Tag Archives: social

The Rise and Fall of Draw Something

Not too long ago, Draw Something was a social-gaming phenomenon raking in 50 million downloads within the first 50 days of the game’s release. It even beat Words With Friends to become the most popular Facebook game at the time. Zynga (creators of FarmVille) even bought out developer OMGPOP (creaters of Draw Something) for $180 million because of the game’s massive popularity.

However, did Zynga act too quickly? It turns out the rapid rise to fame has hit a plateau and is now heading in a downward direction. The past few weeks have seen a steady decline in the number of users playing Draw Something. In a month’s time, from April 2 to May 2, the game has lost almost four million users according to a report by BBC News, dropping the total number of active users down to 10.4 million.

Draw Something is a Pictionary-esque mobile game that has you draw a picture with the goal being the other person guessing correctly. Each correct answer earns you and your “opponent” coins to buy more colors and other goodies.

Frankly, I’m not too surprised by the steady decline of users playing the game. It’s the type of game that gets old quickly. For me, Draw Something lasted about a week before I deleted it off of my phone. It’s simply the type of game where it needs to be constantly updated with new features in order to keep users interested. If Draw Something stays the same old game forever, there’s no doubt that it will lose its appeal.

We’ll have to wait and see what Zynga will do to combat the steady loss of its users for Draw Something. Is it possible for them to keep the game going strong and staying relevant with frequent updates and newer features? Let us know in the comments.

Image Credit: WebMediaBrands

Words with Friends is Mobile Gaming Perfection

Saturday night. Relaxing at a friend’s house. Dinner is over, and we are all sitting around the dining table. The room is strangely quiet. Everyone at the table has a look of intense concentration, and the only sounds are the occasional shrills and pings produced by our various laptops and smartphones.

No, this isn’t a strange vision of a scary post-social-skills future. It was just last week – on the Saturday we all finally discovered the phenomenon that is Words With Friends.

Words With Friends is an online word game from Zynga, available for iOS, Android and Facebook. It’s basically Scrabble, albeit with the bonus squares slightly rearranged. It’s been around a while, but seems to be experiencing a surge in popularity.

For anyone who has lived in a cave since 1938 when Scrabble was invented, the game takes place on a 15 x 15 square board. Each player is given seven letters, which they must place on the board to create a word. Each letter is allocated a certain number of points – a single point for “easy” letters such as “A” and “E,” and up to 10 points for the tricky ones like “Z” and “Q.”

Words With Friends on Facebook
Words With Friends on Facebook

Extra points are given if words are played over special squares such as “double word score” or “triple letter score.” Players take it in turns to lay words on the board until the entire pool of letters is used up, and the player with the highest score wins the game.

Words With Friends is exactly the same…but online. Players invite friends, usually via Facebook, and can play multiple games at the same time. Within an hour of discovering the game, we found that many of our friends were already playing, and each of us soon had five or six games on the go at once.

There are no time limits. For those that only log on occasionally, a game of Words With Friends can be something akin to postal chess, with only a few moves happening each day. For people who spend their lives glued to their iPhones and Facebook pages, playing Words With Friends can be both an enjoyable quick-fire challenge and something akin to a fun full-time job!

The beauty of Words With Friends is that it really is the perfect mobile game. The iPod and Android apps can consume long train journeys with ease, but also provide perfect gaming fodder for two-minute waits in supermarket queues.

Words with Friends App
Words with Friends App

The game is supported by advertising. In the case of the Facebook game, this involves looking at an ad for 5 seconds in between moves – this can quickly become tiresome. On the iOS app, the ads appear but can be skipped instantly. For those that want to play a lot (probably anyone with a few Facebook friends willing to get involved) the ads can be disabled for a small fee with the purchase of the full game.

Most people playing in our group have paid the money – which goes to prove that this freemium payment model works for compelling games. Who can begrudge a few dollars for something that provides hours of enjoyment at home, on the train, and even queuing at the airport.

The best thing of all about Words With Friends is that it isn’t simply mindless entertainment. If something’s going to keep you glued to your iPhone screen, isn’t it best that it’s something that focuses the mind and increases the vocabulary?

This point seems to be the key to the game’s popularity. All it really consists of is Scrabble, turn based online gaming (that must have been pretty easy to put together), and a bit of brain training. Yet somehow it ends up being far more than the sum of its parts. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I somehow need to get more than forty points with four As, two Hs and a Q.

Facebook’s Timeline: Life flashing before your eyes has never been so awesome

Facebook’s new Timeline profiles start rolling out to the public today. Many users were able to preview the new profiles early through Facebook’s Developer program, so I’ve already had a week to play around with Timeline. You’ve probably heard a lot of buzz about its “great design” or “privacy nightmare”, so what’s all the fuss about?

Facebook's new Timeline profile

One of the benefits of being both a software engineer and a tech blogger is that I hear unique, contrasting opinions from members of both groups. Software developers tend to abhor innovations in social networks (and it’s no wonder, they understand how data can be misused more than anyone). Many bloggers, on the other hand, swarm around new web innovations, especially when big companies like Facebook release a newsworthy feature.

I’m going to say something that most members of the first group probably wouldn’t agree with: I really like Timeline. Borderline love. While I’m not eager to throw personal information to the wind, I’m excited about Timeline and think it’s a great move by Facebook.

Here’s why:

We’ve never seen this before

The release of Timeline is a rare moment when a company in the social networking sphere does something truly unique. Google+ brought the thunder by introducing great privacy-based sharing tools, and Facebook responded by releasing one of the best-designed web features I’ve seen in a long time. When you look at Timeline for the first time, you won’t need any explanation. Timeline is something you already know how to use, and intuitive design is no accident.

Instant nostalgia

When I first got access to Timeline, I scrolled through 2011 and thought, “Yep, cool, that’s basically what happened this year”. No surprises. Then I started scrolling through 2010, 2009, 2008, and back to 2005 and was completely blown away. Timeline showed me pictures and wall posts that I had long forgotten about, and I easily lost a few hours looking at pictures and reminiscing about the things I did those years.

Digging through old posts on Timeline even made me start up conversations with friends I hadn’t talked to in years. A friend of mine put it very well on Twitter:

@ Was looking back on Timeline and reading some of our old conversations. I like what I saw. #WeWereWayCoolerThan
@bglaszcz
Benjamin Glaszcz

Another thing I’ve noticed is increased interaction on my posts and pictures from years ago. Since Timeline highlights important events from each year, you’ll notice that important posts will continue to get attention long after they were breaking news. Sure, it might not be a big deal when you post a picture of the ice cream you ate last night, but when your friends and family scroll back to the year your kids were born or when you bought a house, it will continue to be an important (and enjoyable) memory.

Privacy hasn’t changed, you’re just aware of it now

A lot of people seem to be up-in-arms about Timeline because it suddenly displays posts you didn’t know existed anymore. I hope this isn’t news to anyone here: everything you do online is stored somewhere, and it’s in your best interests to assume that information will be there forever. Just because a post was pushed off your Wall back in 2006 doesn’t mean it went away permanently. The good news? All posts and pictures are still subject to the same privacy rules you applied in the first place.

Besides, features like Timeline can be a good thing if used correctly. You’re entirely in control of what gets displayed to your viewers, so make yourself look great! Add a Star to posts about an achievement you earned (stars “pin” the story in a prominent way on your Timeline), and remove posts that don’t reflect how you truly feel. Important events like graduation, weddings, and posts with a high amount of Likes (read “Good Things”) will be the focal point of your profile, and useless chaff like boring wall posts simply disappear.

Conclusion

With Timeline rolling out to a larger audience, I’m eager to hear what the general public thinks of the update. We’re all familiar with the ridiculous pseudo-revolts Facebook users have whenever a new feature is released, but I’ve got a feeling this one will be received better than most.

Make Your Searches More Social With Wajam

How do you find out about things? I’m talking about things like interesting places to visit while on vacation, a good place to eat, whether or not a particular bicycle seat is worth buying. Well, that and more.

Chances are you take one of two routes. One, you turn to your favorite search engine. Or two, you ask a friend or someone in your social network a question or three.

What if you were able to combine those two approaches and make your searches a bit more social? Well, Wajam tries to do just that. And, for the most part, it succeeds.

Wajam?

Let’s look at the concept and the technology. The idea behind Wajam is to improve the results that a search engine returns by combining those results with mentions of, say, that product or place from your online social network. More on how to combine the two in a few paragraphs.

Wajam itself is a browser extension for Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Internet Explorer. Once installed, it works in the background and adds results derived from your social network to the results from Google, Bing, Yahoo, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, and Blekko.

Getting started

Head over to the Wajam and log in using either your Twitter or Facebook login information. Wajam links to your account. When you start searching (more on this in a moment), will add hits from your network. And once you’ve logged in, you can download and install the extension for your browser.

But what happens if, say, you logged in using your Facebook account but want to add your Twitter account to Wajam? On the Wajam Web site, click the Sources tab. Then, click the icon for Twitter.

Wajam Sources tab

But it’s not just your Twitter and Facebook friends. If you have an account with the bookmarking service Delicious, you can link that account to Wajam. You can also upload a bookmark file from your computer to the Wajam dashboard. That’s a potentially great feature: using your past choices to help enhance your searches.

Using Wajam

There are two ways you can do that. The first way is to head over to your favorite search engine and plug in a search. The search engine will do its thing, but at the top of the results Wajam adds mentions from your social networks about what you’re searching for.

Wajam search results

If one of the results from Wajam fits you bill, then just click a link to jump to that page. You’ll notice the Wajam toolbar at the top of the page. You can use the toolbar to share what you’ve found on Facebook or Twitter.

Wajam toolbar

The second way to search is within Wajam itself. When logged in, click the Home tab. You’re taken to a search engine that actually combs your social networks and uploaded bookmarks (if any) for matches.

Wajam internal search

Click a link to open it. Again, you reach the page you get the Wajam toolbar that lets you share that page on Facebook or Twitter.

On the other hand …

The results themselves can vary. For example, I wanted to find some places to do indoor bouldering in Toronto (where I live) — I searched for bouldering Toronto using Google. The results that came back from Wajam were … well, interesting. I got a tweet from a musician who did a show in Toronto, and a pointer to a blog mentioning a company with an office in Boulder, Colorado. The results from Google, in this case, were more focused.

Also, the freshness of the information can be a bit of a problem. The two results I mentioned in the last paragraph were two months and two years old, respectively. You can sort the results by relevance, newest mentions, and older mentions. But a useful addition to Wajam would be a way to set a range of dates over which to perform a search.

While Wajam has an extension for Google Chrome, I wasn’t able to download and install it in Chromium (the Open Source version of Chrome). That’s strange, because every other Chrome extension I’ve tried with Chromium has installed and has worked.

Final thoughts

Wajam takes search to an interesting new place. By adding a social element, your search results are potentially better targeted and focused to your needs. And, you’d hope, with that social element you’re also getting an element of trust in your results — opinions or just links from people whose opinions matter to you.

I’m not sure that Wajam fully achieves those goals. At least, not yet. But it’s definitely worth taking a closer look at Wajam.

Three simple ways to back up your tweets

If you use Twitter, you probably know how difficult if can be to find a tweet that you posted a couple of weeks ago or more. Maybe it was a pithy quote. Or maybe it was a link to an interesting article or website. But once those 140 characters get mixed up in that sea of tweets you might as well kiss them goodbye.

Or maybe not. While you can’t save your tweets from within Twitter itself, there are a number of services that will collect and package tweets so you can download and view them on your computer.

Here’s a look at three simple but effective ways to back up your tweets.

Tweetake

Tweetake is a free service that’s simplicity itself. All you need to do is log in using your Twitter account and you’re ready to go. From there, you can choose what you want to back up – your tweets, favorite tweets from others, those sent by people you follow, direct messages, or everything.

Tweetake

 

Then, you just click a button and in a minute or two your tweets are downloaded as a .csv file that you can open in a spreadsheet like Microsoft Excel or OpenOffice.org Calc. The results aren’t pretty but Tweetake is effective.

The results, in a spreadsheet

 

Keep in mind that Tweetake won’t backup all of your tweets (unless you only have a few of them). It will go back about four months or so. Still, if you do a backup every 30 days or so, you should be covered.

Tweetscan Backup

Going a step or two further is Tweetscan Backup. Like Tweetake, it’s a free service. And like Tweetake, Tweetscan Backup lets you choose what you want to backup – personal tweets, favorites, tweets from followers and friends, replies, direct
messages, or all of the above.

Tweetscan

Tweetscan collects your last 1,000 tweets. Depending on what kind of Twitter user you are, that could be a month’s worth or a year’s worth of tweets. Tweetscan creates a .zip file containing a .csv file and an HTML file. The .csv file, like the one that Tweetake produces, isn’t pretty. But that HTML file is something else. Open it in Firefox or Google Chrome and you get a very nicely laid out view of your tweets.

Tweetscan HTML file

Backupify

I saved this one for last. Why? If you want power and flexibility, Backupify is what you’re looking for.

Backupify does more than back up your tweets. You can also use it to archive other social media and Web services like Facebook, Flickr, WordPress, and Google Apps. But we’re only interested in what Backupify can do with Twitter right now…

The service is fire and forget. You can tell Backupify to take a daily backup of all of your Twitter stream – your tweets, replies, direct messages, and tweets posted by your followers. Each type of tweet is saved in its own file, which makes finding things easier when you need to.

Backupify

If that wasn’t enough, Backupify can create a .zip file of your tweets and every week it collects your tweets into a nicely formatted PDF book.

Tweets, as a PDF

While Backupify has a free option, it’s kind of limited. If you want to backup all of your social media, then you might want to take a look at one of the for-pay plans.

Final thoughts

There’s no need for your tweets to disappear down a digital black hole. With a good backup service, you can save your tweets for posterity. Or, at least, find that one special tweet that’s you want or need to check out again. And these three services can help you do just that.

Hybrid Value Chain: Opening New Markets to For-Profits and Social Enterprises

The following is an excerpt from an article at SocialEarth.org, a social entrepreneurship and innovation blog.

When local citizen groups in Mexico convinced Amanco, a large producer of water-conveyance products, to team up and support under-served small farmers, they created a new irrigation technology market worth about $56 million a year and the farmers were able to double, or even triple their income — a win-win for profits and social responsibility. This is just one of many new examples of a “Hybrid Value Chain,” a newly functional  idea in business-operations framework profiled in a recent Harvard Business Review article.

“This wouldn’t have been possible ten years ago, because the citizen sector hadn’t developed yet,” says Bill Drayton, the Founder and CEO of Ashoka, a collaboration of almost 3,000 leading social entrepreneurs from every continent — half of which have changed public policy within five years of being chosen for an Ashoka fellowship.

The concept stems from the incredible reach and work of citizen-sector organizations (e.g. social enterprises and nonprofits) in communities across the globe and the technological efficiency of innovative for-profit companies. Combine the two and you create a value component that neither organization, nor company, can reach by themselves.

Read the rest at SocialEarth.org.

Skype Rolls Out Version 5.0 With Facebook Integration and 10-Way Video Calling

Skype just got a lot more social!

Since mid-Summer, Skype 5.0 Beta has been available, but this past week they rolled out the full version, jam-packed with new features, updates, and a slick new user interface that wasn’t available in the recent beta.

Probably some of the biggest and most talked about features within the new Skype 5.0 is the 10-way video calling, which is an improvement from the 5-way video calling within the beta, and its integration with Facebook.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few years, you more than likely have a Facebook account or have at least heard of Facebook. The social network giant unveiled “Facebook Connect” a few months back, which allows third party websites to access the Facebook platform by connecting and building it into their sites.

Have you ever been to a website and seen a link that says “Sign in with Facebook”? That’s Facebook Connect, a wonderful tool that saves us time by not having to sign in with numerous accounts and remember them – instead we can just sign in through our Facebook accounts. Now Skype has jumped on the bandwagon and have done an overhaul by integrating Facebook within their 5.0 version.

In order to utilize Facebook within Skype, you have to either update your current version of Skype to the 5.0 version or download it for the first time. This can be done through their website at www.skype.com.

Once you download Skype, sign in or create an account, click on the home tab.

Once you click the home tab, the Skype Home Window will open. This is where you will be able to edit your profile and connect to Facebook. Click the Facebook tab to open the “Facebook Connect” dialog box.

Sign into Facebook and then click “allow” on the bottom right of the window.

You will notice that your news feed shows up in Skype almost identical to your news feed in Facebook (you can even update your status), but with a few additions. There are now “SMS” and “call” buttons next to the posts of your friends. With these you can call and text your friends right through Skype. For these to work, however, your friends have to have their numbers listed in the info section on their Facebook profiles and you must have Skype credit (I guess Skype has to make their money somehow).

Skype has also integrated a Facebook Contact Book that shows a listing of all of your Facebook friends with their contact information.

Another neat feature within the Facebook integration is the ease of adding contacts to Skype from Facebook. The way it works is if someone has a Skype account registered with the same email account that is registered with Facebook, you will see a little green button with a white plus sign next to their statuses. By clicking that button, you will be able to add them to your contacts on Skype directly from the Facebook integration. The best thing about this is that you may not know that your Facebook friends are on Skype, but now you can Skype-to-Skype call them with one button (Skype-to-Skype calling, with or without video, is free!).

Some people may be confused about what costs money and what doesn’t on Skype, so let me clear up some of the confusion. What costs money is when you want to call someone on their cell phone or landline using Skype. In order to do that you must buy Skype Credit. While some may frown on having to pay, their rates are ridiculously cheap at 2.3 cents a minute and even cheaper (0.9 cents/min) with the purchase of a monthly-subscription.

You may also want to look into downloading SkypeMobile on your smart phones for free. SkypeMobile features free Skype-to-Skype call and IM (with Verizon), Skype remains on all the time so that you can receive calls at any time, and most notably Skype-to-Skype, IM and global calls don’t use up any of your wireless plan minutes.

If you don’t have a smart phone (Skype runs on Android, iPhone, Blackberry, and a few other smart phone platforms) and can’t download SkypeMobile, check out Skype To Go. For more information on SkypeMobile or Skye To Go, check out this link.

Version 5.0, in addition to the awesomeness of Facebook integration, features some pretty wicked features such as a much simpler user interface, addition of photos to Skype contact lists (which should help in searching for people), a home dashboard with a feed of your contacts mood and statuses, as well as tutorials on using Skype and the myriad of features available.

While many thought that the 5-way video calling, available in the beta version this past summer, was pretty cool, Skype decided to roll out with 10-way video calling in the full 5.0 version. The 10-way video calling is a great tool to use for connecting with multiple family members at once (say good bye to family reunions), catching up with friends, holding study sessions and working on projects with classmates, and for holding business meetings and conferences.

If connecting with 10 people via video at the same time wasn’t cool enough, Skype decided to add additional features within the video calling such as automatic call recovery, which will automatically reconnect you if you are disconnected – almost like it never happened. They also added a feature that will automatically position the person currently talking into the middle and largest video window within Skype.

  • Some things to note regarding 10-way video calling is that it is free only for a trial version, which lasts 28 days. After that is up, you will have to pony up some cash in order to continue the feature. Also in order to use it with other people, they all must have the 5.0 version, a webcam, and a broadband connection. 10-way video calling is also in beta, which means it’s a work in progress but go ahead and use it, just don’t be surprised if there are minor glitches or problems.
  • The new Skype 5.0 is only available on the Windows platform, with no word on when the Mac and Linux updates will be available.

Head over to the Skype website to learn more, update to the 5.0 version, or create an account.

Don’t be Interesting, Be More Interesting than Every Person I’ve Ever Met

“I don’t have to be more interesting than you. I don’t have to be more interesting than your friends. I have to be more interesting than your phone; more interesting than ALL the friends you’ve ever had.”

Nick Douglas nailed one of the biggest problems we have with modern social interactions in a recent YouTube rant (note: brief NSFW language at the end) – it’s hard to get somebody’s attention when they’ve got all their friends’ life stories in their hand.  I’m just as guilty as the next person, there are some times when you simply get glued to your phone and tune out the real world.

Microsoft has been making big headlines this week with the introduction of their new line of phones, Windows Phone 7, and they’ve capitalized on this concept with their latest marketing campaign.

Besides being a brilliant advertisment, they reinforce the point that we’re wandering through some pretty amazing situations and hardly noticing (although it should be noted that their goal is to sell us their phone, not really stop us from being distracted).  It’s not just your mobile phone’s fault of course, the simple fact is that there is a lot of interesting material available at your fingertips through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and all over the internet.

It’s safe to say that digital distractions are only going to get worse as technology permeates through additional facets of our lives.  I’m excited about the digitalization of society – but what price are we willing to pay to have the internet be a part of our social lives?

Share your thoughts with me in the comments. I mean, I already have your attention, right?

Surf the Web, Better the World

You’re busy. You work for a living and when the 9-5 ends, you relax, have fun and do things that you care about (or, work more). You don’t always have time to give back as much as you want.

BetterTheWorld.com changes all that. It’s an online social change community that strives to make it easy and free for people to earn money for non-profit organizations they support. By creating an account on their site and downloading their browser add-on for Firefox, or Internet Explorer, you can start earning points that add up to cash for the organization of your choice.

BetterTheWorld even has monthly contests where you can earn extras for you and your cause — like an Apple Macbook. And all of this is while you do your daily web routine. Nothing changes except the sidebar on your browser, which shows socially conscious, non-intrusive advertisements and updates from the Better The World blog.

This is a perfect add-on for anyone like me who spends the majority of their days on a computer. I’ve racked up a considerable amount of points and after a few weeks I forgot the sidebar was even there. You can also shop online and if the company is supported by Better The World, a percentage of every dollar goes to your chosen cause.

No matter what your ideals, Better The World has nonprofit partners for every techie do-gooder. From getting kids specialized medical equipment to gifting clean water to the third world, they’ll be sure to have a project that you’ll be proud to support. Causes also organically evolve and organizations create new projects relative to current events. When the Haiti and Chile earthquakes struck, you could help give back almost immediately, even if you couldn’t be there in person. The same was so for the Gulf Oil Spill Disaster.

So before you Google, Bing, or Yahoo one more jQuery, MySQL, or CakePHP question (which you can probably find right here), give a little back and download this app.