Your favorite startup is acquired? Grab your data and run

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Founding a startup is risky. Using their apps (or other products and services) can be, too. That’s because aside from failing, startups are often acquired, for many millions of dollars, by the likes of Apple, Facebook, Google, and Yahoo. And when that happens, the startups often disappear.

Here's a PDF of a column I wrote about startups being acquired and then shut down.
Here’s a PDF of a column I wrote about startups being acquired and then shut down.

All of these companies have acquired startups in recent years — startups with users who signed up for their services and thought they would be around for a while — and then shut them down. They’re often simply “acqui-hires”; the company wants the talent (that is, the software engineers and others working for the startup) rather than the startup’s app or services. And you, the customer? You’re often lost in the shuffle.

Consider the recent acquisition of the photo/video app Ptch by Yahoo. Ptch posted a celebratory message on the website’s homepage. And why not? That’s often the goal of a startup: You create a company, and it’s acquired. A blog post had this to say: “We launched Ptch just over a year ago. Our passion and our mission was to give you the best way to make and share beautiful movies made from the photos and videos on your phone. Well, someone noticed!”

Yet where does this leave the customer? Pretty much nowhere.


5 creative Vine stop-motion videos for inspiration

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Stop-motion animation requires planning, creativity, and patience. But with the Vine app, you’re limited to six-second clips, meaning you can think in seconds — a very limited number of seconds — when producing a stop-motion video. Embrace the limits with Vine, and experiment. (That’s what the winners of the Tribeca Film Festival’s #6SECFILMS competition did.) Here are five Vine clips for inspiration.

Squiddy bananas from Ian Padgham

Google Glass from Matt Willis

Vine Factory from Parabox

Paper Vine from Khoa

Oreos from Chris Credendino

Distracted Living, Tech

Solitude is weird

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OK, that’s not what I think. In fact, I’m a fan of solitude. But in the world of The Circle, Dave Eggers’s compelling novel about a powerful internet company, solitude is viewed as, well, really strange.

In one of my favorite scenes, the book’s protagonist, a new employee of the Circle named Mae, is confronted by two HR reps who are dismayed that she didn’t share—or record—the details of a solo kayak trip. Here’s part of their exchange.

“You kayaked?” Josiah said. “Where?”
“Just in the bay.”
“With who?”
“No one. Just alone.”
Denise and Josiah looked hurt.

And a bit later in this section, Josiah essentially calls her out for being selfish by not sharing: “It’s just maddening, thinking of how much knowledge is lost every day through this kind of shortsightedness.”

The book puts a spotlight on the perils of a world where solitude is strange, online friending is a must, and everything is recorded. I wrote about this in a recent column: 8 internet perils highlighted by “The Circle.”


iOS 7 and “interface churn”

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When my daughter, who is 10 (and relatively sophisticated about Apple products), saw my iPhone 5 with the new operating system on it, she thought I’d bought a new phone. That’s pretty much how I felt, too. The new operating system, iOS 7, does make it seem like you’ve got a new phone.

That’s good, and it’s bad.

Yes, I like iOS 7, but it’s different — very different, in some ways — and it takes a lot of adjusting, especially when all of the apps are being updated. You think you know how to operate your phone, and then suddenly, you don’t. As I wrote in a recent column:

The changes can be a lot to absorb. Because we’re surrounded by screen interfaces, and because they come in so many different varieties (phones, set-top boxes, tablets, websites), our brains — well, my brain, at least — may have trouble digesting all of this interface churn.

Read the column.


Do you want Facebook to take over your phone?

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Today’s smartphones essentially have software from Google (Android) and Apple (iOS) at the forefront. Which means, when you look at your phone, you’re looking at a bunch of apps. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, in announcing Facebook Home, wants to change that. “Our phones are designed around apps and not people,” he said. “So we want to flip that around.”

Uh, that’s one way to spin this, I guess.

Yes, Zuckerberg wants to flip this around: Flip it around, that is, so that Facebook is at the forefront on your phone. Which means your social network is in front of you at every moment. And, inevitably, advertising, including ads — you can easily imagine — based on where you are, what you “like” on Facebook, and what your friends have “liked.”

Given Facebook’s track record on privacy and ads, I’d be really wary about handing my phone interface over to Facebook.


Apple’s iCloud: It just doesn’t work

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A year ago, I wrote a column with a simple premise: Apple’s iCloud, its big-time foray into cloud computing, was a failure. “To give you a taste of what was promised,” I wrote in my column, “here are just a few quotes from Steve Jobs from the iCloud announcement.”

Now everything’s in sync with me not even having to think about it.

Everything happens automatically, and there’s nothing new to learn.

It just works.

Let’s get this straight:

You have to think about it (and even then, things may not be in sync).

It’s not automatic.

There’s a lot to learn.

This is still true today, and the Verge has an excellent story delving into the reasons why iCloud doesn’t work: Apple’s broken promise: why doesn’t iCloud ‘just work?’


A new era for home stereos

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Air Speaker

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a column about stylish, wireless home stereos. Now I’ve taken the next logical step: I bought one. As I wrote in my column:

Today’s home stereos look nothing like the angular black boxes from the era of turntables and 8-track tapes. They’re far more compact, they connect with our digital music libraries and now they’re even capable of controlling your tunes wirelessly from computers, phones and tablets. They’re also about as likely to look like a Swedish-designed lamp or a UFO as a traditional audio component.

The one I bought, the Logitech UE Air Speaker, isn’t the most stylish wireless speaker available, but it got excellent reviews, and I’m loving it so far. With one of these speakers, you’re able to stream music right from your iPhone or computer. A docking station works for an iPod, but when your music is on your phone, well, it’s not so convenient to have your phone docked to a stereo when you need to make a call or check your email. Check out my column for more info on wireless speakers.


Google forgets customers (again) and shuts down Reader

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About a year and a half ago, I wrote a column outlining what I viewed as Google’s confusing and chaotic mix of products, including ones it introduced, developed, and then discarded — without much thought (so it seemed) to the customers who’d come to rely on them. Well, it’s happened again, this time with Google Reader. As I wrote back in 2011:

Are you using Google Wave? Buzz? Google TV? I didn’t think so. The churn of Google’s offerings ends up confounding people, especially if you’re not a diehard early adopter looking for the latest developments in Silicon Valley. It is almost as if the company’s executives, rather than viewing Google as an established company — something it certainly is — embrace it as one big experiment in innovation, as a race into the future.

The reaction to the Reader shutdown has been fast and furious:

If you want to save your Reader data, learn more at Google.

Photography, Tech

Printstagram’s Tinybook is really tiny

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So my three Prinstagram Tinybooks arrived, and they’re pretty adorable. And tiny. I knew they were just 1.7 by 1.5 inches, but until they arrived, I didn’t realize how small that would be. One very cool thing about them: They’ve got magnets inside. Yes, that’s right: You can put your book on the fridge.