Killer Music Combination — Rhapsody + Sonos + Sensa

With all the hubub about the new iPods, I stopped into the Apple store.  The iPod Nano, Classic and iPod Touch (as well of the iPhone) are superb — beautiful to touch, and astonishingly small, and simple to operate.  Tempting…

But you see, I’ve got this "lock-in" problem.  For the past year, I’ve been a very happy owner of 4 Sonos players for my home.   These wireless babies let me play songs in whatever room I’m in, and I can even nail them all together with a click of the button for "party mode" — and they are all synched on the beat.  They work flawlessly and cost thousands of dollars less than inferior home audio systems — I’m a huge fan. 

So a few months ago I added Rhapsody to it; I’m now paying about $13 per month — the cost of one CD — to play any song I’d like from over a million choices.  If I want, I can buy them for 10% off the iTunes price and own them permanently.  I’ve got playlists that I use at home.  To me, Sonos players plus Rhapsody is really the "killer app" platform for home audio.  If I’m in the kitchen, or my office, and want to hear any song, I can dial it up and 3 seconds or so later, I’m listening to it.  Pretty amazing.

If I had an iPod, I’d be locked in to the AAC format, I’d have to physically move the iPod device where I wanted to play it, I’d have to plug it in, I’d have to fetch the song and download it or rip it, etc.  Further, if I get a guilty-pleasure song that I’m happy to hear once or twice, but know I’m gonna hate in a couple weeks (e.g., Umbrella or What goes around comes around come to mind), I don’t have to buy it to hear it all.

So if I bought an iPod, as great and elegant as they are, I wouldn’t be able to take advantage of this impressive service.  So I decided to pick up a "lesser" product, a simple $129 Sansa e280R

It’s an amazing little device for jogging — I can simply drag and drop any song I’d like (ok, not Beatles, but just about any other song!) to the Sansa player icon.  Each song takes about 3-4 seconds to transfer over USB2.0. 

What’s more, I can just tell Rhapsody to always copy over my key playlists, as well as a great "Recommends" feature that automatically loads my MP3 player with recommended choices based on other highly rated songs.  Voila — I’m ready for a run, with my favorite music and a few more options too.  It’s pretty remarkable, and incredibly low-priced.  It also has an FM tuner and an audio recorder, two things iPods don’t have.

Online Communities become too broad at their Peril

In a limited sense, Sabena Suri’s article "Ick, Old Married Guys on Facebook" is just a rant from a Gen Y writer about "outsiders" invading Facebook.  (As a married guy who’s just had his 43rd birthday, I haven’t yet decided whether to take direct offense.)

But in a broader sense, the article points out the dangers of being too broad.  e-Marketing Superstar Seth Godin has long advocated for creating "remarkable" products that appeal to narrow audiences.  He argues that great products aren’t afraid of risking being exactly wrong for large parts of the population, as long as they are exactly right for a narrower set.  Is Facebook in danger of this community dilution?  I haven’t yet come to a conclusion here, but it will be interesting to watch.

The technologist in me says that it’s simply a software issue — let communities create subcommunities within them, but each individual subcommunity can use the same features.  But the marketer in me says it’s far more than that.  Since branding is all about creating an emotional connection between a person and a brand, the "family brand" matters.  Eventually, if Facebook’s Gen Y / Gen Z -heavy userbase matures, they’ll be a robust AARP community.  (Like Margaret Cho’s joke, which asked us to consider what we’ll be like in our sunset years — "Hey Madge, Play Hungry like the Wolf again"…)

Whether the technologist or marketer will win will determine Facebook’s long-term success or failure.  Does an online community, by its very nature, require exclusion to stay vibrant?  Too soon to tell.  Meanwhile, you can join me on Facebook, and add me as your friend.  Even if I am married and old.  🙂

New Era for BigOven.com

Link: BigOven.com Opens Up to All Web Browsers.

For the past four years, as BigOven has grown to over 160,000+ recipes with about 52,000+ members, the recipes could only be posted to www.bigoven.com by first downloading and installing the Windows recipe software.  For the vast majority of users, BigOven was read-only, and they spent their time searching for recipes, finding ways to use up leftovers, and experimenting with flavor combinations.

This hurdle was somewhat deliberate on my part, both because (a) the HTML tools weren’t as rich as desktop applications to make it easy to enter valid recipes (e.g., ingredient lines had to be checked for validity, etc.), and (b) I wanted to throttle the volume of traffic to sort through operational and scaling issues.   The obvious tradeoff though was that this severely limited the growth of the network of users (and recipes, and photos…).

Today, I’ve released a very important new feature that removes the desktop client hurdle.

In other words, now anyone can post recipes free of charge to BigOven.com with a web browser.   It’s the easiest way to swap recipes online, and once you’ve posted a recipe, you can email it to friends, link it to other recipes (e.g., suggest pairings or uses for leftovers), you can create "Try Soon" and "Favorites" lists to plan your meals for the month, and much more.

Got a Mac?  Or Linux?  No problem!  Join up for free, and contribute recipes, photos and more.  By removing this hurdle, I think BigOven gets much closer to product/market fit, since of course, people want to be able to search for, rate, and exchange things like recipes and meal ideas with as little friction as possible, as AllRecipes.com ($65 million 2007 purchase by Readers Digest) and RecipeZaar.com ($25 million July 2007 buyout by Scripps) have shown.

Hey, did you know about the Amateur Food Photo Contest?  Every month, we’re giving away $100.00 Amazon.com gift certificates to the user who takes and submits the best food photo.  Got a digital camera?  you could win $100.

Go ahead and try it, and by all means, send along any feedback!

Individual RSS Feeds for BigOven Recipe Archive

Seth Godin makes yet another interesting observation on his blog about "Bobcasting", where RSS meets the truly personal.

Today, most RSS feeds are one-to-many; it’s quite possible for RSS feeds to be much more 1-to-1.

For instance, on BigOven, you can subscribe to your friend’s "Recipe Streams", to be alerted to the photos they post, their Try Soon Recipes and Favorites, and what recipes they rate.  If you know a friend or two that eats the way you want to, it’s a great source of 2:00pm "what should I make tonight?" inspiration.

See mine at http://www.bigoven.com/~stevemur.

Firestorm raging around Avvo.com

Seattle-based Avvo.com, started by Mark Britton (former Expedia Inc. general counsel) launched about 10 days ago.  Already, a class-action lawsuit has been filed against Avvo.com trying to shut it down.  I’ve offered my thoughts on the Avvo.com blog.

For some, Avvo having the audacity to try to put a numerical rating on overall lawyer quality is a truly dramatic development.

But a decade from now, I think we’ll be chuckling a bit at the parallels that have happened in one industry after another as they see their information-black-boxes breaking down:  first was securities trading, then travel, the mortgage industry, insurance, real-estate, and now law… is medicine next?  I hope so.  Each industry has gone through its own "stages of grief" as they see cultures/ethos built on information-sandboxing breaking down — fear, anger, denial, bargaining, acceptance…

Link: avvoblog.com.