Posts from mobile

Feature Friday: Track Stations

Our portfolio company SoundCloud quietly launched something this past week that has quickly become my go to music discovery experience. It is called “track stations” and the concept is not new but they have applied it a bit differently. Like Pandora, you can enter a song you like and get a radio like listening experience.

The difference is that SoundCloud has something like 110 million tracks in it versus something like 2 million tracks in Pandora. That’s important because it means that there are way more tracks to start stations with but even more importantly, the track stations give you access to a long tail of content that you can’t really access any other way. Using algorithms and data science to take you from the head of the curve content to the long tail is an interesting idea across many content categories, but it is particularly interesting in music and podcasting.

I started a track station one morning this past week in my car and within 30 minutes, I had added five or six tracks to my favorites. And I didn’t know any of the artists who made any of the tracks I favorited.

It works like this. You open the SoundCloud app on iOS or Android and search for a track you know and like:

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Then you click on the track to start playing it:

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On the lower left are three dots. If you click them, you get:

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And if you click on “start a track station”, you get:

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If you go to your collections in the app, you will see all the track stations you listen to regularly:

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But here’s where it gets really interesting. You can use the same technique to find new podcasts to listen to. If you start a track station with a podcast you like, like this one:

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You can swipe through to find similar podcasts like these:

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So that’s it. If you have SoundCloud on your iPhone or Android, find a track you like and start a track station. It’s a great way to find new things to listen to.

Right now, track stations is only available on SoundCloud’s mobile apps. It will be coming to their web app and other apps soon.

Foursquare Trip Tips

One of the things I love about Foursquare is the focus on tips. Not ratings, not reviews, but tips. It’s the power of the positive over the negative. Tips from friends are even better.

So this week, Foursquare (which is a USV portfolio company) rolled out something called Trip Tips. You go to Trip Tips, you say where you are going, and you tweet it out to your followers on Twitter or your friends on Facebook.

I am at LAX, headed to SF today. So I entered San Francisco into Trip Tips, like this:

sf trip tips

And I got these share options:

trip tips URL

I decided to tweet the trip tip out like this:

My SF list is already filling up and the best part is its immediately available on my mobile phone in the Foursquare app lists tab (bottom left):

foursquare trip tips in my list tab

And here is the list as it stands (less than ten mins after my tweet!):

my sf trip tips

Give it a try with a trip you are planning to take soon. It’s a lot of fun.

Contextual and Granular Notification Controls

I love getting notifications on my phone. I’ve written a lot about notifications, at one point calling the notifications screen “my home screen.”

But I don’t like how we are forced to control notifications, which ones we want, which ones we don’t want, how we want them, etc through the settings in the mobile OS, and/or through the settings in the mobile app. And the controls we are offered are not granular enough for my needs.

What I want is contextual and highly granular notifications controls. What I mean by that is I want to be able to tap on the notification itself (or swipe it, or use some other gesture on it) and get the ability to control it with a lot of granularity.

I have Twitter set up to notify me when certain people I follow tweet. Yesterday I was getting tweet notifications from a Patriots fan I follow. I wanted to mute my friend temporarily from my notification channel and I wanted to do it right from the offending notification.

I get notifications from the NBA App when games are close in the final minutes. This is an awesome feature. But there are only certain games and certain teams where I want that notification. I’d like to be able to tap on a notification telling me that the Lakers Phoenix game is close and tell the NBA app that I don’t care about the Lakers or the Suns and don’t need that notification.

I get notifications from Dark Sky when there is some weather event coming. I’d love to be able to click on that notification and tell Dark Sky to notify me when a rainstorm is coming but not a snowstorm.

Part of what I want is the ability to change the notifications settings in context, right from the notification that generates the desire to change the settings. And part of what I want is way more granularity in the notifications I get.

So for this user experience I want to show up, we need the Android and iOS folks to build more functionality into the way their notifications services work, specifically contextual notification control. But we also need app developers to make their notifications smarter and to give users the ability to control them with a lot more granularity.

Wifi In The Subways

I’ve been writing about wifi in the subways since 2005. Ten+ years later we still don’t have ubiquitous connectivity in the NYC subway system.

On Friday, NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo and Tom Prendergast, Chairman of the MTA, announced plans to accelerate the rollout of TransitWireless to all 278 underground subway stations so that all of them have wifi by the end of 2016.

They also announced the addition of USB charging ports on subways cars with 200 getting them this year and another 400 getting them next year. And they also announced plans to replace the MetroCard system with a mobile payments system that uses smartphones and smartcards.

It is great that the MTA is finally getting serious about joining the 21st century. If you live in other parts of the world or the US, or if you are a New Yorker who travels a lot and uses public transportation (like me), you know that none of this is particularly cutting edge. Many transit systems around the world have had this technology for years.

I would like to applaud Governor Cuomo’s focus on infrastructure in the past year. The investments in LaGuardia, Penn/Moynihan Station, the new rail tunnel under the Hudson, the local regional rail systems, and now, the subways, are all critical investments that NYC has needed to make, but has not made, in this century.

But if we can go back to wifi in the subways for a minute, I am pretty disappointed that we are not being more aggressive with the wifi rollout. Why stop at the subway stations? Why not put wifi in all of the tunnels throughout the city. When you ride the subways, you spend more time in the tunnels than the stations. If we want our kids to be able to do their homework and their reading (and their coding) on the way home and the way to school, wiring the stations will not be enough. We need to wire up the entire system.

And the TransitWireless system is too hard to log into all of the time. It should be wide open wifi that all phones can connect to immediately without having to log in. I never use TransitWireless because it’s a pain in the rear to log into and by the time you log in, the train has arrived and you are on your way. Why do these companies who build out supposedly free wifi systems always make them so damn hard to access. If its free, make it wide open and easy to use.

Finally, while I’m on a rant, why don’t we have a single SSID, NYCWIFI, that all of these free and open systems use. So once I connect in one place, I will automatically connect in every place. Then local shops and restaurants could also use that SSID and we’d slowly but surely build a single massive open and free wifi network around NYC.

So, while I am pleased about the accelerated rollout of TransitWireless and the other big infrastructure investments that the Governor is pushing, I don’t think we are thinking nearly big enough yet. Internet connectivity is a requirement to do business, to learn, and to stay connected to friends and family. We need way more of it in NYC and we aren’t getting it fast enough.

The Phablet Era

Flurry, a former USV portfolio company now owned by Yahoo!, put out a mobile report yesterday and there’s some interesting data in there. Flurry has its analytics on over 2bn devices around the world so they see a lot of activity.

The most interesting stat I saw in the report is this chart about device distribution in 2015:

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It’s very much a normal distribution centered around the 5.5″-6″ mobile phone (phablet). There are still some people out there using smaller mobile phones and small tablets, but much of the world is converging around a single large phone. That makes sense. Four of the five members of my direct family have made that move and it’s a matter of time for the lone holdout, my oldest daughter.

Here’s a forecast by Flurry of how that trend will continue:

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This trend is driving other trends like the rise of consumption activities on the phone:

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There’s not a lot new in this data to be honest, but it confirms a lot of what everyone believes is happening. We are converging on a single device format in mobile and that’s driving some important changes in usage. We are in the phablet era.

What Happened In 2015

Last year in my What Just Happened post, I said:

the social media phase of the Internet ended

I think we can go further than that now and say that sometime in the past year or two the consumer internet/social/mobile gold rush ended.

Look  at the top 25 apps in the US:

top 25 apps

The top 6 mobile apps and 8 of the top 9 are owned by Facebook and Google. 10 of the top 12 mobile apps are owned by Apple, Facebook, and Google.

There isn’t a single “startup” on that list and the youngest company on that list is Snapchat which is now over four years old.

We are now well into a consolidation phase where the strong are getting stronger and it is harder than ever to build a large consumer user base. It is reminiscent of the late 80s/early 90s after Windows emerged as the dominant desktop environment and Microsoft started to use that dominant market position to move up the stack and take share in all of the important application categories. Apple and Google are doing that now in mobile, along with Facebook which figured out how to be as critical on your phone as your operating system.

I am certain that something will come along, like the Internet did in the mid 90s, to bust up this oligopoly (which is way better than a monopoly). But it is not yet clear what that thing is.

2015 saw some of the candidates for the next big thing underwhelm. VR is having a hard time getting out of the gates. Wearables and IoT have yet to go mainstream. Bitcoin and the Blockchain have yet to give us a killer app. AI/machine learning has great potential but also gives incumbents with large data sets (Facebook and Google) scale advantages over newcomers.

The most exciting things that have happened in tech in 2015 are happening in verticals like transportation, hospitality, education, healthcare, and maybe more than anything else, finance, where the lessons and playbooks of the consumer gold rush are being used with great effectiveness to disrupt incumbents and shake up industries.

The same is true of the enterprise which also had a great year in 2015. Slack, and Dropbox before it, shows how powerful a consumerish approach to the enterprise can be. But there aren’t many broad horizontal plays in the enterprise and verticals seems to be where most of the action was in 2015.

I’m hopeful that 2015 will also go down as the year we buried the Unicorn. The whole notion that getting a billion dollar price tag on your company was something necessary to matter, to be able to recruit, to be able to get press, etc, etc, is worshiping a false god. And we all know what happens to those who do that.

As I look back over 2014 and 2015, I feel like these two years were an inflection point, where the underlying fundamentals of opportunity in tech slowed down but the capital rushing to get invested in tech did not. That resulted in the Unicorn phase, which if it indeed is over, will be followed by an unwinding phase where the capital flows will need to line up more tightly to the opportunity curve.

I’m now moving into “What Will Happen” which is for tomorrow, so I will end this post now by saying goodbye to 2015 and hopefully to much of the nonsense that came with it.

I did not touch on the many important things that happened outside of tech in 2015, like the rise of terrorism in the western world, and the reaction of the body politic to it, particularly here in the US with the 2016 Presidential campaign getting into full swing. That certainly touches the world of tech and will touch it even more in the future. Again, something to talk about tomorrow.

I wish everyone a happy and healthy new year and we will talk about the future, not the past, tomorrow.

Etsy ASAP

If you live in NYC and are freaking out because you haven’t completed your Christmas shopping, I have the perfect solution for you, Etsy ASAP.

Through a partnership with Postmates, Etsy has offered sellers in NYC the opportunity to offer same day delivery. Thousands of sellers opted in and you can now buy from Etsy sellers in NYC and have the item delivered to you same day.

You can filter your search for items eligible for Etsy ASAP. Here I searched for a knit scarf and checked the Etsy ASAP filter:

knit scarf

When you check out, make sure to select Etsy ASAP as your delivery option.

If you are reading this on your mobile phone, you can also get Etsy ASAP there. If you have the Etsy app, click on this banner,

last minute gifts

and get this feed, and go shopping for last minute items.

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You can also do the filtered search thing on your phone if you prefer searching to browsing.

So with the help of same day delivery services, Etsy sellers are available in real time in NYC this week to solve your last minute shopping needs. If this pilot goes well, I hope Etsy will decide to roll this out to many more locations in the new year.

Happy holiday shopping!

Disclosure: USV and I are shareholders in Etsy and I am also on the board of Etsy.

Contextual Runtimes

Benedict Evans is such a great analyst and his insight into the web>mobile transition has been consistently prescient and helpful to investors, including USV and me personally.

A couple days ago, he penned “16 mobile thesis” which is a must read for anyone building a mobile/internet company or investing in that sector. These 16 theses are organized roughly chronologically, starting with what has largely happened, followed by what is happening, and ending with what may happen.

I found myself most interested in the middle section, 7-9, in which Ben talks about where the action is turning to in the mobile ecosystem. And my favorite part is titled “Post Netscape, post PageRank, looking for the next run-time.” In this part Ben describes what used to be the dominant environment and the search for what is next. At the end he states:

Really, we’re looking for a new run-time – a new way, after the web and native apps, to build services. That might be Siri or Now or messaging or maps or notifications or something else again. But the underlying aim is to construct a new search and discovery model – a new way, different to the web or app stores, to get users.  

I agree with Ben but I think there won’t be one runtime in the mobile era. I think what is emerging is multiple runtimes depending on the context – “contextual runtimes.”

If I’m building a lunchtime meal delivery service for tech startups, that’s a Slack bot.

If I’m building a ridesharing service, that’s going to run in Google Maps and Apple Maps.

If I’m building a “how do I look” fashion advisor service, that’s going to run in Siri or Google Now.

If I’m building an “NBA dashboard app”, that is mostly going to run on the mobile notifications rails.

So the war for users in mobile and the race to be a platform is real and it is important. And Apple and Google are playing that game as well (the notification, map and voice runtimes are controlled by them already).

But it isn’t clear that all of these contextual runtime environments will be controlled by and or subsumed into the mobile OS. That’s what makes chat so interesting. Slack has emerged as the dominant chat app in the enterprise, but not the only one. Facebook Messenger has emerged as the dominant cross platform chat app in the US, but not the only one (our portfolio company Kik continues to grow and is already massive). Whatsapp and Telegram are very popular outside of the US.

In content, there is an entirely different set of “runtime environments.” Facebook and YouTube are huge content discovery and consumption environments. Twitter and Snapchat are trying like hell to join them. So are many other mobile social platforms. Content is a bit like chat. I don’t see this sector converging quickly into the mobile OS platforms.

So the thing that is a bit different in the mobile era of the Internet, as opposed to the desktop era, is not everything is built on top of a browser. The phase we are in now, phase one I guess, has two dominant “runtimes”, mobile web and native app.

But we are heading into a new era in which a few native apps, chat, maps, voice input, notifications, content/social, and surely a few more, will become the new browsers. And entrepreneurs will be building contextual services on top of them.

In this era context will be critical. The example I keep coming back to is the list of places I need to go to when I’m in a new place. Like this Foursquare list of top places where we are this week:

top places

Seeing that list on a map versus on a list makes a huge difference.

That is the power of context and that’s where I think the next big moves are to be made on the mobile internet.

Feature Friday: The NBA Dashboard

This evening, twenty four of the thirty NBA teams will be in action. If you are an NBA fan, keeping track of all that action is not easy. My colleague Jonathan Libov wanted a quick mobile dashboard to keep track of NBA action and so he and some friends built it.

The app is called Twenty Four and has been in the app store for a few days now.

Last night was fairly light but here’s what it looked like on Twenty Four:

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If you click on the Thunder Cavs card in that feed you get this:

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So Twenty Four makes a nice Twitter client for watching live NBA basketball.

You also get notifications when a game is close in the fourth quarter.

This is tonight’s lineup:

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I’m going to a holiday party but will pull out my phone and check out the action quickly. You might want to try that too. You can get Twenty Four here.