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.

QuipolName: Quipol

Quick Pitch: Quipol is a web application that makes creating and embedding polls on blogs easy.

Genius Idea: Quipol allows bloggers to get feedback from their audiences with a super simple and customizable polling template.


If Quipol were an ice cream flavor, it would be vanilla. It’s delicious by itself, but meant to be individualized by each person. Instead of sprinkles, nuts and hot fudge, however, Quipol customization allows for video, pictures and comments.

Think of Quipols as quick polls — extremely pared down versions of online polls (see right). Each poll displays one question with thumbs-up and thumbs-down options. A comments section encourages chatter.

The idea behind Quipol is to make customizable polls as simple and elegant as possible, Max Yoder, the 23-year-old entrepreneur behind the new web application, tells Mashable.

“I think of traditional polls as a hunched-over half ape,” Yoder said.

Yoder believes Quipol’s two answer options aren’t as limiting as you would think because they encourage bloggers to be creative with their question wording. Plus, they force readers to go with their gut and not be wishy-washy with their answers.

Yoder started developing the poll application eight months ago and tested the prototype with the groups that Quipol was meant for — fashion bloggers, avid Tumblr users, political bloggers, entertainment bloggers and tech bloggers. Forbes Magazine was one of the biggest early adopters. But Quipol was made for anyone to use — the average blogger who wants to get feedback about issues they care about.

Looking ahead, the goal for Quipol as a company is to keep the partnerships coming. Quipol is viewed by many as a company that does one thing very well, and big companies and small businesses use its product so they don’t have to write out and upkeep a polling dock.

“Building kind of a pared down poll will guide the ship,” Yoder said. “We will be here for you for all development, resources and upkeep.”

SEE ALSO: HOW TO: Poll Consumers on Facebook

There are many polling software products for online audiences. Toluna also lets users add videos and pictures to polls; Micropoll doesn’t require registration to create polls and PollDaddy gives users access to surveys, polls and quizzes on various platforms including e-mail and Twitter.

Yoder’s goal for the end of the year is to gain 25,000 users and really improve the product based on continued user feedback. People can already sign in for free with their Facebook or Twitter to embed their own polls. There is also a new video element where they can add a YouTube video directly into a poll (see video below). They can be as creative with the pared-down poll as they want.


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.

More About: bizspark, blogging, Business, Marketing, Media, social networking, startup, Tech, web applications

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What’s more manly than a mustache?

Not much, if you ask co-founders Glen Stansberry and Brian McKinney, co-founders of the recently launched Gentlemint.com — a Pinterest-inspired site for “manly men.”

“We wanted to add an old-school, ‘gentlemanly’ feel,” Stansberry says of the ‘stache logo. “Kind of like a Teddy Roosevelt persona….Pre-hipster.”

A monocled man with a ‘stache serves as the logo for the site, which went public this week and is currently “invite-only.” But it’s easy to get access to the site — just click on “request an invite” to get an invitation sent to your email and then you’re in.

Gentlemint’s love of mustaches — plus users’ evident enthusiasm for lip hair (the picture above is a mustache tie-clip someone posted) — adds a bit of kookiness to the site. A rave review from the American Mustache Institute (yes, that’s a real thing) displayed at the top of the site proclaims that Gentlemint is, “…one of the more manly websites on the planet.”

“When we were designing the site we just kept having fun with the idea of the manly mustache and elements like that, so we went with it,” Stansberry says. “It’s supposed to be fun, silly, useful and entertaining — something that appeals to everyone.”

If you’re the type to post cute kitten videos, take note: Gentlemint is having none of that girlishness.

The manly site is similar to Pinterest but without the pictures of high heels, glittery manicures and wedding dresses.

Users post content, such as photos with a short blurb, and other users can comment and click on the moustache logo that also serves as a “like” button. Gentlemint connects to Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. Sift through pages of entertaining pictures and articles to vote on your favorites. Posts with more support get pushed toward the sites’s first page.

The two co-founders currently work day jobs together at a web software company in Kansas. Initially, they wanted to challenge themselves to build a website in one day. They worked for 12 hours and — boom! — Gentlemint was created. Since then, they’ve fine tuned and added more features. Stansberry says they hope to eventually have an app for iOS and Android devices.

The site is a veritable playground for men. Posts include instructions on the proper way to kick-in a door (don’t jump), rundowns on unique products including rum soap and a meat-mallet four-finger ring, and a discussion of “interesting Big Lebowski art.”

Don’t worry, though — while Gentlemint is a definite boys’ club, it does play nice with girls.

There’s no gender-check when you join to the site. Women can sign-up but if you post, say, a picture of a wedding ring, it might not make it to the first page or be on the site for long.

“We really want to focus Gentlemint on the type of content that is interesting to us,” Stansberry says. “Anyone can pretty much post anything they want, but we want the focus of the site to be the type of content we built Gentlemint for.”

Studies have shown that women are more active social media consumers than men, except on Google +. But some publications are hoping to tap-into the male readership market. Cosmopolitan magazine launched a men-only version for iPads in August 2011. Although Gentlemint doesn’t yet appear to be the type of site where men can read about manscaping and hot bedroom moves, their content is eclectic and entertaining.

“It really has less to do with being a male or female, or kittens or bacon, and more to do with encouraging users to add stuff around that theme,” Stansberry says.

What do you think about Gentlemint? Sound off in the comments.

Photo courtesy of Gentlemint

More About: mustache, pinterest, social networking

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If you have ever wanted to tell Twitter how you feel about its 200 million-member social network, now is the time to do it. Twitter’s Executive Chairman Jack Dorsey tweeted questions Wednesday to attract feedback on the five-year-old service.

A lot has changed since Twitter launched in 2006. To put things into perspective — within the past two months alone — Twitter has:

Earlier this year, Twitter introduced a new version of its homepage with a sleeker design and revamped pitch to potential users; expanded its Local Trends feature to 70 more cities and countries; and updated its search tool to make it easier to find new people to follow.

SEE ALSO: Explore Twitter’s Evolution | A Visual History of Twitter [INFOGRAPHIC]

Dorsey’s all ears (or shall we say, Twears?) now. What praise, gripes or suggestions do you have for Twitter’s inventor?

If you tweet him, leave us a link to your tweet in the comments. We’ll put your best responses in the collection already assembled below.

More About: Advertising, Business, Marketing, Social Media, social networking, Twitter

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A little over a month ago, Digg launched Newswire, a real-time, Top News section that attempted to get users back into curating the stories that go popular, versus just reading the popular stories showcased on the Digg front page.

Today, a month and a half later, Digg CEO Matt Williams emailed a select group of invitees letting them know their accounts were included in a closed beta release of Newsrooms.

“Newsrooms are the first step in creating the most relevant news around any given topic, as ranked by social signals across the web and refined by top contributors on Digg. So what does that mean? It means that for the first time we’re combining the strength of signals from news in social media (Facebook Likes, Tweets, LinkedIn Sharing) with our greatest asset — the active Digg Community, to create the most valuable stream of news on any topic. For topics as broad as technology or as specific as Lady Gaga, our goal is to become the first place for the news that matters most to users.”

For a long time now, Digg has wanted to take everyone else’s signals to better determine the popular content for their site, but to-date have really done a poor job in doing so. Let’s take a closer look at this new release.

The Newsrooms

As you can see from the screenshot, there are featured Newsrooms, then a list of all Newsrooms along with avatars of the top 5 leaders in each room and everyone’s recent Newsroom activity.

There does not appear to be any way to make your own Newsroom yet, but it is a possible addition for a later date.

Here you also have the option to follow the Newsrooms you like, which makes them easy to access through the top Newsrooms drop down navigational link.

Additionally, following a Newsroom gives you the ability to submit to a Newsroom.

You might note that this is all very similar to how Reddit handles its SubReddits and submissions as well.

Once you actually get into the Newsrooms themselves, you will notice some new and interesting things.

Digg Buttons

The Digg buttons have been updated to show both the Digg and Bury options simultaneously, offering users the chance to change their vote with ease.

If you were the one who submitted the article, then you will see a Digg button without voting options.

And lastly, in the newswire, similar to a real newswire, it includes unsubmitted news stories that you can single-click submit.

Front Page and the Newswire

In each Newsroom, you land on the ‘Front Page’ which showcases the stories that have been determined to be the most popular at the time. If you click on the Newswire tab, you see the available news stories that have not yet been picked up, to either vote or single-click submit them.

Unfortunately, when single-click submitting, you do not currently have the ability to change the title or the description, which leads to some pretty ugly submissions. Additionally, there is a very limited selection of sites in the newswire, which leads me to think the inclusions are just partners of Digg or hand-selected by Digg admins.

It would be good to have a method for suggesting sites’ RSS feeds for inclusion into the Newsroom’s newswire, but nothing is available yet.

Facebook and Twitter

As Digg mentioned in their invitation email, they are looking at Facebook Likes, Tweets and also LinkedIn shares, as a metric for popularity in their new Algorithm.


So on each page you can see the Facebook Likes and Tweet data, although there is no LinkedIn data for some reason.

Unfortunately the Facebook and Tweet information is not linked, so you cannot easily visit or find the submission on those sites.

Leaders in Newsroom

Yes being a good user on Digg is once again an important factor, and Digg has even gone as far as to start giving people Mixx-like awards for their activities.

However in just the last 24 hours, we have already seen some members commenting on every single submission and voting everything they see, just to get some of the badges and points. So we wonder what Digg will do to avoid awards gaming, since it appears that Leaders in Newsrooms are meant to have more authority with their votes and actions.

The Awards

There are three elements to each award: an icon, a level associated with each award, and an awarded title.

You can hover over each award to see the title and the amount of points it is applying to your overall Newsroom score.

Each level has a different number of total points, depending on the action and level.

Here are the actions that result in rewards and points:

  • Submissions being promoted to the Front Page of the Newsroom
  • Comments
  • Replies to other comments
  • Viewing articles
  • Digging submissions
  • Burying Submissions

And yup, there is an award for Burying, which seems to be an attempt to minimize the negative connotation for voting content down.

Newsroom Activity Feed

Just about every action made in a given Newsroom is updated in a real-time sidebar module. It shows the comments and replies you have made, what articles you read, along with all your Digg and Bury activity. It also shows what members have joined the Newsroom and what submissions have been promoted to the Newsroom Front Page.

Slideshows?

Lastly, there is a new tab in the Settings called ‘Slideshare’, but it is not clear what this is supposed to be for.

Conclusion

Although it seems Digg’s new strategy is simply to be a better aggregator of everyone else’s information, it is the first time in years I am really using the site again, finding new content to read, commenting, and actually looking for articles to submit again.

The visibility of the content in the Newsrooms seems promising to website owners wanting exposure, as the front page of Digg will not be the only place to get decent visibility and traffic. The Front Page in Newsrooms and also on Digg as a whole are showing a vastly larger diversity of domains that are going popular, which leads me to think the changes they have made algorithmically are good so far.

Of course, this all needs to leave Beta and go live before anyone can say for sure if this is the transformation that resuscitates Digg, but it is the first change in over a year that shows they are at least still trying.

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Digg Launches “Newsrooms” in Private Beta





Many Facebook users (us included) noticed that the top navigation bar is now locked on top of the screen even if you scroll the page down. This behavior is new: before, the top navigation bar would scroll up with the page, and now it’s visible all the time.

This subtle change lets users always access some of the most important features on Facebook: friend requests, messages, notifications and search on the left side, as well as home & profile anchor buttons and account settings on the right.

For comparison, Twitter uses a similar floating design for its navigation bar, which is also always visible on top.

The folks over at Inside Facebook think this may be the first stage in a much bigger redesign, which is to be unveiled at Facebook’s F8 conference. If they’re right, Facebook is looking to lock the ads on the right side of the screen to be always visible too, which would surely increase the click-through rates but it would also make the page a bit more crowded.

Has the new, locked top navigation bar gone live for you? How do you like it? Please, share your opinions in the comments.

More About: design, Facebook, navigation, social network, social networking





On Wednesday, The New York Times and public radio station WNYC launched SchoolBook, a website to provide news, data and discussion about New York City schools.

The site aims to increase communication and understanding among parents, teachers, administrators and students. As many school websites are rudimentary and infrequently updated, SchoolBook’s creators hope to fill a gaping hole. It creates a page for each of NYC’s 2,500 public, charter and private schools with student population information, community discussion threads and more.

“In conversations with parents, principals and teachers, we kept hearing how fragmented the conversation was,” said Tyson Evans, an assistant editor on The Times‘s interactive news desk who helped develop the project. “We’re hoping they’ll see this as kind of a place to explore.”

If it’s numbers SchoolBook users are looking to explore, they’ll have plenty to discover. The site’s extensive database is comprised of information from thousands of public records from numerous sources, including city and state departments and non-profit organizations, Evans said. Much of the information was already housed in internal search and reporting tools for Times journalists built by Robert Gebeloff, a computer assisted reporter who specializes in education.

The challenge for SchoolBook, like many numbers-driven reports, was how to present the information in a useful and easy-to-understand way. Evans said he and his team wanted the site to provide more overall context than a tool that produces charts and visualizations. They chose to standardize the data and group scores into three categories: performance, satisfaction and diversity.

SchoolBook’s developers created custom software for the site with Ruby on Rails and were ambitious about writing data validators and imports. This will help ease the process of updating the database when schools come out with new information.

Some may argue SchoolBook is ranking schools based on scores. Gebeloff wrote an extensive guide to the site’s methodology, in which he says, “What we have not done, quite purposely, is grade or rate schools.”

The numbers are only part of the story. It’s the site’s ambitions for building community around education as an entity that sets it apart. Users are asked to log in with Facebook, an experiment The Times wanted to try to out with a standalone site. “We’re curious about the next phase of web identity,” Evans said.

It will be interesting to see how this affects conversation, especially as education can be a sensitive topic. With the controversy about how students and teachers should interact on Facebook, the single sign-in method will likely see challenges and complaints.

Participants can contribute on individual school pages in three ways: ask a question, post content (photos, student newspaper articles, etc.) or suggest an idea. This could be particularly useful for parents considering a new school for their student. If the school has an active community page where the user feels comfortable contributing, it may shed light on whether it’s a good fit.

The Times and WNYC worked with a handful of schools when brainstorming for the site. Evans expects those communities will lead the charge on SchoolBook and it will grow from there.

“We have ideas for how conversations will work but we’ll ultimately be learning from how the community uses it,” Evans said. “The more activity we can see at individual schools, the more we’ll be convinced it was the right project.”

Times and WNYC education reporters will be regularly updating the site with original articles, discussion threads and aggregated news posts from local sources GothamSchools and Inside Schools. Mary Ann Giordano, the site’s editor, will manage content from contributing writers, which may include teacher diaries, Evans said. The news and community aspects of the site were built on WordPress.

Overall, SchoolBook is leading the way in building community around the topic of education. Though projects like The Opportunity Gap from ProPublica and The Washington Post‘s D.C. Schools Scorecard were pioneers in data collection and presentation, they do little to bring readers together to share content and engage in debate. As Evans said, the purpose SchoolBook provides is up to its users — but it’s the site’s empowerment of its community members that will give people a reason to visit.

More About: education, new york city, the new york times





Hacker collective Anonymous is preparing to launch its own social network called AnonPlus. The move comes after Google banned Anonymous’s Google+ account called “Your Anon News” due to a violation of its community standards.

Details about the project are scarce. Currently, AnonPlus.com is merely a splash page, containing a message that explains the group’s motives behind the project. “Welcome to the Revolution,” it says, “a new social network where there is no fear…of censorship…of blackout…nor of holding back”.

Another message on the site explains that the project is for “all people not just anonymous,” adding that the actual site will go up soon but it will not happen overnight.

A link to the developer forum, where a possible user interface and design ideas are discussed, shows that the project is indeed in a very early stage.

A somewhat similar project, Diaspora, aimed to create an open-source social network as an answer to Facebook. After launching in late 2010, however, there has been no significant news about the project.

[via Wired]

More About: Anonplus, anonymous, hack, hackers, social network

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Facebook has announced two new features for its Comments Box plugin, which lets third party websites embed Facebook comments: Chronological Sort, and Boost Comment.

Comments can now be sorted in three ways: besides the reverse chronological sort option, you can now also have the comments sorted chronologically or by their social ranking, which will take into account likes and comments from other users. To choose an option, click the arrow next to the number of comments in the box.

Furthermore, if a particular comment is especially relevant to you and you want to push it to the top, you can do so by clicking the “Boost Comment” option.

Facebook also announced that more than 300,000 sites have embedded the Comments Box – a solid number when you consider that the plugin was launched in March 2011.

More About: comments box, facebook, plugin, social media, social networking, sort, sorting

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We’ve all been wondering about Facebook’s capabilities; can it really collect as much data as Google? Is that data really MORE valuable than Google, since users on Facebook are browsing upon free will into interests and brands, rather than being subjected to sifting through SERPS for what they want? Enter the Facebook Microchip- in the making for the past year and about to be reveled at the next f8 conference.

The Facebook Like and Facebook Places has been prototyped for quite some time now- making sure that people found this useful and even going so far as to say that the Facebook Like could increase a tie between Search and Social. Think about it: you’re on Facebook. You start checking out your friend’s pages. Finding what’s relevant to you- clicking on brands and pages that you’re interested in.

It’s the perfect setup.

So where does the microchip come into play?

Facebook was recently threatened by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who stated he would release these papers unless they went public with the details. Given this, Facebook decided to expose the public to this information; hoping they’ll be receptive and participate as this unravels.

Researchers and scientists have been working some time in CERN (yes, it’s not just for recreating the big bang) to build Facebook microchip prototypes- allowing the like button to roll out over the past two years and places over the past year- and for people to crawl and explore Facebook while putting together these magical little pieces of metal.

Users will now be able to purchase these ‘microchips’ for about $6,999 US dollars- all proceeds going directly to Facebook to fund their CIA program which was recently subject to cost cuts. There will be some discounts for seniors and those with medical conditions where they may have short term memory.

With these microchips, users will be able to utilize Facebook Like on both external sites and within Facebook, as well as check into places for discounts, and the microchip will automatically pick these signals up and store it for you- forming ‘memories’ that will be accessible by those who have microchip readers (yourself, and others).

What does this mean? Well, if you get arrested,, go into the services, become a public official, etc, you’ll have to undergo a brain scan- where they’ll pull in all the information from the chip (somewhat like a Facebook data-dump) and be able to recall anything you’ve liked and where you’ve been over the past few years. They’ll most likely categorize you by a ratio of interests.

Is this a new way of Facebook profiling and/or marketing?

Possibly.

Users will have to willingly undergo these microchip surgeries to get them installed… to the furthest of my knowledge.

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Facebook Microchip- Store your ‘Likes’ and Check-ins


BuzzwordsFor those looking for the perfect storm of formerly-catchy, all-that buzzwords in order to live la vida loca, this post is for you. Not only has the vernacular surrounding social media become totally square, and the-opposite-of-phat, but the vast majority of people using these once-fly words have no idea they are now totally lame.

Here is a quick rundown of words that should be removed from the suburban dictionary, stat:

1. User-Generated-Content

Latin for “crap,” user-generated-content (or UGC) is the buzzword used to describe anything published online by Average Joe. The problem is, most Average Joes who are posting content are also spending their weekends building bombs in their basements.

UGC is a fancy name used to make an unregulated, uneducated slew of junk sound like it’s sophisticated and profound (well beyond its qualifications). While it worked to hide the truth in the beginning, everyone who uses social media has since gotten wise, and UGC is now as overused and groan-worthy as a Gary Coleman joke.

2. Optimization

Offering optimization is a nice way of saying, “Hey, we’re gonna make your thing better at being a thing. We’re not sure how, but probably through optimizing it.” Most people can smell the BS from a mile away.

Whether it is keyword optimization, social media optimization, mobile optimization, or optimal optimization, the only real value the word “optimization” has is in a game of Scrabble. (63 points, not counting any double or triple word scores).

Monetize3. Monetize

The word “monetize,” a verb, refers to the process of enforcing a mythological state of being to something that has little or no value. “Monetize” is a fancy way of describing intentions to make something valuable, without ever outlining the process through which value will be instilled.

This means claiming to be able to make money off of something’s popularity, based on no factual evidence. While a few Internet ideas have been successfully monetized (Facebook, Google, AOL), the majority of them (Bob’s Fishing Blog) have not.

4. Authenticity

Authenticity is a buzzword that has been overused across all fields, mostly because it’s a fancy way to say “real.” Creating an “authentic” blog or giving a look of “authenticity” means “we will make this thing look real.”

However, beyond that, there is limited explanation. Just because Pinocchio said he was a real boy, does not make it so. Claiming that a product is authentic offers no assurance beyond stating that it will physically exist in time or space.

5. Green

Unfortunately, “green” is not a unit of measure. There is no established set of prerequisites that must be met before declaring one has “gone green.” Because of its popularity and fuzzy definition, everyone who’s anyone is going green.

Got that Hummer up to 12 MPG highway? Congrats on going green! Limited your amount of annual carbon emissions down to only two trillion tons? Congrats on going green! Posted a sign that reads, “Please turn off light in break room?” Congrats on going green! Because “going green” is a completely unregulated state of being, it has become a completely overused and annoying buzzword.

6. Synergy

Synergy, by definition, is “Combining two or more elements in order to obtain a more desirable result than any individual element could produce on its own.” Synergy is simply a way of stating something is different.

There has always been peanut butter, and there has always been jelly; putting them together is an example of synergy. In reality, synergy is usually a fancy way of covering up for the fact that if peanut butter and jelly sit in a paper bag for too long, the bread will become soggy and the peanut oil will rise to the top.

7. Social Networking

Thank Aaron Sorkin for this one; “Social Networking” has become the copyright-infringement-free way of saying “Facebooking.”

Much as facial tissues are to Kleenex, or inline skates are to Rollerblades, so is social networking to Facebooking (or Twittering, or the act of spending time on any other website instead of working). While we do not expect these sites to disappear anytime soon, we surely hope that their aliases will.

Conclusion

Buzzwords are a double-edged sword, as part of the reason we hate them is because of how much we once loved them. A buzzword is usually a clever way of expressing an idea, which, once expressed, immediately loses shine with each additional use.

While there is no way of preventing new buzzwords from popping up, it is up to us to retire the old ones. And, we think that is perfectly Fazmazzle.

Post images by: by aussiegall and Plutor

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7 Social Media Buzzwords That Make Us Cringe