Sponsored

Imeetzu: Embrace Randomness

Imeetzu decided they had had enough. Instead they opted for the new name of Meetzur. Otherwise it’s the same service.

“Would you believe in a love at first sight?” Paul and John ask a forlorn Ringo in “A Little Help From my Friends.”  We all, of course, know his answer.  Poor Ringo shrugs and says, “Yes, I’m certain that it happens all the time” before turning off the light and crawling under the covers.  Poor Ringo.

Ringo is right.  Love at first sight does happen all the time.  Think about that very special person – romantic or otherwise – in your life.  Odds are you just happened to run into them randomly, say, near the free cheese samples at Whole Foods or the baggage claim at the airport.

There’s an excitement of the prospect of meeting someone cool randomly, so much so that the process itself isn’t random: we put ourselves out there.  We go to Whole  Foods.  We check our bags.  Nothing is truly random.  And sometimes we even go the extra mile to create the conditions conducive to chance encounters.  I mean, that’s why we go to bars, right?  For as the old adage says, “luck is the residue of design.”

So, what if a Web site tapped into that excitement, that mystery, by creating an environment for such an encounter to occur?  Well, you don’t have to think “what if,” because, as you may have guessed, someone’s already a step ahead of you.  That “someone” being the cool folks behind iMeetzu.

imeetzu

iMeetzu is a Website that combines the idea of randomly meeting and chatting with someone one-on-one with the new idea of being able to publish and rate conversations.  iMeetzu also allows for social networking with anyone you should happen to meet here so that you can have additional interesting conversations with your favorite contacts, as well as check out their profiles and learn more about them.  And that’s the cool part: iMeetzu has taken pre-existing Web concepts like chatting, user generated content, and social networking, and mashed it all up.

Repressed Chat Trauma Surfaces

When you get to the home page, you quickly learn that imeetzu “connects you with the first random person available to chat.  Just click the button and go!”  Now, I must admit, I haven’t chatted in literally 8 or so years.  The last time I chatted, in fact, I got really into it, stayed up really late, and blame that for me getting a C in my Spanish class (true story.)   But duty called, so I plunged in.  iMeetzu allows you to enter your name and specify the gender (Male, Female, Do Not Say) of the chat recipient.  You can also click on a Google map to chat with a stranger in a specific area.  That said, I went with the default settings, and in no time, I was chatting with a fine dude, I presume (?), named JIMBOB #11.  Here’s the chat; buckle up, it’s gonna be a wild ride!

Mike: hello?
JIMBOB #11: hello…
JIMBOB #11: asl?
Mike: whats that mean?
JIMBOB #11: age sex location
JIMBOB #11: lol
Mike: oh
Mike: would rather not say
Mike: WRNS
JIMBOB #11: yeah lol
JIMBOB #11: thats okay
Mike: lol means laugh out loud right?
JIMBOB #11: =D
JIMBOB #11: lol
JIMBOB #11: haha yeah
Mike: WELL SEE YOU L8R!
JIMBOB #11: okay then
Mike: bb
JIMBOB #11: cya

Kind of like the Lincoln/Douglas debates, eh?

The Visitor Experience

My chat-fright effectively repressed for another 10 years, I then assumed the role of a visitor.  I surfed around the site via the navigation bar, which is at the bottom of the page, beginning with Browse Users.  The subsequent page defaulted to “New Users,” where I could sort by “Photo Users Only,” “Top Rated (All),” Guy Users, and Girl Users.  Currently, when browsing users – either girls or guys – the only factors that’d make me want to pick a person are their rating.  Once I click on a person, I can learn more about them, but I instinctively wanted to sort them by, say, hobbies, location, movies, etc.  Or perhaps in future iterations those topics can be listed in each user’s thumbnail when you search by Girl or Guy.

Next I went to their Image Log page, where users can upload images.  Then suddenly I had a revelation, which made my aforementioned functionality suggestions seem quaint, even irrelevant.  On the Image log, there is no rhyme or reason to their order or layout, beyond the date they were uploaded.  It seemed kind of…random.  And it was kinda cool.  Admittedly, the pictures are geared towards younger users, but the concept of not really knowing what’s next was intriguing.

Which got me thinking.  Our collective Web experiences have been molded in the crucible of structure.  You can search Myspace users by area code.  You can search your Gmail using all kinds of sorting techniques.  It appeals to our inherent desire for order.  After all, a world without order leads to randomness, which leads to chaos, which leads to bloodshed, and that’s bad.

This is where iMeetzu has something going for it.  After all, the page’s main hook – randomly IM with a stranger – is intriguing, and as such, sets the tone for the entire user experience.  I told myself to not fear random-nesss.  Yes, random-ness is my friend.

With this epiphany now marinating in my brain, I moved on to “Chat Logs.”  Here you can search Chats by Recent Chats, Best of All Time, Best of Recent, and Photo Logs Only.  Again, beyond their five-star ratings and dates, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the chat’s, content-wise.  But that’s the point!   Structured random-ness!

Having gone through the guts of the site, here are some additional, “global” musings:

  • Could be helpful to have the navigation bar on top as well.
  • When I initially tried to chat, I tried to select “Ohio” as the location of my would-be chat stranger. (My loyal readers will know that I love Ohio.)
  • Not sure if it was my connection or not, but my computer didn’t like that state.  The site alerted me it was trying to locate a chatter in Ohio, but after a half a minute or so, I decided, perhaps, Ohio wasn’t in the cards for me.  But moving forward, this tool – enabling users to seek out chat partners by location – has incredible potential.
  • The wording on the site – the copy, if you will – is very cool, funny, and laid-back, which fits the vibe perfectly.  More of that please!

iMeetzu: Re-defining Randomness

The Oxford English dictionary defines “randomness” as “Having no definite aim or purpose; not sent or guided in a particular direction; made, done, occurring, etc., without method or conscious choice; haphazard.”  Well, by now it’s pretty evident that iMeetzu is more than randomness.  Rather, it uses randomness as a means to an end.  Kids these days wallow in silly chats, in weird, brief IMs, in pictures, and in other ways that all coalesce to form a steady stream of data that is never-ending, yet strangely addictive.  IMeetzu, in a seemingly counter-intuitive way, seeks to harness this stuff by randomizing it, by injecting an element of the unknown, of the unpredictable, that has generally been minimized in our online experiences. And by embracing randomness, who knows?  You’ll likely meet some really cool people in the process.  Someone please tell Ringo!

LocalKidzStuff Sponsored

LocalKidzStuff: Finding Fun in Your Own Backyard

I cannot tell a lie.  I am not a parent.  To the best of my knowledge.  But I know some.  I have friends who are parents, and my parents are parents.  So I’ve been around parents.  I dabble.  I see what they go through.  It seems pretty rewarding, what with the first words and all, and it also seems quite fun.  Who doesn’t want to go to Disney World or ride on a see-saw as an adult without suffering the searing castigation of a judgmental society?

But it also seems a bit, well…intense.  I mean, let’s be real here.  You’re a parent.  You’re running all over the place.  You’re drinking six cups of coffee a day.  You’re changing diapers.  You’ve having nightmares about an annoyingly catchy, mildly terrifying singing hippo.  You’re eagerly anticipating your refund from Disney because Baby Einstein didn’t turn your son into an Einstein, which has been a lingering source of guilt.

And you’re also a bit overwhelmed by the amount of fun stuff you can do with your kids – events, plays, summer camps, musical concerts, etc.  The stuff comes from all sides:  Lisa (or was it Debby?) at the supermarket told you about the face-painting workshop and that the teacher was really patient and the kids just love it.   And at the soccer game on Sunday, Dave mentioned something about a hiking outing, but you kinda forget because you were threatening to slash the tires of the Odyssey driven by the father of an opposing player.  And in Dr. Carlson’s waiting room, Maggie cryptically alluded to this really great babysitter that’s she’s just thrilled with but your mind was elsewhere since two kids in Jacob’s class may have the swine flu but Leslie said it was just the bad hot dogs (which you later realized made no sense.)

So you jot all this stuff down in your datebook or put it in your Blackberry, but let’s be real.  It’s a mess.  Luckily, LocalKidzStuff is here to make your life a bit easier.  It’s is your one-stop resource for everything kids-related.  And better yet, it’s everything local, geared towards your specific town, providing a platform where all that information, all that cool stuff, can be accessed in one place.

LocalKidzStuff
LocalKidzStuff

I dove into the site as a stoked first-timer, and here’s what I found:

  • On the home page, you can first select by city.  I chose Spring, TX.  The site shows highlighted upcoming events, such as Disney on Ice, which I clicked on, providing me with all the necessary information, including maps, a referring Website, price, and date.  The page allows users to comment on the event and vote using the ever-helpful five-star user rating.
  • From the city-specific page, you can also search by event Category (After School Care, Camps, Daycare, Dentists, etc.)  The drop-down list also indicates how many records are in each Category (“Camps,” which I selected, had 21.)
  • The “Camps” page showed all camps in the nearby area, complete with maps and all necessary information.  Clicking on a specific camp – in this case, Camp Coyote – brings you to a page similar to the Disney on Ice one.  In fact, the templates are identical, and I felt myself becoming very comfortable with the navigation and interface.
  • Coolest of all, on the Camp Listings page, the site implores you to add your own camp if it’s not listed.  At long last, the much-valued user-generated content component of the site.
  • When I clicked on the “Something Missing?  Click here to add it” button, I was taken to a very intuitive page where I could – you guessed it – add my own business.
  • Also, instead of searching by Category, you can search by Events.

All in all, a very fluid, intuitive experience.   Now, if I may, some “global” comments:

  • The “What is LocalKidzStuff” page is very informative, albeit a little cluttered and wordy.  Some judicious spacing, bold-text, and 15% reduction in text itself would make it a bit more fluid and readable.
  • When you type the url in the address box – at least when I did it – you land on the Spring, TX page as a default.  The same occurred when I clicked “Home” in the navigation bar.  However, when I clicked on the LocalKidzStuff banner logo at the top of the page, I was taken to a generic – and preferable – home page.  I’d make this as the universal landing page rather than the Spring, TX one.  Just one guy’s opinion, though.
  • The site – for now – is Texas-centric.  And why not?  It’s like a whole other country that I’d rather not mess with.  LocalKidzStuff, I imagine, could have a nice career just focusing on these Texas towns.  However, they wisely wish to expand, and actively promote their affiliate program, enabling folks from all over the country to set up their own LocalKidzStuff sites for their respective towns.
  • To that end, it’s not instantly obvious if users can add a new city.  Rather, as we’ve seen, they can add a new business/listing, which prompts them to enter a city name.  Presumably the LocalKidzStuff staff reviews the entry, and if they deem it worthy, will enter a new city to search by.  (My personal vote is Denton!  It is a jewel.)
  • According to their Job openings page, they are targeting these very fine cities: Chicago, San Diego, San Francisco, and one place too awesome, too inspiring to be contained by a mere “city” label, the Garden State itself (my homeland!)

I also jotted down some functionality suggestions for future iterations:

  • It’d be cool to have a calendar tool, where users can track all the events from a single page.  Simply go in, check all the events you’re interested in, and voilà! it can instantly populate your calendar or integrate with a third-party tool, like Google Calendar.
  • Another addition that’d be helpful is having the business/listing page mention an appropriate age group.   I mean, I’d like to think I’m a kid at heart, and I’m sure anyone would love the Beer Can House, which is listed on the site, but, theoretically speaking, there will be a set of activities more suited for 9-year old girls versus 14-year old boys, etc.  By tagging existing and future listings with an appropriate age group, it further empowers parents to truly prioritize the activities available to them.

So.  I was transparent from the outset: I am not a parent, yet I asked you, my faithful readers, to employ willing suspension of disbelief while reading this, to look past my inexperience and ignorance while I cruised around LocalKidzStuff. I thank you all for giving me the benefit of the doubt, and to trust me when I say that for the always-on-go parent (in Texas) looking for something, anything, to make their life just a little less hectic, LocalKidzStuff can do just that.  And for the rest of you across the fruited plain, running to your minivan, texting while driving (not cool!), and mistakenly picking up the wrong kid at ballet practice: what are you waiting for?  Start one up in your town.

Your fellow parents need you.

Sponsored

Favorpals: A World Without Money

Back in the days well before the internet existed (also the car, the telephone, and digital watches), a person survived by having a skill that not many other people in their area possessed. That skill might be baking bread, and if your neighbor happened to be a blacksmith, you might trade a few loaves of your bread for a set of horseshoes for your pony. Another two neighbors might trade roofing work in exchange for your promise to plow their fields in the coming season. Yes, it was a simpler time, a time where communities were built on the labors of their people, a time where honest hard work was valued and a day’s work meant a chance to eat that night and perhaps survive long enough to perpetuate your family name.

Then, people began to trade precious metals and stones in lieu of the actual goods and services. It was easier, they reckoned, and you wouldn’t lose track of who owed what to whom. You might trade some loaves of bread for some gold coins and then, a few months later, you’d trade some of those gold coins for horseshoes. Coins made from precious metals, though, are bulky. So banks sprang up, allowing you a secure place to store your coins. Then those banks started issuing bank notes that represented the coins you had stored there and you could trade the notes instead of the coins. After a while the government, knowing a good opportunity when they saw it, stepped in and standardized everything, backing their new paper money with vast stockpiles of gold. After a while, though, there wasn’t enough gold to match up to the bank notes in circulation and so the government began backing their notes with the peoples’ faith in their own country and its economy, which can be a pretty tenuous thing sometimes.

It’s at this point that money ran into some problems: inflation, currency exchange between nations, fluctuation of the economic markets, and corruption within the institutions that regulate money. And the trickle-down effect means that we, the average working men and women upon whom the economy is sustained, feel the strain of these problems the most. When you travel to Europe for vacation one year and a croissant costs about a dollar, and then you return the following year to find that the same dollar will only get you a third of a stale croissant, you might start reevaluating your own faith in the dollar. Surely there is a better way to do things. Can’t we just get back to the old system of trading skills and services? Can’t we just go back to those simpler times and avoid the whole mess of money and economics and the feeling of being a helpless pawn in the machinations of The Man?

No, probably not. But there are groups of individuals and companies out there who think that you should be able to skirt around at least some of the issues that accompany money by using the internet. Favorpals, a website that helps you meet and exchange favors with other people from all over the planet, leaving money completely out of the equation, is one such company.

favorpals_main

Favorpals encourages you to imagine a world without money, a world where favors are the currency and are exchanged for mutual benefit. Favorpals functions much like a simple social networking site, but with the added functionality of being able to post and respond to favors (more on that later). Signing up was simple, a quick form and then you need to click on a link in an email they send you to confirm your registration, which is standard protocol these days.

After signing up, you’re encouraged to recommend friends by allowing Favorpals to connect directly to your webmail account, which, if you’re anything like me when it comes to your internet security and privacy, you will never, ever do. I was honestly a little shocked that this was even asked. I might have recommended someone if they’d just asked for a few email addresses, but I was instead immediately put on my guard when they asked for what amounts to being the keys to my online kingdom. I’m sure an upstanding company like Favorpals would never use that information in any malicious way (they claim right there that this password will not be stored in any way), but it’s not a chance I can ever take, not with my main webmail account.

That hiccup aside, the rest of the setup and introduction to Favorpals went smoothly. You can customize your Favorpals account with a picture of yourself, a few personal details about your work experience and educational background, and information about the kind of favors in which you might be interested. After that, you can get right into browsing other users’ favors or creating your own.

Browsing and responding to favors is simple and straightforward: you can browse by category, location (probably the most useful, given the nature of many favors), or search through the most recently added favors. Browsing in my own area, I found mostly young urban professionals in need of help with real-life tasks (cleaning gutters, aluminum siding repair, child-care) and willing to exchange their professional services (legal council, academic tutoring, photography, scrapbooking). Favorpals seeks to make all services (measured in Units Of Service) equal across the board: one dental filling is equal to one tax-filing, which are equal to one leaky-faucet repair. The idea, I think, is that, even if the monetary value of favors exchanged isn’t equal this time, if you participate in Favorpals often enough it will eventually even itself out. Responding to a favor is easy; just click on the favor and start typing into the response area, and creating a favor is as simple as filling out a few particulars and hitting the “create” button. You can set your favors to have a deadline, if necessary, and each favor listing has handy social networking buttons for spreading the word around.

A nice addition that is particularly helpful for those who have just joined is the “Favor Hints” page, which lists helpful suggestions for returning favors that nearly anyone can perform (be a personal assistant for one day, pet-sitting, watering plants, make a lunch-run, etc.). Another good feature is the apparently seldom-used charity favors area, where you can put some of those skills to use in the name of selflessness. You can offer to build a website for a charity in exchange for nothing or… well, that’s actually the only charity favor that’s been listed. Perhaps it’s a slow month for giving?

It should be made clear that Favorpals relies on self-regulation. They provide only the meeting place, and wisely remove themselves from solving potential disagreements between users or banning users who are “swaplifters,” the term invented to describe a person who enters into a favor exchange and then never fulfills their end of the bargain. After a successful (or unsuccessful) exchange, users are encouraged to rate one another’s performance. Users with a low ratings and a slew of bad reviews can then be avoided from then on.

So, does it work? Ostensibly, yes. Contacts are made, favors are exchanged, and, most of the time, everyone walks away feeling pretty good about the deal. There aren’t a whole lot of users yet, so it may be difficult to find someone who wants to trade what you’re offering for what they can do. Something that I was hoping to find, but didn’t, were testimonials. There is a link on the front page of the site that asks you to send in favor-exchange stories, but I couldn’t find them posted anywhere.

That said, there are a few other problems, namely design issues. While the site is quite usable, I never felt like anyone was doing me any favors with the design aesthetics. The chosen colors and blocky interface remind me of something that comes as the “default template” for an out-of-the-box social networking website, meant to be changed long before being released to the public. The lime-green background is painful to look at for very long and browsing the favor listings reminds me of low-budget sites from the late nineties. A facelift for the site (or a tweaking of the colors at the very least) would be welcome and would bring the site’s image up to the level of its functionality and ideals.

favorpals_favors

Another issue I ran across was with the “Bookmark and Share” mouse-over box just below the site’s navigation menu: every time I ran my cursor over it, it opened up, covering a portion of what I was looking at. It’s in an area that gets a lot of cursor traffic, from the content to the menu and back again. Simply moving the social networking buttons to the bottom of the page, or even to the top right side of the page rather than the left, would be fix this problem.

While I’ve come across a few websites that have the same basic idea as Favorpals, I’ve yet to see it executed with such ease, so simply, or with such great faith in its users. Favorpals’ team watches over the site to make sure that inappropriate content is promptly removed, but mostly allows the users to police themselves and work toward a common goal: loosening the stranglehold that money has over us. The more you participate, the more used to the idea of not using money you become.

After using the site for a few days, I found myself wondering why I should shell out cash to have my house painted when I can offer up my website design skills instead? Why not exchange dog-walking for editing advice? If it benefits everyone involved, then why not? I would normally do a series of jobs in order to earn enough money to pay for the service; this is just cutting out several steps from the middle.

And this, really, is the purpose of Favorpals. What they offer is a chance to break free from the problems inherent in the exchange of money; what they’re asking in return is your honesty, integrity, and participation. Favorpals wants us to become less reliant on our monetary system and more reliant on the idea of ourselves as individual, contributing members of society.

I have to admit that I find the idea inspiring, even if the execution isn’t yet perfect. And while I’m not yet inspired enough to toss out my computer and start baking bread for a living, I am feeling inspired enough to post a favor and potentially even come through on my end of the deal.

ResidentVisitor Home Sponsored

ResidentVisitor: Been There, Done That

At any time and at all hours, each and every one of us carries multiple lists in our minds: lists of really cool, out-of-the-way places that we’ve encountered in our travels.  It may be the coolest dive bar in all of Oklahoma.  Or the best taco truck West of the Mississippi.  Or this quaint little sushi place run by an elderly woman in her basement.  But the lists are unorganized, illegible, crumpled up, strewn all over.  Worse yet, there are lists of lists!

In fact, it’s only when inspired or compelled that we are actually able to access the lists to make a constructive recommendation (e.g. “You’re going to Cincinnati?  I know a place with killer burritos and an even more killer jukebox!”)  Otherwise it’s a total mess.

What if there was one single place were we could deposit all this useful information?  (And let’s face it, finding a good burrito in Ohio is critically useful information)  Thank your lucky stars for ResidentVisitor.

ResidentVisitor Home

ResidentVisitor is a user-generated site compiling recommendations of – you guessed it – residents and visitors of specific cities.  So, if you do find yourself holed up in Boston, itching for world class clam chowder, you know where to turn.  And, from my vantage point, there’s a stronger-than-usual incentive to contribute.  In other words, it is in my interests to post a picture or review of the best burrito joint in Cincinnati, because someday I’ll be the one breathlessly hankering for clam chowder.  Call it “traveler’s karma.”

The first thing you’re prompted to do at ResidentVisitor is Search by city or Join to share places you know (it’s free.)

Let’s search by city, shall we?

  • Currently, there are nine countries to choose from.  (Technically speaking, therefore, the home page could say “Search by country” since the following page is by country, not city.  If one were to get technical.)  And if you’d like to add a country, you can simply e-mail them.
  • Upon choosing the US, there were seven cities to choose from (sorry, Cincinnati; always the bridesmaid, never the bride);  I chose San Francisco, and the one Place was The Fillmore.  You can also filter by Category (e.g. Entertainment, Recreation.)
  • The initial lack of content notwithstanding – and I’m sure that will change; in fact, I’d implore ResidentVisitor to start cranking out the content immediately – the process of getting to the Places themselves was intuitive and easy.  This bodes well for the future when the content will be richer.
  • That said, at the bottom of the Fillmore page, I noticed a flag: “Member Reviews are currently closed for this place.”  This may mean I couldn’t write a review if I wanted to?  If so, they will want to open that up.

OK, so back to the home page.  I decided to join because I feel like I have some very nice things to share to the world (have I mentioned the burritos?)

The “Add a New Place” is also very intuitive.  Name the place, city, address, and say if you are a local or a visitor.   You then assign the place a Category – the list is very robust – its Website address, phone number, and any photos you wish to upload.  Then you’re done.  Nice and clean and efficient.

Some other thoughts:

  • The Resources page, currently empty, may not be necessary.  The value of the site comes from the reviews themselves; additional resources may distract from that value.
  • The Blog page is also currently sparse, but nothing is holding ResidentVisitor back from adding content here, whether its traveling tips, how much to tip in foreign countries, and how to impress English girls with your Take That knowledge.
  • The thumbnail shots of the places are a nice touch.  However, as the content increases, ResidentVisitor may want to either shrink the size of the thumbnails or revert to text, especially since some places will not have pictures.

The Wisdom of the Locals

Now, you may ask, “How is ResidentVisitor any different than, say, those traveling guides?”  Funny, I wondered the same thing.  We really do have a lot in common.  For this guy, the answer is localism.  It’s simply impossible for a book to be up to speed with the new, cool places in any given city.  For example, I used to live in DC, and a visiting friend whipped out her guidebook and highlighted all the wonderful places she was going to visit.  I was appalled.  I even threw up a little in my mouth.   The Lincoln Memorial?  The Smithsonian?  Pullleaze.  So I tossed her book aside and scribbled my suggestions on a napkin in a frenzied manner.  (I mean, who needs the Smithsonian when the Dumbarton House, with its Adamesque architecture and Federal period decorative arts, is at your doorstep?  That’s gold, baby!)

In addition, by spending time on the Community page, you can build a rapport with individuals who have similar interests, and in turn, more applicable recommendations.  Currently, we only see the member’s name, location, and number of places they reviewed.  By clicking on the member’s (Terry) name, I see thumbnails of the places they reviewed, although from what I can tell, I cannot sort by Category.  I thought, perhaps, I could do this by Browsing by Tags (“Coffee”) on the same page (to the right), but instead of seeing Terry’s Coffee places, I saw the totality of all coffee places of all members.

It would also be cool to sort members’ “areas of expertise,” if you will.  One way to do this would be to add a field in the “Edit Profile” portion of the “My Account” area.  Basically, something like, “Favorite Types of Places,” or “Places of Expertise.”  Could you imagine how cool it would be to find your “Burrito Shack Expert” soulmate?  Heck, if that were the case, ResidentVisitor could double as a dating site.

All in all, ResidentVisitor knows there the action is: in our disheveled collective minds, where lists of cool stuff lay scattered everywhere among half-filled coffee cups, mismatched socks, crumbled up jeans, and CDs long separated from their cases.  It’s a treasure trove of user-generation just waiting to be tapped.  ResidentVisitor’s intuitive, user-friendly platform is in place; just a little more content and a little more tools for personalization can transform the site into an indispensable resource for travelers and residents alike.