Startup

Swackett: The Weather Peeps

Tonight I enjoyed one of my favorite parts about living in San Francisco- the ability to see world class tourist destinations right out my door. And so I went for a walk and ended up at Coit Tower. It provides a great view of the bay (especially if they’ll ever cut the trees back!). The view of the bay bridge with the east bay in the backdrop is actually the best. You can see the pristine water with the lighted bridge above it. And then lightening in the background- in September. What is this madness? There I was in shorts and a fleece and it’s about to rain all of sudden. Living in California I’ve grown slack on how often I check the weather. It’s usually pretty nice most of the year.

Knowing what mother nature has in store for us is rather important though. In many parts of the world it can be a serious safety concern. Not only do you need to dress differently but you might not leave the house at all. As such, people have turned to the web to find the latest weather. Based upon the temperature and chance of various weather systems coming through they decide what to wear and how to go about their day. For many checking the weather is an essential part of their day.

Swackett Demo

Checking the weather is about to get easier and more instant, with Swackett. It’s an Apple based app that runs on desktops and mobile devices that tells you exactly what you want to know- what to wear when you walk out the door. Swackett derives its name from the slang for sweater, jacket, or coat. This summarizes the decision people need to make as they get dressed. Once installed you can add your location and check it instantly. What you’ll find are cartoon people, dubbed peeps, that are dressed per the expected weather conditions. If it’s cold out they’ll be wearing boots, coats, hats, and the like. And if it’s sunny they’ll be in flip flops and shorts. In a matter of seconds anybody can determine what to wear.

Swackett pulls its information from one of the major weather channels, AccuWeather. For those who want the full blast of data it’s there for their perusal. They can see real feel temperatures, humidity, dew point, wind direction and speed, animated weather timelines and radar imagery. For those who just want the bottom line they can look at the peeps and see what they’re wearing and dress accordingly.

Swackett introduces some creativity with their peeps in that you can download various editions. These are each dressed differently according to various styles. They have academy peeps, the little peep edition for kids, the modern edition, the 1950s edition, with many more planned. Some are free, others are $1.29. You can also request custom editions for your organization or club.

The weather is constantly changing. Thus most people need to check it every day. Swackett brings a new level of convenience to checking the latest forecasts. With it you can know instantly what to expect, and if you’re curious you can readily find detailed information as well. It provides both simplicity, ease, and a bit of entertainment to one’s weather checking. The pressing question of the day will not only be how nice it is outside, but also what the peeps are wearing today.

Startup

Tripomatic: The Why Didn’t They Make This Before of Trip Planners

Around a year and a half ago I had the honorable pleasure of going on a business trip- to Paris. Not being one to miss out on the free airline ticket I made plans to stay a week beyond my professional obligations. I’ll openly admit that my opinion of Paris was a bit wanting upon my entrance. At one point France was such a reviled place that the US congress renamed French fries to freedom fries. By the end of the trip my sole wish was that the French would have the kindness to influence more of our cuisine than the fries. The mystique of the Seine, the food that could be savored like none I had ever eaten, the ambiance of the streets, shops, and people had entranced me like a child in Disneyland. I would return as soon as I’m able to once again breathe in the Francophile air.

My trip was largely unplanned. As it turns out the same employer that sent me across the world expected me to actually work, err, a lot. I stayed within the city limits and experienced Paris as someone who might live there. By the end of my stay people were asking me for directions. I guess I look like I know where I’m going- even when I accidentally wandered off the map more than once.

Tripomatic Home

Although I would never replace my disjointed wanderings I knew there were better ways to see what France had to offer. Some of my strolls took me down streets I might not otherwise have taken. Into farmer’s markets I stumbled which may have been missed by major travel guides. While I discovered many off Broadway shops that held an intrigue of their own, I’m sure I missed a few classic French sights. In lieu of planning the recreational part of the trip, I went the sheltered vagrant route.

As it turns out a better way does exist to plan one’s travels. With Tripomatic you can turn your aimless wanderings amid distant lands into directioned, aimless wanderings. It’s a tool that highlights all the major tourist attractions throughout the world and allows you to easily create itineraries for your days.

The first clarification I need to make, by special request of their PR department, is that Trip-o-matic is definitively not a device that 3rd graders, and your average SlapStart writer, would utilize to harass their cohorts. It doesn’t cause anyone to trip, stumble, or fall in any regard whatsoever. Unless of course such trips cause you to fall completely enamored with a distant and magical part of the world. Planning such a trip is easy. First you choose a destination. This brings you to a map focused on that spot. Alternately you can start with a global view and zoom in as you like. Once you’re looking at your destination you’ll find a series of icons representing popular local destination points. You can click on them to get more info and add them to your day’s itinerary. When your day is full you can add a new day and continue adding places to visit. And when you’re done you can click on the Get Guide link which produces your trip, completely planned. Here’s a sample of, yes, a trip to Paris. You’ll note it includes all your destinations, maps, and links to more information. Further, it’s easy to export to a format to travel with. Saving to PDF, printing to paper, and sharing on social networking sites, are among the many options available.

Tripomatic Trip Planner

Although the branding might be misconstrued for a novelty item in a gag shop, Tripomatic rises above most websites in its implementation. Hotels are easy to find along with links to booking info. They are readily added to your trip’s daily schedule. Activities are categorized so you can sort by your preference. There are multiple inline slideshow pictures that give you different views of each destination. Really, Tripomatic is on a mission to cover the entire globe. If you have a specific location you’d like to include that isn’t already in the system you can add custom activities. On top of that there are must see lists for the most prominent tourist spots as well as links to guided tours.

Traveling to new vacation spots is a grand endeavor. Some like to book every minute of their time to see the superficial edifices left behind by people ages ago. (I hear there’s a tall skeletal structure somewhere south of the Seine…) Others like to soak in the ambiance, enraptured by the music of the streets and a language not their own. Whatever the case, Tripomatic is a fast, easy, and free way to plan one’s vacations and get ideas on places to visit when traveling.

Startup

CityPockets Eats DealBurner

We all know the business world can be cut throat. The old adage of business is business is best interpreted as a saying people will do whatever they can, whenever they can, so long as a reasonable stretch of the law will allow it. These sordid stories have a long history in towns such as New York and Chicago. Rumors of backroom deals abound behind the curtains of a company’s well manicured front. Certainly some of the most successful tech moguls are widely known for their ruthless tactics.

So when I hear about up and coming tech executives gaining recognition, leading their start-ups to profitability, and acquiring companies, I’m already a bit suspicious. I get visions of people blindfolded being interrogated for hours in a dark room. Threats are made to family members, secret messages are delivered by clandestine figures, and finally an agreement is reached. In a ceremony reserved for weddings, graduations, and such business dealings, everybody joins together in harmony to make the public announcement.

Today’s such announcement comes to us from CityPockets. They’re the global leader in second hand discount deals. If that doesn’t sound fishy I don’t know what does. They recently acquired DealBurner, a provider of a mobile, geo-relevant deals. The formal pronouncements hail it as a move to give CityPockets the largest inventory of daily deals past, present and instant. They all look so happy and contented as they make this announcement. The slightly forlorn look in DealBurner’s executives is hardly perceptible.

Perhaps a bit more explanation of what CityPockets does is in order. While they’re not hunting business acquisitions and breaking the spirits of aspiring entrepreneurs, they host your discount deals. In fact they have an entire marketplace of deals. These deals may come from Groupon,  LivingSocial, Tippr, BuyWithMe, and so on. You can seamlessly track them all from your CityPockets interface so you don’t ever lose track of them. The marketplace allows you to buy and sell deals from other users. So you can sell deals you aren’t going to use, or you can pick up after market deals from other individuals.

DealBurner on the other hand is strictly a mobile app. You log in with Foursquare or Facebook Places. Then you check in at whatever location or venue you’re at and it will send you local deals right then. They bring the instant to CityPockets’ existing offering. The synergies between these two companies are obvious, opening up a continuous and fuller flow of deals and discounts to all. This come to us at a steep cost to the DealBurner excs. We can only assume they’re spend the rest of their lives looking over their shoulders. After all, CityPockets is from New York.

DealBurner Home

Nobody wants to pay more than they have to. Daily deals, daily discounts and the like have opened up opportunities for consumers to get things at steeply reduced prices. They’re so valuable that they warrant a second hand market in CityPockets’ core offering. For those who have already left the house and would like to see if they can find something last minute, DealBurner is their best shot.

The business world has many dealings. From cement shoes to seductive sales people there are forces that drive business that we never see. While we can only surmise what may have led up to DealBurner turning over the keys to the growing powerhouse of CityPockets, what we can do is take advantage of these deals. Whether we’re at home or out and about, they’re always available. And we’ll let the modern day business pirates duke it out on their own.

DealBurner’s site is down! Looks like CityPockets really did eat them. Would have expected at least a redirect to CityPockets’ site, but alas, no dice. By all measures DealBurner was a smashing success and we expect CityPockets to continue to be.

Sponsored

Today’s Goal: Achieve Goals with a Little Help From Your Friends

Back in college, I was familiar with a regrettably-named band, the kind of name I can’t reprint in a family website such as Slapstart.  Nonetheless, they were a hoot.  And one of their signature songs was a very catchy number called “You Have Goals.”  Key lyric:

You want to go to school
You want a good job
You want to get married
You want to own a car

(Chorus):
You’re boring, you’re old, you have goals

As a 19-year old, I thought it was ridiculously funny.  What could be hipper than mocking suburban bourgeois culture?  But ahh, as I’ve aged, I realized the errors in my ways.  Goals are great.  They focus the mind and compel people to do extraordinary things.  And better yet, they needn’t be materialistic (but it’s ok if they are.)

Which is why I’m so fond of today’s feature, Today’s Goal.

Today's Goal Home

Today’s Goal is simple: post your goals online, and with a little help from your social network, accomplish them.  After all, as the site adroitly notes, it has been proven that publicly announcing your goal will double your chances of success in achieving that goal.  Let’s call it “positive peer pressure” (PPP.)

So, having re-embraced the idea of goals in my older years, I took the site for a spin.

On the upper left-hand corner of the home page, I clicked “Submit Goals.” The page asked me to enter a nickname, a goal category (eg. “Health,” “Kids,” “Love,” “Money”), a goal deadline, and the goal itself.

Being a strong proponent of the health benefits of Vitamin D, and having read just this morning that a lack of sunlight killed Mozart (true story!), my goal was simple: get 20 minutes of sun on September 10th.  And it’s worth noting that the deadline piece is subtle, but important.  As anyone who’s filed their taxes can attest, deadlines work.  (Or, as my old co-worker used to say, “Nothing like imminent death to focus the mind.)  This element of Today’s Goal – the deadline part, not the imminent death part – is something I’ll be coming back to.

I submitted my goal and was alerted that the goal must first receive moderator approval – in many cases, moderated by users themselves.  So if the goal gets two ‘Yes’ votes on the moderation page, it is automatically posted to the homepage.  If it receives three ‘No’ votes, it is deleted from the system although this very rarely happens.   (That said, it does occasionally happen, and as punishment, the offending goal-setter has to spend three weeks at “Mime Boot Camp.” Just kidding.)

It’s worth noting that goals set by full-fledged members do not require moderation.  Furthermore, members get a host of other benefits: profile pages, member messaging, a goal list, favorite goal tracking, and so much more. Membership, as they say, has its privileges.

Achieved Goal

Now if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll note that a common theme across these functionalities is the social element: no man is an island, and all the major components of Today’s Goal are predicated on user feedback, approval, and commentary.  It’s kind of like a mini-“Gilligan’s Island” where people support and encourage each other (until, of course, it inevitably dissolves into to a “Lord of the Flies”-hellscape once all the coconuts are eaten.)

Exhibit A of what I call “goal democratization” is the Top Goals page.  Here are the goals that fellow members approve of the most.  And I, as a new user, can like a goal or diss it.  The top goal at the time of writing – “the desire of a user to be the “best mother and girlfriend I can be” – has generated 51 Likes so far.  Number Two, “My goal is to be myself,” racked up 40 Likes.  Completed goals make it, as you’d suspect, to the Achieved Goals page.

Looking over some of the goals on the site – especially the two ones I mentioned above – I was pleased to see them align with my enlightened harangue earlier in this review.  You know, the part where I mentioned how goals should be far more than materialistic check-lists.  Being true to yourself, being a good person – these are things that are important – and the fact that the Today’s Goal community thinks so highly of them by voting them to the top of the list speaks well to their fantastic moral fiber.  An irrefutable sign of good parenting, across the board!

Ultimately, Today’s Goal works because it synthesizes two elements that more than anything else I can think of – besides the threat eternal damnation in a Western religion-sense – force people to actually do stuff:  one, (positive) peer pressure (PPP!) and two, a timeline for completion of said goal.  It’s simple, elegant, human psychology in action: we respond well to PPP because we want to do good by our friends and countrymen, and we only really act when the clock is ticking because we’ve been conditioned by the tyranny of the clock.  Of course, this latter piece may not be true in a quantum physics-y sense, but hey, it works.

If Today’s Goal was to let their server die and domain expire, then mission accomplished! Otherwise, we hope they learned a lot while building their site and continue on with future endeavors.

Startup

Moby: Mobile Personal Safety Device

Although stats are difficult to come by it’s suggested that 900 thousand people go missing in the United States each and every year. Although few of these fit the stranger in the night style abduction, roughly 30,000 are deemed involuntary. Conspiracy theorists are awash with explanations of the missing. These range from alien abduction, satanic ritual, and getting lost in the J aisle at Walmart. Although I’m not taking any chances in America’s superstores, the reality is every time you leave the house you never know what could happen.

We live in a day and age where technology can track our every movement. Right now those same people leery of alien abductions can rest assured that the large corporations and governments they fear know exactly where they are. The way they do so is with their cell phone. Although to some this is cause for great concern, to others it’s a helpful means to track those that have gone missing. Law enforcement agencies have set up the processes to utilize these networks to aide their investigations. But what about the rest of us? As it turns out you can, in the same way you can do anything else with your phone. You download an app. Such an app is provided for free, by Moby. It’s the latest offering from Contigo, a nine year leader in GPS and location based services.

Moby Location Tracking App

Moby, found at MyMoby.com, is a private location sharing service for you and those you care about. With it you can set up alerts, check ins, and location tracking with a trusted network of friends and family. All these give people the ability to set up a security safety net when they’re out and about.

The alerts feature allows you to immediately send notification to your established network of contacts in order to inform them that you’re in need of help. With one click it sends your location by email and text message so they can respond. The check in tool is for situations where you know in advance you’re going into a questionable situation. It could be a real estate agent meeting a client for the first time or when you’re working alone late at night. The check ins will be sent at the scheduled time, at which point users can confirm they’re OK. If they don’t respond then their contacts will be alerted along with their location.

The tracking tool gives you the ability to share your ongoing location with selected contacts. Let’s say you’re going out on the town on Friday and don’t know exactly where you’ll end up. To be safe you can share your updated location with those you trust. That way if they see you jumping on a plane to Vegas they can call you and make sure you’re with the right people. Or if they see you heading to an exes house they can begin their intervention routine. Safety concerns come in many different shapes and sizes.

The basic offering is free and allows you to set up your safety network among friends and family. For those who would like an extra level of security they can sign up for Moby’s 24×7 security monitoring system. This notifies their trained response team if an alert is sent or check in is missed. They’ll also track your location live during an emergency.

Personal safety is always a concern. Although you can’t always worry about it you can take measure to protect yourself. Moby is a free and easy way for people to utilize their phone and network of friend to ensure people are looking out for them if something unexpected happens. With it friends, families, and professionals can ensure they’ve taken the necessary precautions no matter what circumstance they may find themselves in.

Moby took a turn for the worse. They declined to continue offering their family locating service. Perhaps the broken families of western culture weren’t actually interested in where their family members happened to be. Area safety enthusiast Lloyd Hillsburg was quoted as saying, “When I was young none of us had personal safety devices when we rounded up them head of cattle.” “Think they’ll be fine without them now” he continued.