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OurParents Launches First Easy-To-Understand Scoring System For Comparing In-Home Senior Care Providers April 21, 2010

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OurParents Launches First Easy-To-Understand Scoring System For Comparing In-Home Senior Care Providers

Company takes complex information from Medicare and creates a five star rating system for families using the free service at www.ourparents.com to use to help compare in-home senior care options.

Reston, VA (PRWEB) April 21, 2010 — In-home senior care, in many situations, can prove to be a great answer for families with an aging loved one. The challenge is finding the right provider among the many options in a given area. OurParents’ new scoring system for in-home senior care providers helps solve that problem, dramatically improving the decision making process for families.

Medicare has done a great job in tracking quality information about in-home caregivers in the Medicare network. The data, however, is quite detailed, and difficult for a consumer to use to compare providers.
For that reason, today, OurParents is launching a five star rating system for in-home care providers, modeled after the five star rating system Medicare does for nursing homes.

Using Medicare’s detailed data, OurParents scores each provider, given them a rating from one to five stars. Those ratings can be used at www.ourparents.com/home_care , to help consumers search for in-home care in a given area.

“The Medicare nursing home rating system, while imperfect, has proven really useful to consumers using our senior care search engine,” said John McKinley, founder and CEO of OurParents.com. “We saw an opportunity to expand use the same approach to in-home care provider comparisons. When you combine this rating with our user reviews, pricing information, and the other information we supply, it can help a family narrow down the options that make the most sense for a given senior.”

In less than a year, OurParents.com has already become the second largest senior care matching service in the United States, helping thousands of families each day find senior care solutions that meet their unique needs. With a database of over 100,000 care providers, OurParents provides a free service to families looking for care options for their aging loved one.

“We don’t charge the families or the care providers for our service. That means that OurParents.com will never have the problem of conflict of interest when it comes to making this critical life decision,” said McKinley. “At OurParents, our founding principle is that we are and always will be on the side of the consumer.”

For more information, visit www.ourparents.com.

Contact:
Amit Shafrir
(301) 346 5540
amit(at)ourparents(dot)com

# # #

Another step forward to try to make the senior care decision-making process better. 10+ months into our journey, and we are already helping over 1.4MM families each year. Really happy with our progress, but there is so much more to do.

 

Trying to Understand the Impact of the Proposed Healthcare Reform Bills on Medicare and Medicaid? Here’s a Starting Point… September 30, 2009

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There is so much confusion about what is in (and what is out of) the proposed healthcare reform legislation. With the Senate bill still in committee, and the Congressional bill still being debated, should you be concerned about the funding of Medicare and Medicaid?

The short answer is: Yes, but if you are a current senior, there are some good things in the proposed legislation. For Baby Boomers, you will face many more challenges, and the Medicare that will exist will, most probably, be materially less than what your parents had.

The basic math is as follows: The House bill has funding going down 3% over 10 years, and the Senate bill has funding decreasing 5% over the same period.

Here are a few important things to keep you eye on, as the debate continues, and the bills get tweaked.

  1. Medicaid benefits will be under extreme pressure, and will most likely be cut materially. In order to make the federal economic impact of the proposed healthcare legislation be more balanced, the US government is looking to have the individual states pick up $37 Billion in Medicaid funding. If you live in states like California, New York, and Ohio, you know the fiscal crisis that is occurring, as the states wrestle with huge budget shortfalls. The states’ collective ability to absorb the $37 Billion of Medicaid funding is, for the most part, almost zero. That means deep cuts in Medicaid funding for seniors.
  2. Government accounting may make it very difficult to ensure that Medicare savings are used to pay off the huge Medicare funding shortfall we will encounter over the next decade. As of this year, Medicare now spends more annually that it takes it – that’s a big problem. There is a case to be made that some of the changes proposed in the healthcare reform bills will materially reduce the annual cost of the Medicare program. Unfortunately, there are lots of other parts of healthcare reform that would like to use these Medicare “savings” to offset the costs of their proposed new benefit programs. That’s not a sustainable model. We need to ensure that the Medicare funding deficit is addressed, or we will face a material reduction of benefits over the next decade.
  3. Here is some relief in prescription costs, but it is limited at lessening out-of-pocket deductible expenses. Several measures that might apply market pressure on prescription drugs (e.g., allowing for coverage of prescription costs of people buying drugs from from lower cost Canadian pharmacies, etc.) are not part of either bill.
  4. If you are currently a Medicare Advantage plan member, there is a very high probability you are going to see higher premium costs and lower benefits. There is no one who believes the current government contribution to the Medicare Advantage program is sustainable. The one open question is whether there will be a “Grandfather provision” that lets current members of the program still continue with the current program, or whether it will be massively redesigned for everyone, new and old.
  5. There are no death panels, but there will be approved tests of new care models for selected classes of patients, especially those that are chronically ill. The results of those test will potentially shape future changes in Medicare.

At OurParents, we do believe that some form of healthcare reform is required, if only to address the now-effectively-bankrupt condition of Medicare. Healthcare reform needs to address a much broader swath than seniors. You only need to spend a day in an emergency room (the doctor of last resorts to many) to see how many people are slipping through the healthcare net. The challenge is what form that healthcare reform takes, and whether it will fundamentally address the cost of provisioning of healthcare.

If you have an aging loved one, you need to understand the major elements of the proposed healthcare legislation, and make your voice heard, one way or the other.

Building on the great community powering OurParents.com – user reviews and forums are now live! September 23, 2009

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Here is the latest press release we did on some of the new community features we have added over the last month to OurParents.com.  It has been great to see members of the community step up and be willing to help other seeking senior care advice by sharing their own experiences and knowledge!

OurParents.com Launches User Forums for its Directory of Senior Care Providers

Internet’s largest independent directory of senior care providers adds user forums, allowing members to get their senior care questions answered by the OurParents community

Washington, DC (September 23, 2009) – People searching for care for their aging parents find almost no independent advice about senior care facilities online.  Often, these families are drawn to misleading sites whose sole function is to sell their personal information to the highest bidder.

In response, OurParents announces the addition of user forums to OurParents.com, the largest free and independent online senior care directory on the web, with information on over 100,000 nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and in-home care providers. 

Membership to OurParents.com is free and members have access to the best, most complete senior care provider profiles online.  These profiles include Medicare quality data, user reviews, cost information, and more. The site provides free detailed reports to consumers about each senior care provider, a $25 to $90 value, and gives members free access to powerful decision-making tools such as the remarkable Care Options Advisor.

The User Forums help users discuss any senior care related question or issue they may have, be it about nursing homes, “aging in place” (home care), how to pay for senior care, and more. Users can ask questions or provide insights from their own personal experiences.

OurParents.com also provides free access to user reviews, to allow visitors to hear first-hand from others about their experiences with a given care provider.   The goal of OurParents is simple: to be the sole trusted place online to find the best care solution for a family’s aging loved one.

“We launched user reviews last month, and the response to that has been fantastic.  We already have 2,000 user reviews, and we are just getting started,” said John McKinley, founder and CEO of OurParents.com. “It showed us that members wanted to help others in the search for the best senior care, often by sharing their own experiences.  We have some great members of the OurParents community who have shown that they are more than willing to help families in need.”

“Our founding principle is that we are, and always will be on the side of the consumer,” added McKinley, “and it’s our members who help make Ourparents.com the best source of senior care information on the internet.”

For more information, visit www.ourparents.com.

Here Are Our 2009 LaunchBox Digital Teams! August 5, 2009

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Washington DC based LaunchBox Digital, an early stage investment firm and incubator founded in 2007 by John McKinley, Sean Green, and Julius Genachowski (now the new head of the FCC and divested), just wrapped up its second annual 12-week program. Modeled in the same vein as YCombinator, LaunchBox invests seed capital of around $20,000-$25,000 into teams, and provides them with 12 weeks of education, mentorship and access to a small army of advisors.

Drawn from a pool of over 275 applicants, we chose eight teams were selected to comprise the 2009 class.   Below is a brief description of each, with notes by me, as well as links to screencasts of their products and their websites.

SEC Watch

www.secwatch.com

Founders: Jason Zucchetto and Chris Auer

Click for Screencast

SEC Watch deals with a big problem facing individuals interested in research and investing – a mountain of invaluable data exists in SEC filings, but those filings are really difficult to deal with as an information source.

  • Most people are dealing with filings many hours after they are issued, letting those with real-time access have first mover advantage
  • The sheer volume of filings each day is massive (there were over 1MM filings, totally 15 million pages in 2008 alone)
  • The search experience offered online by finance sites and the government is very 1.0 in functionality
  • There is no easy way to collaborate with others on the analysis, and share comments/observations.

Why does this all matter?  Well, if you looked at AIG’s filings, you would have found information about their sub-prime mortgage exposure almost a year before things blew up.  It was just buried in a footnote.

SEC Watch brings state of the art search technology, combined with user annotation and sharing capabilities to the problem, and has crafted a compelling product that both retail and professional investors and analysts can use.  It is easy to track companies and keywords (e.g., “subprime”,”litigation”, etc.), and get automated results in near real-time when filings are done that match your criteria.  You can then dive down to the relevant sections, and annotate a given filing for your own personal use, your team’s use, or to share with the public.

Bandsintown

www.bandsintown.com

Founders: Todd Cronin, Phil Sergi, Mike Costanza

Click for Screencast

Bandsintown deals with a big shift in the whole economics of the music business.  Nowadays, 70% of a band’s income comes not from music sales, but from touring.  That’s up from 20% only four years ago.  Ticket sales have never been more important, but the marketplace for tickets has become incredibly fragmented.  There are 70+ separate ticket marketplaces on the web.  That makes for a bad experience for a fan, but also a bad experience for music sites trying to encourage ticket sales for all the different artists they cover.

Bandsintown has dealt with this problem by building interfaces to 62+ different ticket marketplaces, and then exposing all ticketing information as a simple to use API that music sites can integrate.  They have increased their traffic to over 500K monthly unique in the five months since they launched their API, and have a global partner base (including Spotify, the Hype Machine, and PureVolume among others).

Bandsintown does a great job in automatically integrating with players such as iTunes, last.fm, Pandora and other sites to learn your artist preferences, and then lets you track your favorite artists (and related ones) and receive alerts when events of interest are coming to your area.  They are also preparing to release a new iPhone app (it’s awaiting approval from Apple) that lets you see local concerts based on your musical tastes and geo-location– think of it as Urban Spoon for live music.

There is lots of other good stuff, like their live event twitter integration to allow you to easily track yours and others’ concert experiences that are part of their overall experience.  If you love live music, you’ll love Bandsintown.

Social Collective

www.thesocialcollective.com

Founders: Chris Bucchere, Mike Buckbee, and Clinton Bonner

Click for Screencast

Social Collective addresses the huge market of conferences and corporate meetings.  There are an amazing 1.2 million conferences and corporate meeting in the US each year.  It is a huge industry – close to $11 billion in spend worldwide.  The problem is that in these tough economic times, revenue for event producers is down, and the demands from attendees and sponsors are increasing, as they want more for their dollar.

Social Collective is a SaaS solution targeted at event marketing and the enhancement of the event experience for both attendees and sponsors.  They powered SXSW this year, as well as the Oracle Open World and other big events.

They bring innovation to a pretty underserved industry, by allowing things like crowd-sourced agenda design, social graph importing for attendees to reach out to friends and associates attending the same event, marketing tools for pre and post event awareness building by conference organizers, and tools for vendor communications and networking with attendees.

They have had great initial success helping both long-standing events re-invigorate themselves, as well as first-time events get their word out to the marketplace.

They have good web and mobile experiences, and do some really nice things like allowing you to build your own tailored agenda for an event, and then import it into your online calendar (FYI, this custom-agenda function got over 60% penetration at SXSW).

TapMetrics

www.tapmetrics.com

Founders: Christopher Brown and Nolan Brown

Click for Screencast

TapMetrics is a tool designed by a team of iPhone application developers that brings together sales data, user feedback, software metrics, and other information into a consolidated dashboard to allow developers to manage a portfolio of applications quickly and easily.

The whole experience starts with a dashboard that lets you view important information about how your application portfolio is performing, and then lets you drill into each application to investigate any issue that is highlighted.  The nice part of the TapMetrics solution is that while it does a great job on the business metrics of running an iPhone application, it does just as good of a job serving the needs of the engineer.  Everything from detailed environmental data (which iPhone/Touch hardware is being used, which OS level, which release level of the application), to detailed crash reporting, to application messaging/event logs, and session tracking are supported within the integrated TapMetrics experience.  That integration of both business and technical data (including session-level tracking) in a single dashboard is something no one else does today.

They also have a nice free iPhone app called TapMini that you can use to track sales data for your applications.  If you are trying to get more out of your iPhone application portfolio (both in terms of improving the consumer experience and making more revenue), this can be a really useful tool.

Unblab

www.unblab.com

Founders: Anthony Deloso and Eli Holder

Click for Screencast

Unblab is trying to attack the email overload problem by answering the question “What emails should I be reading”?  They are approaching this by building a cloud-based service that uses common and user-specific rule sets to identify and prioritize important email messages.  Think of it as attacking the email overload problem from the opposite end of the spectrum as the anti-spam vendors, but using similar technologies.

The latest productivity studies have white-collar workers now spending 4 hours a day in email-related activities, and the volume of legitimate inbox messages increasing 10% per year.  The challenge is how to best approach better management of that legitimate traffic.

Unblab has two client experiences it is deploying initially to help refine its algorithms and demonstrate the value of importance ranking.  One product is a Gmail add-on called GTriage, and the other is a mobile app called iTriage.  The goal is to get early-stage learnings on the differences of what’s “important” when you are on a limited real estate mobile device as compared to when you are using a pc-based webmail experience.

The API for the service will be opened up to developers to define their own user experiences (and to allow additional training events/algorithmic enhancements).

KeepFu

www.keepfu.com

Founders: Dan Newcome and Josh Ho

Click for Screencast

KeepFu is targeted as a simple note-taking and organization tool to help manage consumer-defined “projects” like trip planning, event planning, and important purchases.  The team has built a good Evernote-like note taking tool called Ubernote, and while they got some decent initial traction, they realized there were some key unmet needs that the whole web note-taking space was failing to serve.

Feedback from their own user based shaped this next-generation offering.  This new product, KeepFu, is targeting at addressing the organization of information, not just the collection of it.  KeepFu collects data through one-click and passive data collection while a user reads an email, visits a website, IMs with a friend, or send a Tweet.  It then supports a quick drag and drop experience to organize these information snippets into community-created project templates (predefined file folders specific to an activity, like planning a trip).  These projects are then easily published or shared.

The goal is to allow information capture without forcing a user to change context and leave the experience they are engaged with, and then support automated and manual classification and organization of the information when it is appropriate, a bit like the weekly photo tagging activity of Facebook users.

Simple collection, organization, and sharing is what KeepFu is all about.

Keen Guides

www.keenguides.org

Team: Catharine McNally, Karen Borchert, Martin Franklin, Frank McNally

Click for Screencast

Keen Guides started from the personal experience of its founder, a hearing-impaired woman who was visiting a very popular museum in Washington, DC and wanted to have her own tour experience.  They handed her a dog-eared pile of paper, and sent her on her way.  Trying to come up with a better experience, she went home and signed in the commentary as video clips she then viewed the next day on her iPod as she toured the Gallery.  It was a transformative experience for her, and that’s when Keen Guides was born.  The goals of the company are simple:

  • Leverage new platforms (especially the iPhone) to replace outdated audio wands as content delivery tools
  • Create self-paced custom tours, based on prior visitor feedback, what time you have available, and your unique interests
  • Encourage social interaction and sharing of comments, photos, etc., by tour participants
  • Support access by all, including hearing and vision impaired visitors, as well as non-English speakers.

They are using the iPhone as their initial tour delivery platform, and will support tour content creation (and monetization) by both themselves as well as third parties like DC By Foot.  Initial deployments include museums, city walking tours, and college campuses (for orientation tours, etc.).

Legal River

www.legalriver.com

Founders: Reed Atkin, Ben Hatten, Zach Girod

Click for Screencast

Legal River is focused on provided a marketplace for matching small businesses with legal professionals.  Looking at search queries, you see a lot of businesses searching for uniquely skilled legal professional in areas like patent law, contract disputes, etc.

While there are numerous directory sites for lawyers, they don’t encourage the concept of competing for a given business’s project, and do little to give prior client feedback and other useful data for a business owner to make an informed decision.

Legal River has created a market place where a business can anonymously post a given project and get competitive bids from multiple subject-matter experts.  The system allows easy side-by-side comparison of credentials, prices, prior client feedback on similar projects, etc.  The net result is a better, more transparent process that serves both the business owner as well as the legal professional, who gets access to high-quality local leads.

Legal River has signed distribution deals with a number of sites to both get their service offering in front of small business owners, as well as qualified local lawyers.

OurParents.com launches – think of us as a free, unbiased “match.com” to connect families that have aging parents with senior care providers that can meet your unique needs June 3, 2009

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ourparents logo

Here’s what we said to the press:

Millions of Baby Boomers are struggling to care for their aging parents. Many don’t know where to turn or even what their options are in making important decisions about senior care facilities for their parents.

Until now, the only online services in senior care were heavily biased towards providers paying to have business directed to them. Not anymore. Ourparents.com launched this week with unprecedented access to information about more than 65,000 senior care providers in the U.S.. The free service is totally independent and unbiased, providing ratings, price information and powerful online tools including the remarkable Care Options Advisor. The site is unique in that there is no charge to the consumer or the provider.

Ourparents.com matches aging parents with senior care solutions unique to their specific needs.

“My first-hand experiences with my aging mother showed me how broken the process of finding a senior care solution is,” said John McKinley, founder and CEO of OurParents.com. “I saw sites offering limited senior care options in my area, and little information to help me judge which ones might meet my needs. I felt that my mom represented nothing other than a sales lead that was being sold to only a limited set of senior care providers in that website’s network.”

When it comes to such an important decision as a parent’s long-term care, that bias is fundamentally wrong as a business practice, McKinley said.

“With the launch of OurParents.com, we are declaring war on the current business practices of the senior care lead generation industry,” he said.

Diane Carbo, R.N., a 35-year industry veteran and life care advocate, said that, in her work with families, it has been “frustrating” trying to find a comprehensive independent source of senior care providers.

“OurParents is the best source of senior care options I have seen,” said Carbo, owner of Aging Home Health Care in Cliffside Park, NJ. “I was also impressed by the Care Options Advisor tool. The survey was simple to use, and the responses were accurate and easy for a family to understand.”

OurParents.com has a simple but powerful search engine at its core, allowing visitors to quickly see and compare senior care options in their area. It provides immediate access to information about more than 65,000 in-home care providers, assisted-living facilities and nursing homes. It offers free detailed reports about each care provider – something currently for sale on other sites for $25 to $90. OurParents.com also incorporates the new Medicare five-star quality ratings. Families who are just getting started and unsure which care options make the most sense can use the innovative Care Options Advisor. This tool allows families to quickly describe their loved one’s current condition and the family’s senior care priorities, guiding them to viable care options that meet their needs. Ourparents.com then facilitates direct communication between the family and those senior care providers.

“We don’t charge the families or the care providers, meaning that OurParents.com will never have the problem of conflict of interest when it comes to this critical life decision,” said McKinley. “Our founding principle is that we are and always will be on the side of the consumer.”

We’re live today at www.ourparents.com!

Thanks to TechCrunch and Silicon Alley Insider and Killerstartups.com for the nice posts!

Why MapQuest has lost its way, and how to fix it February 12, 2009

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compassAt times, it gets tiring to read the number of pile-on posts and comments written about AOL.  At this point, AOL’s destiny is in their own hands, and we will see what the future holds for them as they hunker down and focus on 2009 financial performance (as we all are).

One thing hit the wires yesterday, however, that caught my eye.  It was a post by Heather Hopkins about the latest traffic statistics about MapQuest and Google Maps, and where both where from an aggregate traffic perspective.

As backdrop, here are the latest stats from Hitwise on the comparative market share (based on UVs) for MapQuest and Google Maps:

mapquest-and-google-maps-stats

As the chart shows, 2008 was a seminal year for Google Maps.  Their share gain,regardless of whose stats you use (Comscore, et al) has been nothing short of tremendous.  Unfortunately, that in large part has come out of the hide of the incumbent, MapQuest, an AOL property.

I have always been a cheerleader for MapQuest – the role they played on web-enabled consumer behavior change in the 90′s can’t be denied.  Seeing us reach a tipping point in the US market, in terms of share shift, really pains me.

I think there are a number of self-inflicted wounds that they need to address, but I also think MapQuest represents an opportunity to be a focused poster child of business transformation in 2009, and I will share my thoughts on that a bit later.

First, let’s deal with the pain.  It stares me in the face each time I use MapQuest as a consumer service.

Let’s look at the results of a request for directions on MapQuest and Google Maps.

Here’s the MapQuest experience (rendering for a 1024 by 768 display, the usual web design guideline):


mapquest-directions1

Now, let’s see the same results from Google Maps:


google-maps1

This is part of the long-term issue with MapQuest:  At some point along the journey, it has lost its way, in terms of the primary mission it is meant to serve.  It is all about simple, informative directions.

The current experience is, as a friend of mine says, a dog’s breakfast.  I am not sure what my eye is supposed to be drawn to.  It sure the heck isn’t the actual directions – they barely begin above the fold.  This looks like a misapplied implementation of a tactical focus on short-term revenue (e.g., note the big slug of non-relevant sponsored links for Florida and Cancun smack dab in the middle of the page).

Now, look at the Google Maps display – it is all about consumer payoff. I see the turn-by-turn directions and the map rendered above the fold, and the first sponsored link is on the left rail after the directions.

I do understand the case for monetization of traffic, but when that starts materially impairing the consumer experience, you start putting the franchise at risk.  MapQuest has reached that point.

Unfortunately, in large part, AOL has its hands tied about changing course, in terms of how the property is managed. The market is hyper-focused on AOL’s near-term financial trajectory, and that means running the business for cash.  I am sure there are a number of smart people at AOL who recognize the issues facing MapQuest, but they don’t have the latitude to consider strategic investment in the property.

That’s why I think structural opportunities are the right near-term focus:

It looks like, from the press over the last year, the financial dialogs with third parties have been focused on large, macro-sized chunks of AOL (e.,g., the access business and Earthlink, the ad and audience businesses and Yahoo, etc.).  Unfortunately, the September market collapse took the wind out of the sales of lots of M&A dialogs, especially in the high-multiple sectors like technology.

Is the real 2009 opportunity for AOL to take great, more focused, franchise properties like MapQuest, and post their first win in creating a next-gen version of AOL, perhaps manifested as a holding company sitting on top of material stakes in properties spun out of the mothership?

In examining strategic options, let’s be sure to give credit for what MapQuest still is, in terms of aggregate traffic and as a brand.  It is an attractive franchise with real potential, but it needs the capital to play offense in the space.  With the billions of private equity currently parked on the sidelines, a major property like MapQuest could attract a good deal of interest.  I would engage a team today focused on a mission to actively pursue strategy options for MapQuest, in parallel to whatever other efforts are underway.

Now, assuming an option to infuse some strategic capital in MapQuest exists, what exactly should be done to change the slope of growth line?

I think there are a variety of things to pursue:

1. Fix the consumer experience ASAP – make consumers love MapQuest again

2. Find your voice in the market – maybe strive to be “the most accurate directions on the web”.   That takes work, and things like Google’s ability for me to submit address corrections to their database means your work is cut out for you, but that is a real pillar of value the consumer market might understand.

3. Find the platform play where you can win.  Maybe that starts with being the champion of things like OpenStreetMap.

4. Find ways to get more organic traffic.  Over 60% of Google Maps’ traffic came from Google.  They have  a natural advantage here.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t creative SEO/organic traffic opportunities.  You know the mid and long tail of  popular physical addresses and locations.  What next-gen location-centric pages could you generate that takes in all the great geo-coded data being added to the web daily?

5. Push the envelope more on your mobile experiences  It is not enough to just have sites render well on a phone’s browser.  They need to exploit GPS, accelerometers, electronic compasses, etc., to deliver a competitive experience.

6. Find the right local review play to leverage.  One of the biggest opportunities discussed over the years about MapQuest has been local search, and today that means access to local and location-contextual reviews.  Find out how to have a great horse in that race.  The sector doesn’t have to be ceded to Yelp.  Local reviews are, at some level, fundamentally broken (poor at long-tail items, subject to vendor rating spam, etc.).  There is a good niche acquisition opportunity in your future to jumpstart things here, in my opinion.

7.  Be the first to deliver a free Telenav-level consumer experience (real-time, text-to-speech, turn by turn) – that does means addressing the current Navteq pricing practices (hence the push to accelerate the open source mapping efforts).

These are just a few ideas.  I am sure people at AOL have a lot more.  The key is finding the structure to allow these ideas to be pursued.

The goal is simple – do what it takes make MapQuest the property it deserves to be.

True Innovation Sighting: The Mobile Man Machine Interface And MIT February 9, 2009

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At times, over the last two decades, we fall into a trap to believe that the major tech mountains have all been climbed, and that new thinking will be more of the incremental, not disruptive variety.

I am not sure why that happens – maybe, in our real-time world, where we share and publish judgements and observations an order of magnitude more frequently than in decades past, it takes more to get us to lift our heads up to observe true disruptive innovation.

That’s why I treasure when things like the iPhone and its ecosystem happen to fundamentally shake things up.

I felt the same excitement last week, when, at the TED conference, a team from MIT demonstrated a new approach for contextual environment augmentation, using about $300 of hardware and their invaluable collective smarts.

To start the dialog, take a look at one of the sample videos that the MIT team came up with.

The main components of what they demoed that I love included:

  • The gesture interface, from using your hands to frame a photo, to the multi-touch implementation
  • The way it addresses that “What’s in focus” issue, by using you fundamental positioning and viewplane to augment/complement what you are viewing
  • How it employs text recognition within an image to further understand context
  • The hardware the team employed, weighting in at a $300 pricepoint!
  • The use of the physical world (the paper I am reading, the photo I am viewing, etc.) as the actual display, which was mind-blowing (e.g., seeing my real-time flight status displayed on the ticket I am holding).
  • My favorite of all their examples (albeit impractical): Projecting the tag cloud of information about the person I am speaking to ONTO the person as we speak :)

Augmenting the physical object I am interacting with information with is one of those simple, but great ideas (done before, but here it has two attributes lacking in prior efforts:  portability and affordability)

There are other interesting interface options being worked on in parallel.  Some examples include:

  • Smart clothing, incorporating passive sensors and active controls
  • Heads-up displays in eyewear – Note:  Still LOTS of work still to do here to avoid looking Borg-like
  • Contextual extension of existing devices (GPS, Accelerometers, Compass) – all now minimum-to-ship requirements for the smartphone players nowadays
  • Flexible OLED display advances
  • Pen-based interfaces (still plugging away after 8 plus years).

There are lot of blades in the Swiss Army knife of mobile interface options – the art is determining how they are creatively and cost effectively deployed in creating new user experiences.  A great example is the Augmented Realty for the Blind on the Android G1 Platform.

For me, while we have lots of efforts to re-create fixed location Minority Report solutions (from the Microsoft Surface to Johnny Chug Lee’s fun work while he was at CMU), the iPhone has shown that the next pervasive shift in man machine interface is all about mobile, and with great ideas like the one demonstrated by the MIT team last week, I can’t wait to see what will happen next!

Hey guys, I know of a great idea to show the reach of MySpace! February 3, 2009

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Somewhere, in the hallways of MySpace, one of the corp comm guys has the ultimate ephinay.  He grabs the exec team, and says:

“Look, I know we are all tired about all the press about the traction Facebook is getting.  Well, I for one am sick and tired about it!  It is time to show the real reach we have.  I’ve got an idea, and you guys will need to just trust me on this one.  but here’s the headline:

We have over 11x more that Facebook – 11x!

Just watch the coverage Tuesday!”

Ok, it is 24 hours later, and we finally get a real taste of the demographic he was referring to.  Welcome to MySpace!

Having a good mugshot is crucial nowadays!

Having a good mugshot is crucial nowadays!

LaunchBox Digital – Ready For Applications For Our 2009 Incubator Program! February 1, 2009

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Last year, when we launched the business incubator component of LaunchBox Digital, we weren’t sure what to expect.  How many applicants will our first program get?  What will be the quality of the ideas?  How much support will each company require?  It was a bit of a leap of faith, especially because of our decision to base the program in Washington, DC.

Now, looking back over the last eight months since the first program began, we couldn’t be happier.  We got around 250 applicants, ranging all the way from DC to Norway and China.  The ideas we saw were of good, and sometimes great, quality.  We selected a group of finalists to interview, and from there, we chose the nine companies that were our inaugural participants.  12 weeks later (fueled by lots of sweat equity and passion), each of the nine companies got to pitch their businesses to investors, bloggers and angels on the East and West Coasts, with some great early feedback.

But suddenly, right after the end of the program, the US (and subsequently, the global economy) went into the tank.  Here were entrepreneurs, excited and energized, sitting across from potential investors who were watching the book value of their investments decline day after day.  I don’t think there could have been a more daunting challenge for our companies:  Each company really needed to close on a new round of funding, if they were going to take their business to a new level, and they found themselves competing for attention in an incredibly stressful investment environment.

Angels were seeing 30-40% declines in what they considered their low-to-medium risk index and stock investments, and wondering if they were too far out on the efficient frontier with their private equity investing.  Venture funds, even ones in the top quartile of performance, were watching their own fund raising efforts run into a community of LPs who were collectively reeling from their own hedge fund investing.

Now imagine throwing a bunch of early stage companies into this maelstrom, and you might expect a real train wreck.  What we got, however, was the exact opposite.

In really early stage investing, it is all about investing in the people, and, as a collective group, the LaunchBox teams were as creative and dedicated a group as we had ever run across.  They all kept the faith, used the same aggressive cost management that they had operated with all summer, and pressed on with both their fund raising and product development.

Now, sitting here in January, we have six of the nine companies funded, and all are focused on changing the world in their own unique ways.  As people who played a small part in their journey, we couldn’t be happier.

With that as background, we are happy to announce that we are now open for applications for the 2009 incubator program, LaunchBox09.  We are really excited about the new ideas that we’ll see this year.  We think there are a number of new catalysts and opportunities for startups that have emerged over the last year:

  • Government 2.0 – looking at the agenda of the new administration, and seeing interesting spaces to help drive the efficient re-invention of government-funded processes and programs
  • Healthcare – taking a fresh look at outside-in innovation around patient care and personal health monitoring and management
  • Plays within the new mobile ecosystems, including new ones centered around Palm’s webOS and Android
  • Opportunities afforded by powerful netbooks soon hitting the $150-200 price range (and that $20 India netbook we’ll see Feb. 3!;)
  • Products riding the infrastructure plays like Twitter and delivering complementary new services.

With the continued support of both our great group of advisors and our first alumni group, we can help first-time entrepreneurs navigate that crucial first year of existence and succeed.  In spite of what we see each day on TV and the web about the macro-economic picture, too many new opportunities exist for people to play defense here – we are looking for bright, bold, and dedicated folk to help lead the way to a brighter tomorrow.  You can learn more about our program (and apply to participate) at www.launchboxdigital.com.

Waiting For Godot, or Damn, Do I Love What I Have Seen About The Palm Pre! January 30, 2009

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There is a nice new video, taken back at CES, of the Palm Product VP showing off the great elements of the new Palm Pre and its fabulous new webOS.

Well worth a look, if you are tracking what’s going on in mobile this year:

I’ve been thinking about all that’s been revealed so far, and there are seven things I love about the Palm Pre:

  • A great, pocket-sized form factor
  • A hybrid capacitance touchscreen / keyboard design
  • A development environment that leverages readily available existing skills
  • An intuitive gesture vocabulary
  • The cards metaphor for managing multiple activities
  • The socially-aware address book
  • The alerting mechanism (and its implementation).

Of course, like any product, there are flaws – here are four things I hate:

  • Sprint as the launch carrier (although give them credit for being a Palm distributor through good times and bad)
  • A closed source play – they are missing out on leveraging other creative folks’ use of your bits (look at Android ports to  netbooks as an example), and it is ALL about developer communities in mobile today
  • Being a sole source player for handset creation.  I love the first device, but look at the Android device launches at Barcelona in February and see what you are up against.
  • An unknown launch date.

What does that math mean?

I am a buyer!  Too much goodness not to give it a try.  Of course, that means I will be a dual Android (not on the G1, however) and Palm Pre user, but, heck, we all need to pitch in to keep those T-Mobile and Sprint subscriber counts up!  I, for one, am not ready to cede all things mobile to Verizon and AT&T.

Call the Police! SongSmith redoes “Roxanne” January 29, 2009

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By far, the most interesting community achievement of 2009 has to be the use of Microsoft’s SongSmith to remake popular titles into something truly surreal.

Finally, I have a version of Roxanne I can relate to.  Maybe if the band had agreed to the artistic intent Sting expresses here, they’d still be together (playing somewhere in Montego Bay).

Apple’s patents won’t prevent mobile innovation (the latest on the USPTO’s grant of a broad-reaching multi-touch patent to Apple) January 27, 2009

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Couldn’t help myself today!  I read more posts than I cared to that had effectively ceded mobile innovation to Apple today, based on the USPTO’s granting them a patent on fundamental multi-touch UI elements (the pinch, etc.).

What frustrates me at times (OK, most of the time) is the lack of fundamental prior art analysis before such a potentially broad-reaching patent is granted.  The work on multi-touch interface goes back many years.

If you want to get a good sense of just a subset of the work that has been done, take a look at this post by Bill Buxton back in January of 2007 (BTW, he is one smart cookie, currently residing in Microsoft Research with a deep related history to this topic, and a pretty prolific (and articulate) writer and speaker).  Hopefully his post gives you a little sense of the body of work in this area.

Here’s hoping for two things:

  • The new administration continues to make strides on materially improvements the US patent process – patents like this demonstrate how far we still need to go.
  • The tech community reacts to the innovation-inhibiting elements of this patent and supported efforts to get it revoked in its current form.
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