Pinterest is a Database of Human Intentions

If you pin something to a board, the name of that board is a string and that string by definition describes it. Someone else pins the same thing to another board. And on and on. One board says shirts, one says ikat, one says gifts for my wife, one says red things. And most pins are on thousands and thousands of boards. So there are thousands of human-generated strings that describe each of these objects. These are descriptions that are very meaningful to the people who created them. It’s not someone trying to make a machine smarter. And we think it will make a machine smarter because it will solve a human problem.

- What is Pinterest? A Database of Intentions

And later, on NPR’s Fresh Air, Alexis Madrigal, the author of the post above, expands on what Pinterest can do with these “strings used to describe objects”

By letting people copy and label images, Pinterest created this rich database of persons, places and things. And it is just beginning to use that data to help people find stuff. With a programming team that’s largely been hired away from Google, Pinterest has begun offering what it calls “guided search.”

Pinterest co-founder Evan Sharp told me that guided search helps you find things you didn’t know that you were looking for. If Google is great when you know exactly what you want, Pinterest can help you figure out what you want. As you search, Pinterest will suggest tags that you could add to help narrow your query. Search for hats on Pinterest and you might get “fedora” or “baseball” or “church lady” as suggestions.

Back in 2003, John Battelle was blogging about The Database of Intentions as, “The aggregate results of every search ever entered, every result list ever tendered, and every path taken as a result” as an artifact of created by our interactions with search indexes creating, “a massive database of desires, needs, wants, and likes” of all humankind.

Back in 2003, the database was still made up of links manually added and clicks manually clicked. Today, screen-scrapers, bots, and click-farms automate much of what used to be a human activity. So much so that the human intent is lost.

So much so that Pinterest’s competitive advantage is to put the human back into discovery.

Andrew Mason’s Detour

It’s been a while since I got excited about a new app but today’s news about Detour got the old wheels spinning again as I dug in to learn more about it and started thinking about the potential it unlocks . But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Detour splashed into the world today across all the usual places, TechCrunch, re/code, and The Verge. If you haven’t heard about Detour, pick your favorite outlet above to read up on the basics.

Andrew’s personal blog post about the genesis of Detour is more interesting. The combination of audio as a soundtrack to the physical world has always fascinated me. Ever since I got my first Sony Walkman, I would imagine songs that went with certain bike rides. Every time I hear The Sundays I think of my ride through the rice fields of Shikoku and certain Pearl Jam tracks remind me of epic back country snowboarding runs in Hokkaido.

Back when podcasting started to be a thing, I stumbled across Richard Miller’s excellent Sparkletack series that effectively transported you back in time to old San Francisco. His story about Italian soprano Luisa Tetrazzini belting out an aria to the huddled, post-earthquake masses on Market Street to lift their spirits is storytelling elevated to a fine art.

I even made a few crude attempts at storytelling using Moby’s Stella Maris as a soundtrack to an album of photos from two years in Finland and, more recently, juxtaposing old photos of streetcars in Alameda against more recent photos as method of time travel.

The potential of using portable audio to tell a story has been around for a while. Museums often give out audio handsets to tell the story behind their exhibits. I read once of an activist group that published an hour long podcast that navigated you through a Wal-Mart (each store’s layout is conveniently the same) and told the story about the factories where each of their popular clothes lines were manufactured. The impact of such audio tours can be quite powerful.

Detour looks to be a publishing platform that puts this kind of storytelling within grasp of anyone. The stories will be curated to keep the quality high and, in the interviews, Andrew talks about making each tour available for purchase which will allow composers to get paid for their work. The output looks slick.

What gets me really excited is that after digging around their wiki you can see that some real thought has gone into guiding people on how to create high quality tours.

Move them around a bit – tell them to stand in different locations in the same 50 foot area. Point out different things to look at and do. (eg – Don’t ask your listeners to stand in front of the Arbol de Tule, while you describe it. Ask them to walk around it. Draw their attention to different aspects.)

There are references in the wiki to Descript, the authoring platform for Detour, which helps set the pacing for the tours. I’m on the wait list for the app and hope to get an invite soon so I can experience a few of these tours but I already know that I’m going to enjoy it and can’t wait to get involved.

descript

Further Reading

 

 

Comcast is the new AOL

Eight years ago Vincent Ferrari tried to cancel his AOL account while a customer service rep, “annoyed the shit” out of him vainly trying to stick to his script.

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In 2014, Ryan Block, formerly of Engaget (purchased in 2005 by AOL btw) hits a similar wall while he’s pummeled by rep from the “customer retention” department.

plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Harley-Davidson’s Electric Motorcycle – Project LiveWire

Electric Harley

Harley-Davidson is touring the United States getting customer feedback on a prototype of their first electric motorcycle. It’s unlike any motorcycle that they’ve ever produced. Rather than try and simulate the classic Harley potato-potato idle of their air-cooled V twin they have wisely gone with something totally new.

If you’ve ever been surprised by a Prius sneaking up on you in a parking lot you know electric cars do not need to make any sound. For their motorcycle, Harley-Davidson has engineered a sound that is unique and sounds more like something out of Tron than a factory floor in Milwaukee. No dials, this bike features a touchscreen display and LED lights.

No word on availability or pricing. Harley-Davidson even refuses to list specs but I hear that it can go from 0-60 in 4 seconds and tops out at 93 MPH. Find out more at the Project LiveWire site.

Project Livewire

True University

Running a start-up can be a lonely. What is glamorized in media are the high points, revenue and usage going up and to the right, the launch party, the high-fives when you close a big deal, the opening of your first office.

The reality is more gut wrenching. The late night realization that you may not make a revenue target. The early morning notification that your server is offline. The sinking feeling when a key prospect tells you they cannot work with you. The difficult meeting with an employee when have to tell them you have to let them go.

The life of an entrepreneur is a series of peaks and valleys that can whip you from euphoria to depression and back again in the course of a few days. But it’s when you’re starring into the abyss that you find out who your true friends are, when you find out if you picked the right group of investors, that believe in you and will help you work it out.

After spending two days at Stanford University with 250 other individuals who work at True Venture portfolio companies, I have a new appreciation for why someone would want True Ventures as a backer.

Once a year, True,  an investor in my company, Gigaom,  hosts a  True University for its portfolio companies. It’s an incredibly generous offering. Two days rich with talks and workshops on how to run a business. A sample of the sessions include:

  • Steve Blank talking about how to develop a business model and product/market fit
  • Army Major Aram Donigian talking about negotiation tactics learned while in Iraq
  • Robert Brunner, the designer of Beats headphones, talking about design experience
  • Reverend Cecil Williams and his sharp as a tack wife Janice Mirikitani talking about the mission of GLIDE
Robert Brunner on design process
Design should be more than just a phase between marketing and engineering – Robert Brunner

And that’s just the highlight. In between were smaller workshops with folks like Hooman Radfar (the right and wrong way to let someone go), Lars Nilsson (how to set up and run an inside sales team), and Braden Kowitz (how to run a design sprint).

Negotiation Lessons Learned from West Point
Negotiation Lessons Learned from West Point

But it’s more than talks and workshops. I came away with a feeling of community. True University is an environment of complete trust and collaboration. I spoke openly about challenges I was facing and shared with others lessons I have learned. We were all working to build something and we wanted each other to succeed. True Ventures is more than a collection of investments, it’s a platform from which tomorrow’s leaders can take a leap and know that you’ve got a community of like-minded folks are behind you.

True Venture's Jon Callahan  on trust and risk
True Venture’s Jon Callahan speaking on trust and risk

Thank you True Ventures for being an investor and thank you for an amazing couple of days!

Further: videos from past True University sessions are posted at on TrueTube

Oh the Agony!

writhing time

The Wall Street Journal quantified the number of minutes spent watching men roll around in the grass glancing sidelong at the ref. I’m surprised to see the Italian “men of glass” so far down the list. In the 2014 World Cup it is the host nation who currently holds the title with Neymar who, “had five such “injuries,” the most on his team. In every case he was back on his feet within 15 seconds.”

The World Cup Flopping Rankings

Lighthouse Found

Photo by Maurice Ramirez
Photo by Maurice Ramirez

There is a tradition of public mischief and random acts of art in the Bay Area. From The Cacophony Society, to The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the Billboard Liberation Front all the way back to Coyle & Sharpe, the people of San Francisco have delighted themselves by poking at authority with a wink and a smile. As Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane famously said, “San Francisco is 49 square miles surrounded by reality.

It was in this spirit that a group of “guerrilla artists” carefully installed beautifully-crafted replicas of famous lighthouses around Alameda Island where I live. There was no explanation, no release party, just a curious mention in the local paper of a Lighthouse Model Assemblers Organization (LMAO) written by a Honorable Admiral Banyan Azimuth, (Retired) Most shrugged it off as an April Fool’s prank but upon further investigation, after spotting another lighthouse on the other end of the Island, further layers of the onion peeled away and it was very, very real.

We take our performance art seriously here. If Chicken John runs for mayor, he is not only doing it to have some fun but also to make a statement. My journey to uncover the four lighthouses of Alameda took me to the nether corners of the Island all along the coastline into hidden corners and pocket parks that I didn’t know existed. I discovered that Alameda was a major destination for steamships bringing fruit to North America where they were packaged by Del Monte before being loaded on to the trans-continental railway. The puzzle forced me to reach out to others to try and connect the dots.

Art exercises the mind, public art exercises society.

My progress was tracked until finally a totem was left on my front doorstep. Later, I received a text message asking for my presence at an awards ceremony where I, along with Eddie Cruz, another local Alameda resident, were presented with secret elixers and a ceremonial chalice while we were inducted into the Alameda Lighthouse Appreciation Society (ALAS). There is a group of elves in Alameda, at play with the world around us. If you want to join them, leave a note below and they will find you.

a blog by Ian Kennedy