Can you predict American Idol Results by looking at the interwebs

I must confess. I am a huge Idol fan. I have diligently followed the last 6 seasons. The show has consistently managed high TRPs, increasing user votes and some really creative product placements (remember the Coke glass on the judge's table and the Ford ad). The talent pool is sometimes underwhelming but the judges and the musical guests more than compensate. 
Recently, another season of Idol ended with Scotty Mcreery and Lauren Alaina reaching the finals. We obviously know who won, but the question is can the results be predicted by looking at the opinions and the trends in the interwebs? So let's find out.

Obviously, a disclaimer first. There is no statistical tool involved, no complex number crunching and no opinion polls. Idea is to reveal a simple intuition on what can be achieved by simpler tools. In our case, using Google Insight.

According to world bank, 78% of population in US have access to internet. Google has about 60% of search share in US.

Google Insight (and Trends) lets you discover what are people searching for over a specified timeline. They don't give you absolute numbers but they do show you the relative popularity of search words, which is good enough when we are comparing two or more items. 

I first looked at the relative popularity of the finalists and one Casey Abrams, my show favorite, over the last 90 days. As insight predicts, initially when the first gala rounds start, viewers are still firming on their favorites thus you wouldn't see clear distinctions in terms of relative search volume. But as the show proceeds, you start separating out the favorites from the rest.

As expected, Casey soon starts leading the pack, and peaks during one incident where he kisses judge Jeniffer Lopez in a stunning vocal performance. You also see him peak when he gets voted out of the contest.

Note, I am searching for their full names because it get's tricky if you just put "Scotty" or "Lauren", since they are common names and could refer to say one reality star Lauren Goodger and her recent bikini snaps. 

Now zooming on to last 30 days, you obviously notice how Scotty always is a step ahead of Lauren in terms of search volume. The results for "Scotty idol" and "Scotty Mcreery" are quite correlated. The reason for choosing the former keyword is that not everyone who is looking for Scotty would type in his full name. Thus the idol suffix performs better in emulating the desired user behavior.

So, how did we perform? Well, no surprises, Scotty did win American Idol this year. Voila! Our method works. This is brilliant. Now we can predict anything. Right?

Well.. Not quite fast. There are certain issues. One, search volume may not always result in higher votes. Think of a popular camera. Imagine Millions are searching for a review of the new Canon 1100d. However, after reading the reviews, they discover the flimsy design, the below par build quality and the horrible  paint job and thus reconsider their purchasing decision. What happens? Higher search volumes leading to the opposite results.

Similar issues arise when you are looking at twitter trends to predict data. You have to send the results through a Natural Language Processor (NLP), a machine learning tool to identify if the opinions are positive, negative or neutral, in order to decipher the end result.

Internet is a great source of data. Its pervasiveness in our lives can help social scientists, economists, marketeers and governments to understand our needs, wants and preferences better. Imagine the public housing body increases the supply of houses by correctly forecasting the housing needs, thus successfully keeping the housing prices in check. Possibilities are endless.

But we need more comprehensive tools. The area looks quite promising with new social analytics services being launched everyday, none of which I have tested yet. Maybe I will revisit it again one day. But for now, this is the best we've got and it works pretty well in some cases. What do you think? Leave your comments behind. Happy Surfing!

Microsoft's acquisition of Skype, an Analyst's puzzle

Merger economics teaches us that the fair value of a target firm is its market value plus "Synergy".  Last September when eBay sold 65% of its stake in Skype, the internet communication company was valued at $2.75 billion. Adding an additional $1 billion that Skype was planning to raise through an IPO, Skype should have been a $4 billion acquisition. Then why did Microsoft pay $8.5 billion? Is the post-acquisition synergy worth $4.5 billlion!

What's even more bewildering is the fact that last year Skype made a nett loss of $7 million on a total revenue of $860 million.  In Microsoft's defence, Skype is a great company to own. Its user base grew 40% last year and the brand is now synonymous to internet telephony. Microsoft instantly gets access to a web property that's as popular as Google, twitter and Facebook. Integrating Skype into both its consumer and enterprise products should create synergy enhancing online collaboration. Along with its Enterprise communication suite Lync, Skype should also work well with their Xbox and Windows Phone platforms.

From a cashflow perspective, Microsoft has over $50 billion oversees, bringing it back would entail US taxes. And historically Microsoft's reinvestment in internal R&D hasn't had great returns. Thus investing in the Luxembourg based Skype is a smart move. But, only if the price was right.

Whatever be the reasons, a $8.5 billion for Skype still does not make sense. One wonders if Balmer got carried away with his vendetta over Google and their initial bid for Skype.What do you think. Do leave your comments.

Google Challenge1: Weekends!

I have had some time issues in updating this blog. Till I re-prioritize my activities, I have thought of starting a new filler section called Google Challenge. It's about gathering the most feasible statistical inference using Google. Here is an interesting one.

I hate my weekends. My friends ridicule me when I share this sentiment. I believe there are lots more out there who think Weekends are an absolute waste of time :). In order to prove this, I need to figure out, statistically how many good folks out of 10, think likewise. My gut feel says it should be at least 3 out 10. Now let's find out.

There are couple of ways to do it. One, I could do a survey with a sample of people. The key challenge is, it's hard to get a random sample to survey. I would prefer a geographically and culturally diverse people, including single, married, men, women, kids. And obviously, I don't have the financial means to hire Gartner or BCG to help me here, so let's try to find a simple and cheap way to do this.

Attempt1# is to use 2 keywords "I hate weekends" and "I love weekends" and look out the no. of pages google returns. Note: the double quotes ensures the exact string match.

"I love weekends": 498,000 hits
"I hate weekends": 89,100 hits
Inference: For every 100 people who really enjoy their weekends, there are 18 of us who absolute hate it.

This Definitely doesn't help my case. The percentage is too small. Conceptually there are a lot of issues with this:
1. Results included lyrics of songs that had "I love weekends", youtube videos, reviews etc. which skewed the results.
2. If you change the keywords to "I love weekend" (remove 's' in the end) , "I love sundays", etc, each results in a wide spectrum of results. So for simplicity sake, I will stick to the earlier keywords.

Attempt 2# Rather than searching all results, let's focus on blogs. Blogs are personal accounts of people.

"I love weekends": 214,000 hits
"I hate weekends": 74,100 hits
Inference: For every 100 people who really enjoy their weekends, there are 35 of us who absolute hate it. This number is a lot nicer :)

Some issues with this method are:
1. Not all blog. And those who do, have lots of time to kill, and more prone to hate weekends :) like me
2. Demography that blog tends to be a more young generation

Attempt 3# Using twitter to find a more personalized result
"I love weekends" : 27,400 hits"
"I hate weekends" 4,970 hits

Inference: For every 100 people who really enjoy their weekends, there are 18 of us who absolute hate it. Interestingly, this result is quite similar to Method1, which I think is sheer co-incidence.
Some really obvious issues with this method are:
1. Not all twitter
2. Google doesn't index all tweets
Now, in all three cases, we are forgetting the group of people who are indifferent to the concept of "weekends". Assuming that's 10% of the population and assigning 20% significance to method1, 70% to method2 and 10% to method3. Below are the results.

i.e 7 out 10 love their weekends, 2 absolutely hate and 1 is indifferent. Great! That was fun. I still stick to my 3 in 10 gut feel. But I don't know if I can ever statistically prove it. Maybe some day we can analyse human behavior better.

Do comment if you have a better, easier and faster way to deduce the above challenge. Happy googling!

Tip of the week: Accessing Twitter and Gmail behind office firewall

This is something everyone wants to do right. In most of the offices personal email, social networking sites, chat clients and alternative browsers, are all banned. Here is a nice little trick to access gmail and post tweets, right from your office firewall.

1. Just go to Pageflakes, a nice web application which I covered a year back.

2. Create a new account and browse for the email, twitter and facebook flakes from the flakes gallery.
Note: "Pop Download" must be enabled in your GMail settings, so configure this from your home before you try this at your workplace

3. Now go to your pageflakes home page and configure your new flakes and be surprised!

10 Great things to do, when you are on a Firewalled night shift

Imagine you are stranded all night in Office, waiting for something bad to happen, and stuck with a Vista Machine with restricted access and a crippled network. How do you manage the next 12 hours. Here are 10 ways to survive a Firewalled night shift.

10.Blog offline
Blogger, Wordpress etc. are all blocked at work. Type your posts in good 'ol html/text, and either mail it directly to Blogger, or go home, and use your own trusty internet connection, 14 hours later and publish it to the world.

9. Twitter through the night
I tried this but failed miserably. Twitter is generally blocked at work, but you can either post your tweets via twittermail or via your im (look at 6)

8. Watch videos for strictly non-entertainment purpose
Sticking to the office decorum, my favorite source of vidoes are - revision3, cnet and WSJ Online
Please no youtube or Saturday Night Live at work.

7. Listen to music
If you forgot your iPod, the thing I did, you have tonnes of online sources. My top picks - youtube (yeah for music, and it works in my office), seeqpod and Grooveshark

6.Chat with friends and strangers
This one is such a big time waster :) but that's exactly what you want now, right
Most of the offices block instant messengers. Here is a really cool site that lets you do it on port 80. Gtalk javascript clone.
This has a really strange bug. It auto accepts all invites, including what google suggests from your blogger comment contacts, and you end up taking to people you hardly know. But it's still cool.

5.Code something fun
Well this one's for the real geeky ones.When you have restricted access, nothing beats the simplicity and ease of Excel VBA macros. No admin rights needed. Code your way through the night. How about a pacman in excel?

4. Read a Book
Read something that will keep you awake. I prefer some good ol' science fiction - Asimov's, Arthur Clarke's and Stephen Baxters.

3. Talk to real people
Come out of the virtual world mate, no facebook, no twitter.. I am referring to good ol' people in flesh n blood. You are never in it alone.. just look around for folks in similar "What should i do now" mode.

2. Do some real work!
Oh c'mon, the work that you are intended to do, staying late.. in the first place.

1. Think of the 10 best ways to survive a firewalled night shift
And, be prepared for the comments that would follow when it reaches the world.

Have a great week folks! And enjoy your night shifts.

Google Insights: Finding Paris for Danes

Numbers intrigue me a lot. For instance, did you know, more Danes have searched for Paris Hilton, than anywhere in the world in the last 30 days(including the Americas). And did you also know, Obama has a huge fan following in Kenya.
There was a time when collecting statistics such as ..these would have taken months and even years. But now, by just observing user browsing and searching patterns, a lot of really interesting and sometimes useful information can be collected in no time at all.

We discussed Twist, few months back which analyzes Twitter posts. But, then how many people really use twitter? What is it that almost the entire world uses, more frequently than anything else? This might help you.

If you answered "Google", you are almost right. Though lately, there has been a huge shift towards social networking - Facebook and Myspace and stuff. But, one has to admit, Google knows more about people, than anyone else.

Google seems to have spun off "trends" as "Insights for Search". Insights analyzes user search behavior over the last 4 years across regions, cities and time lines. A statutory warning here: It's really quite addictive.

For instance, as a Linux enthusiast based in Singapore, I was disheartened by the fact that the awareness and interest for Linux has been falling continuously over the last 4 years. With this statistics, I know we've got to pull up our socks and try harder.

Another example could be, as a Microsoft X360 sales guy in Singapore, this following consumer trend is a warning bell to cut prices, increase awareness and throw in more promotions.

I could go on and on, but Google Insights is an amazing tool. It doesn't guarantee accuracy but paints a really interesting picture of what's buzzing the tubes. I only wish there was a way to filter positives from the negative "insights". Some things top the list for all the wrong reasons. But yeah, in future, context based searching will hopefully resolve this issue. Better not to discuss Cuil here :)

Insights showcases the amount of information Google collects. It also reinstates the reason why they are the biggest targeted online advertising agency. And it also reaffirms my faith in Google, that if there is anything to be searched online, Google will find it for here. God speed my friend and keep the numbers flowing :)

Cloud Computing: What it means for Enterprises?

Data is the single most important asset for any modern enterprise. Transaction histories, customer records, asset inventory lists, intellectual property, etc. Even the modern currency is just bits of 1s and 0s flowing through secure networks.

Data centers are the lifelines of such enterprises and companies spend millions, and sometimes billions to manage and run such data processing centers. Lately, due to rising costs in terms of maintenance, capital expenditures, enterprise licenses, power etc, companies are looking for cost effective alternatives. Analysts predict, by 2012 the power costs for running data centers will jump 13 folds. 60% of power consumed for cooling these centers is wasted due to inefficiency and there is a huge impetus to go green and be more power efficient in the long run.

A common technique followed by modern organizations to control rising costs is to consolidate a large number of scattered server farms, network rooms, communication centers and data centers around regions to smaller and centralized data centers. Also known as data center consolidation, this is a key driver behind reducing costs and optimizing existing resource by improving the utilization rates. Virtualization solutions like Vmware have also enabled better utilization rates by running multiple Os' and applications on a single server.

Cloud Computing views technology resources and infrastructure as "always on" services, where customers can tap into this vast pool to run their own applications and services. From the customer/end-user’s perspective, they only need to care about the subscription fees charged by the service provider. The Service Level Agreements (SLAs) ensure a minimum level of service quality and support.

Companies like IBM, Google, Amazon and Yahoo are the early promoters of this new phase in computing. Google which invested more than a billion USDs in Capital expenditure last year offers the Google App Engine service whereas Amazons S3 is quite popular among startups and SMEs who can’t afford to run and manage their own data centers.

Cloud computing in some sense, is a mirror of data center consolidation initiatives. Using Economies of Scale, by hosting applications from thousands of customers in centralized data centers, hosts increase the utilization rates of their existing systems, can negotiate with vendors for larger discounts, forecast energy requirements and can have a small set of on-site trained workforce along with a cheap outsourced support staff.

An important question that arises now is what keeps a modern day enterprise to shy away from cloud computing? In fact, isn’t reducing costs the prime focus of companies in such times of recession and economic slowdown?

Well, the answer is that it’s not that straight forward as it seems. Firstly, is it safe to trust a 3rd party to take care of your sensitive business data? Will your customers agree with it? What about regulatory requirements? Countries like Japan and Korea discourage the practice of storing local production data on international servers.

Moreover, some critical business applications can suffer from unacceptable latency issues due to the proximity and bandwidth connecting to the "cloud" network. In such cases, you have to fallback to your existing infrastructure resource or search for other "clouds" that would satisfy your latency requirements.

To sum up, Cloud computing seems like the right way forward. It's takes away the pain that comes with managing your own infrastructure. Along with the major technology breakthroughs, legal processes and controls are also needed in place before it can be accepted into mainstream. Service providers will have to work harder to build the trust amongst customers and guarantee a resilient, secure and stable infrastructure solution.

A lot of work is still needed but at least we are headed in the right direction. 2012 – Era of cloud Computing? Only Time will tell…

Google integrates labs into Gmail to test beta features

I am a huge fan of gmail. Ever since I got my very first invite, four years back from a really nice prof, I have completely stopped using the likes of yahoomail and hotmail.

To my surprise, I found the Labs option in my Gmail settings tab. It lets users add some experimental features to their gmail, try them and send feedback to google.

There are some really useful ones like Superstars, that lets you add additional stars to mark emails that need attention for specific purposes. There are some funny addons as well. For instance, Email Addict blocks your screen for 15 mins and prompts you to take a walk and get some real work done ;)

Overall, it's a nice feature added by google. And best part is, if any of the features break, they have given you an escape hatch. Simply click on this link.

Google Finance starts Free Real Time Stock quotes updates for select exchanges

Google Finance, Google's finance portal now offers real time stock quotes for : Dow Jones, NASDAQ, NYSE, S&P, Shanghai Stock Exchange and Shenzen Stock Exchange.
This is quite remarkable considering the fact that real-time stock quotes are generally a paid service everywhere.

For example, Yahoo Finance offers stock quotes with a delay, while real time quotes cost you $13.95 per month. Since most stock markets don’t just give out this info for free, this is probably Google’s attempt of drawing more visitors by taking on some loss. Google still has a long way to go before it can catch up with yahoo, in the finance portal segment but this might be a good strategy in the long run. I won't be surprised if yahoo announces a similar move soon.

Recently, NASDAQ became the First U.S. Stock Exchange to facilitate Free, Universal Access to Real-time Stock Data. They enable this using NASDAQ Last Sale which provides real-time data for securities listed on NASDAQ, NYSE and Amex -- including price, volume and time. Google, CNBC and WSJ have already started integrating this service onto their respective portals.

You can find the full list.. of indices for which Google provides stock quotes and the delays for each one here.

Heroku makes Ruby on Rails Deployment a really fun task!

I am a hobbyist programmer. Folks who like to develop stuff just for fun and not for a living. Ruby on Rails is the hottest new kid on the block that promises faster and easier development of dynamic web applications. Imbibed on ideas of DRY (Don't repeat yourself) and a sound MVC framework, It is probably the easiest to get started for hobbyist programmers.
Few weeks back ..I wrote about Getting started with Rails on Linux.

Once you have finished development on your local machine, the next logical step is to host it online. As a hobbyist, I started looking at some cheap hosting plans. I also stumbled upon some free hosts like vlexo. I got an account a week back and I still haven't managed to get it successfully hosted. So many configurations to manage, limitations on plugins etc.

I was about to give up and that's when I remembered Heroku. I had tried it months back courtesy of an invite from Techcrunch. I have to admit, initially I was pessimistic about the usefulness of an application that lets you edit, host and manage a Rails application all using a web interface. A Y Combinator startup built on Amazon EC2, Heroku is the best thing that happened for beginners and hobbyist who want to start their Rails journey.

Heroku boasts of tonnes of really great features. Ability to manage multiple apps, export and import apps, on the fly editing of code, a Rake and rails console, ability to add external gems and plugins, and an ability to work locally on your maching using their API and Git. Heroku also takes care of the scalability issues and has a inbuilt database and logs viewer. I could go on and on but it should be enough for beginners who are looking to run and deploy their first app. To try out Heroku, I deployed a simple application TaleWiki which was imported from a local copy.

Some tips for beginners:
1. If you are using and older version of Rails (pre 2.0), dynamic scaffolding and pagination won't work on the latest version of Rails running on Heroku. You'll need will_pagination or classic_pagination plugins. Watch railscast on using it. Classic_pagination is not available in Heroku's plugins list but can be downloaded from here.

2. If you are using the authenticate methods in Rails, do remember to add the following in your config/environment.rb file

config.action_controller.session = { :session_key => "_youApp_session_id", :secret => "some secret phrase of at least 30 characters" }

3. Heroku uses PostgreSQL as the underlying database. So do remember to setup database migrations before exporting your local app to Heroku. You can then export the migrations to Heroku. Heroku doesn't have an interface to run sql to create tables. Rightly so as beauty of Rails lies in abstraction of the underlying database from the application.

4. Do watch some of the screencasts of getting started with Heroku and using the other features.

Here are some screens of Heroku running my webapp.

Great! Hope you have a great time with Rails and Heroku. Happy Coding!

Linux: Silverlighting your web experience with Project Moonlight

Silverlight is Microsoft's foray into building interactive Rich Internet Applications. Microsoft has been pushing hard at getting the developer community, adopt this new framework but faces stiff competition from Adobe Flash and Flex which have a huge developer base.

Having said that, the Silverlight website showcases some amazing applications that are powered by this new framework. Analysts believe a new mobile version will be out soon which will make it a stronger competitor to the existing Flash Lite framework.

Microsoft has released browser plugins for Windows and OS X but it's not a surprise that Linux was left out, as usual. Here’s where Moonlight comes in for the Linux world..

Building on the Mono Project’s Linux implementation of the dot Net framework, Moonlight aims to provide both a Linux SDK to build Silverlight apps and a stand-alone Silverlight runtime.

To get started, firefox plugins for Silverlight are available at the Moonlight page. Firefox3 support is available in their experimental builds.

I tested it with some popular pages with mixed results. My favorite app is Microsoft Popfly, especially the mashup tool. Unfortunately, it crashes quite often and understandably, it's one of the more complex implementations of Silverlight around.

Bugs apart, it's definitely a praisable attempt to make an open source implementation of Silverlight and I hope in coming times, we'll see a more enriching and exciting Silverlight experience, right here on Linux.

Make a feature rich Facebook app in 10 mins with absolutely no coding

Facebook apps can be quite troublesome to build. Even if you want just a bare minimum app that just displays simple photos, you need to learn a framework, write lines of code in PHP/Python/Ruby/..
Here let me show you how to build a fully hosted app within 10 minutes. And with absolutely no coding involved. This technology is provided by Dapper. They have this really cool service that lets you build dapps (dapper xml applications) from any RSS or live web feeds.

I built my first facebook app - Cricket Updates using dapper's facebook app maker. It started off as an test app but a lot of people still use it. I hope to update it soon since I have a lot of time now.

Now let's get going, shall we. For the tutorial, we'll be making an F1 updates app, that will give the users, access to latest constructor standings, race news, pics and results. Each of these will be separate dapps which will be integrated into our facebook app.

1. Get yourself a dapper account by registering at their website.

2.Click on "Create new app" to create your first dapp. Dapp Factory page will load.

3. My first dapp will contain the latest F1 headlines. Click on the "In an existing RSS feed" tab and enter the address of rss feed. Select dapp xml and click next.

4. Select the items in the feed you wish to keep and click on next.

5. Now save your app.

6. Congrats, your first app is created. Let's create another dapp, this time a little more complex. Go to dapp-factory again.

7. Enter the url of the image gallery found on the F1 website and click next.

8. Now dapp will start collecting pages. You can add similar pages and click on "add to basket". Dapper will look at the page structure and deduce different items in the page. I am just adding one page here.

9. Next page, dapper will ask you to select the items in the page. Click on an image, and dapper will automatically collect all the images.

10. Click on save field and save it as "pics". Repeat the process if you wish to collect other fields like text and stuff. Once you have collected all the items, go to the next step.

11. In this page, you can group items together in groups. I have just pics so just group them as pics or just go to next step.

12. Now save the dapp and preview it.

13. I think that should be enough. Let's make our facebook app. Go to Facebook app maker. Add the created dapps into it and click "next step".

14. Give a nice banner, profile footer image etc. and move on.

15. In the configure dapps section, select the items in each dapp which you wish to display. Once you are happy with the selection, go to the next step.

16. We are almost done. In this page dapper explains how to get an api key from facebook and integrate your newly create facebook app with dapper. Follow the steps with care. Remember to add a "/" at the end of your call-back url and also select that option that allows users to add it to their profile page.

17. Once you are done, click on save. Dapper will do the rest. Once it has set up, it will ask you to install it on your profile.

18. Enjoy and share your newly created facebook app.

Using this method, you could create dapps for point standings, latest race etc. Just edit the facebook app from your dapper profile page and add more dapps to it. It's that easy. Do note that rss feeds don't get updated and reflected back that fast; hence, there will be a updation delay in your facebook app. You are also restricted to content that dapper currently supports. So no flash games, streaming music and stuff. But still Dapps are really powerful. You can pipe in outputs of one dapp into other and so on. Dapper website provides nice screencasts for all these features. Rss feeds can be manipulated using yahoo pipes to create even more useful and customized feeds. A yahoo pipes tutorial will be covered later in future.

If you liked this article, do support Dapper. They are an amazing service and hope they continue on this really cool work.

Twist: Analysing Trends on Twitter

Twitter is so much in news these days. People procrastinate about the frequent service breakdowns, yet they can't live without it. There is so much information twittered around the blogosphere and tonnes of third party services are cashing in, trying to make the data more meaningful and accessible.

Flaptor , which specializes in data mining and information search, has just launched a new service to observe user trends in twitter. Twist looks at mentions of the queried terms in tweets in the public timeline and graphs them over time.

Users can also on any of the terms and go directly to the recent Twitter messages containing that term.Brand owners, researchers and marketeers will love this tool but for the common web surfer, it's a pretty interesting service to play around with. Look at some of the comparisons one could do :)

So the next time, when you want to prove your point on how Mac users waste all their time twittering, you know where to look for the info :D.. Happy twittering!

BlogIt: Publishing to all blogging networks right from facebook

With a plethora of blogging applications on facebook, Six Apart's Blog it, application promises of a quick publishing option to all major blogging and micro-blogging platforms. Currently they support almost everything from - Blogger, Typepad, Wordpress, Vox, to Pownce and twitter. It also publishes excerpts from your newly published post on to your friend feeds.

It is a really nice gesture from Six Apart to support networks outside it's usual Typepad, Vox and MovableType umbrella. But how well does it really work.. To test that out, I am publishing this post right out of Blog It. Whether it worked or not, it's for you guys to check out ;)

Btw, feel free to add me on Pownce and Twitter and check out the results here...

Just add your accounts, and you are ready to blog. A simple editor that supports html tags. Just for quick and easy blogging. Nothing fancy.

It works..Twitter, pownce and feeds all displaying the new post ;).

Orgoo: Aggregating all your e-mails and IM accounts

Long long time ago, getting a hotmail account was the coolest thing to do, then came the hip yahoomail and soon thereafter, people started flocking for gmail invites.

Take my example, I have 3 gmail accounts, one for personal use, one just for blogging, and one for official purposes. I also have an official university mail account (NUS), and a faculty email account (SoC). I do have hotmail and yahoomail accounts, but I really don't care about them anymore.Lately, gTalk has become my defacto IM client, but I still use my MSN and yahoo messengers for project meetings.

With so many accounts to manage and the ever increasing pain of checking all these accounts each day for updates, there is a need for aggregating all these services. Enter Orgoo, which promises to be the one stop destination for all your communication needs. It seamlessly fetches and aggregates emails from different web services. With a built in support for POP and IMAP, and a meebo-style multi protocal messenger, it seems to have the right mix for a killer convergent web service.

Currently, it supports Gmail, aol, .Mac, external POP, IMAP and premium versions of hotmail and yahoo but they have plans to add support for the standard accounts soon.

For IM, they currently support msn,aol, yahoo, gTalk and ICQ.

Another really cool feature is that the history of all the IM chats are stored in a folder in your email view for future reference.

So, is it perfect? I have been using Orgoo for a few months now, ever since its private beta. It often has connection problems and the service is sometimes quite slow. Having said that, saving the hassle of logging in and out of my gmail accounts, is a good enough reason for me to keep using the product.
Overall, thumbs up. I do hope the service quality improves as their user base increases. Highly recommended ;)

**update: Do try another alternative service called Fuser. It seems to have a slicker interface, but does it match with Orgoo?,..wouldn't know till I try. Expect the review soon ;)

Taaz is a breath of fresh air

Taaz is derived from the Hindi word Taaza, which means fresh. aspires to be a fun, easy-to-use website that gives women the opportunity to “try on” the hottest makeup and hairstyle looks from the convenience of their homes.

Initially, when a friend of mine described this site to me, I gave it a pass as it seemed like another Picnik or FotoFlexer with an ability to easily manipulate images, add some cool filters and edit them online.

What sets Taaz apart is their proprietary facial recognition technology which can figure out for instance, where your lips are, your hair alignment etc. The killer feature of Taaz definitely is the ability to upload your photographs and experiment with different makeovers - hair, eyes, makeup, etc. They seem to have tieups with major cosmetic companies - revlon, MAC etc and you can try out their products virtually before actually buying them. That's what I call a smart consumer targeted product advertising.

Finished makeovers can then be shared with other users, rated, commented, etc.Overall, it's a fun tool, especially for women, who spend hours deciding on what shade of lipstick goes well with their contacts and hairstyle ;)

South Park Studios Beta: All shows online for free

For all the international fans of south park, who used to get their share of uncensored comedy via torrents and blogs, Matt and Trey, with association with comedy central have launched the new southpark studios website, where each and every show of the past 12 season are available in HD quality. Hats off to you guys, we all really appreciate the effort.

This endeavor is close in lines with Hulu, which does the same with it's partnership with major tv studios like Fox and NBC.
The best part is that I from Singapore, am not authorised to Hulu's content, but comedy central has no such restriction. Strange, why can't Hulu support this. Anyways, enjoy your South Park.

[Src: Natali Del Conte : Loaded] : One click posting to all your social networks

I had always wanted a service that could integrate my pownce, facebook and twitter accounts. 1 post to update all my statuses on all these networks.
I was contemplating of writing my own mashup to do all these but luckily folks at have launched a product that serves all your social syncing needs. One click posting to all your social networks. They currently support Twitter, Jaiku, Facebook, tumblr and pownce.

It is currently in private beta so the only challenging part is to get an invite. Setting up is really easy. You set up all your social network accounts and you are good to go.
Overall a satisfying service. I am still not sure how scalable their platform is when the user base increases (twitter still has troubles). Anyways, watch out for

Here are some screenshots..

ADrive: For all your filehosting needs

ADrive is a new player in the filehosting segment. It serves up a whopping 50GB of storage for free, with a max filesize cap at 2GB. The free "beta" accounts are ad supported and they have plans to launch an ad-free premium service soon.

The service is pretty easy to use with nested directories to host your various files. There is a neat upload applet to upload your files. The applet has one major shortcoming though. It takes control of your browser and I couldn't continue my other work till the upload process finished.

Apart from that, it's a good service. Files can be marked public an shared with peers. The download and upload speeds were also quite decent. Here are the screenshots ..

Web 2.0 in Plain simply amazing

I have always found it hard to convince my friends and folks the benefits of certain products. Take RSS readers for instance. There are so many staunt supporters for the good old way of visiting and reading web pages. They'd rather prefer periodically visiting their favorite websites to access latest news, but not an RSS feed of the same.
Enter CommonCraft, and their superb ability to describe technology in a simple and friendly style. Be it RSS, social bookmarking or twitter, they have explanations for all. So the next time, you want your friends to join you on twitter, try showing them this video and see how their reactions change.

Found via Cali Lewis' latest GeekBriefTv #325