Ello launched in March to a whisper and now suddenly finds itself experiencing incredible growth. It is the first time where my non-tech “normal” friends had heard of a startup prior to me. I find the critical mass surrounding it fascinating, but unsurprising.
The gay community has long felt undermined by Facebook, first with the exclusion of non-gender-specific pronouns and now with the removal of accounts using stage names, primarily those of fabulous drag queens. In their eyes, Ello gives them the freedom to be themselves in a way they aren’t currently finding on Facebook.
I live in the Castro, San Francisco and have many, many LGBTQI friends. Chatting with one of my queer-identified housemates tonight about Ello, I mentioned how it was experiencing an insane amount of sign-ups. Her response: “The queers will mobilize.”
Filed under mobile apps I completely missed during an insanely busy time in my life is WUT. Seriously, that’s its name. Honestly, I can understand how it flew under my radar because the purpose of an app like WUT genuinely perplexes me.
Learning of WUT this weekend, I sent my first one and I’m not sure what happens next. Before I dig into why that is a problem, let’s run through the premise, according to the founders.
Much like Secret and Whisper, WUT [I giggle each time I say its name] aims to live within the genre of anonymish apps, where thoughts can be shared to members of your network without identifying the original poster. The difference between WUT [still giggling] and those other apps is that much like Snapchat, the messages disappear off a user’s home screen and cannot be resurfaced upon opening the app. In WUT’s case, my network is my Facebook friends. Upon sending a WUT it can be WUTWUT-ed, meaning reshared by a member of my network. An alert is pushed when that happens, as well. If a friend in my network is spammy with their WUTs, I can mute them. Beyond that there are no more features.
All I can say to this is, “Why?” Someone seems to think this is relevant, but it doesn’t compute for me. Perhaps I’m not the target market. After all, I don’t use Snapchat. I downloaded the app, but never opened it; it has since been deleted. WUT’s ephemerality doesn’t really appeal to me. I enjoy knowing what my friends are thinking and up to – Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare make me feel connected to people whom I care about. Yes, Secret (which I certainly enjoy) is also an anonymized app, but because I can engage with my network, it feels more connected.
WUT is a visually appealing app, and I love aesthetics. I enjoy the soothing pastel background and clever integration of emoji into the interface (ask anyone who regularly texts with me how much I adore emoji – especially camels, since there are no lions). As has been stated by TechCrunch, its ease of use is WUTs most noted aspect, but all you’re doing is sending a message into the ether which “dozens” of your friends will see until it vanishes. Not too much needs to be involved when that is the gist.
My friend who introduced me to WUT had not received a single WUT since installing the app, which leads me to believe our network of “dozens” of WUT users is not so bullish on the experience. However, last night a flurry of WUT activity occurred and I even participated in my first WUTWUT.
Hopefully the “dozens” of friends I have on WUT will continue to participate in the chatter WUT founders envisioned. I hope so; already feel like an old lady who doesn’t “get” Snapchat and the like, so understanding this would salvage my reputation. Otherwise, perhaps WUT will go the way of WUFPH, which I also find endlessly hysterical:
Personally, after a rough couple of months, I’ve felt less compelled to spew my thoughts, location, pictures and whatnot out there into the ether. I deleted Facebook and Foursquare off of my phone, only use Twitter during the work week, and post to Instagram significantly less than I did much of last year. Following a sense that I wanted to circle the proverbial wagons a bit I backed off.
Perhaps this is the type of sentiment which makes Secret such a compelling new toy to play with. Is anonymity the new black?
Over the last couple of days I’ve engaged with Secret out of curiosity, and have some philosophical thoughts about the app itself as well as those of us who are posting on it. Please bear with me.
You’re Only As Sick As Your Secrets
A teacher has told me that I’m only as sick as my secrets, so I really shouldn’t have any. The idea behind it is that secrets can build resentment, which is pretty much like drinking poison and hoping someone else dies. In order to stay healthy, secrets need to come out. Some do this in therapy, some through 12-step programs, some rely on exceptional friends and loved ones to bounce things off of. Secret fills an interesting void in this respect, one that hasn’t existed online successfully.
Sure, anonymity exists, but it is traditionally one-sided. Formspring comes to mind, where the person answering questions was not shielded but the questioners were. One can have private accounts on Twitter and Facebook, but in theory everyone interacting with you is tied to an actual person. Secret keeps everyone anonymous and therefore (in theory) gives valuable space for thoughts to tumble out that one might not feel safe sharing otherwise, and room for support from friends who are also on the service.
Anonymity is a Trippy Thing
That being said, trolls exist everywhere, including in people’s friend circles. I’ve observed people in my network post things about infidelity that could easily be tracked back, commenters become venomous on threads, and people overall not behaving very friendly to each other. It is just as disheartening as it sounds.
Counter to that, most of what I’ve seen on the service is people crying for help with anxiety or depression, moving through heart break, professing love for their partner, or lamenting unrequited love. These are all incredibly challenging things to discuss with anyone, but my hope is that Secret shows these friends or friends of friends how much support they can get, which would encourage them to get the help they deserve or to walk through challenging situations.
What is fascinating to me is how one is perceived on the service. I posted something about trying to move through a broken heart (refer to first paragraph) and got some support, but people assumed I was a guy. I think this says more about society than it does me, but I’ll keep my political opinions to a minimum in this post.
Too Good To Be True?
I often use the saying “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” and this applies to Secret in a major way. The service will get hacked, simply because of the nature of the product itself. It is juicy. Curiosity about who is posting what will not be enough for some, so it is just a matter of time. To be safe, I’m not posting anything too racy.
The app is beautiful, well executed and an interesting concept. I’m curious about how it will evolve and if it will maintain the “masquerade ball” feel that the founders envision. My phone book is filled with decidedly late adopters, but the number of connections I have on the service grows daily. This bodes well for Secret, hopefully they’ll continue to promote the good so the circle of confidants can grow.
For those of you who know me, the only hardware that typically interests me is that which can be found on shoes. Never one to fall for the latest gadget, I bought an iPhone 4 to upgrade from my Blackberry Curve (pouring one out for RIM). Only when that iPhone began to experience significant battery loss and random calling of contacts without my initiation (which coincided with the launch of the iPhone 5) did I trade up. Hardware is not my thing.
During the TechCrunch Hackathon I bought a Jawbone UP on a whim; an exhaustion-fueled whim and then promptly forgot about the purchase until it arrived several days later. Needless to say I didn’t track the shipment compulsively like I do a shoe purchase. Hardware is not my thing.
Part of my concern with wearing a plastic computing device on my wrist was that it simply isn’t chic. But I bought it anyway and lo and behold, who was writing about this newest hardware craze in its September issue? VOGUE of all publications! My favorite shopping website even Instagrammed a wrist sporting a Rolex, a Jawbone UP and a Cartier bangle. Truth be told, I layer my UP similarly, but not as extravagantly. (Although I wouldn’t mind a Rolex… but back to the review.)
At first the Jawbone UP felt a little constricting and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to maintain wearing it twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Sleeping with it was a bit of a chore but after a few nights, it was old hat. My skin around the UP started to get irritated but the UP has since loosened, so it is no longer a problem. I’ve been wearing it as suggested for over two weeks now and only take it off to dry it after it gets wet.
Easy to charge, the UP battery lasts about 10 days. To juice it back up, simply uncap the end of the UP and plug it into a USB drive which charges through your computer.
The UP comes in a variety of colors and I chose mint green. Somehow the white or black seemed garish — and seeing as how I love colors, it suits me well. Because I’m a fashion girl at heart living in a technology world, I layer mine with a variety of bracelets and I have to say it doesn’t look bad. My girlfriends noticed it immediately as an addition to my wrist but thought it was simply a new accessory. They were shocked when I shared what this little trinket does.
Part of the “Quantified Self” movement, the UP tracks various aspects of my daily routine after learning a bit about me (height, weight, etc.) It automatically logs my steps from the moment I wake up and my sleep as soon as I drift off. The UP is signaled to start monitoring these activities by a button I press in various patterns to tell it what I’m up to.
What really blows me away about this technology is the Jawbone UP app. Available for free, it is where I upload all of the data my UP is collecting about my day. It tallies it and visualizes it in such a beautiful way that I want to constantly look at it.
The features I use the most are logging sleep, smart alarm, steps, other activities and idle alert.
Sleep: I’ve been curious about my sleep for a while, knowing how sometimes I don’t feel well-rested even though I achieved 8-10 hours of shuteye. The UP helps me to better understand how deeply I’m sleeping, versus lighter sleep. I have also learned with the UP that even when I think I’m awake, I’m actually in light sleep. As someone who gets grumpy when I perceive I haven’t slept long enough, this helps chill me out. My boyfriend appreciates this, Jawbone, so thank you.
Smart Alarm: Since I got the UP, I haven’t used a traditional alarm clock, instead using this feature on the UP. I set it for 6:30am Monday-Friday and based on my sleep cycle, it buzzes to wake me when I’m in light sleep within 10 minutes of 6:30, rather than an alarm which jolts me awake rudely. The only thing I wish it could do was snooze, but perhaps that will come later.
Steps: I’m a high energy woman, but with my job I can get tethered to my desk pretty easily. During the day, I try to take breaks and walk around the block but I’m not always successful. The UP determined based on my height, weight and age that I should take 10,000 steps a day. That seems fishy to me because I thought that was just a given, but whatever. Because I compulsively upload the data after I’ve walked, I have learned that skipping the bus in favor of a 6 block walk in the morning and walking twice around the block mid-afternoon, coupled with all of my other city jaunts, gets me to 10,000. (I didn’t take that walk this AM as you can see in my screenshot.)
Idle Alert: This feature is wonderful! Set to buzz me everyday from 8:30am-5:30pm, if I’m sitting for 30 minutes without moving I get a jolt. The main thing I’ve learned is that 30 minutes goes by really quickly! Also, that the UP doesn’t think that yoga counts as moving, which it TOTALLY DOES in vinyasa flow.
I do have some feedback for the UP team, specifically around various bugs I’ve uncovered. The most annoying one is that when I try to manually log a yoga class, it only lets me input one hour, rather than 1 hour 30 minutes which is how long most of the classes I take are. That is small, but if I’m trying to quantify myself, then it does make a difference.
I also wonder where on earth they determine calories burned. The numbers seem incredibly elevated for me, a recovering calorie-counter.
Aside from that nit, I love using the UP. So all you fashion girls, check it out! It is a stylish addition to an already-chic “arm party.” Hardware just might be my new thing.
Remember when you got your first camera as a present? I do.*
I’ve always loved capturing tiny moments in time so a camera was one of my staples in life. My first camera was a Canon point-and-shoot which used actual film (!) and I loved that thing. My second camera was another Canon but this one was digital. The zoom was incredible, it was lightweight enough for my handbag and I went everywhere with it.
In the days of yore, I hurried rolls of film to the developer before the store closed and received prints back one week later. The excitement I felt from the advent of one-hour printing was palpable and I gave those stores a lot of business. In fact I still have boxes of 4×6 moments long passed that have moved with me from North Carolina and then to three subsequent San Francisco apartments, so loath am I to part with them. Did I mention that I’ve been in California for over seven years?
Then I met the iPhone and things were never the same.
All of a sudden, a camera almost as good as the one I constantly hauled around was ever-present in my mobile device. Then when I (d)evolved to barely release the phone (camera?) from my grubby little fingers, I could take instant shots of everything and anything that caught my attention. My other cameras had inadvertently found themselves with a one-way ticket to being obsolete.
I mean, the Camera is permanently affixed as one of my most important apps.
But what of the pictures I was constantly taking? Part of the fun of having a body of work in photographs is being able to thumb through the images, frame them, give them as gifts. Where does that leave me, iPhone? I ask you!
There are several solutions like uploading to Walgreens or the like, using Picasa to achieve the same or buying a printer just for my iPhone, but none of these worked especially well for me. Picasa updated to be almost unusable as its original inception. Walgreens continually cropped my photos due to their size and without fail used odd image placement. And buying a photo printer just didn’t ring true to my needs.
I’ve used Postagram for sending pictures to others, but what if I just want one for myself? What then? Printic aims to solve that problem in a beautiful, simple way.
Learning of Printic from another photographer I admire, I decided to check it out. The interface is smooth and straightforward, inviting me to get started printing my pictures immediately. Each Printic order requires three images to be printed and they can be uploaded to the service via Facebook, Instagram or pictures stored on the iPhone itself. One click on each photo I want to print and they are collected by the app, allowing me to have final approval to determine if they require cropping, centering or editing in some other way.
Voila! After settling the bill (converted from € to $, how charming!) I settled in to wait for my Printics to arrive. I appreciated that the team sends emails to let me know when the order has been received and when it is shipping. However, I wish that was managed through the app. I already get a lot of email.
There were a few things I noticed in the app that were less than polished. It is a French product and some of the English translations are misspelled. No big deal, just noticed. Also, for some reason Facebook doesn’t pull in photos I’ve published directly to my timeline into a folder, so I had to track some images down on Flickr and save them directly to my phone to print. I can see these pictures on my timeline on desktop but not on mobile. This is not Printic’s fault, obviously, but made the experience slightly frustrating.
I adored how the prints were packaged and their polaroid style appeals to my inner hipster. See how adorable?
All in all, I think that the roughly $3 I spent on these images was worth it. Team Printic, expect me to be a repeat user!
*Thank you for bearing with me as I meandered down photography memory lane under the guise of a mobile app review.
Many portals exist with the premise of helping one meet a loved one at the airport on time. Airline sites; which are cumbersome on mobile and IMHO are not accurate, seemingly tied to a reluctance to openly acknowledge delays. Tripit or similar; which redirect to the airline websites. A myriad of flight tracking apps. Airline flight status text updates which are all too frequent and invasive. And a loved one can only call or text so many times about ETA before it becomes bothersome.
It makes a theoretically simple solution much more problematic. Unless you’re the Just Landed team!
Now to call Just Landed a “no-brainer flight tracker app” may seem to diminish the brilliance behind it. Let me be clear: that is not my intention. While using the app for the first time today to schedule an airport rendezvous I just couldn’t believe it took so long for someone to make this app! It is simply too logical. Thank heavens the team behind Just Landed finally brought it about.
Just Landed monitors incoming flight information and your location simultaneously. Based on arrival times and traffic data, recommends when you should leave for the airport to meet the flight you’re tracking. It is magical!
Today I was meeting a flight arriving from Frankfurt. International arrivals are tricky as they’re so long it is tough to monitor well, in my experience. Inputting the flight into Just Landed was an easy process: flight number, then choose the correct day, then it pops out a real-time ETA designated by adorable graphic if the plane is mid-air or if it has landed already.
Particularly handy are the alerts. I’ve disabled most lock screen alerts on my iPhone favoring the notification center instead. Just Landed will retain lock screen rights due to how indispensable the alerts are.
Also, the Just Landed team gets points for the sounds the app makes: when the flight has arrived it sounds like a plane landing; when regular alerts chime, they do so with the seatbelt indicator sound. Adorable! I do love me some aesthetics.
Another feature I appreciated was texting from within the app to let my party know I was already there and waiting. Just Landed prompted me to send it once the flight arrived and the location determined that I was at the airport. This was where I noticed some bugs in that Just Landed kept letting me know the flight had landed and offering to send a text. I wasn’t sure if the app did that to account for time in customs or if it was buggy, will determine that the next time I use it which will most likely be Wednesday.
That being said, as you can see it was a big hit that I was on time despite the flight being 40 minutes early.
I do rule. And so do you, Just Landed, for making me look good.
Managing email across multiple mobile devices can be either an uninspiring task at best (using the iOS mail app) or unwieldy at worst (the infuriatingly buggy Gmail for iOS app). The unenviable task of sorting through ones email and circumventing the existing apps in the marketplace and preinstalled on ones phone is a task not easily achieved, but desperately needed. Enter Mailbox.
After playing with Mailbox since it came out of beta (order number 15,422 thankyouverymuch), I can attest that while not perfect, the app has changed my inbox experience for the better. Before diving into that though, let’s talk a bit about Mailbox’s email mandate. Essentially, Mailbox wants email to be simpler, encouraging a clean, well-organized inbox, which few people can claim in this day and age of send-an-email-get-an-email, ad infinitium.
In an incredibly stripped down, minimalist approach, Mailbox lets you delete, archive, revisit and add emails to lists with a swipe of your finger. That’s what makes it a tremendously easy user experience; I mean, who doesn’t love to swipe!
When you swipe right in the app, you are asking Mailbox to either archive the email or delete it, depending on how quickly you swipe. Swipe slowly halfway across, the message turns green and archives. Swipe more quickly to the right and it turns red and deletes. Sometimes my finger has a mind of its own and I accidentally delete when I mean to archive, but the most recent update of the app offers a “shake to undo” feature that while not sexy and exciting, has turned out to be handy when I’m particularly clumsy.
My more favorite feature is swiping left to save for later: sort of a hybrid archive and reminder setting. If you know me, you know I need reminders on a regular basis. For everything. Especially with email; I get so much of it! When I swipe left, I can choose to be reminded of this email again either tonight, tomorrow, this weekend, next week, next month, etc. etc. This is particularly handy for those of us (me) who have organizational problems on occasion (all the time).
When the time comes for Mailbox to remind you of the email again, it reappears in your inbox but starred and with a Gmail filter on it so it is easily distinguished. I appreciate that.
Note: These three features can also be accessed from within an individual email, but I’ve found I rarely use them there, preferring to get organized from the main screen.
Room for Improvement
The two problems I’ve uncovered with my consistent Mailbox use feel rather significant. First, and most important: I have not yet successfully been able to forward attachments. In my line of business that is a rather key feature. Secondly, when I forward an email, it removes it from the original chain and separates it, which makes finding that particular email rather challenging later. If the Mailbox team can fix these, the app would be practically perfect.
Although Mailbox has been live for quite some time, the demand remains high. While at a party this weekend in North Carolina, I extolled the virtues of the app to some friends, who immediately downloaded it… and was #419,000 in line. With 40 people behind her, which was comforting. Don’t worry, I promised her. It moves rather quickly and is absolutely worth the wait.
Other posts in the “Speaking of Disrupting Native Apps…” series can be foundhere.
Editor’s Note:Event Partnerships Manager Leslie Hitchcock is a non-editorial TechCrunch employee. In addition to working at TechCrunch and being super fashionable, she reviews startups and tech products occasionally on her personal blog, Leslie Just Joined.
A few months ago I broke down and did something I swore I’d never do. Yes, that’s right. I opened a dreaded OkCupid account. [Y’all, I’m so embarrassed right now, you just don’t even know.]
For many years I’ve dated successfully in real life. But curiosity got the best of me and it was enhanced by, uh, let’s call it a dry spell despite working in a target-rich environment. As my friend Morgan says, in our industry “the odds are good but the goods are odd.” Go tech scene!
So I opened an account just to see what would happen. In the three months I’d been a member of OkCupid, I went…
True story: In March I moved into a new apartment and I have not cooked since.
Cooking is not fun. I’ll do it if I have to; I have some game in the kitchen and am capable of making good things to eat. But all of the logistics surrounding cooking are not interesting to me: grocery stores, markets, ingredients, Farmers Markets, cook books, cleanup, etc etc. Basically, I feel like my time can be better spent. Also, I have the rest of my life to cook, so I’m not really going to start until it is imperative.
How do I eat, you ask. Excellent question! I recently attended a dinner party and I offered my help in the preparations, then quickly rescinded and instead volunteered to help with take-out if the experimental situation went south. (We did not need that option; the host made an incredible meal)
But the point remains: I eat out. A lot. If I am not getting lunch delivered as part of an office perk, I’m in a restaurant. Sometimes I wrangle friends to dine with me, sometimes I do take out. But now? Now I can Order Ahead.
Many mobile apps can help me get food: Get It Now, GrubHub, Seamless. All of them bring me the meal I’ve requested. But sometimes I’m in a rush and hungry and need to have something waiting for me when I get to my destination. (If you’ve had the misfortune of experiencing Hungry Leslie, I apologize.) Plus, I really hate standing in line. Order Ahead is ideal in this situation.
I downloaded Order Ahead several months ago with the intent to review but then forgot about it because the offerings in my neighborhood are not restaurants I enjoy. It wasn’t until I was standing in the unending lunch line at HRD that I was reminded of Order Ahead’s existence. Sure enough, most restaurants I frequent in SOMA are represented. I hope the Order Ahead team works to on-board a better representation in other areas of San Francisco. I’d use it much more frequently.
The in-app UI is very well executed. After one is signed up, credit card filed and logged in, finding a restaurant from which to order is simple. My first order was from the TechCrunch office and as Marlowe is a partner, I couldn’t resist one of their cheeseburgers.
Navigating the menu proved efficient as did placing the order. My card was on file so as soon as I ordered the bill was settled. I received confirmation in the app as well as an email. The app’s confirmation page provided significantly more detail than the email page including when it could be picked up and where in the restaurant. Simple! I like it.
When I got to Marlowe I stood awkwardly at the bar while the bartender found my order. She kind of shrugged and told me I could just go “since you paid already, right?” We both admitted to not really knowing what the protocol was for the transaction, but it worked out perfectly. The burger was delicious. The only complaint I had was that I forgot I eschewed french fries for salad. It still sits on my desk uneaten several hours later.
I’m looking forward to watching this service grow and trying new establishments as they are added. One in particular seems fascinating: ordering coffee from Philz (or in my case a Chai Latte). I wonder what the experience is like with a beverage order. I’ll report back upon trying. But until then if you’re in the San Francisco area and don’t like cooking, I highly recommend Order Ahead.
If you’re like me, you document most of your life, daily experiences (read: outfits) and funny things you see along the way in picture form. One of my favorite things to do is to scroll through the picture app on my iPhone and giggle at my past adventures. The photo apps currently in heavy rotation for me are Instagram, Pano and PicFrame. If you’d told me I’d need another one, I’d tell you I needed a hole in my head instead. Or more shoes.
Simple approach, creative and exceptionally well-executed. And downright fun!
The app is incredibly easy to use. Sync your Facebook, Instagram and photo stream with Mixel and you’re well on your way. To make your collage, you select the shots you want to include, shuffle the Mixel-generated arrangement of images and choose the style, which is essentially a filter. There’s always a filter these days, isn’t there? Again, all of this is really easy — resizing, shuffling, rearranging. Each aspect of the UX is really well thought out by the Mixel team.
When you publish to Mixel, you also have the option to share across your various social networks. There’s a lot of activity within your Mixel Inbox where you can follow your friends who use the service, popular images and manage any unfinished collages.
Occasionally, the app freezes after posting my collage. It doesn’t crash entirely, but it is annoying nonetheless. Bugs like that are common in the first days after a launch, so I’m patient until the fix comes.
There seem to be a lot of ways the team can grow the service. Some suggestions I saw via Twitter were to make a collage sizable for Facebook cover images or Instagram ready. Both of these hacks would extend the reach of Mixel, which is obviously a smart direction. Adding integration with key popular apps is a nice goodwill gesture, especially considering everythingrecently.
Because of the simplicity and novelty of creating a collage out of my existing pictures, I’ll now have another photo app in rotation. Because, honestly, who doesn’t need more fun? And filters!