Posts Tagged reviews

Broadcastr, the storytelling startup [REVIEW]

Broadcastr logoFirst off, I am a huge advocate for spoken word audio.  I often joke that in my car, I don’t have a radio, but rather an “NPR Box” with an on/off switch, because the station never changes.  When I’m not listening to talk radio, I’m listening to talk podcasts.  In college, I actually managed to turn my podcast addiction into a senior thesis, exploring the “anthropology of podcasts.”  I’m constantly lamenting the relative lack of attention that spoken word receives in our culture, so when I read an article about a new website offering crowdsourced storytelling, I was excited.

Broadcastr is currently in an invite-only beta release.  Apparently they are actually being restrictive with invites, as I requested one almost a month ago and just received one this week.  But now, after a week of fooling around and exploring the beta site, I’m able to offer my two cents.

Here is the basic premise of the site: Users can record stories directly from the website, or upload existing stories.  Stories can then be pinned to a map, based on where the story took place.  You can name your story and choose a picture to go with it, but other than that, it is a pretty bare-bones interface, and uploading is very simple.  As a listener, you can zoom into any location on a map and view stories posted in that area, or you can do a keyword search.  If you find a user that you particularly enjoy, you can subscribe to their future postings, and you can create personalized playlists.  It’s extremely simple, and the map makes it a lot of fun to explore areas that you might be familiar with.

Broadcastr Beta

My first impression upon entering the site was, “Wow!  How did they already get so much content?”  Obviously, a lot of the stories posted have been culled from existing archives.  (In my area in Milwaukee, there are a lot of great stories produced by the fantastic local radio station, 88Nine Radio Milwaukee.)  I assumed that cultural epicenters like New York would already be populated with content, but I was pleasantly surprised to see stories in my neck of the woods too.  In the second story I listened to, I even heard the voice of someone I knew being interviewed for an 88Nine story.  Most of the stories are short (in the 2-5 minute range), which makes it less intimidating to listen to a story on a whim, knowing that you won’t be roped in for half an hour.  (Currently, however, you cannot see how long a story is before playing it.  That is something they will want to add in future updates.)

The site is remarkably fast and smooth, and very responsive.  I had some minor critiques (lack of keyboard shortcuts, and the ease of accidently starting a new story while you were in the middle of listening to one), but all-in-all the UI is top notch.  The site indicates that it is working on iPhone and Android mobile applications, which I feel will be essential to encouraging contributions, as it will enable users to upload stories as they happen on the go.

Obviously, the site is in limited release, and it will only continue to become more interesting as more people join and post content.  It remains to be seen whether users will primarily post formalized, more produced stories, or whether instead it will be used as a sort of audio Twitter, posting short snippets on the go.  This is a new territory for the social web, and I predict its future will be largely influenced by mobile applications.  I’m certainly excited to follow the site’s progress, and see what develops.  Request an invite here, but don’t expect a response right away.  If you’ve tried it out, leave a comment and let me know what you think.


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RockMelt, the new social web browser [REVIEW]

RockMeltI’ll be honest, I tend to get a bit skeptical when I hear about new web browsers that will supposedly alter the way in which I engage with the internet.  In general, these browsers tend to needlessly overcomplicate things, and both UI and functionality suffer.  Additionally, I am currently very loyal to Chrome.

Thus, when I first started using RockMelt, it was pleasantly familiar to me.  RockMelt is built using Chromium, the same open source browser project that powers Google Chrome.  In addition to immediately knowing my way around the browser, this also means that all of my favorite Chrome plugins still worked just fine.

But let’s get to what makes RockMelt different.  RockMelt was designed to seamlessly integrate the user’s social networks into their browsing experience.  The creators of RockMelt found that many of today’s internet users spend a majority of their time online navigating back and forth between a few webpages, checking for updated content.  The interface of RockMelt allows users to have those pages featured around the borders of their window.

When you first install RockMelt, you are immediately required to log in with your Facebook username and password, and indeed Facebook seems to have been the central priority of the designers.  Down the left side of my screen, I can see my Facebook friends, and I can quickly switch back and forth between a list of my favorite friends or my friends who are currently online.  Within just one or two clicks, I can easily see any recent status updates, post to their wall, or send them a message.

On the right side of my window, I have some of my favorite bookmarks, my Twitter feed, and some RSS feeds.  Clicking on these icons brings up a new window on top of the browser, so I can quickly check for updates, and then just as quickly get back to the page that I was browsing.

The program offers a smooth integration with Growl, and allows for alerts to let me know when new Facebook statuses or Twitter updates have been posted, if for some reason you want to be made aware of that every time it happens.

All in all, I have to admit that RockMelt retains a great degree of browser functionality while allowing seamless integration with your favorite social networking platforms and frequently visited blogs and websites.  If you’re like me and are easily distracted, this might not be the best program to install on your work computer, but might be ideal for the person who finds themselves constantly clicking back and forth between multiple tabs of Facebook, Twitter, and however many blogs they might be addicted to, not to mention what you’re actually meant to be doing at the time.

Currently, RockMelt is in an invite-only beta release, and naturally they are still working out some bugs.  But if you’re a person who needs to stay on top of the social web at all times and could use a little more order in their browsing experience, I would definitely recommend checking it out.  Visit RockMelt’s website for an invite, or check out their blog for more information about future release dates.

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