Thursday, July 31, 2008

Round-up of round-ups

Max mentioned in passing yesterday that some of his Stateside chums had enjoyed my round up of Innovative online shopping interfaces and suggested that I provide an aggregation of similar product round-ups in the side bar of this blog. I've done so and also pasted it below for the benefit of RSS subscribers who rarely visit the site in person. Inevitably some of the lists are now a bit dated, although its an interesting chronology of what product sectors I considered blog-worthy over the last couple of years. Anyone got any suggestions of which product areas I should cover next?

iPhone apps (Jul 2008)
Twitter apps (Jun 2008)
Keyword trending tools (May 2008)
TV character blogs (Apr 2008)
Music apps - part three (Mar 2008)
Lifestreaming services (Mar 2008)
iPhone web sites (Nov 2007)
Virtual worlds in development (Oct 2007)
Virtual worlds (Oct 2007)
DIY live video streaming services (Aug 2007)
Facebook applications (Jun 2007)
Internet TV services (May 2007)
Niche social networks (Mar 2007)
Profile aggregators (Mar 2007)
Music apps - part two (Feb 2007)
Wii music and video sites (Feb 2007)
Technology trends (Dec 2006)
Widgets (Nov 2006)
Music apps - part one (Oct 2006)
Video sharing sites (Aug 2006)
Music discovery apps (Jun 2006)

And for the sake of completeness, here's a round-up of my non-tech related round-ups:

Albums of 2007 (Jan 2008)
Films of 2007 (Jan 2008)
Songs from film soundtracks (Sep 2007)
Films of 2006 (Jan 2007)
Albums of 2006 (Jan 2007)
Singles of 2006 (Dec 2006)
Music videos (Oct 2006)
Films of 2005 (Jan 2006)
Albums of 2005 (Dec 2005)
Films of 2004 (Feb 2004)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Crowdsourcing my holiday reading - the sequel

Following the success of my previous attempt to crowdsource my holiday reading (the above books were all purchased and enjoyed as a result of comments left on that post), I'm once again on the scrounge for top literary tips to keep me entertained by the pool this summer. My post on 22Books gives a flavour of my fictional proclivities whilst the topics covered by this blog give a fair indication of my non-fiction interests. Any recommendations which result in a purchase get the recommender a free book of their choosing from my BookRabbit bookshelf (below).

Friday, July 25, 2008

Innovative online shopping interfaces

Ever since the dot com bubble burst all over Miss Boo in the early noughties, online retailers have tended to steer clear of innovative interfaces in favour of a no-nonsense Amazon-style approach (browse categories, search, scan product description/images/reviews, add to shopping basket - you know the drill). However the advent of Web 2.0 and its associated technologies has encouraged developers to start pushing the envelope again in this area. Below is a round-up of some of the more innovative interfaces currently out there. Have you stumbled across others? Add them in the comments below.


Billing itself as the "real" online bookstore, Zoomii Books attempts to emulate the experience of browsing shelves in a bricks and mortar retailer, presenting book covers on virtual shelves and linking through to Amazon for those all important affiliate dollars.


Also piggy-packing on Amazon's extensive inventory, BrowseGoods gives you a floor plan view of a virtual department store and enables you to zoom in on departments Google Maps-style until you reach individual items.


The next step on from Zoomii and BrowseGoods, Kinset provides a fully immersive 3D shopping experience. Currently requires a download (PC only), although a Flash version is flagged as 'Coming Soon'.


Not new but still great; in addition to pioneering a new online market sector (everything handmade), Etsy also boasts a a number of interface innovations such as browsing by colour, time or location. invites visitors to "shop visually" with the aid of a 'detail search' and colour, shape and pattern matching tools.

Panic Goods

Panic is a Mac software developer with a nice sideline in designer tees. The apparel store employs a simple drag and drop mechanic for adding items to your shopping cart which makes me want to buy more t-shirts (not that I really need any encouragement).


KnickerPicker's Dressing Room takes the multiple product photos of rival sites like to the next level by providing interactive video of the garments being worn by a model who most closely resembles your bodyshape. Your chosen model saunters from stage right in black lingerie and heels, ready to 'come closer', 'walk back' or 'turn around'. May just attract some male visitors not necessarily looking to make a purchase methinks...


A cross between Startup Schwag and The Million Dollar Homepage, limitedCargo offers a numbered, limited edition run of a single product from a brand partner. Buy one and you get a square on the product page to upload an image and a link.


Not strictly speaking a shopping interface, Dutch department store HEMA deserves a mention for it's domino effect product page. That Honda Accord ad has a lot to answer for...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Why Dr. Horrible is on-demand event TV and Joss Whedon is the new Radiohead

There are a numerous reasons why Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is noteworthy; here are ten of them:

1.) It's a 40-minute, 3-part musical superhero comedy produced specifically for the internet (no really)
2.) It's a Joss Whedon production (he of Buffy/Angel/Firefly fame), starring Doogie Howser, M.D.
3.) It was written during the WGA writers' strike to circumvent, in the words of Mr. Whedon, "the Forest King system"
4.) It was reportedly made in under a week for a low six figure sum
5.) It's being distributed for free, with a view to making money on iTunes downloads, merchandise and a subsequent DVD release (hence the Radiohead comparison)
6.) It's available internationally via Hulu (which is normally US only)
7.) But only for a few days (Act I went up on Tuesday, Act II on Thursday and Act III on Saturday; all three come down today) making it a rare example of 'on-demand event TV'
8.) The official site crashed under the demand, peaking at a reported 200,000 hits per hour
9.) It's currently occupying spots 1, 2 and 3 in the iTunes TV Shows chart
10.) A Google search for "dr. horrible" already returns 361,000 results

If you haven't checked it out yet, then you'll have to get your skates on as the video comes down in a few hours. Here's a trailer:

Teaser from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog on Vimeo.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Annual Report word clouds mini-meme

Looks like my BBC Annual Report word clouds sparked something of a mini-meme after being picked up by the BBC Internet Blog and The Guardian's Digital Content blog. Below are clouds from the BBC Worldwide Annual Review (created by Dan Heaf), the BBC Scotland Annual Review (by craa22uk) and Ofcom's Public Service Broadcasting Review (by Rhona Parry). Anyone spotted any others?


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Top Ten Best iPhone Apps

So, the App Store is finally with us but which of the 694 apps currently available are worthy of your click (or in some cases, cold hard cash)? Here's a quick run down of my current top ten (sure to change on an almost daily basis as more apps appear).

1.) Remote (Free)

A complete no-brainer but no less brilliant for that, Remote allows you to use your iPhone (or iPod Touch) as a remote for iTunes and AppleTV, including the ability to control your AirTunes speakers.

Download Remote from iTunes

2.) Twitterific (Free)

The best Twitter desktop client comes to the iPhone and is equally brilliant. Nice additional features include a one click update of your location with your geo-coordinates and easy upload of photos via TwitPic.

Download Twitterific from iTunes

3.) Super Monkey Ball (£5.99)

Every bit as fun as those early demos suggested and the perfect showcase of the potential of the accelerometer as a game controller. It's not a push over either.

Download Super Monkey Ball from iTunes

4.) Shazam (Free)

A technology which has finally come of age, Shazam identifies music from a short (c.12 seconds) snippet. The iPhone app includes links to related content on iTunes and YouTube and the ability to attach photos or send to a friend. Available for free for a limited time only.

Download Shazam from iTunes

5.) Enigmo (£5.99)

'The Incredible Machine'-style puzzler which won Best iPhone Game at this year's WWDC. Fiendishly addictive.

Download Enigmo from iTunes

6.) GuitarToolkit (£5.99)

A must for any aspiring Hendrix, GuitarToolkit offers a chromatic tuner (which works as well, if not better than my current standalone tuner), audible tones for tuning by ear, a metronome and a chord library. A quality app.

Download GuitarToolkit from iTunes

7.) Exposure (free)

Slick third-party Flickr app with an easy-to-browse thumbnail-based interface. Covers all the main bases plus a 'Near Me' function which accesses your iPhone's geo-location and shows photos taken nearby. Ad-free version available for £5.99.

Download Exposure from iTunes

8.) Ms. PAC-MAN (£5.99)

The genuine article, developed by Namco and oozing with retro charm. The choice of controller (D-Pad, Swipe or Accelerometer) is a particularly nice touch (the Accelerometer is the least successful of the three).

Download Ms. Pac-Man from iTunes

9.) Urbanspoon (Free)

Restaurant finder with a novel randomisation mechanism (fruit machine reels) which enables you to 'hold' location, cuisine style and/or price and then shake for a recommendation. London is the only UK city at present.

Download Urbanspoon from iTunes

10.) Evernote (Free)

A app to help you remember stuff (hence the elephant logo), Evernote lets you make text, photo and audio notes and integrates with a web and desktop client. It's stand out feature is its ability to make text within images searchable, which works surprisingly well.

Download Evernote from iTunes

Related fabric of folly posts:
iPhone 3G: first impressions
Round-up of best made-for-iPhone web sites/apps
Apple TV + iPhone = games console?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

iPhone 3G: first impressions

Queues, stock shortages, activation woes; most of the coverage of the iPhone 3G launch hasn't been about the product itself, which is a shame because, on the evidence of my first 24 hours of usage, it represents a small but significant step forward which goes some way to delivering on the promise of the launch strapline: "The iPhone you've been waiting for" (a phrase which may be starting to assume an unintended poignancy for some frustrated would-be customers).

I purchased mine from one of the many O2 stores on Oxford Street (I'd never realised quite how many until yesterday) having spent a frustrating few hours trying to order one online on Monday. The first thing that struck me on unboxing was just how similar it is to iPhone v1. Sure, the metal back has been replaced with fingerprint-friendly plastic and is now more bevelled (no doubt to disguise the fact that it's actually 7mm thicker - a trick Apple learnt with the MacBook Air), but face-on it's not easy to tell them apart (the iPhone 3G is on the right in all of the below photos).

Once booted up and activated, I was struck by how crisp and bright the screen looked which was unexpected (although may have more to do with the protective film I have on my original iPhone). First port of call was the Maps application to try out the GPS which was every bit as cool as I'd hoped, marking my location with a pulsating blue dot which followed me down the road as I walked. Next stop was the Apps Store which was characteristically easy to use and had furnished me with a screenful of new apps within minutes (I'll write a more detailed post about some of the available apps at a later date - suffice to say that the quality is variable at this point :)

As for the main point of differentiation - the 3G - it's hard to comment just now; I had it in mind to do a speed test of both handsets but at the time of writing the UK O2 3G network appears to be down (doh!) Certainly the progressive download of YouTube clips was pretty nippy when I tried it earlier and web browsing is much less like the bad old days of dial up. Oh, hang on a minute - we're back up... a quick visit to iPhone speedtest puts the connection speed at a respectable 1632kbps.

Teething troubles aside, the addition of 3G and GPS addresses two of the major competitive deficiencies of the original iPhone and keep it at the front of the smartphone pack. All that's lacking now from my point of view is a decent camera, Flash support and some sort of clipboard functionality. I'm hoping the latter two will arrive as software updates over the coming weeks/months; the camera I guess will just have to wait for iPhone v3.

If you haven't already got an iPhone then I'd heartily recommend signing up for one (maybe once all of the nonsense has died down in a few weeks). Existing iPhone owners needn't rush to upgrade although I sense that the increased browsing speed could make all the difference when deciding whether to consult the web when out and about.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Track buzz around your blog posts with AideRSS

Just discovered AideRSS, a neat little service from a small Canadian company which analyses RSS feeds and assigns each article a PostRank™ (wonder what inspired that trademark? ;-) based on the number of times it has been bookmarked, dugg, blogged about, commented on and tweeted. Ostensibly a tool for readers to filter which articles are worthy of their attention, it also functions as a handy way for content creators to gauge the buzz around their missives. Above is a snapshot of some of the highest ranked posts on this blog in recent months, the most popular of which (a comparison of 15 lifestreaming services) was bookmarked 83 times using and generated 34 diggs, 33 blog posts, 20 comments and zero tweets.

Socialmeter (below) performs a similar function for individually input URLs, scanning assorted social sites to generate bar charts and an overall score. YackTrack, as the name suggest, focuses exclusively on tracking conversations and commenting.

Related fabric of folly posts:
The word on the web: 7 keyword trending tools
5 lessons I've learnt from blog stats
Google Trends for Websites

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

BBC Annual Report word clouds

The BBC published its Annual Report and Accounts today in two parts; one from the BBC Trust, the other from the BBC Executive. Below are word clouds for each, created using the marvellous Wordle ('BBC' removed from both for obvious reasons). Compare and contrast...

Monday, July 07, 2008

Top Twenty Best Films About Music

Just finished watching the jaw-dropping Control, which got me thinking about the best ever films about music. Below is a hastily penned top twenty (entirely subjective, as always). Let me know what you think I've missed in the comments.

1. DiG! (2004)
2. Walk The Line (2005)
3. Buena Vista Social Club (1999)
4. Control (2007)
5. Once (2006)
6. Ray (2004)
7. Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of 'Smile' (2004)
8. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
9. 24 Hour Party People (2002)
10. 8 Mile (2002)
11. Scott Walker: 30 Century Man (2006)
12. Shine (1996)
13. The Blues Brothers (1980)
14. The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005)
15. Almost Famous (2000)
16. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
17. High Fidelity (2000)
18. Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
19. The Commitments (1991)
20. Topsy-Turvy (1999)

A visual history of the evolution of video game controllers

It was whilst researching a separate piece on trends in gaming (to follow) that I got sidetracked by the evolution of video game controllers. Thanks to Wikipedia, Flickr and a host of diligently maintained fan-sites, I was able to piece together the below pictorial history of how gaming input devices have evolved over the years. It's far from comprehensive; instead it aims to capture the seminal products which were truly game-changing, either by delivering genuine innovation or by taking an innovation mainstream.

(Also viewable as a presentation on SlideShare)

PDP-1 / Spacewar! (1960)

Photo: Marcin Wichary

Galaxy Game (1971)

Photo: Nik Clayton

Magnavox Odyssey (1972)

Photo: Thomas Becker

Atari 2600 Joystick (1977)

Photo: Bill Bradford

Intellivision (1979)

Photo: Brandy Shaul

Atari Football Trakball (1979)

Photo: Steve Port

NES Controller (1983)

Photo: TenThirtyNine

NES Zapper (1984)

Photo: Pablo Noel

Nintendo Powerglove (1989)

Photo: Peter M

N64 Controller (1996)

Photo: Jeffy Can

Dance Dance Revolution (1998)

Photo: Richard Eriksson

EyeToy (2003)

Photo: Charles Ulrich

Nintendo DS (2004)

Photo: Jo Carter

Buzz! (2005)

Photo: Damien du Toit

Guitar Hero (2005)

Photo: Hunter Wilson

Bodypad (2005)

Photo: Oncle Tom

Wiimote (2006)

Photo: Greg Turner

Novint Falcon (2007)

Photo: Jon Jordan

Wii Balance Board (2008)

Photo: Natalie Johnson

CamSpace (2008)

Photo: Scott F