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Foursquare, GetGlue, and Brightkite–Building the Pinball Arcade

This summer I got the chance to make a couple visits to the newly opened Silverball Museum in Asbury Park, New Jersey.  Imagine a hundred pinball machines from 1933 to 1979 lined up for review, comparison, and hands-on play. Cards over each machine pointing out its historical context and any unique or innovative features.

It’s interesting to see what changed over the years and what didn’t.  With rare exception the game makers grabbed and held to some basic defining conventions–playfield, flipper controls, and backbox scoring display. Why?  Because players immediately recognized a thing with these pieces not as furniture or machine but
as a game.

Foursquare 2009 meet 4Square 1971

Foursquare 2009 meet 4Square 1971

Last month I saw that the new versions of GetGlue and BrightKite are sporting number boxes in a visual layout similar to FourSquare. It’s not exactly duplicate functionality–the numbers mean different things. But for those who’ve gotten used to FourSquare, the visceral reaction is:

“Hey, that’s my score! Cool–another game!”

Sure, it remains to be seen whether this site or that one succeeds as well as or better than FourSquare. But as we start arriving at conventions, we define a different kind of space. Instead of one game, we now have an arcade…

  • If you’re within 100 miles of Asbury Park, go to the Silverball Museum.
  • On the original games, the box was called the scoring reel, because the numbers flipped. To go “over the top” was to flip past all 9’s on the scoring reel. For more pinball terminology, check out the Internet Pinball Machine Database Glossary.
  • If the three number layout is lifted from somewhere else, let me know the ultimate origin (Doom?)

If this isn’t nice…

I came across the following Kurt Vonnegut quote at a bookshop in Seattle.  We were visiting my wife’s sister and her family.  It was raining, I’d had way too much caffeine, and I was wondering how the heck Seattleites dealt with this peculiar combination of wet and wired.  I’d picked through the kid’s books and was looking for something of my own when I came across “A Man Without a Country“.

Calling me out from the whirr of the caffeine was this voice:

And now I want to tell you about my late Uncle Alex. He was my father’s kid brother, a childless graduate of Harvard who was an honest life insurance salesman in Indianapolis. He was well-read and wise. And his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, ”If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ”If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

– Kurt Vonnegut (WikiQuote)

Well that stopped me.  I realized:

  • I was in Seattle, that fabled salmon-smacking place, and a breathtaking amount of miles from New York
  • I was with family who loved me
  • I’d found an Eric Carle book we hadn’t read
  • I’d found this Vonnegut book
  • for whatever reason the coffee in Seattle tasted much better than New York’s, and
  • when all was said and done I liked rainy days.

I shared the Vonneguts’ quote with my wife and then with my toddler daughter, and they liked it.  Of course  I mangled it a little–when the next moment came to me and I saw it was good I said, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

There was a pause.  Then my daughter replied, “THIS is nice!”

Thank you, Kurt Vonnegut.

The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good

…when it comes to completing posts here.

We like good.  Going forward, the idea is to publish what’s good at the expense of what’s perfect.

Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien. Voltaire (WikiQuote)

The Movable Jelly: Coworking In the Wild

I’ve been trying to lay out the workings of a continual “movable  jelly”.  A jelly is a coworking event where strangers congregate  at the invitation of a host.  If you haven’t heard of this, check it out.

The movable jelly is intended to take advantage of places not well-suited to 8-hour mass sit-ins (most coffee shops) and establish a successful routine for coworkers. I’ve also called this habit “mezzanining”, because the upper floor of delis have seemed ideal for this kind of congregating

The objectives of this kind of coworking:

  • change the isolated worker’s experience of public spaces from something unfamiliar and and work-averse to something familiar, communal and work-friendly
  • encourage and grow the physical and virtual coworking community
  • establish work practices as an observable common activity in that place

The solution: on any particular day to have a simple string of coworkers who virtually pass the baton to each other and,  through both virtual and physical signals, acknowledge each other and validate each other’s presence and intent.

What you need: a decently sized space, wi-fi, online check-in system, tolerant staff, and coworking  participants.

Participants check in both physically and virtually. Both check-ins should allow a level of discretion–only people who know what to look for will recognize it, and it’s easily removable.

How does it work:

  1. A person pre-advertises the jelly at a public place. (optional)
  2. A person announces he is checked in at a usable place by:
    • Buying something at the place (if it sells things)
    • Checking in physically by placing a physical symbol in view that he’s coworking. For example, I imagine a simple binder clip at the top of the laptop, with the legs flipped up for openness, down for privacy. A business card may show even more openness.
    • Checking in via the internet, announcing his location to other coworkers, with whatever details he thinks to share about himself or the venue. d. Acknowledging those coworkers around him (as a courtesy). New arrivals should understand that a person may be in privacy mode. The physical and virtual status indicators should communicate that preference.
  3. Others check the status of coworkers around the neighborhood, determining where to go. Wherever they check in, they follow step4. After a reasonable stay, each user moves on picking a new venue (either joining an existing jelly or forming a new one) and repeating step 1.
  4. At all times, each coworker respects the rules of the venue:
    • Buy something
    • Stay only a reasonable time
    • Unplug the power cord if asked to do so
    • Leave if asked to do so (remembering nothing is personal and there are more jellies waiting)

Ideally, workers become comfortably `peripatetic’ and enjoy better flow and productivity than they would being isolated at home or in public.

As an epilogue, after the day is done, some semi-official rep  could contact the proprietor, letting her know the session’s  traffic, revenue, and comments from the coworkers and inviting her to schedule something more formal.

The Movable Jelly method accomplishes:

  • identifying new spaces for coworking
  • changing the uses of that space to include coworking
  • building a community of peripatetic coworkers

P.S. What can you accomplish in an hour or so? Well, I can point to Merlin Mann’s Procrastination Hack.

Tour-making on foursquare great fun. Where to now?

Last Thursday afternoon a bit of coffee-addled inspiration caused me to share my weekly tour of  Chelsea art gallery receptions (courtesy of on foursquare, the new location-based social networking game.  Simply put, I made sure the galleries existed as venues on , added them where necessary, and created a To-Do list to hit each of those galleries between 6 and 8 that night.

The response was surprisingly immediate and enthusiastic–it got retweeted, I got a couple personal IMs, and some folks did the t0-dos.  It was great fun.  This was based on a spur-of-the-moment idea and ten minutes work.    Though I didn’t have face to face meetings with any folks I didn’t know already, I could see that happening.  On the other hand, I can also see where it’s sort of nice just to self-tour and follow in someone’s footsteps.

The whole thing quickly got me thinking about other tours people could create using freely available web information:

  • East Village community gardens on a Saturday morning (even more impressive if you’ve been out til 3:00 the night before!) — curious?  check out the Green Map  (2.3 MB PDF)
  • The hidden glens and waterfalls of midtown (street-through arcades ending at Paley Park) — nobody knows these sites better than the folks at the Project for Public Spaces .  I also bet Walking Off the Big Apple knows these places.
  • NYCwireless-created hotspots (Bowling Green, Jackson Square, Stuyvesant Cove, Madison Square Park, and Bryant Park FTW) — full disclosure, I’m also on the board of this particular group of idealists.
  • Oyster crawl (Ulysses, Fish, Lobster Place, Shaffer City, and Grand Central FTW) — ok, I might need to make this map myself.  A bonus stop would be the shuttered Munson House at 6 Weehawken St (1849), “probably the last wood house built in lower Manhattan”, according to the Village preservation group.  Ephemeral New York has a great post with a period picture.

I partly wonder if foursquare isn’t well-positioned to be an all-purpose recommendation and check-in service (it could provide sites with a “foursquare it!” Badge).  Then again, does FourSquare want that kind of traffic?

The founders outlined their own thinking of how the service would work here and here, but the platform is pretty open-ended and people are clearly following their own ideas of how it should work, whether to good effect (checking in at a taco truck) or bad (checking in at the workplace?)  Maybe a wiki or discussion group will form to let the community work through issues as they come up.  Right now, a support site exists at getsatisfaction but it’s not exactly a forum.

That said, if it’s as Crowley said in the Times Article: ““The whole point is to encourage people and reward them for trying new things”  the site is certainly doing that–both around town and with foursquare itself.

And Katrina was such a nice name

In 2005 when we were naming our daughter, a lot of thoughts went through our heads. No living relatives, no Disney characters, nothing too plain.

What we didn’t think was “avoid anything that has ever been or ever will be chosen as the name for a force of destruction.”  Good news, we didn’t name her Katrina, but we easily could have.  (Kinda snappy…”Katrina Kelley, Queen of the Wild Fronter”)

I mean, how much would that suck?  The conversation about your kid’s name goes from something like “well, it’s a Gaelic derivative meaning fight-filled or brave” to “it means overwhelming destruction and despair followed by government neglect and national disgrace.” Yes, we do love you dear.

I have to admit, when hurricane season came last year, I anxious watched to see what names National Weather Service was going to put up in this macabre Russian Roulette.   What if her name does get chosen?  Maybe it’ll just be a tropical depression.   Maybe it’ll just hit Galveston (doesn’t everything?).  Or maybe we’ll hit the jackpot and our daughter will thereafter share a moniker with a harbinger of doom.

Anyway, this shouldn’t be.  The National Weather Service should show some more responsibility when picking the names of hurricanes.  First, publish the list ahead of time–oh wait, they have (Thanks for the tip, NewYorkology!)

Better yet, go statistical on that naming:

  1. Create a database from the US Census of all American first names (starting in 1820)
  2. Devise an algorithm that identify unused but memorable names, like so:
  • Names that were very popular before between 1800 and 1850, but nonexistent today
  • Names that were very popular between 1850 and 1900, but are nonexistent today
  • Names that were very popular between 1900 and 1950 but are nonexistent today.
  • Names of the mothers of the past 5 heads of the Weather Service

Slice it up any way you want it: you’ll now have a pretty good list of flat-out scary names.  Imagine:

  1. Hurricane Bathsheba
  2. Hurricane Drusilla
  3. Hurricane Ebenezer
  4. Hurricane Fern
  5. Hurricane Gomer
  6. Hurricane Gertrude
  7. Hurricane Hecate
  8. Hurricane Petunia

LAMP-Posts, Bloggers, and Wireless

[2009-04-02:  This is a very old post, but I like to keep it around as a benchmark about what trends were perceivable in 2003 and realized today]

I’ve been thinking of wireless portals for a while and I have an idea. I could try to implement the solution myself, but rather than keep quiet until I have it done (or not done), I’d rather share the idea now in case others can do it more easily.


We should work wireless authentication services into standard open-source portals (PostNuke, myPHPNuke, etc.). We should make it easy for Bloggers and Content Managers to host wireless portals themselves. Here are some features:

  • It’d be an integrated site with at least two faces: local (to the wireless user) and global (to the Internet surfer).
  • It would provide the local user the ability to send back the user’s location to the web (like to the person’s blog or through an IM client).
  • It’d host specialized local content (an Intranet).
  • It’d have all the cool gadgets and gizmos portals now do (karma points, discussion boards, etc).
  • It’d motivate people to come to the local network and reward them for doing so.
  • It’d serve as an Internet LAMP-post (more on that below)


It seems that a wireless portal can provide a nexus point between “Local” and “Global”. First, like all web sites, it’s a point in cyberspace and a point in physical space. Unlike other websites, we have a local network behind us, and we want to get people onto that network. Once they’re on our network, the system can provide them with local services.


A place that operates on both locally (Intranet) and globally (Internet) and lets the users from both spheres interact. For the most part the user sees the site as unified. The difference is the user’s relation to the site.

For either user type, the site provides a portal of area information: places to go, phone numbers, maps and directions.

When the user is local, the site recognizes them as a wireless user (through their IP address) and associates the MAC address to the account (if acceptable). From there, we can provide both specialized services.

Localization Services: “I’m online–HERE.”
If a person logs in at the access point, you could send that information out to the web, for example back to a blogger’s home page. “I am online at Bryant Park.” Of course, this service is something the user opts into. But I think City bloggers would love it.

Local Content
We can attract users to the hotspot with local content. For example, if the user is local, you could stream to them a walking tour of the park. For the global user, you could disable the stream but advertise that if she comes to the park, they’ll be able to hear it and take the tour for free.

Local/Global Chat
If you ever needed to get information from someone at a particular place at a particular time, this can get you in touch with your man on the street. This is good for public events.

Other standard portal stuff
By this I mean:

  • Karma Points
  • Discussion Boards
  • Surveys
  • Anything else those people come up with on their own


This is a lot of work, not from the Wireless or the technical side. It’s a big deal for someone to moderate and maintain such a website.

Unfortunately, what network admin wants to moderate one highly social website, let alone a dozen?

The people who excel at maintaining web communities are not necessarily the same folks who set up the networks.


We should integrate wi-fi and multi-network handling into portal software so we extend what Content Managers do and let them spread wifi themselves.


From the standard NYCwireless point-of-view, the answer seems to me: get up a LAMP-post.

What’s a LAMP-post? Well, the platform is Linux-Apache-MySQL-PHP (LAMP), and it’s a portal that will take posts. More importantly, a LAMP-post is a  physical fixture in the community. It’s there. People gather can meet at the LAMP-post. If it’s got connectivity (a phone), someone not at the lamp-post can talk to someone who is.

This is the recipe I see from the technical side:

  1. Set up a Debian box with three NICS and the usual three-port router configuration (wireless network, private network, and Internet connection)
  2. Set up the LAMP-post on the same box or behind it. That’s A Linux-Apache-MySQL-PHP configuration with a broadly used, actively developed open-source portal on top (PostNuke, PHPnuke, MyPHPNuke, etc.)
  3. Install NoCatAuth (to do authentication) to drop users on your portal homepage
  4. Work to enhance the portal software to recognize and categorize users by their IP address (local, global) rather than just registered and non-registered like they do now.

That’s all.

P.S. The LAMP-post thing is a bald attempt at coinage. You can call the thing a hotspot if you want.  I just think the lamppost metaphor works better.