Drunk Dialer Economics by Nate Westheimer

Put this one in the "Low-Brow" category... My friend Naveen's and my iPhone app, Drunk Dialer, just got named by Yahoo! one of the "Weirdest iPhone apps" (and then got picked up in PSFK). (Hat tip Michael)

Yeah -- it's weird. But it's also fun (everyone who tries it giggles while trying it, which is a good sign I think). And it's also a way to learn more about the economics of putting applications in the iPhone application store.

Here's the back story:

Before I left for the Obama campaign in October, Naveen and I were getting coffee and got to talking about iPhone applications. What fascinated were the applications which put only a very light layer on top of  the iPhone's APIs to create admittedly stupid apps.

What really fascinated us was that people -- including us -- were buying them... in droves!

So, Naveen and I started brainstorming, and, when we came up with an idea, we ran back to his apartment, set a two hour timer, and emerged with "Drunk Dialer:" a phone number dialing application where the buttons jump around as you move. The name "Drunk Dialer" refers to the fact that if you're drunk, it's probably harder to keep the phone still and hit the key you're aiming for, thus making it harder for drunk people to make phone calls (which, unless it's for a cab, they should be doing).

The interesting thing, however, is not so much the applications as much as the economics.

When the application got accepted to the store, I posted a link on my Tumblr account and Naveen sent a message on Twitter saying that it was available.

Since then, before getting press about it today, it had earned about $150.

Not much.

However, we built the application in only a few hours. And, now that it's in the store, we don't have to -- though we probably will -- touch it ever again, and it will still produce revenue for us with zero operating cost.

So what are iPhone application economics? Tough to say so far, but it's trending towards $40/hr of development, and -- after today -- it's only going to get better.

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Bitly + iPhone + Twitter hack by Nate Westheimer

People who follow me on Twitter know that most of the links I send have been shortened by Bitly. However, when "Tweeting" a link from my iPhone, it's generally difficult to get the URL in my Twitter client to share, let alone shorten it. Here's how I solved the problem, connecting Bit.ly, Twitter, and my iPhone so I can send the cool links I find while reading mobilly.

For those of you who don't know, Bit.ly is a NY-based and Betaworks-incubated URL shortening service. Because of it's rich click-through stats, it's simply a tool I could not live without (more on why tracking click-throughs in Twitter is important in a forthcoming blog post).

Step 1

Add the bit.ly bookmarklet to Safari

Bitly Bookmarklet

Step 2

Sync your Safari bookmarks with your iPhone (I use MobileMe so it does it automagically, but you can also do this manually on the "Info" tab in iTunes).

Step 3

Go back to the page you want to share in your iPhone's browser.

Step 4

Go into your bookmarks and click the "bit.ly" bookmark.


Step 5

Congrats! You now have a shortened link.

Shortened Link

Step 6

Type your message, click Sign-in/Post (where you'll have to enter your Twitter credentials).

Type your message

And there you have it! It's a great way to use bitly on your iPhone!

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BREAKING: Obama '08 iPhone app now available by Nate Westheimer

Early this morning, the Official iPhone app of the Obama/Biden campaign went live in the iTunes app store.

The application -- which I was able to help test over the last two weeks, under strict muzzle orders from its developers -- allows you to call your friends in swing states, find local events, and access Obama's platform at your fingertips, among other things.

An earlier version of the application also had a "Find Polling Location" feature, which was cut from this first release version, presumably in an effort to get the app to market as soon as possible.

And, while the application itself isn't extremely tied into the campaign, the developers did some interesting things to tie it into its networks of users.

For instance, when you make a call to a voter in a swing state (the app sorts your address book by swing state), it also uploads stats on how many calls are being made. Then, on the application's stats page, you can see how many calls have been made nationwide and how many the top caller has made.

While possibilities abound for how an iPhone app could be more integrated into a political campaign (door knocking lists and voter regisration come to mind), the Official Obama '08 iPhone app does mark a revoluntionary step in political/technological history. Clearly, bringing a campaign to mobile handsets is the future of electioneering -- where the key to winning campaigns is still door to door, location-based voter contact.

5 Things from the Future by Nate Westheimer

I've recently taken notes on the top 5 things in my life which I believe are indicators of what the future looks like:

  1. Twinkle
  2. AppleTV
  3. Silicon Alley Insider
  4. Meetup / The Point / CarrotMob
  5. DonorsChoose & Kiva


Twinkle Screenshot

No need to put the iPhone or Twitter on my list, because the Twinkle application (jailbroken phones only, for now) combines both of these tools and highlights what is most revolutionary about these two phenomenons.

On the surface, Twinkle is just an iPhone client for Twitter, and has an appearance much like the popular desktop client called Twitterific. However, its ability to tap into the iPhone's GPS/location API, as well as it's tie-in with the phone's camera turns the device in your pocket into a geiger counter for social ambiance.

What do I mean? When I open Twinkle, I can press the "Near Me" button and find recent messages and photos posted by folks right near me - whether I know them or not (coincidentally, my friend Patrick Ewing had just messaged as I took this screenshot).

This is a significant departure from other location-based social platforms -- like Dodgeball, Socialight, and BrightKite -- because I am passively being introduced to things occurring in my surrounding, while I'm out and about, rather than just connecting with people I already know when they "check in" or leave geo-specific notes. Instead, these are people chatting away as usual, just with the added meta-data (and thus context) of location and images.

It's about the meta-data, not the data!

(My friend Chris Messina wrote more about this, by the way.)

So, this is Twinkle today -- very cool -- but the Twinkle of the future (or whatever succeeds it) will have more meta-data and more open data (location based data will be shared via Fire Eagle or some other broker/standard), and it will also incorporate more data sources (Upcoming.com's data could alert you to something happening next to you; Facebook's data could tell you when you're near a friend of a friend).

This is the future.



Quick multiple choice exam folks. "Podcasts" have:

  1. Been predicted to really break out in 2004200520062007 2008 ...
  2. Are delivered via open standards (RSS), which means anyone can publish a podcast
  3. Have been adopted by major media, with little success outside public radio example
  4. Are good for major media because they get to control the source files thus ad inventory
  5. Very hard to monetize without critical mass, because getting everyone on one ad platform is hard
  6. For consumers, they are conceptually tethered to iTunes and the iPod (thus the name), creating a glass ceiling for adoption 
  7. All of the above

The answer, of course, is 7 -- "All of the above."

But the AppleTV changes everything you knew about podcasts, new media distribution and new media consumption.

While this first started last fall when a firmware upgrade included access to YouTube's library of videos -- the first time user generated content could be consumed in a "lean back" environment -- the "this is the future" change came in early February, when the device upgrade included a entirely new interaction around it's 100,000 feed library of podcasts.

This new interaction -- which most importantly allowed the user to watch/listen to shows "on demand" (actually an interaction first introduced by Odeo) -- eliminated the clumsy necessity to "subscribe" to a feed, only to listen or view the episode you really wanted. Finally, you could view a podcast episode on-demand.

AppleTV finally lets you surf the video web like you watch TV. Lean back AND surf a never-ending, democratized base of content.

That's powerful. See that screenshot above? Yeah, that's my friend Gary's show, WineLibraryTV, featured next to Larry King -- on my TV? How ridiculous is that?!

That's the future.

Silicon Alley Insider

Okay... roll you eyes... Nate is a contributing writer for Silicon Alley Insider and calling them the future. What a jerk!

But wait! Silicon Alley Insider is not the future, but their approach to journalism certainly is!

What happens when you take professional writers, make them use the veracity-threshold of old media but act like a blog and play with bloggers!?

Folks, if journalism has a future, this is it. Online versions of newspapers are boring and emulating them makes you just as boring; meanwhile, blogs are often amateur, and relying on them will often leave you misinformed.

But, professional blogs, like Insider, combine the best of both worlds... and create a go-to spot for information you NEED to know in a format you CAN easily consume.

Kara Swisher and AllThingsD is another fantastic example of this (she has complete editorial and operational independence from WSJ, though is funded by them).

As traditional newsrooms crumble across America, expect to see more of these hybrid opening up and competing.

They are the future.

Meetup and its followers

Scott Heiferman said the only thing that really stuck with me at last year's Personal Democracy Forum. He said, "The revolution will not be on YouTube."

Indeed it won't. Still today, the most powerful things that happen are when people -- real people -- organize and do something together, in the same location. As powerful as Obama's online fundraising has been, think about how he bootstrapped his grassroots fundraising: by getting large groups assembled, and asking them to donate, in whatever amount they could, some money to his campaign. News reports of tens of thousands-strong demonstrations, even through Barack's toughest weeks of the campaign, propelled him closer to the nomination -- not to mention the people gathering at polls to vote for him.

In fact, in a world where people can just stay at home, donate and phone-bank from their couch, getting people together matters more than ever!

Anyway, Meetups are a great example of this, but there are many new technologies facilitating group action in new exciting way; including:

  • The Point -- think of this service as "tipping point insurance" for group action. What does that mean? With this service you register a goal and ask people to sign-on to the goal. The catch is this: no one has to do anything around that goal (give money, boycott, march, etc) unless the right number of people sign up too. A one man march doesn't mean anything, and a Million Man March only works if a million men show up and are counted. 
  • CarrotMob -- At this point, CarrotMob is more and idea plus one example, but it's pretty compelling. Check out this video:

I started with a quote from Scott Heiferman, so I'll end with something he recently went on record saying:

This kind of thing... -- inventions in group-power -- will have more impact on the future than anything.

I agree. This is the future.

Donors Choose and Kiva

In general terms, charity organizations have always had great intentions, but they've also been terribly inefficient at delivering on their missions because of administrative, supply-chain, and other inefficiencies -- and donors are catching on.

Luckily, organizations like DonorsChoose.org and Kiva.org are revolutionizing the word of philanthropy, and are leveraging the web to make giving feel good again.

So what's the magic of Donors Choose and Kiva? They're great examples of "Just in time Philanthropy" (cool! Google says I just coined this term).

With DonorsChoose.org, teachers register their classroom needs, and people/philanthropists sign-up to meet those needs by donating the exact amount for the project. Then, the money goes straight into the hands of those teachers, with relatively lightweight administration in between. Ask for a pencil and thee shall get a pencil!

With Kiva, I can loan money directly to a business man in a developing country -- the agency doesn't decide what to do with my money, the recipient does. They're just there to make the process run smoothly.

I'd like to see how this model could be extended into other important realms of philanthropy, like food banks.

Why organize a food drive, have a bunch of people bring a bunch of random food to one location, and then find a way to transport that food to a foodbank that does or does not need what you've gathered?! We should take the Donors Choose model, have food banks tell us what they want, and then buy that food on Fresh Direct to be delivered on site! If Fresh Direct had an API like Amazon's we could put this in place and eliminate entire agencies, getting more of the right food in the right hands, directly from those who are giving!

In general, the Internet allows us to be much more direct in our actions and, in many cases, nearly eliminates the need for bloated agencies and NGOs.

"Just in time Philanthropy" is most definitely the future!