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A number of startups have been trying their hand at subscription-based children’s books services, or something like a “Netflix for kids’ books,” so to speak. Today, another entry called Zoobean joins the flock, with the debut of its own handpicked catalog which parents can either subscribe to, or choose to just shop online like a standard e-commerce website.
The company was co-founded by Jordan Lloyd Bookey, Google’s head of K-12 Education Outreach, and her husband Felix Brandon Lloyd, who is a former Washington, D.C., Teacher of the Year. Like the founders of similar services in this space, including the recently launched Sproutkin and The Little Book Club, for example, Bookey and Lloyd are also parents.
“About a year ago, when our daughter was born, we were looking for a book for our son that would help him understand what it would mean to be a big brother. And in this particular case – we’re a multi-racial family – we were looking for something that might have kids that more resembled our family,” explains Lloyd.
That challenge proved harder than they thought.
The parents wanted a way to find a recommended book that matched their interests, but one they knew was also quality reading. So they built Zoobean to address this problem.
The site, at launch, has nearly 1,500 books for sale, all of which are parent-recommended, curated by a team of parents, teachers, librarians and others, and which are cataloged more extensively with topics, characters’ backgrounds, recommended ages, keyword tags and more. That way, when a parent is looking for a specific book on a topic, they can click to see all those that address that topic – like “self-esteem,” “anger and frustration,” or “growing up,” for example, as well as find books that match their own family structure and characteristics (e.g. “brother & sister,” “mother & child,” “black,” “Chinese Americans,” etc.)
The site will directly sell five featured items per month centered around a theme, and one of these will be available through an optional subscription. Subscribers pay $14.95 for the featured book of the month, a high-quality, hardcover. However, the majority of the cataloged books on Zoobean are being sold through affiliates like Amazon. Zoobean also offers a weekly reading guide for parents detailing the books in its featured collection along with activities parent and child can do together to learn more about the topic.
Though when the founders were speaking of their site’s uniqueness, their focus was on the curation aspects and the way the books were cataloged in more detail. But one of the more interesting things about this service with respect to its competitors is the diversity its selection reflects. There are books about many different ethnicities and subjects, and even harder-to-find books that cover transgender issues or bullying, for example.
“Any kid, parent or loved one who’s coming to find the right book can find one that the child can see him or herself in,” explains Bookey of the Zoobean collection.
The company has raised $500,000 in a seed round led by Kapor Capital, along with other private angels, friends and family. The plan is to raise another $250,000 on top of that.
Until today, Zoobean was in private, invite-only beta with some 200 testers. Now, it’s opening its doors to all parents or anyone else in the market for kids’ books. Users can sign up or browse the collection here.
The overall landscape of mobile apps is an interesting one, with most of the top free titles on Apple’s App Store being games or services pushed by massive companies like Twitter (Vine) or Google (Maps). Is there a place for yet another service to pick up steam before a larger network like Facebook
re-creates copies its functionality?
That’s the interesting future that lies ahead for Polar, the up-and-coming polling app for iOS, that is built for speedy interactions with either complete strangers or people you know. You can set up a poll in seconds, and you’ll start getting responses quickly, almost within seconds of submitting it. The company raised $1.2 million in February to build out its team and expand its functionality as quickly as possible. Two months later, it has released a new version that hopes to increase discoverability of polls, thus increasing interaction.
Polar founder Luke Wroblewski is obsessed with data and is willing to discuss most of what he’s learned since the launch of the app. Not only does this give you insight into what he’s helping to build, but it gives you an idea of the landscape that I mentioned above. Polar is quickly approaching 8 million total votes, which is pretty good for just having launched in November of last year.
I spent some time chatting with Wroblewski about what he’s doing with his funding, how Polar stacks up against competitors, how the community actually uses the app and the latest update for iOS:
Luke Wroblewski: We launched Polar at the end of November and saw lots of growth and activity. So much that the two-man team of me and my co-founder couldn’t keep up. So in January we brought on some contracting help to get things stable. While that lets us get back to making product, it also introduced a lot more expenses. So in February we raised a round from a lot of great investors. That’s when we last caught up. Since then we used March to hire a full-time team to focus on building and designing the product. We now have five full-time folks on the team.
During that month we redesigned and rebuilt three out of the four major parts of the app and expanded our web presence. The new version of the app is out now and the web stuff is going to follow shortly. So we’ve been busy.
TC: How many polls are people creating?
Wroblewski: Today, over half the people that sign up to use Polar (53 percent) actually make a poll. When you consider the idea behind Polar is “everyone loves to give/hear opinions but the tools we have online to support that are abysmal,” then this stat is great.
We decided there’s got to be better way (than web-based surveys and forms) for people to ask each other what they think. And over half of our users have jumped in and collected opinions using our approach. I get excited by the 50 percent number because of the standard 1 percent, 10 percent, 100 percent rules you see on the web. That is 100 percent of people consume content, 10 percent curate it and 1 percent create it.
Bradley Horowitz (VP at Google+) popularized this back when we worked at Yahoo! together. Granted, in social networks these ratios are a bit different. BUT still 50+ percent is really good when you consider we explicitly tried to make poll creation as fast and easy as possible. So lots of people could collect opinions.
The other compelling stat is 11.1 polls made/poll creator. Even when you take away the extremes (people that make lots of polls), many people are repeat poll makers. So a high percentage of people are making polls, and usually making several poll as well.
Wroblewski: In late December, TechCrunch published that we’d hit 1 million votes. At the start of April, we’re approaching 8 million. Which is good but what’s more interesting is that we did a lot of work to get people to more relevant questions and, knowingly, took a hit on total votes.
In our first two months after launch, we saw an average of 55 votes per user per day. We feel really good about that result. To put it into comparison, I recently came across data from the popular voting app Thumb. Their users provide an average of six “thumbs” (votes) per day.
But the total number of opinions people share on Polar isn’t the only thing we keep an eye on. We focus a lot on getting people to topics and other people that interest them. After all, it’s much better to share opinions with people and about things you actually care for/about. To make this possible, we actually made a number of changes to Polar in early February to show people more relevant questions vs. many questions. As you might expect this had a negative impact on voting. That is, we saw votes per user per day drop from 55 to 45. Still really high but lower than where we were before.
So people were seeing better (more relevant polls) but voting less. Which is great but ultimately votes drive a lot of the fun and positive feedback on Polar. So we wanted to have our cake and eat it, too. To do that, we began to provide more exposure to topics through tags and featured themes. Anywhere in the app, you see a tag, it only takes one tap to jump into a topic and you can start sharing opinions on a particular type of question or topic. Since we made this change, we moved the average number of votes per user per day back up from 45 to 50.
TC: What have you learned about your community? Any specific demographics that have gravitated towards Polar?
Wroblewski: We started out thinking we’d see a lot of decision-making questions. Like which shirt should I wear out? or What movie should I go see? And there is a good amount of those kinds of questions (just check out the #whichoutfit topic), but what we see a lot more of is people using Polar as a media experience. They talk about topics that interest them, water cooler news, and things they’re curious about. When you consider that 79 percent of mobile app time spent is “entertainment” it makes sense.
Mobile is the new entertainment screen. And in many case it is being used while other screens (like the TV) are on as well. So the shift from “decision-making” to a media experience is understandable. This is why we’ve really embraced the idea of topics on Polar and are getting set to release these topics as web pages very soon. That is places where you can go and share your opinions on things like TV shows, recent news, sports and much more.
TC: Tell us about the new version of the app and its features. Any specific reasons on how they came about?
Wroblewski: The new version of the app is really building on the two big themes I touched on: this media experience and relevance. We want to get people to things they’ll love (topics and people) and we want to do so with minimal (mobile-level) effort. So in the new version…
We introduced the ability to search for topics (tags) right in the new menu on the home screen. We previously had a separate Explore screen for browsing popular topics (and no search) but quickly learned it was too much effort for people to get this separate screen and parse it. So we took the best parts of the Explore experience and put it right inside the home menu: breaking topics, trending themes, and search. In the coming days we’ll actually personalize these topics per person, as well. We already personalize this menu in the new version. The Following link in the menu actually shows how (that you follow) posted new polls. So each time you open the menu you get a personalized view of what’s new. It’s a really nice small touch.
We redesigned the profile page to allow you to jump in and vote on someone’s polls. This list of polls can also be sorted by most popular, most commented, newest, oldest, etc. This allows you to get a quick (yet deep) sense of a person’s polls and personality, and, if you like, follow them easily. It’s another way we’re trying to make a more relevant experience — find people who interest you.
We created a new activity page that includes voting milestones (10, 50, 100 votes) and real-time vote updates for those who check-in often. Actually our Activity screen is the most popular screen in the app. But there’s so much voting coming in that we had to get creative about how to display activity. So we did the milestones that accrue when you are not on the app. And real-time voting updates that show only when you open the app or refresh the activity page. That way you can still keep up realtime with voting activity if you want. OR you can just check in on the milestones. We also added push notifications for these milestones and comments. You can even view comments separately from votes on the Activity screen. We learned people love the comments/conversations on Polar. So we gave them more visibility.
There’s lots more but these are the big pieces of the new release.
What you’ve seen with Polar is that even though there are already a ton of social applications, building a new interaction graph from the ground up is possible. Polls have been popular on the web for years, but nobody really nailed the experience on mobile until Polar came along. Other companies like Seesaw are having fun playing around with this concept, but it seems like Polar has edged them out on the “fun” aspect. The application itself is light and airy, well-designed, and gives you the immediate feedback and interaction that gets you to keep coming back.
As its user base grows out, it will be difficult for Polar to keep up with the requests of its users, so keeping an eye on the data, like Wroblewski does, is key to their success. In the age of hoarding ideas in the hopes of multi-million-dollar exits, it’s nice to see entrepreneurs openly discuss their vision, path and more importantly, their learnings along the way.
When it comes to making money, Wroblewski tells me that some brands are already testing out the platform, but they haven’t focused on setting up a paid model or toolset for them yet, with the delay due to wanting to “do it right.”
Read the original here: Polar’s Sticky Polling App Gets Stickier With Its Latest Update, Closes In On 8M Total Votes
Blab is launching a platform that allows businesses to predict — up to three days in advance — which social media conversations are going to be important.
Co-founder and CTO David Snelling gave me a brief demo of the product yesterday. He showed off a visualization tool that highlights the up-and-coming topics at any given moment, a “magazine view” featuring the most engaging content in a given topic, and most uniquely, a chart predicting the extent to which the conversation will spread in 12, 24, and all the way up to 72 hours ahead, along with an indicator of how confident Blab is in its prediction.
To be clear, Blab can only make these predictions about conversations that have already started — it can’t predict what news will break in the next three days. But even though it’s not a crystal ball, Snelling argued that it can help companies decide which conversations they should join and which topics they should focus on. After all, those companies don’t want to hop on a bandwagon just as the excitement is dying down.
“If you’re going to create long-term content, you want it to be where [consumers] are going to be landing, not where they are now,” Snelling said.
Co-founder and CEO Randy Browning added that these predictions help companies “emerge from the thicket of trees and get a view of the forest.”
The predictions can be made with as little as 30 minutes of data, Snelling said. To do so, Blab looks at the initial conversational patterns and compares them to past data, so that if things are unfolding similarly to a conversation in the past, the technology can extrapolate how the conversation will proceed.
When I asked if there are specific topics where Blab makes more accurate predictions, Snelling answered, “We’re really not concerned about the topic, we’re just concerned about the behavior.” He also warned that conversations are “a living thing” that change over time, so the predictions get more accurate as Blab collects more data.
Other Blab features include the ability to identify influential users and to find relevant comments even if they don’t use a specific keyword. In the future, Snelling said he wants to add more nuance to the predictions, so that they suggest which platforms are likely to see the most activity.
The rest is here: Blab Predicts Which Social Media Conversations Are Worth Joining
We’ve seen a steady stream of ‘smart’ Twitter clients in recent times, with the likes of Tweetary rolling out as a sort of diary for all your tweets. Then there’s TweetDig, a Web app which tidies your Twitter stream by sorting tweets into custom folders, or Slices which makes creating lists of people to follow on Twitter easier than it is on…Twitter.
Now, however, another so-called smart Twitter client has hit our radar, going by the name of Neatly.
Available for iPhone/iPod Touch, iPad and…wait for it…Symbian, Neatly comes courtesy of F16Apps, a Cairo-based startup that graduated from the Flat6Labs accelerator. F16Apps develops “socially productive” mobile apps, with Neatly serving as its current flagship product.
The whole premise behind Neatly is to help users combat information-overload on Twitter, letting them customize smart timelines based on their social preferences and interests, surfacing what’s really important.
Firstly, it’s worth noting that Neatly boasts a pretty sweet interface, and is very easy on the eyes. But Neatly is more than just looks.
Also, it’s optimized for both the smaller form-factors of iPhone/iPod Touch, as well as the iPad. While the features are similar across both, the look is slightly different because of the available screen real estate. For this, I’m basing the verdict on the iPad incarnation.
The first thing you’ll see when you connect your Twitter account is your timeline. But down the left-hand side you’ll see a series of different options to the usual Twitter interface.
It’s worth noting here that you can use Neatly as a standard Twitter client – it has @mentions, Direct Messages, Lists and all the usual features you’ve come to expect of Twitter. But Neatly is more than just a standard Twitter client.
You can customize your timeline, filtering similar updates into separate, single timelines, while eking out topics that don’t interest you and putting them to one side.
Neatly collates similar tweets as a Topic, and within each one you will see a list of users who have posted a relevant tweet under that topic – they are entirely contextual. For example you will find Apple, iPhone and iPad lumped together under a single topic.
The settings menu is where you can elect to ‘mute’ specific sources and topics, or choose to highlight specific topics with a particular colour too. So if you want to ‘silence’ a particular person that you’re following, without actually ‘unfollowing’ them, you can do. You can also do the same for specific hashtags, if you wish.
There’s also a Smart Timeline, which looks not too-dissimilar to the regular one, except you’ll see it’s not sorted by time – it’s sorted by what’s important to you. And the more you use the app, the more it learns from your actions, and makes the timeline more efficient with key tweets at the top.
You can also click on a specific profile, which highlights things such as common interests, purely based on the content of your respective tweets.
Also, it’s worth pointing out the multi-stack feature on iPad, which lets you open numerous windows on top of each other, rather than having to navigate back and forth between screens. If you want to keep a window open for later use, you can pin it to the window and keep it for as long as you need it.
This applies to each section, so as you go in and out of, say, ‘Timeline’ and ‘Smart Timeline, you will retain the windows in each.
It’s actually difficult to go through all the various features and nuances of Neatly – the more you use it, the more you’ll find neat little facets that really sell it to you, or you can simply ignore them.
For example, you can easily attach a tweet, conversation, topic or image to an email directly from within the message, via a dedicated email icon at the bottom of each tweet.
As noted already, however, Neatly is a very nice alternative to the official Twitter client, even without all the bells and whistles. But the icing on the cake with Neatly, perhaps, is the ability to add multiple profiles to the app, which is good if you have a work and personal profile.
“I came up with the concept for Neatly because I follow a lot of people on Twitter on my iPhone, and it was hard to keep up with specific tweets I wanted to follow,” says Ahmad Essam, co-founder of F16Apps and creator of Neatly. “No one wants to scroll through Twitter all day looking for specific information. Neatly has many user interface features that create feeds based on users’ activities to save time.”
Neatly is available to download for free now, on iOS and Symbian, with BlackBerry and Android coming in due course.
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