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November 24 2010

Four short links: 24 November 2010

  1. What Android Is (Tim Bray) -- a good explanation of the different bits and their relationship.
  2. Cell Phone Photo Helped in Oil Spill (LA Times) -- a lone scientist working from a cell phone photo who saved the day by convincing the government that a cap it considered removing was actually working as designed. (via BoingBoing)
  3. Penki -- iPhone app that lets you paint 3D messages which are revealed in long-exposure photographs. (via Aaron Straup Cope on Delicious)
  4. I'm Working at Microsoft and We're Donating Imagery to OpenStreetMap! (Steve Coast) -- MSFT hired the creator of OSM and he says Microsoft is donating access to its global orthorectified aerial imagery to help OpenStreetMappers make the map even better than it already is.

November 05 2010

Windows Phone apps are more expensive than iPhone apps

The Windows Marketplace for Mobile now has about 1,400 apps spread across 16 categories. In this short post I'll provide some basic statistics* and compare it with the grandaddy of app stores - the U.S. iTunes store.

First let's look at the distribution of apps across categories. Like the iPhone and Android platforms, Windows Phone 6.x / 7 are rich in game apps. Given that there are far fewer Windows Phone apps, it may take some time before we see the variety of categories found in iTunes. There are large iPhone categories (medical**, education, sports ... ) that aren't part of the taxonomy for Windows Marketplace for Mobile.


More than 90% of the 280,000+ iTunes apps aren't free, compared to 78% of apps available on Windows Marketplace for Mobile. Below are the share of free/paid apps across the different categories.


At least for now, Windows Phone 6.x / 7 apps are pricier than iPhone apps. The mean price of a paid iPhone app is $3.43, compared to $6.16 for paid apps available on Windows Marketplace for Mobile. Welcome news for the many developers gearing up to produce apps for Windows Phone 7!


(*) Data for this post: U.S. iTunes store through 10/31/2010, limited to iPhone apps; Windows Marketplace for Mobile through 11/3/2010.

(**) The Medical category was added several months after the launch of the iTunes app store.

September 16 2010

A bird app that adapts on the fly

A screen from the BirdsEye iPhone appThe best apps tap into sensors and Internet connections to calibrate information based on location and need. But reference apps, for the most part, focus on porting information rather than integrating it.

That's not a huge deal at the moment because many users are enamored with the novelty of mobile. Simply having access to all that information is enough. But that's temporary. As users see what their devices are really capable of, expectations will shift.

BirdsEye is already reshaping those expectations. This iPhone-only birding application -- a co-creation of Pete Myers and Todd Koym -- blends crowdsourcing, database access, and location awareness. Unlike that book in your pocket or that static app on your phone, BirdsEye adapts on the fly.

In the following interview, Myers and Koym discuss BirdsEye's functionality and they explain how customization and software can turn a passive hobby into an active experience.

How is BirdsEye different from traditional bird guides?

Todd Koym: When I first got into birding, I was frustrated because I had really nice guides and I had some knowledge of the local birds, but it wasn't great. What I wanted was something that could tell me which birds are around me. The field guide couldn't magically show me the birds near my location. And I shouldn't have to search through the book to find a local bird if that bird is never here.

What the app does is answer some very simple questions and do some very simple tasks, like remove the birds that aren't around a user's location. I don't want people to waste time on birds they couldn't possibly see.

Pete Myers: The app also changes. It shows you where you can go to find birds that have been seen recently in the area where you are. No field guide has ever been able to do that.

It sounds like the app turns bird watching into an active experience. Is that right?

Koym: It's a lot like the act of birding and then becoming a birder. When many people become interested in birds, they're just looking at birds at their feeder. At some point, when you put binoculars in your suitcase because you're going somewhere for vacation or business, you turn a corner and become an active birder. The application encourages that.

We want to give people more good birding experiences. The more they get out, the more birding they do. If they go to the right places, they're going to have more success. It's going to create a positive feedback loop.

BirdsEye is run in partnership with Cornell University's eBird database. If eBird didn't exist, could you have built the same app?

Koym: No. The technology component is one thing. That's nuts and bolts and ones and zeroes, and it requires some work to do right. But the people running eBird are ornithologists. They've got 500 human reviewers. These are local, regional experts that validate the observations that have been submitted. There are somewhere between one and two million observations submitted each month. The data flow BirdsEye depends upon is quite extensive.

Do you have other projects in development?

Koym: We'll continue development of BirdsEye. We're working on new ways of digitizing the data and making it even easier to know where the birds are, especially the birds that you're most interested in. We also want to close the loop and help the crowdsourcing effort by allowing eBird submissions through the app.

Myers: Both of us agree that there are two types of functionality that are absolutely essential that aren't in BirdsEye yet. One of those, as Todd said, is we want you to be able to submit observations to eBird using the app. The second involves building in social networking tools so that people can share with their friends information about what they're seeing and where they're seeing it. Information like that creates a community of users.

Would you consider turning the app into a traditional reference guide?

Koym: It doesn't really interest me. If we wound up with a resource that it made sense to spin off, maybe. But we've still got work to do to make the app do what it's supposed to do and to take it to other platforms.

Will you port BirdsEye to Android or the iPad?

Koym: Android is more interesting than the iPad, to be honest. I want people to be able to pull something out of their pocket and hit a button. Phones are more mobile than the iPad.

It's funny. A lot of people like the birding apps because it means they don't have to bring their field guides with them. They're anchors. Yet, people are excited about the birding apps on the iPad. I guess it's a sexier anchor.

This interview was condensed and edited.


July 22 2010

Four short links: 22 July 2010

  1. Boomerang -- a piece of javascript that you add to your web pages, where it measures the performance of your website from your end user's point of view. It has the ability to send this data back to your server for further analysis. With boomerang, you find out exactly how fast your users think your site is. From Yahoo!. (via Matt Biddulph)
  2. Ten of the Greatest Maps that Changed the World (Daily Mail) -- Head of Map Collections at the British Library has a list of cartographic coolness. Businessman Charles Booth was sceptical about a claim in 1885 that a quarter of Londoners lived in extreme poverty, so he employed people to investigate. They found the true figure was 30 per cent. The findings were entered onto a 'Master Map' using seven colour categories, from black for 'Lowest class, semi-criminal' to gold for wealthy. The authorities were terrified into action, and the first council houses were built soon afterwards. (via Flowing Data)
  3. Open Web Analytics -- provides a generic set of PHP and HTTP APIs that application developers can use to integrate web analytics into any application. The Framework also has built-in support for popular web applications such as WordPress and MediaWiki. (open source)
  4. Aris Games -- Over the last two years, a group of researchers here at the University of Wisconsin’s Games, Learning and Society research group have been experimenting with making mobile games that teach. Along the way, we have developed an open tool for creating these mobile games. Our goal is now is to provide educators who want to use place based / inquiry / narrative / gaming activities in their curriculum with a tool that can help them build it. The ARIS engine allows game designers to place virtual items, characters and pages in physical space using the iPhone’s GPS or a little barcode that can be placed on a wall or near an object. By giving the players a story and a number of quests, games can be built that involve a mix of physical and virtual activities.

June 30 2010

Popular iPhone games stay highly-ranked only for a few weeks

With 40,000+ Games to choose from, the list of Top 100 free and paid games are frequently scanned by iPhone gamers. In this short post, I'll share some basic statistics on popular games sold through the U.S. iTunes app store1.

How much time does a popular game app spend ranked in the Top 100? In the chart below I calculated how many different days an app appears2 on a Top 100 list. On average (i.e., using the median), a popular Paid game appears on the Top 100 chart on 15 different calendar days3:


A related metric is the proportion of days4 a popular app is on the Top 100 charts: for every 100 days its available in iTunes, a typical popular Paid game is on the Top 100 list on 5 different days.


How long does it take to secure a spot on a Top 100 list? Judging by the median age5 at chart debut, Top 100 game apps tend to crash the charts within a few days of their appearance in iTunes.


(1) Data for this post includes all U.S. iTunes (game) apps from 7/27/2008 to 5/30/2010. Most game apps work on iphones and ipads.

(2) For each app that has ever appeared in either the Top 100 Paid/Free Games lists, I counted the number of different (and possibly non-consecutive) days that app is on the list.

(3) However, the MEDIAN number of days between an app's Top 100 chart debut and final appearance, is 20 days for paid apps and 13 days for free apps.

(4) (# of different days app is in the Top 100) / (# of different days app is in iTunes)

(5) Days between (first appearance in iTunes) and (first appearance on Top 100 list).

May 26 2010

Crisis Commons releases open source oil spill reporting

oil-reporter.11-174x300.pngCrisis Commons has released a new open data initiative to enable response organizations to report from the oil spill. Oil Reporter allows response workers to capture and share data with the public as they respond to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

"The cool thing about the app is that the photos and information will be open to anyone to use," said Heather Blanchard, co-founder of Crisis Commons. "We want response organizations to use it. They can localize the app with their own logo and add data elements, thus expanding the API. They can be assigned a code so they can compare their data with the public. We believe the data with codes would be more of a verified set, as they would be response organizations and their volunteers using those codes."

These smartphone apps allow response workers to take geotagged photographs, record video, and enter text and basic data elements, like instances of oil and affected wildlife. The Oil Reporter app provides official phone numbers to report oiled beaches, wildlife and volunteer information links.

Oil Reporter uses an open API for greater information sharing. Response organizations wishing to expand data elements of the API can do so by requesting customization through the match program. All data provided by the response organizations and those using Oil Reporter is public data.

Data collected utilizing the Oil Reporter mobile applications will be managed by San Diego State University’s Visualization Center. Dr. Eric Frost will lead a team to provide visualization tools and products based on the Oil Reporter data. Response organizations requiring assistance will be able to submit a request via for volunteer visualization and analytics support.

Organizations can adopt and customize the code for Oil Reporter as needed, including adding data collection elements. Oil Reporter mobile application source code is publicly available on GitHub for reuse and customization. Response organizations that want to create an Oil Reporter app can make a request for help from volunteer mobile developers.

More details about the development of the app and the many people who worked on it over the past weeks can be found at the Crisis Commons blog post on Oil Reporter.

You can follow @OilReporter on Twitter or Facebook. As pictures and videos are added, watch the Oil Reporter Flickr group and Oil Reporter YouTube channel.

April 21 2010

Four short links: 21 April 2010

  1. Akihabara -- toolkit for writing 8-bit style games in Javascript using HTML5. (via waxy)
  2. Google Government Requests Tool --moving services into the cloud loses you control and privacy (see my presentation on the subject), and one way is by making your mail/browser history/etc. easier for law enforcement to get their hands on. There's new moral ground here for service providers in what services they build, how they design their systems, and how they let people make informed choices. Google is one of the few companies around that are taking actions based on an analysis of what's right, and whether or not they fall short of your moral conclusions on the subject, you have to give them credit for responding to the moral challenge. Compare to Facebook whose moral response has been to reduce user control over the use of their data.
  3. World Bank Data -- the World Bank has released a huge amount of data about countries and economies, under an Open Knowledge Definition-compliant license. (via Open Knowledge Foundation)
  4. Moes Notes -- note-taking iPhone app that includes GPS reference, so you can associate a text/audio/photo/video note with time, date, or place. (via Rich Gibson)

April 02 2010

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