Mashable OP-ED: This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of Mashable as a publication.

There’s one thing you should know before we open up this can of worms: I have 795 pins on Pinterest. Probably by the end of writing this article, I’ll have 895. As you can see, my wish list of Pinterest features hasn’t caused me to slam down my laptop screen in disgust.

That being said, I would change a few things. And based on Pinterest’s new profile, the company already has.

Most of these 10 suggestions have to do with’s design and the social network’s user experience. For instance, I’d love to be able to move pins between boards with the greatest of ease. I’d also like to create a private board or two — not because I want to build a digital shrine to Ryan Reynolds, but because I’d like to plan a future wedding without my boyfriend having a commitment freak-out.

Here are 10 features I’d like to see on Pinterest in the future. I’m sure all you pinners have even more dreams for Pinterest, so sound off in the comments below.

1. View the Individual Boards I Follow

At this point, you can only view users you follow, not the individual boards you follow. I’d like to be able to know both.

For instance, I’ll browse a user’s page to determine whether I want to follow that person. However, many times, I have no interest in particular boards, and therefore, don’t “follow all” boards.

But there’s no way to go back and determine just which individual boards I’ve followed in the past. What if I want to view them for future inspiration?

Click here to view this gallery.

More About: design, Opinion, pinterest, predictions, Social Media, user experience

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Mashable OP-ED: This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of Mashable as a publication.

Jon Barocas is the founder and CEO of bieMEDIA, a Denver-based online marketing and media solutions company that specializes in video content production and distribution, mobile visual search, technology platforms, SEO, VSEO and more.

Like most technology fans, I am always ready and willing to try any technology that promises to simplify my life. QR codes seemed to present an accessible and uniform way for people with smart devices to interact with advertising, marketing and media. Those little squares of code seemed to open a world of opportunity and potential. But after using them for a length of time, I shifted my perspective.

My initial honeymoon with QR codes was very short-lived. The initial rush that I had received from trying to frame the code on my device had lost its luster. I started to view QR codes as a barrier to additional information. And in many instances, the rewards (whatever I received as a result of scanning the code) did not measure up to the effort of the transaction itself.

Consider a recent study by comScore, which states that only 14 million American mobile device users have have interacted with a QR code. In essence, less than 5% of the American public has scanned a QR code. So where’s the disconnect?

Inadequate technology, lack of education and a perceived dearth of value from QR codes are just three of the reasons mobile barcodes are not clicking with Americans. But it goes deeper than that.

Humans are visual animals. We have visceral reactions to images that a QR code can never evoke; what we see is directly linked to our moods, our purchasing habits and our behaviors. It makes sense, then, that a more visual alternative to QR codes would not only be preferable to consumers, but would most likely stimulate more positive responses to their presence.

The QR Alternative

Enter mobile visual search (MVS). With MVS, you simply point at a product or logo and shoot a picture with your smartphone’s built-in camera. Within seconds, the MVS application will provide product or company information, or even the option to make a purchase right then and there on your mobile device.

MVS is a far more compelling and interactive tool to enable mobile marketing and commerce. In today’s increasingly mobile world, instant gratification is the norm, and taking the extra step of finding a QR code scanner on your mobile device no longer makes sense. With MVS, you are interacting with images that are familiar and desirable, not a square of code that elicits no reaction.

The opportunities are boundless with MVS. Unlike two-dimensional barcodes and QR codes, MVS will have wrap-around and three-dimensional recognition capabilities. Even traditional advertising will be revitalized with MVS. For example, picture an interactive print campaign that incorporates MVS as part of a competition or game. Marketers can offer instant gratification in the form of videos, mobile links, coupons or discounts as incentive for taking the best pictures of a particular product or logo.

The world has already started to migrate to MVS. For example, companies in Argentina and South Korea currently allow commuters waiting for subways or buses to view images of groceries or office supplies. Embedded within these images are recognitions triggers: Smartphone users place and pay for an order to be delivered or picked up within minutes. 

Also, MVS can cash in on word-of-mouth marketing. Marketers will seamlessly link their campaigns to social networks so consumers can share photos and rewards, such as vouchers, coupons or music downloads, with their friends and followers.

QR Code Security Risks

In addition to being a more versatile medium, mobile visual search is also more secure than QR code technology. Cybercriminals are able to cloak smartphone QR code attacks due to the nature of the technology — QR codes’ entire purpose is to store data within the code. There is no way to know where that code is going to take you: a legitimate website, infected site, malicious app or a phishing site. MVS’s encryption modality will eliminate the opportunity for malicious code to download to your smartphone.

Recently, there have been documented cases of QR code misuse and abuse around the globe. For instance, infected QR codes can download an app that embeds a hidden SMS texting charge in your monthly cellphone bill. QR codes can also be used to gain full access to a smartphone — Internet access, camera, GPS, read/write local storage and contact data. All of the data from a smartphone can be downloaded and stolen, putting the user at risk for identity theft — without the user noticing.

Mobile visual search is a safer and more secure technology that can provide more information and content than a QR code, without as many security risks. By focusing on real-world objects and images rather than code, MVS lessens the risk of a virus or Trojan attack.

Safety, security and versatility — there are many reasons that MVS will supplant QR codes. However, there is one important, largely overlooked reason to favor MVS over QR codes: For the first time, we will be able connect with our actual surroundings in a truly interactive way. We will be able to provide a virtual marketplace that is familiar and accessible. Humanizing this interaction and making it more visual are the foundations of MVS’s imminent success.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, youngvet

More About: contributor, design, features, mobile apps, Opinion, QR Codes, security, trending

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Mashable OP-ED: This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of Mashable as a publication.

Apple and Google may look similar on the surface, but the companies couldn’t be any more different. That much has become clear to me after reading both the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson and Steven Levy’s In the Plex.

Google and Apple are technology behemoths that bucked the system, created game-changing products and are worth more than $550 billion collectively. Both companies have successful mobile phone divisions and web browsers, and both companies have a common enemy in Microsoft.

The two companies are built on completely different foundations, though. Sergey Brin and Larry Page firmly believe in the power of data and numbers, and that reliance on the metrics is the cornerstone of every major decision the company makes. “Information was the great leveler at Google,” Levy says in his book.

Steve Jobs, on the other hand, believed in the power of design and often threw out the data. “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups,” he famously said in a 1998 BusinessWeek interview. “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

There is no starker contrast of the ying-yang battle of data vs. design. It’s that conflicting yet complementary relationship that sparked one of the industry’s closest friendships and, more recently, one of technology’s fiercest rivalries.

Google: Data Is King

For some reason, I decided to read both Steve Jobs and In the Plex at the same time (the former via Kindle, the latter via audiobook). It was a surreal experience, but it made it clear to me that Google and Apple are polar opposites.

Let’s start with Google. If you need proof that data is king at Google, look no further than In the Plex. The word “data” appears in Levy’s book approximately 319 times. “Design,” on the other hand, appears fewer than 60 times.

The emphasis on design comes directly from the founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Here’s how Levy describes them in the beginning of the book:

“[Page and Brin] felt most comfortable in the meritocracy of academia, where brains trumped everything else. Both had an innate understanding of how the ultraconnected world that they enjoyed as computer science students was about to spread throughout society. Both shared a core belief in the primacy of data.”

The result is a company with a deliberately collegiate atmosphere, a strong meritocracy where engineers are king, and most of all a “deep respect for data.” Google is famous for making the tiniest changes to pixel locations based on the data it accrues through its tests. Google will always choose a spartan webpage that converts over a beautiful page that doesn’t have the data to back it up.

“It looks like a human was involved in choosing what went where,” Marissa Mayer once told an upset team of designers about a product design she rejected. “It looks too editorialized. Google products are machine-driven. They’re created by machines. And that is what makes us powerful. That’s what makes our products great.”

Apple: Design Is in Its DNA

Apple, on the other hand, falls on the opposite end of the spectrum. The word “design” and its variations appears in the Steve Jobs biography 432 times. The word “data” appears just 26 times in the book.

“I love it when you can bring really great design and simple capability to something that doesn’t cost much,” Jobs once told Isaacson. “It was the original vision for Apple. That’s what we tried to do with the first Mac. That’s what we did with the iPod.”

That emphasis on design derives from Jobs’s childhood experiences. Early in his life, his father taught him that it was important to craft the back of fences and cabinets properly, even though nobody would see them. Later in life, Jobs traveled through Asia and connected with the simplicity of Zen Buddhism.

Those lessons and experiences became part of his quest for perfection, a philosophy that is now essential to every product Apple ships.


Google has placed its faith in data, while Apple worships the power of design. This dichotomy made the two companies complementary. Apple would ship the phones and computers, while Google would provide Maps, Search, YouTube, and other web tools that made the devices more useful. But when Google decided to release its own mobile OS, their friendship quickly turned into a rivalry. And with Google poised to acquire a hardware company, that rivalry will only get stronger.

What can we learn from the battle between data and design? What can we learn from the relationship between Google and Apple?

Clearly no one school of thought is right: Apple and Google are both wildly successful and profitable companies that changed the world. Building a successful company (or living a happy life, for that matter) is not about embracing someone else’s philosophy, but staying true to your own beliefs about the world and learning from the mistakes you make along the way.

Second, design-focused companies tackle different types of problems than data-focused ones. A design-focused company like Apple (or Flipboard) will focus on creating revolutionary, never-before-seen products, because data isn’t great at predicting market revolutions. Data-focused companies like Google, however, have a better chance at revolutionizing existing markets because their products are simply better and more efficient. The search engine existed before Google, but the company used data to make the most effective one in the world. Apple, on the other hand, is credited with launching multiple revolutions, starting with personal computing.

Finally, while data and design are often opposing forces, they need each other as well. Jobs may have focused on design, but he didn’t ignore the data. When he saw the dropped call data from AT&T at the beginning of “Antennagate,” he rushed back from Hawaii to deal with it. The data provided the context on which he could design a response. Great design, even revolutionary ones, is built on solid data.

The Social Analyst is a column by Mashable Editor-at-Large Ben Parr, where he digs into social media trends and how they are affecting companies in the space.

Steve Jobs/Android image courtesy of Flickr, Jesus Belzunce

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Mashable OP-ED: This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of Mashable as a publication.

I arrived at Apple’s headquarters a little before 9 a.m. after a beautiful drive down the 280 from San Francisco on a sunny July day. This wasn’t any ordinary trip to One Infinite Loop. Steve Jobs was on stage, but he wasn’t going to announce any products.

Just two days earlier, Apple hastily called for a press conference to address the growing rumors and complaints surrounding the company’s newest product, the iPhone 4. It was a terrible couple of weeks for Apple. You may remember it better as Antennagate.

As I listened to Jobs speak about the antenna issues of other smartphones during his press conference at Apple Town Hall, it was clear he was far from nervous, panicked or upset. Rather he was poignant, focused and even humorous as he took question after question from the press.

He took the whole controversy in stride. He even opened the press conference with the hilarious iPhone antenna song. In the end, Antennagate proved to be just a bump in the road; the iPhone 4 became the world’s best-selling smartphone.

What I remember the most from that press conference was something he said. I think it exemplified everything that made Steve Jobs who he is:

“We care about every user, and we’re not going to stop until every one of them is happy.”

The Many Faces of Steve Jobs

I have had the honor, on several occasions, to see Jobs captivate an audience with his showmanship and his passion for the products he was showing off to the world.

I’ve also had the chance to chat with many people who have seen him work his magic in person. In some cases, Jobs ripped them apart for not reaching his incredibly high standards. But every single person I’ve talked to has been impressed by his ability to see the future in his mind and launch innovations that would bring the world closer to it.

Steve Jobs was many things: an innovator of ideas, an inventor of products, an entrepreneur who knew how to build a multi-billion dollar business, and a rare individual with the capability to see the future.

SEE ALSO: Memories of Steve Jobs: Interviews & Inspiration

Did you know that Steve Jobs has 317 patents to his name? His name appears on the patent for the first iPod design. His name is on the patents of various laptop designs. He even holds 13 different patents for the unique packaging of iPhones and iPods.

What made him excel in all of these areas wasn’t his genius or some magical formula. There were plenty of times he missed the mark.

What made him successful, and made up for any qualities he lacked, was that he kept trying. “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance,” Jobs once said in an interview in 1995.

It’s that rare combination of passion and skill that changed the world and made Jobs a legend. It’s that rare combination that helped him change the world by making our lives easier and connecting us in ways we never knew was possible.

Here’s to Steve Jobs, the world-changer.

The Social Analyst is a column by Mashable Editor-at-Large Ben Parr, where he digs into social media trends and how they are affecting companies in the space.

More Coverage of Steve Jobs’s Death

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This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of Mashable as a publication.

Steve Bratt is the CEO of the World Wide Web Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web. The mission of the organization is to empower people through transformative programs that leverage the web as a medium for positive change.

In his inaugural speech, President Barack Obama pledged support for open government initiatives, including the creation of websites that provide access to valuable but not sensitive government data. This initiative promoted transparency, accountability, collaboration and citizen participation by putting government data online. was launched in May 2009 as a result, and this incredible site provides nearly 300,000 data sets and almost 1,000 applications developed by government and private enterprise. Government has embraced the web as a platform to provide data to the public and to other entities inside and outside the government sector. Open Government Data (OGD), or government data that can be accessed online and used by others, is a pioneer idea that empowers people and enhances government accountability.

We recently learned that and similar websites will receive significantly decreased funding from the U.S. government. Without continued financial support, some government websites will go dark. That’s unfortunate, considering the two years of work spent to create and launch them. The latest offering from the House Appropriations Committee included only $8 million for the Office of Management and Budget’s open government program, which funds the development and maintenance of sites such as This offering is significantly less than the requested $35 million.

If we fail to fund open government projects, not only does the United States lose, but so does the rest of the world, which looks to the United States and United Kingdom as the leaders in modern government transparency initiatives. To date, we have witnessed an impressive adoption of open government initiatives globally. Some 15 nations plan to model their open government platforms using as an example.

Recently, OGD feasibility assessments conducted by my organization in Chile and Ghana have revealed the need and desire to establish open government initiatives in those countries. Improving government transparency and accountability in these markets enhances public confidence in systems of government and attracts foreign investment in local businesses. In addition, innovative commercial opportunities are made possible based on the availability typically-hidden government data. And for all who are interested in cost-effective governance (who isn’t?), OGD initiatives have produced savings on U.S. government expenditures. According to U.S. Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, the IT dashboard provides an estimated $3 billion in savings per year to the American taxpayer. Such projects also help government agencies identify water quality changes, bad roads and areas with high crime rates.

Let’s not lose the significant benefit of open government data work after so much effort, time and money has gone into building these resources that are already proving to more than pay for themselves. I urge you to contact your local representatives, and ask them to fully fund U.S. open government initiatives or sign the Sunlight Foundation’s “Save the Data” petition that is urging congressional representatives protect funding for open government projects.

Interested in more Dev resources? Check out Mashable Explore, a new way to discover information on your favorite Mashable topics.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, DHuss

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Details are leaking out ahead of the launch of The New York Times‘s content paywall, which is expected to go live sometime next month.

Those who read only a few articles on per month (about 85% of The New York Times‘s current online readership) will be mainly unaffected by the changes, as the Times plans to allow visitors to continue to read an as-yet unannounced number of articles free each month. In addition, those who come across a article through a Google search can view the first page, even if they’ve exceeded their monthly allotment.

Heavier readers, however, will need to chose between three different subscription options to continue getting their daily dose of The New York Times online, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal:

  1. A website-only subscription for unlimited access to the site (more than $20/month).
  2. A digital package that includes access to both the site and the Times‘s iPad app (more than $10/month).
  3. A print subscription that bundles free web access with a print subscription ($11.70+/month).

These prices are by no means final, the WSJ‘s source insists. Bloomberg reported last week that website access alone would cost closer to $20 per month.

An extra $10 per month for access to The New York Times‘s iPad app seems suspiciously pricey to us. Perhaps the “digital package” will include full access via Kindle (currently $20 per month) and smartphone apps as well, or, as Felix Salmon suggests, the Times might be “doing everything it can to drive its iPad-owning readers away from the app and towards the built-in browser.”

After all, if Apple decides to insist on a 30% share of iPad subscription fees, encouraging users to read the web version on their iPads might be a sound idea.

It’s a tough proposition: potentially lucrative revenue from in-app advertising, minus app development costs and Apple’s cut, versus complete control of subscriber data and revenue via a simple, easy-to-update, mobile web version compatible across multiple tablet devices.

An extra $10 per month for iPad access may just be the magic formula then — and if few enough subscribers sign on, may be enough cause to stop the Times from sinking further resources into an iPad-specific offering.

More About: ipad app, media, new york times

The Social Analyst is a column by Mashable Co-Editor Ben Parr, where he digs into social media trends and how they are affecting companies in the space.

By almost all standards, Google is in great shape. It had a fantastic fourth quarter, increasing revenue by 26% from Q4 2009. It is the undisputed leader in search, YouTube is on fire and Android is giving Apple a run for its money.

Under the surface though, things aren’t all sunshine and roses. Google Buzz and Google Wave were failures. At the same time, Facebook has emerged as a legitimate threat to Google and has been stealing Google’s best talent. It’s gotten so bad that Google gave everybody a 10% raise in a desperate bid to retain talent.

Perhaps that’s why Larry Page is replacing Eric Schmidt as CEO. There was nobody accountable at the top, and now Google risks losing big ground to Facebook and Apple. This is Larry Page’s company now.

Thanks to Schmidt, Google is efficient, but it has also lost its ability to come up with a clear vision and execute upon it. What it needs now is a visionary leader to take Google to new heights, much like Apple’s Steve Jobs and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg have done with their companies.

Google needs its own Steve Jobs, and it had better hope Larry Page is that man. Here’s why:

Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer and Steve Jobs

The graph below depicts the history of Microsoft’s stock price, starting from its 1986 IPO to today. In its entire history, the company has only had two CEOs: Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. I’ve placed a line on the January 2000 mark to reflect when Bill Gates handed the reigns over to Steve Ballmer.

As you can see, Microsoft’s growth has stagnated since Ballmer has taken the helm. Gates, the visionary, was able to turn his company into a powerhouse by taking risks and creating groundbreaking products. Ballmer is an effective manager, but he is not a visionary.

Let’s be fair, though: when Ballmer took over, Microsoft was in the midst of a brutal antitrust investigation and the dot-com bubble. Plus, Gates was still at the company as the chief software architect and the keeper of the “technology vision” of the company. Still, he wasn’t calling the shots; Ballmer was.

Perhaps this is the more telling chart, though:

This is a graph depicting the changes in Microsoft and Apple’s market capitalizations over the last decade. In Q1 2001, Apple was worth a mere $7.64 billion, 1/38th the size of Microsoft’s massive $291.74 billion market cap.

As of this Friday, Apple is worth $300.92 billion. Microsoft, on the other hand, has dropped all the way down to $239.73 billion in market cap. The change in fortunes is absolutely astonishing.

When You Need a Visionary CEO

While there are thousands of factors that contributed to the decline of Microsoft and the rise of Apple, nobody can discount the impact their CEOs have had in the last decade.

Why was Steve Jobs declared “CEO of the Decade” by Fortune Magazine? It’s because he triumphantly returned to the company he founded, gave it a clear vision, and transformed Apple into one of the world’s most successful companies.

You don’t have to look far for visionary CEOs who’ve had a monstrous impact on their companies, either. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Oracle’s Larry Eliason, and Groupon’s Andrew Mason are just a few examples.

And it’s not just recently that visionary leaders that have changed the fates of their companies, either: Ford Motor Company’s Henry Ford, Standard Oil’s John Rockefeller and General Electric’s Thomas Edison redefined business, technology and industry in ways few others have.

It’s true that many companies don’t need visionary leaders. Sometimes a visionary isn’t an effective manager at a time when a company needs to focus on efficiency and not new products. However, visionaries are the best choice to take the helm when a company is first starting out, when it is out to redefine an industry or when it is stagnating or in decline.

Zuckerberg turned a young company into a $50 billion empire in less than a decade. Steve Jobs steered a company on the brink of bankruptcy to new heights. Henry Ford single-handedly created the modern automotive industry.

Is Larry Page the Visionary CEO Google Needs?

Now what about Google? Here’s what I said late last year when I declared Google Buzz tech’s biggest flop of 2010:

“With Google’s biggest attempt at social now a mere afterthought, nothing stands in Facebook’s way. The social network will eventually surpass its Silicon Valley rival both in terms of net worth and dominance of the web. Google will become the next Microsoft, profitable but unable to grow, and Facebook will become the next Google whose influence will be felt for years to come.”

Now, more than ever in its history, does Google need a visionary leader in the mold of Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. Eric Schmidt, while one of the best CEOs and managers of all time, isn’t a visionary. The vision has always been with the founders, especially with Larry Page, its President of Products and soon-to-be CEO.

Earlier this week, I answered a question on Quora on the potential impact of Google’s leadership shake-up. Here’s what I said:

“Larry Page is the visionary of the three. He’s been President of Product because he’s usually the one who comes up with the visionary product ideas and has ta plan to turn that idea into reality.

It was never quite clear who was in charge before, but now nobody can dispute that the buck stops with Larry Page. While he won’t be CEO officially until April (blame paperwork/bylaws/transition time/new nameplates), Page is already, in a sense, acting CEO.

How does this affect product development? It’s going to accelerate, based on Larry’s vision and Sergey’s hands-on approach. Sergey’s going to push more new projects off the ground while Larry is going to help define the overarching goals and strategies, while getting the right people in place.”

Google needs a clearer vision from the top. If it can’t find a way to limit the influence of Facebook soon, it will become the next Microsoft (or, even worse, the next Yahoo). It has an advantage most companies in its position don’t have, though: It still has its founders.

For Google’s sake, let’s hope Larry Page is the visionary CEO that the company so desperately needs.

More About: apple, Column, eric schmidt, Google, larry page, Opinion, Sergey Brin, steve jobs, The Social Analyst, tim cook

The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark. If you would like to have your startup considered for inclusion, please see the details here.

Name: Pose

Quick Pitch: Pose is an iPhone app that allows users to share photos while they shop.

Genius Idea: If the recent surge of photo-sharing and object-tagging applications, such as Instagram, picplz and Foodspotting, are anything to go by, iPhone owners love to take photos with their phones, and they love sharing them with friends and strangers alike.

Enter Pose, a Santa Monica-based startup that’s attempting to cut out a niche in the photo-sharing crowd with an iPhone app [iTunes link] (coming soon to Android) targeted directly at fashion and shopping enthusiasts. Pose launched in beta last week, having just raised $1.6 million from True Ventures, GRP Partners and Founder Collective, with participation from angel investors (and Path founders) Dave Morin and Shawn Fanning.

Currently, the features are very limited: Users can snap photos of apparel and accessories while they shop, tag them with their prices and the location of the store in which they were found, and then share them with other Pose users, as well as their personal Facebook and Twitter networks. Users can also explore and bookmark the most recent and most popular finds of other users, and peruse those of Pose’s roster of curators, a.k.a “posers” (including, notably, designer Norma Kamali). And that’s about it.

What it’s missing, primarily, is all of the features that make other truly social apps addictive: mainly, the ability to follow others and be followed, to view the activity of one’s personal network in a newsfeed and to add comments in-line. Following would appeal to both tastemakers and the countless number of Internet users who already follow style blogs, whilst commenting would allow users to solicit feedback on their finds from both their personal networks and the Pose community, thus rendering apps like Fashism and Go Try It On obsolete.

Pose could also use a few bonus features to persuade consumers to use it over other photo-sharing apps when shopping, such as photo filters that reflect current trends in fashion photography, or, say, the ability to purchase and/or put on hold items found within the app, a la Lucky at Your Service.

Although it has a long way to go, Pose has an inviting, user-friendly (and thus promising) interface and set of advisors, including Jon Callaghan of True Ventures and Mark Suster of GRP, which is why it’s on our to-watch list.

What do you think of the app? What other features could be added to to make the app more compelling?

Series Supported by Microsoft BizSpark

Microsoft BizSpark

The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark, a startup program that gives you three-year access to the latest Microsoft development tools, as well as connecting you to a nationwide network of investors and incubators. There are no upfront costs, so if your business is privately owned, less than three years old, and generates less than U.S.$1 million in annual revenue, you can sign up today.

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This week, I had a chance to review the Nomad Brush, a beautiful, handcrafted stylus designed for painting and sketching on the iPad.

The stylus feels and looks like an actual paintbrush, complete with a 5.5-inch wooden handle and a mix of natural and synthetic fibers selected for their conductive properties. When I first came across this demo video of the stylus last week, I was skeptical that the iPad‘s touchscreen surface would be able to pick up the stylus’s soft bristles, but I’m happy to report that the iPad easily responds to the touch. It allows for free-flowing brush strokes much like a real paintbrush, and an elegance of line I was previously unable to achieve using my fingers or a regular stylus.

Since we’ve only used the brush for a day, we can neither guarantee that it will work a year or even a month from now with heavy use, nor whether the bristles will hold their shape. (As a side note, we’re still looking for a way to keep those bristles intact while traveling; I plan to use my standard canvas brush holder in the meantime.) Given how much we plan to use the thing, we should have a pretty good idea of how it holds up by the time the brush goes on sale in early February.

The Nomad Brush was conceived by Don Lee, a 39-year-old architect based in New York. After 14 years as an architect, Lee decided to take a year-long break from his profession “to rejuvenate [his] creative side,” he explains.

As part of the rejuvenation process, Lee took up sketching on the iPad. “The finger is by far the most efficient way to navigate the iPad, but when it came to sketching, I just couldn’t get used to it,” Lee says. “As a problem solver by nature, I started to tinker and found a solution, and that’s how the Nomad Brush came about.”

At launch, only a black version with a 5.5-inch handle will be available for purchase, followed by a version with a white handle. In the future, Lee plans to create additional versions with varying brush head sizes and handle lengths. Pricing has not yet been disclosed, though given that each stylus is hand made, we expect it will be a bit pricier than the typical stylus.

In the meantime, check out our hands-on video below.


More Gadget Demos from Mashable:

HANDS ON: 10 New Tablets Ready to Challenge the iPad [VIDEOS]
Hands On With Vizio’s Android-Powered Devices [VIDEO]
DEMO: BlackBerry Playbook Tablet [VIDEO]
Hands On With Vizio’s Android-Powered Devices [VIDEO]
Nintendo 3DS: Hands-On and First Impressions [PICS]

More About: apple, demo, Gadget, hands-on, ipad, ipad stylus, nomad brush

Wikipedia is just the latest in a long line of encyclopedias. In fact, encyclopedias have been around in some form or another for 2,000 years. The oldest, Naturalis Historia, written by Pliny the Elder, is still in existence.

How do I know this? I looked it up on Wikipedia, of course. Is it true? Possibly.

Ten years after its founding, it’s hard to imagine what life was like before Wikipedia. When I was growing up, our family had a dusty set of encyclopedias that were at least 10 years old, which is fine if you’re looking up dinosaurs, but not so good if you want to know, for instance, who the current president of the Congo is. But though the limitations of the old encyclopedias were obvious, they were authoritative in ways that Wikipedia is not.

Like most people, I’ll take the tradeoff. I have no desire to go back to the days of printed Funk & Wagnalls. If someone would have told me back in 2001 that, within a few years, there would be a comprehensive, free online encyclopedia, I wouldn’t have believed them. Why would someone do that? How?


By now, we all know the story: Two Ayn Rand devotees, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, created Wikipedia in January 2001. The founding can be traced to a post by Sanger entitled “Let’s Make a Wiki” that was intended as a feature to Sanger and Wales’s other project, Nupedia. Wiki, Sanger explained in the post, was derived from “wikiwiki,” a Polynesian word for “quick.” “What it means is a VERY open, VERY publicly editable series of web pages,” Sanger wrote in the post.

As often happens, the feature grew out of proportion with its original intent. Wales, who was originally against the idea of a Wiki, became a strong proponent of it, while Sanger, who became estranged from the project in 2002, now charges that Wales hogged the credit for the venture. (Wales could not be reached for comment. To his credit, Sanger is mentioned as a co-founder on Wikipedia’s entry about its founding.)

Rooted in open source thinking, Wikipedia contributors began penning a voluminous number of entries (the site claims there are now 17 million such articles), which began showing up in Google searches, furthering the site’s growth and notoriety. Meanwhile, a subculture developed around Wikipedia, with self-appointed guardians doing their best to make sure entries were accurate and free of vandalism. As an authoritative 2006 Atlantic article on Wikipedia noted, “A study by IBM suggests that although vandalism does occur (particularly on high-profile entries like ‘George W. Bush’), watchful members of the huge Wikipedia community usually swoop down to stop the malfeasance shortly after it begins.”

“Truth” on the Internet

All of this made Wikipedia a pretty good reference, but one that you’d be wise not to take completely at face value. Wikipedia works best as an introduction to a subject. Since the articles usually cite references, readers can investigate further whether the claims are actually true. Despite this, Wikipedia soon earned a reputation for loopy reportage, an aspect best expressed in The Onion headline “Wikipedia Celebrates 750 Years of American Independence.”

Such criticism, though, has it backwards. Wikipedia is, in the best-case scenario, an antidote for the echo chamber of the web. After all, good luck finding “truth” on the Internet. Facts may be facts, but they’re subject to so much spin that it can be hard to get a handle on what’s objectively real.

All the more reason why the idea of Wikipedia is laudable, albeit a bit impractical. Though Jimmy Wales could have made a fortune selling ads on the site, he decided to make the Wikimedia Foundation a non-profit charitable organization. But someone has to keep all those servers running and pay those 50 full-time staffers, which is why Wales appeared in a ubiquitous banner ad on Wikipedia asking for donations. The site eventually collected $16 million.

The Future

Can Wikipedia sustain itself for another 10 years? As The Economist recently pointed out, the number of Wikipedia’s English language contributors fell from 54,000 in March 2007 to 35,000 in September 2010, but here Wikipedia may be the victim of its own success. As the site gets more comprehensive, there are fewer entries that need to be written. One thing’s for sure — if Wikipedia ever does go away, it will be hard to believe it. After all, where will we go to confirm such a thing?

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Image courtesy of Flickr, quartermane.

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