Pinterest + Instagram = Pinstagram

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So what do you get when you combine a billion dollar company (Instagram) with a $500 million company (Pinterest)?

I love using Instagram. The problem with Instagram however is their web experience is non-existent. I’ve been frustrated that the only way to consume Instagram is through my iPhone. Lately, Pinterest and Instagram have been getting a lot of press because of Instagram’s 1 billion dollar purchase by Facebook and Pinterest’s hypergrowth.

My cofounder Brandon and I were having a discussion on startup pitches, especially the ones that go “we’re an X for Y” and thought a hilarious VC pitch would be “we’re a Pinterest for Instagram”. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. I liked Instagram, and this was a real need for me. There was nothing like it out there that I would use. So last weekend I decided I would make it a weekend project.

I spent a few hours putting something together using my design and front end skills. I was able to show the popular Instagram feed using their API in a Pinterest-like UI. I showed this to Brandon which quickly convinced him this was a good idea and together we started clobbering together the project. By the end of the weekend we had something that basically worked. You could log in with your Instagram id and view your feeds, your photos, what’s popular and search.

We found that Pinstagram was really useful. I actually consume Instagram a lot more through this. It was an easier experience and I can see a lot more photos faster. Brandon told someone the idea and they wondered why anyone would want to use such a service but as soon as they tried it, they immediately realized that it was very useful.

So without further ado, it is my pleasure to present you:


pinstagram.com

The site does integrate with Instagram and will require that you have a valid Instagram account.

For those of you interested in how it was made. It’s a very simple Ruby and Sinatra app. It doesn’t even have a database. The front end was built on Twitter Bootstrap. Haters can hate me for not building the html from scratch but I prefer to build my house using off-the-shelf tools instead of having to go and chop wood in the forest. The Pinterest style layout was built using Masonry, a very useful jQuery plugin. All this of course was also made possible using the Instagram API which was very well documented and easy to use.


Some details of the controls and what happens when you hover over a photo

Popularity: 15% [?]

How 1 in 5 People on Facebook Play CityVille

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In case you’ve been living under a rock, CityVille is Zynga’s latest social Facebook game. It’s gotten over 90 million users in just 30 days. It has recently hit 100 million users. With Facebook’s population at over 500 million users, that means about 1 in 5 people on Facebook play CityVille. That’s just insane.

I’ve been meaning to take a better look at it. I played very briefly (a few minutes) early on, but haven’t been back since today. When I logged back in, I had no less than 54 CityVille messages of friends asking me for stuff or sending me gifts.

CityVille looks like they’ve taken all they’ve learned from Farmville, FrontierVille, and combined it with the very successful genre of city building like SimCity. But what has made the game hugely viral is that it’s over the top social.
In 10 minutes of gameplay, I counted no less than 13 attempts to get me to share some sort of accomplishment or gift with my social network. Although I refused most, I ended up gifting some friends and accepting neighbor requests.

Here are some examples of sharing activities that are built into the game:

  • Send gifts to friends
  • Share XP (experience) with friends
  • Invite friends to play
  • Share coins
  • Ask friends to open business in your city
  • Tell friends about my new business
  • Share town news with your friends

Another strategy they use which I think is even more effective is they require you to be social in order to progress. Here are some examples:

  • Rewards for visiting neighbors. This isn’t a requirement for progressing, but you get extra rewards.
  • Asking friends for things to complete tasks
  • Hire friends for city employees

As you get more and more invested in the game, you are more likely to ask your friends for help even if you were not inclined to.

Basically CityVille has a huge viral coefficient meaning that people who play are going to get more than one person to play with them.

Popularity: 4% [?]

What My Readers Click On

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I tend to share a lot of links and articles on Twitter and Facebook for my friends and followers. I’m always curious as to what types of content resonates with my readers. What I usually do is pipe all my shared content through bit.ly which is a URL shortening service that provides analytics. That’s good because if you want to see what your readers gravitate towards you can find out and give them more of what they want.

What I decided to do is to look at the click data for the last 3 weeks of my sharing and see what received the most clicks. Since I post the headlines with the link, a more catchier headline probably fared better on its own merit rather than the actual content.

Clicks    Article
102    Spectacular Photo Manipulations | Inspiration
70    How Entrepreneurs Have Changed – YourAM Blog
60    The REAL ‘Stuff White People Like’ « OkTrends
58    Why We Don’t Need More Women In Tech… Yet «
58    On the Edge – I am Jason Fried. I say amazing and thoughtfu…
56    9 Websites Stuck in the 1990’s / Flowtown (@flowtown)
55    MySQL Diehard vs. NoSQL Fanboi: The Animated Movie – ReadWr..
50    After $75,000, Money Can’t Buy Day-to-Day Happiness
47    What People Earn How We’re Making It Work | Parade.com

What I was surprised to see is that how many of the entrepreneurial and startup  stuff got clicks. Although many of my readers are entrepreneurs, most are not. I also have about 2000 friends on Twitter and Facebook give or take so the click through rate is only about 2.5-5% for most popular stuff. Of course with the Twitter stream and Facebook updates, things get lost in the shuffle. They are very time sensitive and people may or may not see your posts. Another thing to consider is what times your readers are online.

Popularity: 2% [?]

Why I Think Hackathons Are Awesome

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I’ve been a part of quite a few hackathons now: SocialDevCamp and Google Eco-Challenge hackathons where I served as one of the judges, ORDSessions and Day of Mobile where I participated, and BarCamp where I spectated. I’ve noticed so many great creations and products come out of them in such a short amount of time that I can no longer ignore them or write them off as geeks (myself included) just doing their thing.

So what do I think make hackathons great?

  • Meeting super talented people. I think participants in hackathons are in general, a self selecting group. People who can create, design, and build stuff want to participate. Those who can’t generally don’t. These participants are confident in their abilities to execute their ideas in a short timeframe. When looking for teammates, these people look for people with complimentary skills who can also execute. Companies like KeyLimeTie have found great iPhone app developers this way. I myself found a very talented designer for one of my projects when I awarded his team with the Best Design Award.
  • Scratching your own itch. Some use it as an excuse to build something they’ve always wanted to build, but never had the time to do. Others use the opportunity to learn a new technology they’ve been wanting to pick up. Those were certainly my excuses when I entered. I had always wanted to do mobile app development but never had a project.
  • Developing focus. When you don’t have a lot of time and the end goal is to show something that works, you quickly learn to get things done. You don’t have tons of meetings and endless debates on it. You come up with ideas, decide, and go. You also learn to be lean and agile. You just don’t have time to overarchitect your solution.
  • Being inspired. When code freeze is finally called, and the presentations begin, it’s always an exciting time. You get to see the fruits of labor of some of the most talented designers and developers in your community. The stuff that comes out of these tests of will are absolutely amazing. You can’t help but be inspired and motivated to up your level.
  • Winning great prizes. Although being able to bring an app to life in a short amount of time is its own reward, getting free shit is not a bad reason either. Ravi Singh, overall winner of the Day of Mobile hackathon walked away with a Google phone, a netbook, and a nice cash prize. Not bad for building something he enjoyed doing. Chad Paulson and I went home with cash. People at the Google Eco Challenge hackathon got Droids.

Outside my own experience, I think Facebook is a great case study of hackathons.

“The hackathon is a hallowed tradition at Facebook. It starts when someone in the course of any workday calls for a hackathon. This usually happens about once a month. Anyone except Zuck can call for one. They settle on a night, and over junk food, beer, and Red Bull, Facebook’s corps of engineers stays up all night coding. A hackathon has only two rules: the project has to be something cool and it couldn’t be something they’d normally work on. Once the sun comes up, they all go to breakfast somwhere together and then they crash the entire next day. All meetings on that day are canceled. [Zuckerberg] knows they could get the same production just working a normal day, and it wouldn’t screw up everyone’s sleep schedules. But he could never replicate this esprit de corps.”

- Sarah Lacy, Once You’re Lucky, Twice You’re Good

Some of the things that have come out of these internal Facebook hackathons include:

  • Photos of You and Your Friends
  • AJAX in place Wall posts
  • Facebook on Nintendo Wii
  • Facebook Chat
  • Internationalization
  • Type ahead search
  • Friend Suggester
  • Desktop Notifications

I would encourage any designer or developer to be a part of these things if they’ve never done it or heard of it. I also would encourage companies to consider trying out internal hackathons for their own gain or sponsoring hackathons as a way to find great talent.

Popularity: 5% [?]

5 Questions With Rock Star iPhone Developer: Shane Vitarana

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Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Shane Vitarana and I’m currently an independent iPhone developer.

Tell us a little bit of background info about how you got into Facebook application development.
The Facebook platform initially lured me in because of the ability to reach millions of people with little effort. The barrier for many web app users is the login process. On my fitness site, MyFitBuddy.com, 90% of the users drop off at the signup page. Facebook alleviates this problem because all the apps just use your Facebook login credentials. This causes people to experiment with new apps with ease, and invite their friends to use them. Therefore, I thought it was a great platform to develop some fun apps for.

I have a tendency to work with platforms that have some kind of constraints. Constraints open the door to be really creative. Limited screen real-estate forces you to really think about design and layout in a new way. I think this is a factor that got me into both Facebook and iPhone development.

If you’re a Ruby on Rails developer, and curious about developing Facebook apps, check out my book: http://peepcode.com/products/rails-on-facebook.

What made you decide to go into iPhone application development?
iTunes is the #1 music retailer in the world right now. People are used to buying music and movies from it with relative ease. I think applying that to applications was a genius idea. It makes applications immediately available to people with a few clicks/touches, similar to how Facebook made applications easily available. You can buy an app for your iPhone with a minimum of 3 touches (App Store -> App -> Buy), without any login credentials. There has never been a simpler process for buying applications ever.

I saw it as a great opportunity as an independent developer to make iPhone apps. I love working on small projects that I can finish in 1-2 weeks. I have a low attention span and the App Store provides the perfect place for me to work on fun little projects and make a living out of it. The iPhone has been a huge success story for Apple, and is not going away anytime soon.

Can you talk about some of your iPhone applications and what we can expect from you in the future?
I currently have two applications in the App Store. Places uses the iPhone’s location capabilities to find nearby restaurants, coffee shops, nightlife, and shops. It is the only application in the store right now that lets you pick a cuisine and get reviews and ratings for nearby restaurants. There are a few similar apps, such as Yelp, Where To?, and Vicinity. Unfortunately many people are unable to distinguish the feature set between these apps. I made Places free for a limited time so people can try it and see how it is different from the other location-based apps.

Drum Kit has had much more success than Places. It has been one of the Top 25 paid applications for almost a month now. At one point it was #12 in the U.S Store, and in the Top 10 in some other countries. It is basically just a toy drum set on your phone. You can tap the heads to make sounds and it provides visual feedback. Ars Technica wrote a great review of Drum Kit: http://arstechnica.com/journals/apple.ars/2008/08/07/review-drumkit-for-iphone-a-toy-with-potential. Now that it has reached such a level of success, I have big plans on improving it. However it is tough to add features while keeping it super simple. I’m a stickler for simplicity so I have to go about it very carefully.


A screenshot of Shane’s best selling iPhone App: Drum Kit

I have a few more applications in the pipeline. On of them will be called Anthem Music Videos. It’s kind of like Pandora but for videos. You pick an artist, and it finds videos for that artist and similar artists. It launches the YouTube application where you can view the videos. I also want to make a game at some point.

My applications are at: http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewArtist?id=284976112 (iTunes link)

And finally, What advice would you give entrepreneurs going into business for themselves and/or looking to create software applications for the current web.
First and foremost, you must love what you are doing. You have to be the type of person who will build what you are building if it provided no monetary reward. I understand this may be to difficult if you have a family to support and other obligations, but it has been done. You have to be excited about your idea. You have to wake up super anxious to work your product, and want to see it come to fruition. If you are only focused on making money, you have already failed before you’ve begun.

You also need to be willing to take risks. I know countless people who have great ideas but are hesistant to leave their day jobs. You can still keep your day job and build a startup, if you put the time and effort into it. However, if you really believe in your product, quit your day job and do it full-time. Sometimes going into debt and being constrained financially will force you to get the product out there quickly. I quit doing client work for five months to learn the iPhone SDK, and it has paid off nicely so far..

Another piece of general advice is to not get caught in the planning phase forever. Just start building it. No elaborate design diagrams or documents are necessary. Forget the waterfall method, even forget the Agile development process. Process is for rank-n-file engineers, not passionate entrepreneurs/developers. Throw away the project management tools, story cards, the bug trackers. You don’t need that fluff for small projects. Process just bogs you down hampers creativity. I just have a simple todo list for each project. You really don’t need anything else besides a sketch pad and a todo list for a 1 – 3 person project.

Also, ideas don’t really have much value anymore. It’s all about the implementation and execution. Don’t worry about protecting your idea, screw NDAs. Just be open about it, find the right people, and build it. If you’re a developer and can code with relative ease, you don’t really need much in terms of resources. The barrier to entry is super low for both web application development, and even iPhone development. Furthermore, surround yourself with people who have a history of creating, and actually have something to produce, like open source projects. Then you’ll have a source of inspiration, and a pool of talent to tap into if you need additional help.

Your approach, however, should really depend on what kind of application you are building. Building consumer applications and business applications require very different models. A consumer “social” application generally has to be free, because people are used to social sites being free. To be able to afford hosting and development costs, you may need to seek Angel or VC funding. Business applications or consumer applications that you charge for don’t always need VC money to start out with. If your application is a success, you can use the revenue from version 1.0 to fund the rest of the development and hosting. Try as hard as possible to not get funding so you don’t have to answer to anyone, and can follow through with your vision. If you really need to, get funding from family/friends first.

For a consumer app, don’t simply think ad revenue is going to save you. Ads work on Google because of the search aspect. People are actively looking for something, and therefore are more likely to click on a targeted ad. If your application doesn’t have a search component, you need to build a substantial user-base to make any money off of ads. Building a huge user-base is hard work.

Finally, don’t discount the value of entertainment apps. People spend an ungodly amount of time watching TV and will gladly spend money and time on an application that provides entertainment value. The biggest apps on Facebook are entertainment oriented apps, and the most successful apps on the iPhone are games.

I hope that gets you readers pumped about about starting your own stuff. I know I am. For more Shane Vitarana, you can follow is tweets: http://twitter.com/shanev or subscribe to his blog http://shanesbrain.net/

Popularity: 7% [?]