Archive for ‘technology’ category

Introducing Cork’d

I like wine. I’ve even touted it’s ability to act as a design enhancer. The problem with wine (for me, and for many) is knowing what’s good. There are infinite choices out there. It’s overwhelming. Oftentimes, I lean on the suggestions from friends — people that probably know more about wine than I do.

When I finally find a wine that I like, it’s always impossible to remember it for the next trip to the store. Some people keep a journal, writing down what they thought about the wine in a notebook. But wouldn’t it be great if you could do this online? And wouldn’t it be also great if we could share those lists with our friends through a simple, free interface? And while we’re at it, wouldn’t it be the bomb.com if this same interface allowed you to review the wine, tag it, and set up lists for wines that you want to buy or that you own in your cellar?

Cork'dIntroducing Cork’d. A brand-spanking new site devoted to reviewing and sharing wine created by Dan Benjamin and myself. We’ve been working on this for quite some time. Just the two of us. Call us the Bartles & Jaymes of the wine web world (wait, no, don’t do that).

What is Cork’d?

Cork'd screenshotThe basic gist of Cork’d is this: after painlessly creating a free account, you’re able to keep track of wines you’ve tried in your Wine Jounal. You can rate, review and tag wines (more on that below), and these “tasting notes” end up attatched as comments to each wine in our database. You can also build a Shopping List of wines you’d like to buy (think of this like you would a Netflix queue), and a Wine Cellar for wines that you own. Keeping track of what your friends are tasting is as easy as adding them as a Drinking Buddy. You can also recommend wines to your buddies after you’ve rated and reviewed a bottle.

We have a partnership set up through wine.com, where a selection of their bottles have seeded the Cork’d database with about 1200 wines (which will grow as members add their own bottles), each with a link to buy that wine right away. But we can also see other cross-promotional opportunities by getting involved in the meat-space wine community. There are endless ideas flowing about connecting with wineries and vineyards, other wine blogs and podcasts. We’re really looking forward to watching it all grow.

Tasting Tags

The idea of tagging a wine may sound absurd — but when we started to realize the benefits, it became a must-have. We call them tasting tags, and by applying keywords like “oak, pepper, vanilla, berry” to a wine, we’re then making it easy to find similar wines based on those flavors. If you like oaky wines, for instance, then it should be easy to find them.

Why and How

What’s funny about Cork’d when looking at it for the first time, is that it’s pulling in many of the current technologies that have been brewing out there, and applies them to… wine. And why not? This is something Dan B. and I built quite simply because we wanted to use it. We’d been trading favorite bottles, realizing there would be an incredible benefit to keep track of things through a web interface, building a community around it, and making it easy to subscribe to buddies and wine lists. It had to be.

It’ll also be interesting to continue to talk about what we learned by building a web application with a team of 2. Working with Dan B. is a natural fit, as our areas of expertise overlap only slightly (design/ui/development), and where they do overlap actually made things run all the smoother. I was continually amazed by the way Dan approached building the app in Ruby on Rails, the speed, the structure, the way he thinks about a problem for a while, then takes all of about 3 minutes to write the working code — he’s a developer who designs in code. And I’m sure he’ll have much to write about regarding the process, including his already-published thoughts on the launch over at Hivelogic (far more thorough than mine).

This was a giant learning experience for me in terms of dipping my toes in Rails, becoming more familiar with Subversion (more on this later), and in using these tools as a collaborative and iterative way of building a web application. It’s a gratifying way for a designer to work on a large project, chipping away at things in real time, using real data — it’s a bit like sculpting. An evolution.

Go Forth and Uncork

I’m excited to share much more about the site over the coming weeks and months, and we’ll be rolling out some additional features and tweaks. But until then, if you dig wine (or want to start digging wine), then head on over and, um … uncorkCork’d.

Appetite

Dan’s recent post about software got me thinking. Maybe you’re like me, where you love trying out cool new apps. “Wow, this is great! It’ll save me time and I’ll be far more productive”. But after a day or so the excitement wears off and you’re back to pencil and paper, or storing things mentally, or doing things without that exciting app again.

For general web work I tend to stick to the basics only: Photoshop, BBEdit, NetNewsWire, Transmit, and all the goodies that come bundled with OS X. I suppose the only oddball would be the Backpack Dashboard widget. I’ve found it to be one of the only productivity apps (if I may call it that) I use with any sort of frequency. I prefer the widget over the web interface, although I’m not sure if that means anything. It’s been useful for keeping track of little client bits, unpaid invoices (for which I should be using something else), etc.

Actually I’ve just thought of a few that might be worth mentioning: Iconographer (for creating favicons) and SuperDuper! (recommended by DB and used as my routine backup solution).

I’ve always considered myself a “Power User”, but damn… maybe that’s wishful thinking.

Smart-Ups

While chatting with a friend about the recent influx of smarter web start-ups: “smart-ups!”, I exclaimed, patting myself on the back, and thinking I was the bomb.com. Guess you had to be there.

I know, I know… the last thing we need are more buzzwords (and this one probably already exists elsewhere). But more importantly, starting a web company in 2005 is far different than starting a web company in 1999. People are smarter, hindsight is 20/20. Less money is needed. Less people are needed. I look back with laughter on my days at the failed MyWay.com in 1999: the hierarchy! The salaries! The sheer number of employees working on one, single web site! It’s never been easier to get an idea out the door.

What are you waiting for?

Shuffle FM

I rarely listen to commerical radio (usually in the car), but I’ve noticed a new(ish) radio station here in the Boston area, 93.7 Mike FM. Their motto is “we play everything”. This means you’ll hear Loverboy, then Jim Croce, then Ashlee Simpson. I’m guessing the new format has something to do with the rise of shuffling on the iPod and other similar devices (are there other devices?).

I have two reactions to this: a) well, that’s sort of cool. At least they’ve broken out of the commercial radio mold of playing the same 12 songs a day. And b) is this just background sound for people that don’t like music? A sort of “Russian Roulette”, where the station bets on playing something that you’ll like… eventually? What’s the demographic they’re going after?

Another observation is that this particular station has no DJs (from what I gather). Just pre-recorded station bumpers, commercials and random songs. I imagine this keeps the cost of running a station like this to a minimum. Just hit shuffle and go.

I also wonder: are there similar “shuffle style” stations popping up in other parts of the world?

New Odeo Stuff

There’s some cool new stuff being rolled out over at Odeo. Firstly, a new audio page, with a streamlined Flash player, space for photo, etc. Also, in the spirit of casual content creation, you can share audio with only your Odeo or email contacts (existing users will want to listen carefully to the end of the aforementioned (or aforelinked?) message for info on other damn cool new features).

The Sound of Elephant

I caught an interesting movie last night on HBO: Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant“. It’s a compelling film, and terribly disturbing, almost mirroring inspired by the high school shootings in Columbine.

What struck me most about the movie was the sound. Lots of ambient room sound — no ADR. It made a world of difference, with the camera often following the untrained actors around a Portland, Oregon high school. You could hear the dialogue just as it would sound if you were actually in the room. It’s as if you’re there, observing things as they happen. The result comes off like one long take of a film.

There’s a sound category for film awards, and instead of explosions and Foley artistry — “Elephant” should win for its sound recording being such a large part of the experience.

Mighty Mouse Reflections

On Wednesday, I had to buy a new battery for my 1.5 year-old PowerBook. Apparently they don’t live that long, and I was getting a whopping 10 minutes out of a full charge. PowerBook batteries aren’t all that exciting, but I also brought home a Mighty Mouse, which is only slightly more interesting.

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Electronic Mail is Not For Everyone

A true story: Sally works as a marketing & promotions director at a reputable book publisher. She deals directly with authors on a daily basis, communicating primarlily via email. This is by far the easiest way to shuttle documented information back and forth. It is also the year 2005, where one might consider “electronic mail” as common as peanut butter, or even Neil Diamond.

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