Host Great Conversations - Branch

Branch offers an easy way to engage your tweeps in a focused, semi-private online conversation. Unlike most approaches to Twitter conversations (typically based on hashtags and list sorting), the Branch conversation itself happens independent of Twitter. The most obvious advantages are that you don’t need to flood your Twitter feed or worry about 140 character limits, and you can limit the participants to an invite-only list.

These advantages make Branch especially attractive for publishers, because a publisher can use Branch to generate compelling content while keeping the reader’s experience as pleasant as their own. With the invite-only option, publishers can invite Ashton Kutcher to participate in a live chat that easily engages the Twitter community without having to sift through tweets from thousands of fans or critics. (This also means Paul Carr doesn’t have to tell anyone to “sit this one out. grown ups talking” because he can simply set up a Branch discussion to exclude them instead.)

And of course embedding a Branch conversation on your own site is as simple as you might expect, with just a few lines to copy/paste. In the example below I asked a Branch employee about the Twitter login authorization. My instinct tells me the request asks for just a little too much, but it’s hardly a real problem at all. My real goal was to demonstrate the simplicity of the embedded exchange. Thanks to clean design, a Branch exchange can look attractive on most media sites.

Fortunately, the good people at Branch know enough to keep the user experience on Twitter itself clean, simple and free of spam as well. The biggest single concern I have when using anything like Branch is whether or not the service will flood my inbox or spam my tweeps with alerts and links every time I do something. Branch gives you complete control over what gets tweeted and when, enabling you to engage with your community without being an annoyance to them.

So I encourage any journalist, blogger, media company, teacher, manager — anyone, really — to start a conversation via Branch and see how simply useful it is. Some of you may find this your best option to host weekly or daily discussions on your own site, while others may just keep it in mind for occasional use and never embed a discussion anywhere. Regardless, Rob Likes Branch.



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TeuxDeux is the best, simplest, and most useful to-do application in human history. No exaggeration. Pencils and sticky notes dominated for about 80 years and, since their slow decline, no software design team has managed to beat those tools until now.

Writing short to-do items on a calendar should be simple, so TeuxDeux is.


While every other to-do application in the past two decades has been overbuilt, TeuxDeux is both confined and enabled by an elegance of design. The soft but stark interface and limited features make you want to use the application as soon as you see it. As is often the case, it is the adherence to simplicity that makes this elegant and appealing user experience possible.

To underscore just how appealing obvious simplicity can be, founder Tina Roth-Eisenberg got a big round of applause at last night’s New York Tech Meetup for one of the simplest features that many calendars make awkward or skip altogether — to-do events automatically rolling forward to the next day. Obvious, simple, easy. Perfect.

With this in mind, it is important to note that this is not a calendar. TeuxDeux has a calendar interface, but you can’t store appointments and block out bits of time. You can’t assign an item to a particular client, nor email them an invite or reminder. Keep using your CRM systems and calendar applications or whatever you need for that stuff. The whole point of TeuxDeux is to strip away the complications and distractions of most time management and planning tools. TeuxDeux simply presents what’s at hand and let’s you get to it.

You also don’t need to commit to days on the calendar at all. The “someday” trough at the bottom of the app display allows you to jot down anything you intend to do sometime in the future, and define categories for different kinds of projects. So “finish mixtape” might go under “Wife’s Birthday” while “pinball machine” or “’65 Mustang” might go under “Wish List.” All of these someday to-do items are quietly available below the calendar, always at the ready.

The TeuxDeux mobile app is equally appealing and useful on the iPhone. The design matches the browser version exactly, and it is even easier to switch between TeuxDeux accounts if you have multiple to-do lists (e.g. sharing household to-dos with a spouse). It is certainly superior to any calendar app UX I’ve seen for mobile.

The only serious flaw I’ve found is the inability to layer this app directly onto my cornea.* As easy as it is to use, it is also very easy not to use. Like all browser-based apps, users like myself will quickly lose sight of it in a sea of windows and tabs. But because it is browser-based, you can easily solve this by making your browser home page. Roth-Eisenberg told the NYTM crowd that she has TeuxDeux saved as her browser landing page, so every time she opens a new browser window she is presented with everything she should be doing instead. This is the way to use TeuxDeux, because, frankly, if you have to type in the URL each time (how is that spelled again…), you’ll probably forget it exists, or all too easily ignore the things you need to be doing.

TeuxDeux is free to try and the ongoing cost is minimal. After a 30-day free trial the monthly cost is just $3, and an annual option is available for $24. So sign up, make TeuxDeux your landing page, and stop getting distracted from all you need to do.

*Tina may want to sit down with Ray Kurzweil and the Google Glass team to address this issue.

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[Originally posted at Hope for Film, but applicable to all content producers, freelancers and media mavens.]

Love it or hate it, Klout is a very useful tool that tracks your social networking influence. Klout is like a credit score, but for social networking. The system constantly updates your score based on how much you are engaging with your social network, and how much they engage with you. If you’re inactive for a few days, your score will begin to drop; if you have a hugely popular post to Facebook it will quickly rise.

Klout score tracking

The constantly moving Klout score can be a great informal gauge of your activity, and the way Klout sorts your most popular activity can be a surprisingly effective way to monitor the efficacy of your social media strategy. Under a list of your “moments” Klout highlights your most popular posts to Facebook and Twitter, showing who has engaged with your posts and other content, and also who you have reached out to in comments and replies. Below each entry you’ll also see the Klout scores of everyone who has engaged with that post. It is worth keeping an eye on these to make sure you aren’t ignoring someone who is hugely influential.

Read the complete post at Hope for Film and let me know what you think after using Klout for a few weeks!


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MaxDelivery landing page

MaxDelivery is one of the best simple and well executed online businesses I have seen in the last 15 years. From paperclips to grass-fed lamb chops, MaxDelivery delivers groceries, movies and basic home supplies you need in about an hour.

Sound familiar? MaxDelivery was launched by Chris Siragusa, previously CFO for the retail fantasy that was Kozmo. For those too young to remember, it was an online retail delivery service that spread like wildfire during the internet boom. You could get a sandwich and a DVD within an hour anywhere in 11 cities, and if you didn’t have a DVD player they would bring that too. Kozmo failed for a few fundamental reasons, including terrible timing of the dotcom crash, but it was becoming profitable in the largest cities it served and the overall model wasn’t flawed.

Siragusa has been expanding MaxDelivery slowly, steadily and reliably — an important improvement over the Kozmo approach. The other major improvement is the collection of partnerships with high quality local shops like Murray’s Cheese, Ottomanelli’s and Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery. These partners provide top shelf gourmet selections at competitive prices and save you a lot of schlepping for excellent food.

A monthly MaxPremium subscription is also a nice improvement over most discount grocery clubs/plans/subscriptions. They’ve been experimenting with subscription plans, so the deal may vary, but right now for $10/month you get substantial discounts and always-free delivery.

There have been some failed experiments too, including the experience I had when they first tried to partner with Seamless Web (dirty bags, late delivery, clearly too many different parties involved), but MaxDelivery adapts quickly and consistently improves.

I highly recommend you try MaxDelivery and save yourself hours of hassle each month for the same prices you already pay at most stores. Even if you love going to the grocery store, sometimes you really just want someone else to bring you snacks and a movie without having to lift a finger.

a footnote:
Looking back, MaxDelivery seems a bit closer to Urban Fetch, which I always thought was superior to Kozmo, but couldn’t compete with the mega-brand that Kozmo became. At the bottom of the MaxDelivery site you can currently see a hint that they have acquired the UrbanFetch brand and may re-launch under that brand sometime in the future.

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“It’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time.”

~ Clayton M. Christensen (@claychristensen)
Harvard Business Review, July 2010

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Air Drum Rocks NYTM

One of the great highlights of the monthly New York Tech Meetup is always the featured Hack NY part of the evening. Last night featured three hardware hacks that were each impressive in their own right, but also just plain fun.

First was GitDown, a breathalyzer hack that prevents developers from updating live code after drinking too much. Though the system is not likely to get much actual use, the demo made me want to hire creators Alexandra Qin and Geoffrey Lit for their enthusiasm and talent anyway.

Meanwhile, the laser tank battle system built by Manuel Lopez has the makings of an impressive DIY psuedo-killing game. I can imagine teams of drunk hipsters playing with the 2.0 version of these in a too-cool-for-school Williamsburg bar next year.


But it was AirDrum that most of you are likely to actually use. With simplicity and ingenuity, they have turned any iPhone into a drum stick, and created an interactive site that completes the drumkit.

Users simply go to on a computer, then load the same site on their phone. The two sync up easily and anyone can immediately play the drums by moving their phone in the air. While banging the air with your virtual drumstick, you can selectively strike the snare, cowbell, cymbals, etc depending on where you point the phone. You can even use multiple phones in order to play with both both hands, or add a third phone and tap it with your foot to thump the foot pedal like a boss.

AirDrum is of course a novelty, but Eddie Zaneski and Ian Lozinski have built one of the most accessible systems I can imagine for realtime hardware interaction with the web. Hopefully we’ll see more from them soon.

With all of the apps and startups that launch each week in New York, it’s refreshing to see a collection of simple, fun, appealing hacks created for their own sake. Kudos to Hack NY for fostering emerging talent!

You can see all of these and much more on the NYTM livestream via MLB Media.


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