Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

Aardvark – I love you!

April 8th, 2009

I was just invited to use aardvark, a match making service for questions and answers using instant messenger. It lets you tap into the expertise of the friends of your friends. I think the results speak for themselves. Here’s the transcript to my first question:

My Question: “Do you know of any applications of facebook connect that have ‘gone viral’?”

Kelly: here’s a list of all of the implementations:
the implementation is really cool
Citysearch has shared that users voluntarily publish 94% of their reviews back to Facebook
and most Connect implementations have a publish-to-click ratio of 0.8 to 2.0 (meaning, for every story a user sends to FB, approximately 0.8 to 2 people go back to the original site)

Kelly is a manager who works at Facebook, and I got these statistics from inside the Facebook connect team–within 3-4 minutes of asking. Sweet!

And so today, I returned the favor. I was asked to answer a question about “education”. I was skeptical at first, but I firgured, hey let’s give it a whirl. Here’s the transcript of that conversation:

Niko: Who is passionate in New York about educational technology? or online tutoring?
Me: One company I know about is called imentor
I learned about imentor through a board member, Matt Klein, who is also the ED of Blue Ridge Foundation.
Niko: Blue Ridge Foundation is just what I was looking for. Their portfolio companies are a godsend to the community. I’m a student at Columbia/Harvard. Would Matt Klein be the best person to talk to regarding the vision of the firm?
Me:I met Matt Klein very briefly in a large conference. He seemed very knowledgable and nice – I would think you could approach him directly.
Niko: Thanks a million. This aardvark thing may just be a huge hit.

I agree – aardvark is amazing. I have 9 more invitations – post a comment with your email and include three topics that you are knowledgeable about and I’ll send you an invitation. Cheers!

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Oscars: two wins and one loss

February 22nd, 2009

Perhaps it wasn’t a bold prediction, but I picked Slumdog Millionaire to win Best Picture and it did. Bravo! (Win #1) Although Sean Penn was indeed terrific in Milk, I was sad that Micky Rourke did not win Best Actor for the Wrestler. (Loss #1)

But the unexpected win for the Oscars: the new format. (Win #2) I loved having previous winners make the case for each of the nominees. The new format was much more compelling than the short clips and voice overs they had in previous years. (Although Halle Berry did make a somewhat awkward speech by talking about herself, rather than the nominee.)

A few other notes. Thank goodness Benjamin Button only won a few minor awards–what an aweful movie. Thank goodness Revelutionary Road got bageled. Loved Penelope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Understandable but sad that Frost Nixon did not win anything, but it was a very good film too.

I’ve never watched the Awards ceremony before because I found it unwatchable. I enjoyed it this year’s ceremony, which befits one of the best crop of movies I can remember in a long while.

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Vicky Cristina Barcelona

February 10th, 2009

I think Woody Allen is back. I liked Match Point a lot, but I liked Vicky Cristina Barcelona even more. Like Revolutionary Road, this movie critically examines whether modern success has meaning or if it is just a hollow notion. But unlike Revolutionary Road, though, it explores the fundamental tradeoffs–some positive and some negative–that alternative ideas of success (i.e. leading an “interesting life”) may have. In addition, it further complicates the question by comparing two women who value things in life differently.

And it doesn’t hurt that the movie has nice comedic moments too. The acting is very good, and the plot moves at a nice pace. Penelope Cruz is fantastic as the crazy ex-wife. Not quite awards material with so much stiff competition this year, but very much worth watching!

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But how do you *feel*?

February 6th, 2009

That’s one of the questions that Leonardo DiCaprio repeatedly asks Kate Winslet in the movie Revolutionary Road. It’s pretty well done, so I guess I can see why some critics and viewers would like it. But I thought it was a bit slow for my taste. Leonardo’s character had a fair amount of depth, but Kate’s character was almost singularly sad. This movie earns no award votes from me.

And how did it make me feel? Depressed!

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Over-rated, Overdone & Totally Missable: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

January 27th, 2009

I am trying to watch all the major Oscar nominees, and so of course, I had to watch this year’s most-nominated film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The premise is weird: Benjamin is born an old man in 1918 and grows younger throughout the film. What might make a passable short story, however, is an interminable 2 hr 43 min movie. The plot is completely disjointed and the point, if there is one, is captured in Brad Pitt’s obvious, trite statement: “I was just thinking about how nothing lasts…and what a shame that is….”

Unlike Benjamin Button, you and I grow older if we waste our time watching pointless movies. So, skip this movie when there are so many other good ones currently out in theaters for your viewing pleasure.

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And the winner is…

January 21st, 2009

In the past week, I have watched three great movies: Milk, Gran Torino and Slumdog Millionaire.

From Milk, I learned a lot about San Francisco history and the gay movement. Sean Penn was fantastic as Harvey Milk. I also realized that as much as I support gay rights, I have an uncontrollable aversion to watching men kissing other men. That insight has made me more interested in seeing whether such unconscious acts of discrimination translate into more meaningful decisions, like at the ballot box or for hiring decisions.

From Gran Torino, I learned an interesting lesson about violence, life and death. Clint Eastwood is fantastic. The movie moves along slowly, which is obviously intentional but almost had me giving up before the end. But that would have been a mistake, because the ending is terrific.

But my hands down pick is Slumdog Millionaire. It’s the best movie I have seen in years. Gripping story. Incredibly cinematography. Tremendous climax. (Here’s an interesting post about the ending for people who have already seen the movie.) As I saw on someone’s Facebook status update, “Slumdog Millionaire lives up to the hype. Great movie.” And my clear favorite for Best Picture of the Year.

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In case of emergency…

January 6th, 2009

I can still remember the days when spell checking seemed like a neat new feature. Networked study aids now go much farther than mere computer aids, helping students with their bibliographies, avoiding plagiarism, watching lectures and more.. But this service takes the cake:

File Destructor is a tool that should only be used for emergencies. Basically, it’s a tool that creates a fake file that you can send to your teachers. You can choose the extension as well as the size of the file, and when your professor can’t open the file up, you can just blame it on your computer. Of course, many teachers are starting to not accept these excuses, so be careful when using this. This web tool allows you to spend hours browsing MakeUseOf instead of working on that stupid project.


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December 1st, 2008

fireflyI have just stumbled on an interesting annotation technology called “firefly.” I’ve installed it on my blog, so you can see it in action here on this home page. It allows you to enter comments anywhere on my site. It scratches the surface of what is possible in terms of adding interactive features on any site on the Internet:

1. You install it by dropping in two small tags into your site (e.g., it requires very limited technical abilities)
2. You can authenticate and administer your site on their site

However, I am somewhat doubtful that this service will take off in its present form, mostly because of user interface issues. You can’t see the comments with clicking on the box on the bottom. The comments are more like graffiti than conversation.

I see several interesting possibilities for the future of this kind of technology. It would be nice to have a complimentary toolbar implementation, like, so that users could leave comments on any site. (This service lets any user leave on particular sites.) It could be integrated with services like facebook connect to create conversations among friends. And of course, the model could be used for a wide range of possible interactive features that go beyond the current widgets and toolbars that are available and widely used currently.

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One of the cheapest deals ever valued at $1bn

June 18th, 2008

Oh, boy! Social networking continues to be white hot. I like these VCs, but they do seem a tad cocky in this video. David Sze says that “when they look back, they will say this is one of the cheapest things that those investors ever did.” Cheapest things–really? I hope, for your sake, David, you are wrong about that statement. The video is fun to watch:

I think David Cowan gets it closer to truth. He says “Compared to most startups, LinkedIn’s valuation is very high. But compared to what we think LinkedIn’s future valuations will be, it’s a bargain.”

I wonder about this deal. LinkedIn is a good site. My friend who is a VC uses it for research on new industries, but not sourcing deals. So, it adds value for him but it isn’t essential. I conducted an experiment when recruiting a hire at e-thePeople by launching campaigns on LinkedIn, Facebook and a targeted job board. I got a couple of warm leads from LinkedIn, so it was probably worth a couple of hundred dollars for my listing, but we hired someone sourced from the targeted job board.

I think that my experience is a cautionary tale for LinkedIn: death by paper cuts. They are certainly the market leader across, but if they are #2 in each of little niche, they may not be the most effective medium.

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February 20th, 2008


I had the great pleasure of watching a screening of Frost-Nixon, a movie that Ron Howard is in the process of making. The movie, which is an adaptation of the play with the same title, is terrific. Frost’s story is incredibly engaging and Nixon is a fascinating character.

Ron Howard was impressive. He fielded a dozen questions from the audience, filling us in on historical accuracy of the film, how he adapted a play for the big screen and the political implications of the film. For example, he fought for and won the battle to have the stage actors play their own roles in the film. He asked us several questions about some final editing decisions (did we understand where Frost was coming from? did the ending work? did we like the choice of music in one scene? did we like the epilogue information at the end? Answers: yes, yes, 50/50 and yes with qualifications and suggestions.)

I recommend that you see it when it is released later this year. And I can’t wait to see if Ron Howard follows any of the advice that I and others in the audience gave him about the epilogue text!

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Super Poke on facebook

October 31st, 2007

What is the most common form of communication? A greeting! Think of how many times you ask someone “How are you?” even though you know that the only socially acceptable response is, “Good. How are you?” On facebook, the poke has become the virtual equivalent of a greeting. And like a greeting, it can take on many meanings in many different contexts (see the zen of poke for more.) For better or worse, poking–and now super poking–has revolutionized how millions of people greet each other. Watch this 3 min 1 sec video to find out my take on this revolution:

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What makes facebook work?

September 28th, 2007

A new back-to-school ritual for students these days is to create and manage a profile on At the beginning of this summer, my friend Nathaniel convinced me to sign up and I have looked back. It is amazing, for the reasons I described in this past post. But why does it work so well?

Facebook taps two powerful human desires:

  1. Exhibitionism: filling out a facebook profile gives pleasure in defining who you are, sharing your music, book and movie preferences, etc. And as you get more involved in facebook, you may develop a sense of obligation (e..g, oh! I haven’t added a review of the movie I saw last weekend).
  2. Voyeurism: facebook allows you to peek into the lives of others. It offers a low commitment “on ramp” perhaps towards deeper friendship with new acquaintances. Over time, it is a lower barrier way to keep in touch. And what I hear is that facebook is the best way to find the cool parties. :)

In addition, facebook has developed a trust culture. In the beginning, only students with “.edu” email addresses could participate. No “creeps” could participate so facebook was safe. There is also a strong commitment to use real names and real profile pictures. Now, facebook is open but you can’t make much headway in the system if you violate the culture of trust. So, this culture is self-perpetuating.

Finally, facebook has “lightweight connectivity.” What is lightweight connectivity and why is it so cool? Consider how my mom uses netflix. She watches lots of movies and actively manages her movie list. She has also had great lists of books, movies, events and restaurants that she kept in a private diary. With netflix, she can now share at least her movie list with a half dozen or so of her friends. And just by sharing that list, she is strongly influences what movies her friends watch. What netflix does for movies, facebook does for everything social in your life. And if you are in college or recently graduated, you can be certain all your friends are on board.

Well, I apologize for dumping so much jargon in this post. Facebook is something really cool. Join now! I’ll be your guide if you want. And then you’ll understand what I am talking about, because I plan to write a lot more about facebook.

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iRobot and X-Men: quick reviews

September 24th, 2007

iRobot: Will Smith stars in Isaac Isamov’s sci fi thriller. Original story develops several interesting themes about cloning, scientific progress, paternalism and anthropomorphism. Also, a prescient warning of the danger of automatic updates (think: Microsoft). The robot “sonny” is surprisingly convincing; Will smith is good but not great.

X-Men: Growing up, I loved the comic book. I liked the movie because I had entirely forgotten all the details of the main storyline of the X-Men. Like iRobot, it raises questions about what it means to be human and about scientific progress. Unlike iRobot, the X-Men aren’t clones but have unique mutations that give them superhuman powers. In addition, the X-Men story intentionally sets up a parallel between teenage angst and the mutant equivalent. My low expectations of the movie were exceeded: although accessible to all sci fi aficionados, I especially recommend this movie to X-Men fans.

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