Tag Archives: Web

Music discovery app Shazam raises $40 million in preparation for IPO

Shazam

Shazam, in an effort to prepare itself before going public, recently hired a new CEO.  The company, which is well known for its music discovery app, has more good news to share before finally going public. The company has raised $40 million from America Movil, and enters into a business partnership with the company, which is seen as a move to bring its media products to the carrier’s subscribers, and in turn, boost its user base.

Shazam’s growth has been astounding, currently standing at 350 million users, which is twice the number of users it had just two years ago. Active monthly users have also increase, up from 22 million two years ago, to 70 million.

According to the executive chairman of Shazam, Andrew Fisher, the company is growing incredibly quickly prompting the need to purchase more capacity to support this growth as people spend more time using the service. He also said that the company is looking to innovate much faster as a result of this growth and the funding should give it the needed boost to move in this direction. Some of these innovations include the introduction of notable updates in its television product which should enable users discover ads and programs playing on screen. Other notable improvements include the application of emerging technologies such as audio and image recognition, which should make it much easier for people to engage with media and brands that they are interested in.

According to Fisher, the new funding will not change the company’s IPO timetable. While not disclosing more details as to when it will go public, he gives the assurance that the company will be ready once it goes through another phase of growth.

Shazam was founded in 2000. In 2011, it launched its Shazam for TV service which shows specific mobile-optimized content including social features. Shazam is currently in use in more than 200 countries.

The unfortunate downsides of streaming music services

playIf you haven’t heard, Google recently announced a streaming music service. For $9.99/month you can stream all the music you want to your compatible device.

This is not the first streaming music service, and it probably won’t be the last. In principle, an all you get stream music service sounds good, but in reality it has a few problems which keep me from signing up for one and sticking with purchasing music.

Problem 1: Mobile data limits

The biggest problem with streaming music services is data limits enforced by wireless carriers. Unless you are on a WiFi network all of the time, you are going to need to use a data plan, which for most people is limited to 2GB or less.

You might argue the 2GB is plenty of data, and it is if you are just surfing the Internet and checking emails and maybe downloading apps every now and then. However, that data goes faster than you think, and streaming only makes it go faster. Yes, audio uses a lot less data than video, but it is still using that data and I would venture to say you will use up that data before your month is up.

I can see many people who unknowingly sign up for a streaming service without even knowing they are eating up their data plan until they get a nice present tacked onto their next bill for data overage. Of course, the data providers would love it if you purchased an upgrade for your mobile data plan. Now you get to pay for more data and the monthly streaming fee.

Problem 2: WiFi isn’t perfect

Let’s say you are one of those people I mentioned above who have constant access to WiFi. You have WiFi at home, WiFi at work, and you frequent enough places that have WiFi access that you don’t really care about streaming in your car or other places.

Just because you have WiFi access doesn’t mean you can stream your music. Your employer might limit streaming or even block it. If you are on public WiFi at a cafe it could also be limited by the establishment or just extremely slow from a large amount of people using it. WiFi is great, but only if it is completely usable.

Problem 3: Owning the music and making an audio CD

Contrary to what some might think, the physical CD is not dead yet. I, for one, still make audio CDs of my music. If you have a streaming service you can’t import music into iTunes and burn a CD. You have to buy those tracks. Yes, you can do both but this can get costly if you are always doing it. Plus, call it old school, but many people prefer to own their music. I like being able to load my iPhone with what I want and be able to listen to it whenever and where ever I am without having to worry about using data or being on WiFi.

Conclusion

For many people a streaming music service is great. They have a limited data plan, have WiFi access, and or don’t care about owning music. For others, like myself, it is the wrong way to go.

Prepare for the upcoming Google Reader shutdown with 5 alternatives

Google ReaderIn an effort to consolidate its services, Google Reader shuts down on July 1, 2013. The rise and growth of Google+ has seen a bunch of shutdowns and we can expect to see more as the company looks to focus more on its key products.

With Google Reader gone, it is time to look for alternatives for subscribing to RSS feeds. Here are five alternatives that should help you get everything – well, nearly everything – you got from Google Reader.

1. Feedly

Feedly, under the project called Normandy, had been preparing for a Google Reader API clone since the shutdown for announced, and you now have an alternative that should help you seamlessly transition from Google Reader to Feedly. The Feedly service is supported on iOS, Android, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome. This Feedly blog post shows you how you can make that seamless transition and ensure you do not miss any updates from your favorite blogs now that Google Reader is gone.

2. NetVibes

NetVibes opened a new home for millions of Google Readers recently by offering a dual dashboard-and-reader combo which, unlike other alternatives, is powered by its own real-time RSS engine that is completely independent of Google. NetVibes comes with an ecosystem of over 260,000 apps and feeds, social search, syncing across multiple devices, and works on iOS, Android and desktop browsers.

3. NewsBlur

This is a personal news reader runs on iOS, Android, and on web browsers. It is a free service with premium subscriptions if you want to support growing services and unlock a few restrictions. The service offers four RSS feed views which are Original, Feed, Story, and Text. Original offers readers the original design and typeface of a given site. The Feed view is the plain old RS feed you are used to. The Story view shows individual blog posts one at a time, and the Text view shows the original story’s extracted article text, which may not be 100% perfect.

4. FeedDemon

For Windows users, FeedDemon will continue to offer its services which includes keyword tagging, Feed Watches, the ability to search feeds, and the ability to automatically download audio podcasts.

5. Google Currents

It’s not all bye-bye from Google. Google Currents is another excellent alternative available on iOS and Android devices which turns your blogs into an attractive, shareable and favoritable magazine. It is able to aggregate your content into categories to help you better enjoy your content.

There we have it, 5 Google Reader alternatives that you can use to ensure you are updated on what’s new on your favorite blogs and online destinations.

Meet the new Google Maps

Google-Maps-Preview

If you were at the Google I/O (or weren’t), you are probably aware of the major redesign changes that were launched for Google Maps.  One thing you will quickly notice is the approach that Google has taken to provide a more intuitive interface that takes away the clutter and leaves you with a clean and clear way of exploring neighborhoods and other destinations.

Interestingly, we can also see a future glimpse of where maps may be going. Google has modeled a few cities around the world in 3D letting you enter the third dimension and get a new perspective of the world. This feature is similar to Apple’s “Flyover” function of its own mapping service but Google definitely know how to create buzz for it and deliver a much more intuitive experience.

Improved Search in Maps

Google Maps Screenshot

Of course, the ultimate ability of maps is to be able to search locations and get the exact information you are looking for. Though not quite your Knowledge Graph experience, the new Google Maps takes search a notch higher by letting you get better results when you search for restaurants, hotels, and world attractions. However, that is not the end of it. Google wants a more personalized experience in all of its products that you use, and this includes the new maps. As you use the search feature, Google Maps will be able to learn about your likes, favorites, and destinations, and this information, yes you guessed it, will be used to recommend places and destinations.

Info Cards

Google has added a new feature to help both businesses and you, get the right information to you. When you click on a business, an info card comes up below the search box with the business’ address, directions, web URL, phone number and hours of operation. Rather than having to navigate out of Google Maps to get all this information, you now have everything you need inside the maps interface. Again, the more you use maps to search for businesses, the better the maps become at recommending places and venues with the option of writing reviews.

Images

Google seems to value the use of images in most of its products and Google Maps is one of these tools where images really shine and give you a whole new perspective in search. At the bottom of any location you search, you will see a scrolling menu of images that you can click through to enjoy a photo tour. These images are pulled from Google+, Picasa, and Android phones from owners. Google also contributes its own sets of photos. Google seems to be particularly interested in user-generated photos where it is able to pull up several photos of the same building but during different times of the year and through the eyes of different photographers to give you an amazing photo tour.

Directions in Maps

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We all love to get driving directions when looking at maps. But how about directions when using different transportation options such as public transit, walking, biking or flying? Google now brings this ability to the new Google Maps allowing you to compare the different directions and see which is the quickest and readily available.

Clearly, what Google is doing with maps is very similar to what it has done with search results – personalize our experiences. When you click on search, you are now presented with localized and highly personalized results rather than from results across the globe. Google Maps seem to be taking the same direction.

You can try out the new Maps with the following link: http://maps.google.com/help/maps/helloworld/desktop/preview/

Echofon for Firefox dies after Twitter API changes – Here’s how to get it back

In case you’ve never heard of it, Echofon for Firefox was an add-on for Firefox that allowed users to interact with Twitter without going to the official Twitter website. Available as a small pop-up window in the browser’s status bar, Echofon was a convenient and minimalist way to compose tweets, replies, and browse Twitter.

The last version of Echofon for Firefox ever released, version 2.5.2.
The last version of Echofon for Firefox ever released, version 2.5.2.

As of October 2012, Echofon for Firefox was officially discontinued by its developers so they could focus on versions of Echofon for mobile platforms (iPad, Android, and iPhone) instead. This wasn’t the end of the world, though, because Echofon would continue working as long as Twitter API 1.0 was still active.

With this foreboding message, Echofon for Firefox stopped receiving updates.
With this foreboding message, Echofon for Firefox stopped receiving updates.

Since this article exists, I think you can guess what the problem is: As of June 12, 2013, Twitter API 1.0 has been officially shut down, which also killed Echofon for thousands of users.

Users were left with this simple message when they opened Firefox today:

Can’t login to Twitter. (410 Gone (account_verify_credentials))

I wouldn’t be writing this article if it was all bad news, so here’s how to keep Echofon for Firefox working after the Twitter API change.

Patched Echofon saves the day for Twitter API 1.1

When I opened Firefox today and noticed that Echofon wasn’t working anymore, I immediately assumed the worst. Doing a quick Twitter search for “echofon firefox” confirmed my suspicions that my beloved extension had officially died.

However, something useful popped up in my search: Apparently, someone had patched Echofon and updated it to use Twitter API 1.1, which replaced the dead API 1.0. Rather than blindly run this updated extension, I took some time to do a file-by-file comparison between the patched version and the official version to make sure nothing nefarious was happening behind-the-scenes.

What I found were fairly minor modifications, and none of them appear to be malicious. Based on my findings, I decided to try the patched version for myself.

(Please note that I am not a computer security expert, so do not take this as a “seal of approval” or anything. Using 3rd-party software of any type, especially patched software, comes with piles of inherent risk.)

The tragic part about Echofon’s demise is that it ultimately comes down to some very simple code modifications:

// const TWITTER_API_URL    = "api.twitter.com/1.0/"; // old and busted
const TWITTER_API_URL    = "api.twitter.com/1.1/"; // new hotness

Without further adieu, here’s how to switch over to the patched version of Echofon.

How to install the patch

  1. Download the patched version of Echofon. The latest version of the patch appears to be “6”.
  2. In Firefox, navigate to your Extensions page. You can find this by navigating to the big Firefox menu, then selecting Add-ons. In the Add-ons window, click Extensions in the sidebar. You can also use the convenient shortcut Ctrl+Shift+A to access this menu.2013-06-12_12h46_53
  3. After navigating to the Extensions tab in the Add-on window, locate a gear icon in the top right corner. Click it and select Install Add-on From File…2013-06-12_12h48_07
  4. Locate the file you downloaded in Step 1 and open it
  5. Restart Firefox

After following those steps, you should see that Echofon for Firefox is again alive and well.

Performing your own analysis

If you want to independently check out what’s been changed in the patched version of this extension, comparing them is actually quite easy. Firefox extensions are packed as a .xpi file, which is actually just a compressed .zip folder. Just rename the file to .zip and you can extract it to your local computer.

By extracting both the patched version and the official version, I was able to use a great tool called Beyond Compare to perform a full directory comparison and analyze the modifications that were made to the extension.

Comparing the contents of the patched extension to the official extension
Comparing the contents of the patched extension to the official extension

Is there any chance of an official updated version for API 1.1?

I’d say it is very unlikely.

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How to uninstall Adobe Acrobat Reader and open PDFs in your browser instead

adobe-reader-logoOver the last few months, I’ve been aggressively pursuing ways to remove my dependence on 3rd-party plugins. Every time I read about a massive security exploit in software like Java and various Adobe products I think to myself, “Why am I putting myself at risk by keeping this software installed?”

PDF documents aren’t going anywhere, nor should they. They provide a useful, lightweight method to share non-editable rich text documents, and the format has been around since 1993 meaning almost all of us have interacted with a PDF document at some point in our lives. The fact that PDFs are so ubiquitous means that most computers come with a PDF document viewer pre-installed, with Adobe Acrobat Reader being one of the most popular.

I certainly can’t criticize Adobe’s efforts to combat security issues because I’m frequently prompted to update my Adobe software via their automatic update system. These updates are often retroactive, though: by the time you receive an update, the security flaw has already done its damaged to hundreds and thousands of computers. The definition of a “0-day exploit” means that the attack used a previously unknown vulnerability, and these exploits can be extremely dangerous.

Unfortunately, we simply can’t rely on automatic updates to protect us from all security flaws for a number of reasons. Some users may not have automatic updates enabled, and many users deliberately disable automatic updates on popular applications despite the security risk it presents. Automatic updaters typically run on a schedule, so there could be a delay before your computer even checks for a security update. And let’s not forget the most basic of issues: Some users simply don’t know what to do when presented with an automatic update dialog.

So what’s the solution? In my opinion, the best way to avoid security flaws in Adobe Acrobat Reader is simply to uninstall it. I don’t want you to be PDF viewer-less though, so in this article I’ll show you a simple way to remove Adobe Acrobat Reader without giving up your ability to view PDFs.

Web browsers to the rescue

Web browsers like Chrome and Firefox have strong incentives for removing the dependency on 3rd-party plugins like Adobe Acrobat Reader. Plugins slow down browsers, open security vulnerabilities, and can cause a variety functional issues with the browsers themselves.

Recently, both Chrome and Firefox have released updates that allow you to view PDFs right from within your browser, without using a 3rd-party plugin. Firefox has offered this feature since version 19, and thanks to Javascript, the Mozilla team was able to render PDFs without relying on a plugin.

If you have the latest versions of Chrome or Firefox installed, you should automatically see their built-in PDF viewers when opening a PDF link in your browser. But what about PDFs you have on your local computer? No problem!

How to use modern versions of Chrome and Firefox as the default viewer for PDF documents

Using your browser as a PDF viewer is as simple as changing the default application used to open the .pdf filetype. In Windows, this can be done by following these steps:

Step 1: Locate a PDF document on your computer.

Step 2:Right-click the document and select Properties.

Step 3: Locate the Opens with: setting and click Change.

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Step 4: Select your web browser of choice. You may need to navigate to your browser’s executable if it isn’t displayed in the list.

Selecting the default PDF viewer in Windows 8
Selecting the default PDF viewer in Windows 8
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Selecting the default PDF viewer in Windows 7

That’s it! Now when you open a PDF document, your web browser will be used instead of Adobe Acrobat. You can now uninstall Acrobat from your computer – you won’t be needing it or its security vulnerabilities anymore.

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Wi-Fi Etiquette: When is it appropriate to ask for access?

coffee mugWhen it comes to logging in online, there are a number of rules – usually unwritten ones – to follow. From where web access can be “stolen” to how long its ok to sit in a coffee shop, we’re all victims to this ever-changing trend. But because there are no set laws, it can be hard to know what’s kosher and what’s pushing your barista toward spitting in your next chai latte. To get the best of both worlds, consider the following the next time you log in.

A better option to stealing your neighbor’s Wi-Fi

Despite all the questions we may have, there are a few instances when it’s clear-cut, for instance, stealing your neighbor’s internet by hacking their password. Sure, if they leave it unprotected, that’s their loss, but when we have to resort to illegal activity, it’s best to pass.

However, secret option three can also be used; just ask your neighbors for their access code … and offer to split the bill. It may slow down the speed some, but for those with minimal net use, it’s a great budget-friendly solution.

When you’re visiting a friend, leave the password requests to a minimal. Generally hosts will offer up such info, especially long-term guests. But when checking game stats in a single evening, or wanting to Facebook after a dinner party, stick to your mobile network’s web access instead.

Public Wi-Fi

Other protocol to avoid comes into play in public. Places like the library usually offer free online access and expect nothing in return (though they may limit your time). But as for coffee shops, fast food restaurants, and cafes, that’s not the case. Customers are expected to make a purchase of some kind before hopping online.

However, if you plan on eating lunch, but want to check your email first, who says you can’t use then buy? (This isn’t a grocery store, after all.) So long as patronage of some kind takes place, it’s fair game. That means you shouldn’t re-use McDonald’s cups to look like you purchased a drink, and don’t bring in your own snacks, and especially don’t bring your own power strip and personal heater (I’ve seen it). If it’s free service you’re looking for, the library may be more your speed.

Conclusion

No matter how often we log in to Wi-Fi access points, there are a number of instances to come up each and every day. Be sure to follow these universal rules to stay online and in good terms with each router owner.

Dropbox Links: A New Way to Share Dropbox Files

As the realm of cloud-based file storage grows in popularity, so too does the needs of its users.  The people of Dropbox understand this, and are always adding new features to improve the experience.  (Never heard of Dropbox?  Don’t worry, we here at Techerator have you covered.)  This time around, Dropbox has added a simple, yet worthwhile option to enhance the user file sharing experience, and it’s called sharing links.

Yes you heard right; Dropbox is allowing users to share links now.  Here’s why: Originally, files and folders on Dropbox were shared with others via an internal “share” button.  This means that they were shared and synced only between Dropbox users.  But now with this new share link function, a file or entire folder can be sent out and accessed by anyone who has the proper link.

The Link Sharing Process

The link sharing process begins by logging into one’s Dropbox account through the browser, the file explorer program, or the mobile app.  Select a file or folder for distribution and click the “Share Link” option.

dropbox share link

A pop up box asks for intended recipients and a message to send to them.  Note that this sharing function is not limited to email; Facebook and Twitter sharing are also supported.  Once complete with composing a message, click “Send” to…well, send the link out into the world.

dropbox sharing

dropbox email

Once the recipient clicks the Dropbox link in the sent message, the file or folder that was shared should appear and provide full viewing access regardless if they have a Dropbox account or not.

dropbox view link copy

Features of the Shared Link

A few options exist to the user for viewing/using the shared Dropbox files and folders.  The standard method for file viewing is through the web browser interface.  Photos, videos, and even Microsoft Office documents can be clicked and previewed with little effort.

download files from link
Share the file again (the chain icon thing) or save it to your computer (the cog icon thing)

If the recipient decides they need a shared file beyond browser viewing, Dropbox allows them to either pass the link along (note that each file in a shared folder has its own personal link as well) or to download the file to their local machine.

Conclusion

File sharing no longer has to be difficult.  Thanks to Dropbox links, there’s no more messy file compression, no more large attachments for emails, and most important of all: no more USB thumb drives.  Just link and send it out.

How to enable the new Twitter profile style

The folks at Twitter are at it again.  This time, they took a long look at the old profile format and asked the question “How can we make this uniform across all the digital media platforms?”  Well, according to their blog (most notably this post here), it appears they have solved that with a new profile design feature: the Universal Image Header.

Now even though the transition from the old to the new may take some time, we here at Techerator are here to help you get your new profile appearance set up.

First, go to the Profile Settings page and click on the Design tab.

From here, scroll down to the section called Change Header.

Pick a profound and or appropriate personal photo for your new header, and then click the Save Changes button at the bottom.

And just like that, ones Twitter profile goes from old…

…to new.

And there you have it.  With this new personalized image header in place, your Twitter profile is now ready to be viewed in any digital media situation; Android or iPhone, iPad or web browser.

Universal profile design: now featured on Twitter.  Get yours today.

Need a Taxi? There’s an App for That

Forgive me for sounding like a fanboy, but my iPhone is one gadget that has continued to wow me long beyond the initial honeymoon period.

I have come to take many features for granted – reliable email synchronization, decent Facebook and Twitter apps and a really good camera being just three. It’s the new apps I keep discovering that continue to piqué my interest.

On a recent trip to London I discovered one that impressed me so much that I began to bore my friends by going on about it.

Introducing Hailo for iPhone and Android

During my London business trip, I found myself in need of a taxi. Aware that there are plenty of apps for that, I Googled “London taxi app,” and ended up downloading a fairly new app called Hailo.

After quickly registering my details, the GPS found my location and told me that there were several cabs less than ten minutes away. Two taps and one was on its way.

My iPhone told me the registration number of the taxi and showed me a little photo of the driver. I was then able to follow the car’s progress through the London streets on a map, not needing to leave the comfort of the pub until it was right outside! The driver was similarly able to track my location from the other end of Hailo’s system.

Hailo
Hailo

Upon arrival at my hotel, I paid the driver. By the time the hotel’s automatic doors had welcomed me in, my iPhone’s vibration signified the arrival of an email, which turned out to be my receipt.

I was in London for about a week so had plenty of other opportunities to put Hailo through its paces. On all but one occasion, it had a taxi to me within 15 minutes. The only time it failed was during a busy Saturday night peak period. We were with a group of friends quite far out from the centre of town and needed two taxis. I persuaded a friend to download the Android version of the app. He did – but the immediately managed to snag the only free car in the area leaving me without transport!

The fact that you can see the taxi approaching on the map can be entertaining. One night I booked a car from a client office and the driver got lost in a one-way system. I was able to see him looping around in circles before finding his way to where I was waiting.

Hailo charges no fees other than the taxi meter price, which in London differs from some of the telephone services where the taxis clock up time on their way to you. So effectively, using Hailo is exactly the same as hailing a cab on the street – except you don’t have to set foot on the street until the car is there. This has obvious benefits for the safety of lone travelers and those moving through questionable areas late at night.

At the time of writing, Hailo is available in London, Toronto, Chicago and Dublin. Similar apps are available in other cities. Whether these work as flawlessly, I don’t know – but I would love to hear. If you’ve tried any, please tell me about them in the comment box.