Chat with John Puterbaugh of Nellymoser

Last week in Las Vegas Nellymoser announced a version 3.5 of their platform. Reading from the press release:

New Mobile Services Extended With Rich, Interactive Widgets And Microsites, Accessed Across Multiple Platforms And Supported By In-Application Advertising

Following the press release, Nellymoser got in touch with me to have a talk about their announcement. I thought they must have contacted the wrong person as I’m not a journalist, but they explained they wanted to talk to me specifically because this is a product for developers. I have to admit this made me curious.

So this Monday I had a chat over the phone with John Puterbaugh, Founder and Chief Strategist and Betsy Zikakis, VP of Marketing. We skipped all the marketing stuff that is not exactly my business and John went straight to the point of why this product is interesting for developers.
Nellymoser has a number of agreements with US operators, premium messaging companies and media companies. They already have their services provided via operator decks (portals). Why not open the platform to other companies that might have interesting services? Well this sounds like a great plan to me. Nellymoser now gives access to media provided by their big partners, a chance to be listed (via their software) on big operator portals and, if you want it, also manage payments via their gateways.

Nellymoser is specialized in media provision so all the device detection and media adaptation happens on their side. What developers should care about is create compelling services and mix the media Nellymoser provides with their own, if they want to.
The pricing also seems interesting as you will have a chance to either pay a fixed fee (if you know the size of your business) or pay per transaction. It is not exactly a revenue sharing, but rather a fee per active user. This made me think of i-mode, I have to say. We have not talked about the details of the pricing so I just do not know, yet.

So what’s in for me? Why should it be interesting for me (I live in Italy, just FYI)?
Well the plan is to extend the platform over the summer and not only to let developers build sites for operator decks, but also for the open internet. They call them microsite, a name that I do not like very much, these will build the web of tomorrow! Still it’s good they are looking out of the window and I’m sure they are already seeing the potential.

After about 30 minutes of talk including some business and technical perspectives, I think this is a very good initiative and I look forward to see how it works and what are the tools available. I should be getting access to it in a few weeks. I’ll post more once I get that (and maybe after a few hundred dollars sold over the US operators. 😉 )

See a flash demo called VIP Access of sites will look like.

I also reviewed a similar service in the past, called Mobispirit, but I think Nellymoser is a step further.

iPhone+Safari+Web 2.0+Google=Mobile Widget

I was reading Zec’s blog and his latest post is titled “Google widgets on iPhone?” and you know what? I totally agree! He must have been reading my mind because in the last couple of days I have been thinking just that.

Apple announced that you can develop Web 2.0 apps for the iPhone.
Google has had Widgets for a while and recently launched Gears.

This sounds to me like a perfect match. You can’t really develop applications (yet), which is a shame, but at least you can develop tiny web 2.0 apps and Widgets and maybe with Google Gears you can add some off-line browsing. I can imaging getting online, using your favorite social network or whatever, get offline (in the subway, on an airplane, in a cave or in a dungeon), start up the Gears Mobile Widget, read your inbox, write some new messages or something like that, get back online, upload the updates.
The iPhone connectivity is certainly meant for a fulltime online usage, as much as broaband is today and personally I can’t wait for that day, but until the day you will have a REAL flat (that is also cheap enough), you can’t think of that. Once we have it, we’ll have the (i)phone always connected and the offline periods will be only limited. I just wonder how long will the battery would last, if you’re always online. Not very long, I guess. Where is a new battery technology? UMTS is certainly not sucking battery that GPRS and EDGE, so this is an issue!

Anyway, Google Gadgets, Gears and iPhone sound like a perfect match. Google and Apple and getting nearer every day. When are they going to share code between the WebKit and Mozilla (and maybe have full support for Safari in the many Google sites such as Blogger)?

bluepulse 2.0 – review

A few days ago Bluepulse v2 was launched. I had given it a first try with V1, but honestly, with the RAZR V3 I had more problems than other, so I gave up almost immediately.
I don’t think it was a problem to the bluepulse itself, but rather to the poor capabilities of the V3 (not really a good phone for anything other than being slick, thin and cool).

Now that I have a cool and shiny Sony Ericsson W810i I can give a try to all these nice applications.

First things first; installation was fast and smooth. I got on their site with my mobile phone (http://get.bluepulse.com) and downloaded the MIDlet. Tech note: the download consisted of only a jar file, no jad.
In 2 minutes I was up and running. I already had an account from my first try with the RAZR V3, so I simply configured the login and password and I was in.

My Place
bluepulse is first of all a community. “My place” is basically a guided menu that lets users describe themselves, their interests and so on. This is obvsiously central to the community. When searching for friends you can see their profile, read about them, see pictures and videos. None of the fields is required, but if you use bluepulse for chatting and meeting people you will certainly want to fill these fields. Available fields range from Age/Sex/Location to free text fields, pictures, video. You can pick an icon from a list of available images or get one assigned automatically. Details go down to your e-mail address and phone number.
I have browsed a few people in the community. Most users wrote a good amount of text and provided their A/S/L. Very few provided images or videos. If the MIDlet allowed users to use the camera to take a picture or record a video it would have been easier in some cases; on the other side you have to specify a URL and the application will download and store it. Considering that this application also relies a lot on Web 2.0 concepts, it’s should be noted that it also provides the ability to use Flickr.
I am not a usability authority, but I am certainly a user, so I have a remark here: Age/Sex/Location is all menu-driven, so much menu driven, that I think it would be easier to dial in my birth date rather than pick it from multiple menus (first select a year range, then year, then select month, then day all using the joystick).

Community
To start you need to find people. Search is easy, pick age/sex/location, SEARCH. Would be nice to have an automatic suggestion of the same age and location as my profile (if set) and then pick the sex. If wanted, change the other settings. We all know why people use this to kind of tools. 😉
Search my nickname or e-mail is also available.
After searching you may see the user’s profile, add as a friend, browse his/her friends. While most users have written a lot about themselves and their interests, I often could not find pictures or videos. The menu items were always present and often resulted in a “user did not upload an image”. A bit disappointing. It would have been nicer to only list items that contain something. It would also save time (and money).
Exchanging messages is quite easy. You should first add someone as a friend (you send the request and the user is allowed to accept of reject). Once the remote user has accepted your request to become a friend you can send him/her a message. When logging in the application you get an alert if new messages are available. All common mailboxes such as “inbox” and “sent” are available. Messages can be stored or deleted. Sending a message is much like an SMS, so anyone can do it quite easily.
I tried the online chatroom, but they were empty, so I can’t say much. Looked like an IRC channel.

Widgets
Bluepulse can be seen as a container of plug-ins or widgets. Its power layes in the ability to add a lot of custom widgets according to your needs and pleasure. Pre-installed you can find a feed reader and the full messaging and chat system that is part of the “community feature-set”.

Add a widget
Managing Widgets is certainly a major functionality of bluepulse and installing a new one is quite easy. Search among the available plug-ins selecting by category, popularity or more recent. Click, read a short description and install.
Installing a new widget really takes a minute. Once installed you find a new icon in the starting page. A breeze.

RSS feeds
I tried to add my own feeds to see how they would look on BP. I thought it would be better to check feeds I know. Unfortunately I had to type the exact URL of the feed, quite uncomfortable while on the move. During the tests, anyway, I was near my computer and could get them. Once gotten the exact URL (not always very short to type on a mobile) it worked as expcted. I encountered some problems, anyway. I tried the atom feed from Mobile web planet, at first it seemed to work and showed me all the headlines, but then I could not see any contents.
I tried the pre-defined Flickr feed and this time it worked, but I could not see any of the images of the 3 different posts I tried (3 random posts from the first page).
Another pre-difined feed was Yahoo! sports. News were OK and contents were present. I was not able to see any images, again. I guess this is a rescaling problem. The W810i should be able to display most image formats. I think the server-side application (of bluepulse) should convert the files into a supported format, anyway.
Overall results were a bit disappointing. It’s OK if some remote feed does not work, but you would expect the pre-defined feeds to be widely tested.

IM
I installed MSN as a test. Installation was smooth as with other widgets. I looged in at my first try and all the online buddies were downloaded and shown in a list. I hadn’t thought it would have been so easy. 😉
I could exchange messages with a friend easily. The page looked like a standard chat or IRC, all text, not buddy icons. It worked well. The page is refreshed every 30 seconds or so, a good time considering that it’s a mobile application. Sometimes the refresh seemed a bit annoying, maybe because it’s a page refresh and was very visible. Quite acceptable, anyway.

Overall results
The client in general works smoothly. I received an SMS and later a call while playing around; in one case the application kept going without a glitch, after the call I saw an error message (something on the lines of “connection error, try later”), reloaded and everything worked fine. This is certainly a demonstration of solidity.

While Opera Mini was born as a browser, it has a few features such as the RSS feed reader that are in direct competition with bluepulse. I have to say that Opera is much more advanced in this field and that I was a bit disappointed by the results that I obtained in the tests I made with bluepulse.
Opera also takes advantage of the left and right joystick moves to scroll quickly. I think bluepulse should take the suggestion and do the same to make the scrolling of long lists of widgets and contacts faster.
Last one thing is the use of the camera. Opera was really smart to integrate it. If you want a real 2.0 experience, the camera must be part of that.

Pageloading was in generally a big issue that I noticed, as a user. Every time I wanted to do something “Loading 0%” appeared, then jumped to “Loading 100%” and eventually displayed the page. It’s useless to see a “0-100” excursion and it’s annoying to keep re-loading every page. Opera Mini seemed to be faster, I don’t know why. Maybe Opera Mini uses sockets and bluepulse uses HTTP?

The application is very solid, the basic features such as messaging and chatting are good and work smoothly. Installing a widget is very easy and fast and the developers’ community provided a ton of plug-ins aside from the ones developed by bluepulse. The overall result is certainly positive, but not an A. It certainly still has some rough edges and should make the general navigation smoother. It’s a bit frustrating to use it and I think it will make some users walk away due to this.

Related topics:
Opera Mini 3.0 – review, by me
bluepulse website
Bluepulse 2.0 is Bigger, Slicker, Broader and Deeper (and may be the ultimate mobile media platform) on MobileCrunch

Any Widget?

It seems like Widgets have become really popular, something we can’t live without!

I was reading some news yesterday and got on Google’s Gadget. The funny thing is that I opened it in a window that I left in the background… Later I came back to that window and stood there a for few seconds wondering how I got there… And wondering what the heck it was. I looked at all the little icons and names and then realized they are widgets (Google Desktop required!).

Konfabulator has been around for years, for the Mac initially and later for Windows. Then Apple launched the Dashbord, I remember the disappointment from the guys behind Konfabulator. Apple released, for free, included in the default install, a software that was just like their little pet. I would have been disappointed myself!
Soon Yahoo! released a Widget for Apple’s Dashboard.
Suprisingly Yahoo! purchased Konfabulator and renamed it to Yahoo! Widgets. They probably thought it was a good business.

Now comes Google. (Has it been there for a long time?)

I have used Konfabulator, before Dashboard was released. Really nice graphics, TONS of Widgets, but… useless.
Later I tried Apple’s Dashboard, it is SO damn slow that, even if there was anything useful, I would not use it. Not to mention that Widgets most of the times are little boxes of services that you can get on the web or with an RSS reader. Tell me something you can do in a Widget that you can’t do with a browser.

As a user… I don’t see the use.

Also good to read, a comparison between Dashboard and Konfabulator.