

  • Meteor's security model
  • authentication schemes and configuration
  • publishing with allow/deny

Also on the docket:

  • pizza
  • local beer
  • merriment

In the 'hood? Please come by! It's free, and if the last meetup was anything to go by, should be a lot of fun! You can RSVP here: http://www.meetup.com/Meteor-Boston/events/117192822/

 

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Dr. Fleetinglove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Snapchat

snapchat.png

[Cross-posted from our Tumblr]

When living the digital life, one should remain keenly aware of the “permanent” and “public” nature of their actions.  For the curatorial-ly inclined, this fact permeates their every social media move as they sculpt an online presence.  Admittedly one of those people, my affectation is to look as if I couldn’t care less about my online self even though I remain calculated.  That is until the beautiful, fleeting, pointless Snapchat came into my life and liberated me.

Snapchat allows users to send pictures or videos to people in their phone’s address book, a la regular SMS, but the catch is that the picture/video only lasts for a matter of seconds before disappearing into the ether.*  

Initially I was uninterested in the app coined as the “safe sexting app for teens”; I couldn’t see any reason why I would use this service.  All of that changed once friends living far away became privy to the application and sent me an invitation.

First and foremost, impermanence is what makes Snapchat great.  In a sort of McLuhanian the “medium is the message” way, Snapchat allows users to be as boring or silly as they’d like.  I watch friends living in California walk to lunch, dance at a bar, even get ready for bed!  I in turn send copious amounts of videos of my roommate’s cat, sunsets, and strange people on the subway.  Because the picture or the video doesn’t last more than 10 seconds you’re essentially telling the viewer that what you’re sending is of no importance, enabling you to send the more pointless moments that make up your day to day. 

Unlike a Vine or an Instagrammed image that you’re “presenting” to all your “followers,” Snapchat is analogous to the note jotted on the napkin and inevitably run through the wash, gone forever.  Snapchat is a less deliberate, more spontaneous, and I would argue, truer digital representation of oneself.

Lastly, when I get a Snapchat of my best friend making coffee in the morning I feel like I’m getting my caffeine fix with her.  Because the image/video doesn’t last, it can’t be revisited over and over in turn, most closely representing real life.  The lesson Snapchat teaches us is “nothing gold stays” and speaking of gold, what I wouldn’t GIVE to see Snapchat’s database… Imagine…

*and by ether, I mean Snapchat's DB and, er, the recipient's received_image_snaps directory

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How to Wrest Data from Scanned PDFs, and Other Lessons from the Palin Emails

palin emails.jpg

Note 1: The real title of this post is something like MRRRGGHSTUPIDSTUPIDWHYWHYUCRASSSSHURGGH. The subtitle is "How are Scanned PDFs a thing?"

Actually, I know the answer to that: scanned pdfs are a thing because they are super amazing at obfuscating data in plain sight. Which is why whenever a corporation or agency or politician is required by law to surrender its/his/her emails, they oblige by giving the requirer a Mall of America-sized dump of paper, which the poor requirer must then scan and begin some variation of the painful process I am about to detail. 

Or, if you're the Guardian, you bunk the painful process and ask your readers to help you manually sort through the emails.  But alas, I am not the Guardian, and my mom can only read so fast. 

So! Let's begin, shall we? 

Step 1: Download a free trial of Wondershare PDF Editor Pro. 

You'll need this to turn your scanned pdf into a text pdf. Well, you won't need this if you have Acrobat, but if you don't have Acrobat, and don't plan on doing this on the reg, use the Wondershare free trial. If you are planning on doing this on the reg, you should probably get Acrobat, because Wondershare isn't all that great. Alternatively, if you are a developer and are the patient sort, try to muddle through the Tabula installation

Step 2: Perform OCR on the scanned PDF. 

To do this, open Wondershare and then select your pdf. Wondershare will ask you if you want to convert your pdf from image to text, which, duh. Then you have to wait. If your pdf is 1000 pages and you work off a macbook, you're going to have to wait for 3-4 hours, if you're lucky. If you're not lucky, Wondershare will crash at around 2:45 hours in. So my recommendation is to split that puppy into 200 page junks or smaller. But eventually, you should have your text pdf. Wahoo!

Step 3: Turn your PDF into a TXT file.

For this, you'll need Adobe Reader. Unlike Acrobat, Reader is free. Get it. Then open your PDF, and save it as TXT. 

Step 4: Turn your TXT into a CSV.

In order to analyze your data in Excel or Fusion or what have you, you'll want it in tabular format. So open up your TXT in Text Edit or the Windows equivalent and change the extension to CSV. 

Step 5: Clean up your CSV with Ruby. 

Chances are, if you're dealing with a scanned PDF, your data is going to be a big ole mess. Here enters the only code of the post. You can tweak it to suit your headings and separators.  Basically, it splits your CSV by "from," and then splits everything into key-value pairs like 'header => value'. These are used to create the email objects, which then get printed out with missing fields as appropriate. Ultimately, everything ends up as one line per email, with each field's value separated by commas.   

Alors, here is the the script. Put it in your text editor and save it as palinparser.rb or whatever you like. Make sure you check where you're saving it to, as that's where your finished spreadsheet will end up.  The only things you'll need to change are the headings (unless you're also analyzing an email set) and then the original file name. 

class PalinEmail
def initialize(email)
@from = ''
@sent = ''
@to = ''
@cc = ''
@subject = ''
@body = ''
email.split(',').each do |part|
pieces = part.split(':', 2)
case pieces[0]
when 'From'
@from = pieces[1]
when 'Sent'
@sent = pieces[1]
when 'To'
@to = pieces[1]
when 'Cc'
@cc = pieces[1]
when 'Subject'
@subject = pieces[1]
when 'Body'
@body = pieces[1]
end
end
end

def to_s
return @from + ',' + @sent + ',' + @to + ',' + @cc + ',' + @subject + ',' + @body
end
end

doc = File.open('YOURCURRENTFILENAME.csv');
out = File.new('YOURNEWFILENAME.csv', 'w')
out << "from, sent, to, cc, subject, body\n"
doc.each_line do |line|
line.split('From:').each do |email|
if ! email.empty?
email.prepend('From:')
email.delete! ','
email.gsub!(/\r\n?/, "");
email.gsub!(/To:/, ',To:')
email.gsub!(/Sent:/, ',Sent:')
email.gsub!(/Cc:/, ',Cc:')
email.gsub!(/Subject:/, ',Subject:')
email.gsub!(/Body:/, ',Body:')
pem = PalinEmail.new(email)
out << pem.to_s + "\n"
end
end
end

Then, open up your terminal (Utlities-->Terminal). Check what directory you're in by typing "pwd." Change this to the directory where you've stored palinparser.rb by typing "cd [+ path to directory]". All set? Now, assuming you have Ruby, type "ruby load 'palinparser.rb' " into your terminal. 

Et voila, you should have your nice neat spreadsheet. 

Step 6: Analyze

Along with basic Excel analysis like send frequencies over time:

palinemails.png

You can also use Google Fusion Tables to make network graphs.  If you've never used it before, details for doing so are here. All you need is a Google account. This one shows the relationship between sender and first recipient. 

 

The other thing I like using are word clouds, which can give you a quick insight into the most used words in a body of text. I used Stanford's Wordsift tool to make this is the word cloud of the bodies of the SP emails. 

palin emails.png

That's all I have for today. Hope it's useful! If you have any questions, hit me up in the comments or on Twitter!

 

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The Future of Advertising Is Ours

imagerecognition_facebook.png

 [Reposted from Medium

A friend of mine just returned from Cabo. On my newsfeed, there is an album called "Mexico! :)" I click through "Mexico! :)" Ordinarily, I would be looking at: dolphins, beachfront toes, margarita with paper parasol, paisley bikini, Irish sunburn, more beachfront toes, hotel patio at sunset.

But today is not ordinarily. Today, I have spoken with a brand-new hire at a company called gazeMetrix. Today, I am looking at: Tecate, Ray-Ban, J. Crew, Diptyque, Rowdy Gentleman "Bless Your Heart and the USA" tank top, Havianas, Patron Silver, The Royal Playa del Carmen.

In 68 photos, I count 35 brands. These are just the ones with clearly visible logos.

gazeMetrix does what I just did, using computer vision and machine learning algorithms, for some of the biggest brands in the world. Right now, it only analyzes Instagram photos; soon it will analyze Twitter image-sharing services like Twitpic and Yfrog.

Facebook is one image-sharing service gazeMetrix isn’t planning to analyze. In a December interview with MIT Technology Review, gazeMetrix's founder Deborat Singh said this was because “so few of the network's publicly posted photos are user generated."

Singh's reasoning offers a reason for the Instagram acquisition that I hadn't previously considered: most of the user-generated photos posted to it are public, and thus, are veritable data troves, ripe for the buying.

Which makes me wonder if, soon enough, Instagram will be the sole mechanism through which photos can be published on Facebook.

Because, think about the incentives for this! On the analytics side, gazeMetrix doesn't just count the number of times a brand appears in user-generated photos--it also serves up the photos, offers analysis on the brands' context within them, and monitors spikes in activity to predict when a brand is about to go viral. And on the content side, to paraphrase the GazeMetrix employee I spoke with: "you suddenly have thousands of ready-made ads."

Basically, this stone delivers a heck of a lot of birds.

"But wait! Those are my photos! I thought Instagram amended its ToS in my favor!"

Yep, it did. Instagram will not sell your photos, but they will serve as agent, connecting the eager brand to the unaware evangelist.In the words of Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom :

We envision a future where both users and brands alike may promote their photos & accounts to increase engagement and to build a more meaningful following.

That faint crumbling you hear is the blush of innocence departing the formerly unaware evangelist.

If you, like me, were or are an avid consumer of lifestyle blogs, you may have noticed increasing numbers of product reviews and giveaways and sponsored getaways. Lifestyle blogs started to really take off around 2004, and it didn't take long for brands to realize that hey, Ella here is already reviewing diapers of her own accord--why don't we send her some of ours to try, and more to give to her commenters. Perhaps this tactic will play out, but for now, it seems to be working.

Now, if instead of having to deal with shipping and plane tickets and publishing dates and stealing Anna Wintour's seat at fashion week, a brand manager could just republish a photograph, well, that would be a lot less headaches all-round. Especially if the photo's creator, like those shrewd mommy bloggers, has already realized the value of branded content.

And so, the dystopic, filter-bubble-phobic part of me sees a near-future landscape dominated by carefully constructed user-generated photos of sepia-toned road trippers tossing around coke bottles.

Which sounds exactly like the landscape of today, but trust me, it's going to feel, like, so much real-er.

L'authentique, c'est chique*.

*TM

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8 Ways to Visualize Your Inbox

Anymails

Anymails

A few months ago, I went through a few of the ways you can visualize your inbox, fo' free. The methods I discussed can give you a fairly detailed portrait of your inbox's interactions and vocabulary, but the visualizations themselves are quite basic. There are, however, a number of projects that take more creative approaches to email visualization. Many of them are, alas, one-offs (and many more are manifested only in research papers). 

Email visualization tools you can use: 

1.  Anymails

  • Anymails employs metaphor, here with species representing types of email (family&friends, school, commerce, spam etc) and single animals (which look more like bacteria to me) representing each email received. The email's state is represented by the speed and hairiness of its animal: unread mail is hairy and pulses quickly; read mail is less hairy and pulses slowly, and responded mail is hairless and barely moves. The default inbox view shows all recent mail (past day, week, or month) swimming across the screen, but users can filter by species and status, and can scroll back to see how their inboxes looked in previous months. 
  • Made by: Carolin Horn and Florian Jenett

2. Gmail Meter

  • The most straightforward (and plainest) of the bunch, Gmail Meter analyzes your Gmail and sends you a weekly chart-based activity report. Some of stats include hourly and weekly volume of email, top senders and recipients, thread length, and average response time. Gmail Meter also tells you how efficient you are given the number of emails in your inbox, archives, labels, and trash, and lets you compare internal and external email behaviors.
  • Made by: ShuttleCloud

3. Calendar Analytics Add-in Tool 

  • Calendar Analytics analyzes your Exchange calendar and presents the data in a Power Pivot dashboard in Excel. Note: fewer words are more poetic than "Power Pivot dashboard in Excel." Some of the data presented include past and future meeting breakdown by topic and person, so you can see just how often you've been meeting with Ned from Accounting about the annual Kitty Ball. 
  • Made by: Microsoft

4. Luminoso

  • Simply put, this MIT Media Lab hatchling understands language- subtext, slang, allusions, sarcasm and all. Put it to work on emails, and it can divine subjects, sentiment, and birds of a feather, and gussy up this information in network visualizations. 
  • Made by: Dr. Catherine Havasi, Rob Speer, Jason Alonso, Dennis Clark, and Ken Arnold
 

Email Analytics Tools You Can't Use, but Can Look at

1. Mailgarden

  • Mail Garden also employs metaphor in its inbox visualization--each inbox is a forest made up of single email trees. The longer the email, the taller the tree. 
  • Made by: Kjen Wilkens, Damian Stewart, Jenny Cahier, and Marcela Machuca.  

2. My Map

  • My Map visualizes the relationships between Christopher Baker and his contacts from 1998 up to the present. Relationship data comes from the To, From, and CC fields of per 60,000 of Baker's emails. Baker's top contacts are visualized in a circular network graph, with their communication rank, emails sent, and date last contacted displayed in a mouseover. The intensity of a given relationship is denoted by line weight. 
  • Made by: Christopher Baker

3. Yahoo Mail Visualization

  • If you're curious about global email patterns at any given moment, check out this visualization of Yahoo's email processing. The interactive visualization shows the number of emails processed and trending subject line keywords (presently "Rachel" tops the latter, with 1341 instances in the last 20 seconds). There is no option to export or view historical data, but still, it's a fun exploratory tool. 
  • Made by: Yahoo, in collaboration with Periscopic.

4. OOM Creative ARUP Secret Life of Projects

  • This presentation depicts a project's digital footprint over time. One component visualizes the growth of an email network, and the location, billable hours, and sent/received associated with a  given node. 
  • Made by: OOM Creative

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Truth in Tech E14: The Powers that Tweet

BostonTV Next Hack HackathonThis weekend, Hill Holiday and Mashery are hosting a hackathon around next generation TV apps. Participants will break into teams and build apps in one of the following categories: Guides, Connected TV, Companion Apps, TV Everywhere, and Analytics & Data Visualization. Winning teams also have a chance of nabbing the Best in Show award, plus $2500, and a slew of gadgets and gift cards.

Facebook acquires ParseThe mobile-backend-as-a-service startup built a useful set of back-end tools for mobile developers, including cloud data storage, and managed identity log-ins, push notifications, and custom code. Apparently other suitors came a’ calling, but FB won out.

There will be 9.4 Million Smart Glasses shipped by 2016According to a new report from ISH iSuppli, the controversial eyewear will soon be, well, everywhere. Lest you cry "dork," IHS analyst Theo Ahadome says that the glasses' success will hinge on the robustness of their app ecosystems. If this is true, Google Ventures' new joint glass app fund with Andreesen Horowitz makes a lot of sense.

Bill Clinton joins TwitterThough sadly, he's ditched @prezbillyjeff for the staider @billclinton. On the Colbert report, the president blamed his recalcitrance on insecurity--what if he tweeted something and no one tweeted back? I think it's safe to say that won't happen, as he's already amassed 450k followers in under 24 hours.

A Tweet from the AP’s Hacked Account Sends Stock Market for a Brief Tumble: A tweet about explosions in the White House caused the Dow to drop 145 points in seconds. Almost as quickly, the same machines that had alerted the hedgefunds and govt agencies of the news were able to determine that the tweet had been false, and shares immediately rebounded.

+Google Trends: Stock Market Predictor: A new study from Nature Scientific Reports shows the promise of search terms as market balewick. Researchers analyzed the query volumes for 98 finance-related search terms and found that a trading plan based on changes in search volumes for the word “debt” would have yielded a 326% return on investment.

NY: Andreesen Horowitz backs 3D Printing company Shapeways: The VC firm is not known for being particularly NYC-friendly, but they’re making a $30 million exception for the originally Netherlands-based startup, which prints things that can’t be printed on home 3D printers, like metal jewelry. This is also the first time a West coast VC has invested in a 3D printing company.

With Connected China, Reuters maps the power structures of the People’s Republic: The app, which took 18 months to build, maps who’s who in China, who they’re connected with, and how they got there.

Like what you're hearing? Subscribe to Truth in Tech in iTunes!   

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Boston Strong BBQ: A Benefit for the K9 Comfort Dogs

In light of recent events, we want to bring our community of Watertown together and share in the strength and pride of our town. Next Friday, May 3rd, we will be hosting a BBQ to benefit the K-9 Comfort Dogs, who traveled from Chicago and Newtown, CT to be with us here in Boston

The K-9 Comfort dogs are a bundle of furry, affectionate Golden Retrievers, trained to provide comfort and care to those affected by tragedy. They were stationed at First Lutheran Church on Berekeley St. after the bombings and went around to the hospitals to visit those affected. They also provided much comfort to one of our employees, who ran the Boston Marathon. As such, they are a cause very close to our hearts. So stop by, grab some food, meet your Watertown neighbors, and support a good cause. We are one Boston.

When: Friday, May 3rd, 12pm – 2pm EST

Where:

  • SoftArtisans / Riparian Data HQ
  • 3 Brook St.
  • Watertown, MA 02472

RSVP: http://BostonStrongBBQ.eventbrite.com

Can't make it, but still feel like donating? You can do so here

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Helter Skelter: Thoughts on Working During a Shelter in Place

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Helter Skelter: Thoughts on Working During a Shelter in Place

boston bombers watertown ma

Most people wake up on a Friday morning happy to wrap up the week, but my alarm clock last Friday was something that I hope to never experience again.  It was the Belmont Police Department notifying me that my town, my home were under a “Shelter In Place”.  Shelter In Place! It's usually beneficial to increase one's vocabulary, but that particular phrase is one I hope I never hear again. The reason for the SiP: Belmont, MA (my town) borders not only Watertown but also Cambridge.

My first reaction was to turn on the news, check my phone for messages and then try to piece this together.  I had text messages from neighbors and an email from our CEO that the office was closed with instructions to work remotely.  Then the phone calls started coming in from my family that live in other states.   

A mile down the road in Watertown, minutes from our HQ,  the biggest manhunt the city of Boston has ever undertaken was underway, as what felt like the world watched. 

Let’s try to put this in perspective.  Boston may be a big city but almost all of us knew someone that was running that day, in fact, my co-worker, Elise Kovi had an amazing run!  She finished in under 4 hours and crossed the finish line minutes before the first bomb exploded.  This was her first Boston Marathon and we were tracking her every step of the way!  Our excitement was quickly dampened when the first report of attacks surfaced, and our hearts broke as the horrific events unfolded. Thankfully, though, Elise and her family were not hurt.

Shifting my focus to the (then) present,  I wondered what could, and should be done to keep my projects moving forward given the straining circumstances.  Leading talent acquisition for this team, a big part of what I do is promoting our brand, our culture and a company on the cutting edge of technology.  If you are in this line of work, employer branding is big.  I am the first person that candidates talk with when they are exploring a role on our team.  

Quickly, I decided that Friday, April 19, 2013 was not a day for me to reach out and introduce who we are and what we do.  Instead, it turned into a day of inbox zero and planning my searches for the week.  I knew in my heart that Boston would prevail as a city and Monday, April 22, 2013 would be the start to an awesome week.

From this recruiter, headquartered in Watertown, MA and proud to be part of a very strong community!

Were you in the Boston area last Friday? How did you handle the Shelter in Place?

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Email Usage Around the World: U.S. Loves Yahoo! (Really); Brazilians Prefer Outlook.com

In June, Gmail overtook the email service formerly known as Hotmail/currently known as Outlook.com in global users, with 425 million to Outlook.com's 325 million. However, a peek at some of the world's most active emailers tells a different story, one dominated by Outlook.com. One exception: India, the birthplace of Hotmail. The other is the United States, where Yahoo! (still) reigns. 

Two other interesting takeaways: 

1) Gmail is likely the brand-name mail service of choice in much of the developing world, given its lack of appearance on the map below.

2) People who read tech blogs (which are full of Yahoo! Mail derision, though mostly respectful of the Mayership itself) are not the same people who use Yahoo! Mail, and there are more of the latter than the former.  

Also, a confession/rant: when i initially got the idea to do an infographic of the world's email service preferences, I thought it would be easy-peasy. I was wrong, either because search engines don't like me, or because the information isn't there, or because it's there but behind non-searchable paywalls.  Thus, this map is (obviously) very incomplete at the moment, but I will keep updating it as I find usage stats for more continents and countries. 

WHICH EMAIL PROVIDERS DO PEOPLE USE ACROSS THE GLOBE? 

Click to enlarge

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