It looks like Facebook is about to release some photo sharing features – and according to TechCrunch is going to step all over the millions invested in as well as Instagram and Path… so what’s to stop Facebook (or Google, or Apple) from introducing something like Pingster?

Well – in one sense, they have. Apple has a new chat system. Twitter is already a kind of chat system. But Pingster does something that none of these can do effectively: we’re private. We don’t store your location information, they do. We don’t know who you are; they do. We allow total and complete anonymity: we believe this is a feature sorely lacking in networking and chatting today. Facebook and Twitter and the rest all know you, and while you can go through complex settings to try to keep yourself anonymous from other users, it’s complicated work. Pingster is utterly simple. One button, no settings. This is a substantive difference from all other services today and we believe makes for a proper environment for interacting with people you don’t know and a non-hindrance to connecting with people you do.

It will be hard for the big established powerhouses to create something as simple and private as Pingster. As for new startups, yes, they could create something like this – but our hope is that our ability to be trustworthy and transparent is a value to our users. While we haven’t yet implemented our monetization strategy, all we can say now is that it won’t involve selling your location data. That’s yours and we don’t have it to sell. But we’re not worried. Build a useful product first and we are confident we can handle the rest.

Posted in Location/LBS, Privacy, Random Essays | Leave a comment

Pingster 1.2 is Released!

Today for the iPhone, tomorrow for the Android. If you’re a MapOmatic user of the “ping” feature, get Pingster and try the chat. Same login.

The two buttons on the top right of the header are for quick zooms -- either to your location ("center", on left) or to the whole earth ("planet" on right).

We do have a server problem we’re working on today where, if you have many contacts it will crash – you can certainly wait for the fix if you experience this, or just register again with a different name. A clean account will work nicely…

Posted in Release Notes | Leave a comment

The CB Radio Rocked the ’70s. This is why:

I was a kid when CBs were hot. I was never sure how trucker culture rose so fast into the mainstream. But the device that empowered that culture was an open, anonymous, and mobile communicator. It was low-powered so, effectively, location-based. The Walkie-Talke does the same sort of thing. You know how fun and useful that is. Pingster recreates the experience and power of these social communication tools. (For text, not voice.) It’s fun and useful and interesting.

Think about this for dating and socializing. How amazing is it to be able to be out — downtown, sitting in a cafe, and just chat with people around you. The key is that you have to be anonymous. Twitter and Facebook simply cannot provide that. They aren’t designed to. But everyone needs to be able to be anonymous sometimes. And chat.

Chatrooms were enormously popular in the early days of the Internet. The Internet itself was famously anonymous (recall: “On the Internt, no one knows you’re a dog”). But in those days computers were large. And so the people in those chatrooms were the house/office bound community. But computers are mobile now, and a mobile chatroom is a different kind of community. It’s going to be dynamic.

Play around with Pingster 1.2. For iPhone and Android.

Like Twitter for location. But easy.

Posted in Location/LBS, Random Essays, Release Notes, Social Networks | 1 Comment

Upcoming Releases

As we move to focus both MapOmatic and Pingster, we’re going to be removing the “ping” related features in MapOmatic, and increasing the social elements in Pingster — effectively making MapO the “private” one, and Pingster the “social” one. They both share a common login, and the MapO map continues to be the foundation for Pingster, so you can use one or both depending on your mapping, social and navigation needs.

Pingster version 1.2 is going to include a “Wall”, a way for users to message each other. We believe this is going to change completely the way you use the product and we’re going to be testing different positionings over coming weeks.

Imagine being at a concert, a college campus, a sporting event, any location-oriented event – and being able to share messaging with everyone there easily. You’re anonymous, and the messages disappear when you stop pinging so it’s a strange kind of public chatroom. We think of it like a walkie-talkie or CB radio — relatively public (and still rather private) but super simple and easy. Connect with friends, or share with strangers. Pingster is the first truly global mobile community.

Apple version 1.2 releases around Monday June 14th. Android update a day later.

Posted in Location/LBS, Privacy, Release Notes | Leave a comment

A Message for my friends about “Product Development”

I understand that it is confusing the way my projects are in constant flux. Only a year ago I was building a travel website called “TripTrace”. We never finished it because I needed to raise considerable capital to continue on that path and I was unable to convince investors that I could acquire and retain users there.

My job is relatively unusual: I design and build new products and new businesses. Building a new product is not all that difficult, but building one that is both useful and that attracts users in increasing numbers is. A significant aspect of making a new product into a successful business is in acquiring and retaining customers. In the old school way of starting a business, you build a product, people use it and love it, and you raised some money to grow — to add stores, to increase manufacturing, to introduce advertising, etc. In the webworld, you raise money far earlier in the process, sometimes when you only have an idea. I’ve done this in the past but my agenda today is to be slightly more old school, build the product and see people using it in increasing numbers, and then raise money to expand.

Building the product is not like birthing Athena from your forehead – in full form. It would be great if that was the case but it would be exceptionally unusual and mostly luck. Most great products/companies you experience didn’t start out doing what they eventually became famous for. The overused term is “pivot”. The reality of building a product is more like sculpture: you have a pretty good idea, you gather materials, you starting shaping, and you step back from time to time and see what it’s becoming.
The ability to see form emerging, see what the medium is dictating, to let go of preconcieved ideas, is hard. It comes from instinct and it comes from listening to your customers.

Two adages are in constant conflict in this process. (1) Don’t pound square pegs into round holes; (2) Success is largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go. When do you keep working something until it’s right vs when do you stop and change direction? Persistence and hard work are virtues, but heading in the wrong direction is just wrong.

Which brings us to TripTrace.

TripTrace began as a tool for travelers, a website for organizing, researching and scheduling travel. A fine idea. A big real world problem. But acquiring customers was going to be a hurdle. People only need tools like that a few times a year. Personalization would be difficult. The website was cool, but not magical. I could argue this is because it wasn’t finished, but no matter, I wasn’t going to get there.

And so I shifted attention to MapOmatic: a mobile application that was a better, simple MAP for your phone. Better for directions. Personalized. Useful all the time. Free and easy. Less expensive than a travel website to build. The thinking was that the mobile app would more easily acquire customers, and when time came to travel somewhere, MapOmatic would be there to help. Or even TripTrace.

MapOmatic has been available for about 6 weeks and it has about 7,000 users. This is good for a startup, but the product isn’t sharp or clear enough. Retention isn’t strong enough. It’s still a complicated value proposition. One of the features in MapOmatic is the ability to “ping” — to see others who are mobile and with whom you might be trying to rendezvous. It makes sense as a tool on your smart map. What I noticed was that this small feature was generating disproportionate interest.

As a product developer I needed to test a hypothesis that pinging itself was more interesting than the smart map, so I purified the concept, created a NEW product called Pingster, and released it last week. This doesn’t mean I’m abandoning MapOmatic – on the contrary – it’s helping us focus and it’s generating data.

The few thousand users of Pingster have been very clear about what would make THAT product more interesting, and I tend to agree — so right now we’re in a rapid cycle of product iteration to see if we’re all right.

This is a messy business. It’s exceptionally risky, and I don’t know where it will lead. But this is how you build products: they evolve rapidly, sometimes with tectonic shifts without warning. And for my friends, i’m sure it feels ridiculous: one day I’m building TripTrace… then it’s MapOmatic… and suddenly I’m all about Pingster. (Add this to my history with PublicEarth, that became PlaceBook before emerging as TripTrace, and I feel your pain.)

A big company does these kinds of explorations in more stealth, and with more research. But this is how small companies execute if they want to build something radically useful. And if it feels like you’re watching a soap opera, trying to following the intertwined and ever-changing storylines, you are. Imagine living it! Thanks for hanging in there.

Posted in Product Development/UX, Start-ups | Leave a comment

7000 downloads. What’s happening?

Would some of you report to me what your experience is with mapO, please?

What works and what doesn’t. And what would you like to see?

Posted in Product Development/UX | Leave a comment

TechCrunch Demo: “Push this button when you want to be found”

Ever refining the art of the pitch, i boiled down the demo to 10 seconds. It worked. Yossi Vardi, the famed inventor-investor, hung out for a bit yesterday. I began my demo “The UX is a single button…” and he stopped me, “I love it,” he said before i made another sound. He pulled various members of his entourage over and asked me to ‘give them the same demo.’ Then he left for a few minutes, and returned with a yo-yo, which he held up to me. “Do you know what this yo-yo and your Pingster have in common?” I wasn’t sure. “They’re the only two things at this show that I can use!”

At the risk of being a little creepy, this moment from the recent movie “Hannah” has stuck in my mind during demos. Between “Hunt for Red October” and this, I think i don’t need to demo anymore, just present these clips. Here’s Hannah:

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment