Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Grand Central - Love the Idea, But Does it Matter?

I've been using Grand Central for about 6 months. And in general, I really like the idea - it's a great application that gives users more control over their phone calls. It gives people a free phone number that can be kept forever. Users can control which phone will ring when someone calls me (like work, cell, or home), screen callers more efficiently, greet people differently, or manage voicemail online.

They recently released a feature where you can embed a widget to let people call your Grand Central number from a web page, which works just like Google's old "Click to Call" idea. Mine's on the right - go ahead, try it! That's great stuff, because it lets you connect your Internet world with your real world, and control how. For example, any call placed through my widget will go straight to voicemail as I experiment with it.

Generally, this kind of control is exactly what I would want. So why haven't I really used it? It's still harder to use than the current system:

  • I can get my normal voicemail with my normal voicemail
  • Won't work with my phone system at work (it's ancient and I have an extension)
  • I have to press (1) once I answer the phone when receiving a Grand Central call
  • Difficult syncing process from my phone to the Grand Central address book
So Grand Central doesn't really save me time or money in any way. It just gives me more control - and as someone who doesn't really need the extra control, how important is it? I really hope that Google can find a clever way to integrate Grand Central with its excellent Mobile Apps package. That could be the tipping point, at least for me.

Grand Central, Around the Web:

Sniitter - My New Twitter Desktop Client

I really wanted Google Desktop to meet all my needs. And by needs I really mean provide a ton of great desktop widgets like Macs do. Specifically I'd look for Twitter updates, Facebook updates, stock quotes for my portfolio, and maybe some custom RSS feeds. But I was disappointed, since stock quotes aren't synced with my portfolio in Google Finance, RSS feeds aren't synced with my Google Reader, and the Twitter client was too buggy to use reliably. Which is all odd, since iGoogle does all these things really well.

So I felt forced to use standalone apps for all this stuff. The stock quotes are fairly easy, since I can just use my real-time streaming quotes app from Zecco for those. And I can do without the Facebook and RSS feeds on my desktop (for now). That really just leaves Twitter - so I started using Snitter today.

Snitter's built off of Adobe AIR, so unlike Twitterific it runs on my work PC. So far I like it, since it's made a lot of standard Twitter features easier to use:

  • Single clicks to @-reply or send direct messages
  • Easy to resize, reskin, and hide
  • Pop-up notifications of new posts - like getting new emails
Generally, I like it. It's better than my IM client through Google Talk or going to the website all the time. And it's making my life a little easier by connecting with my Twitter friends more efficiently. If that actually makes my life easier... For more ways to use Twitter to make life easier, I'd really recommend my friend Thomas' post on Twitter Tips and Tricks.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Stanford Eliminates Tuition for Lower & Middle-Class Families

I normally post about technology and how it makes life better. This might be a bit of a stretch. But when I got this in my inbox this morning (and realized that I haven't written a post for a while), I decided that this made a nice topic.

Under the new program, parents with incomes of less than $100,000 will no longer pay tuition. Parents with incomes of less than $60,000 will not be expected to pay tuition or contribute to the costs of room, board and other expenses.
This follows on the heels of similar announcements by Harvard. It's a fantastic thing to be able have the kind of endowment to completely do away with tuition for those who can't afford it.

So how does technology play a role in this? While the endowment is certainly a well-managed, well-diversified portfolio, Stanford's role in building the Silicon Valley has also helped tremendously. Many of the Valley's innovations have come from students doing research at Stanford, and the school does benefit financially when the innovations turn into successes. You don't have to look very far: Google, Sun, Cisco, and Yahoo are all companies built by students coming out of the school. With Google, Stanford owned about $250 M in GOOG stock - at the IPO price.

So it's not hard to see how much technology is going to be helping many young freshmen over the next several years.

More on this:

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Plaxo Pulse, Google Social Graph API, and Looking for Profile Aggregation

I've been doing more and more things online, and think I'm creating new profiles different places on at least a weekly basis. Some are short-lived (I don't think I'm ever going back to Moli, for instance), and some I'm so drawn to that they become daily habits. But they grow to so many that I keep losing track of them and stop participating. And for sites that I want to keep coming back to - like wikinvest, for example.

I've tried Spock, but it's fairly limited to just what Google can find. And there're usually the news feed-like updates that you can get via RSS/E-mail or whatever. Tumblr takes a great first step towards this, but then it's limited to contributions to a few places. But really I'd like to be able to see all my activity in one place.

One interesting approach is Mahalo's multi-profile view (see Mashable coverage). It gives you tabs for a number of social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn, so you can view your profiles on a number of different sites. And while that's great, I don't think that's Mahalo's goal.

I'm encouraged about the recent announcement of Google's Social Graph API - though discouraged at the same time because Open Social didn't really get anywhere. I'm not going to get into details about it since it's been covered so much elsewhere. But I'm excited to see how someone (hopefully someone smart) uses this to make my life easier and consolidate all my activity into one place. It looks like Plaxo's making a great start with Pulse (their widget is in the sidebar), and I look forward to seeing what they can put together beyond the first release.

What I like so far:

  • Lots of options for different social networks
  • Easy integration
What they need to work on:
  • Public display has too much white space
  • Adding lesser-known social networks (like wikinvest) - this is very important, since it's the main problem I'm trying to solve

I spent some time with Plaxo Pulse - check out the result at

More on Google Social Graph API: