San Francisco guide to New York neighborhoods

So you’re moving from San Francisco to New York. You liked your cute neighborhood and tasty burritos and you hope to replicate this existence somewhere in the Big Apple. Well kiddo, that’s impossible. Everyone knows there is no such thing as a good burrito in NYC.

This was the fate of a friend of mine a few weeks back. When she described her desires to a broker, this broker responded with, “you’ll probably like Williamsburg.” So this friend gets in the broker’s car and heads over a bridge to another part of town. Her reaction, later over email: “I expected it to be cute. Williamsburg is not cute.” Yes, Williamsburg is definitely not cute. It’s sort of like the Mission, and I’m sure almost anyone from SF would agree that the Mission is also not cute.

In response to this unfortunate misconception, I have constructed the San Franciscan’s guide to New York neighborhoods1. What follows is a socio-cultural mapping between cities, from my perspective. The fact that Murray Hill and the Marina are connected is entirely related to the number of white, greek-lettered hats you would find there.

San Francisco vs. New York
San Francisco vs. Manhattan

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San Francisco New York
Financial District Midtown
North Beach Little Italy
Chinatown Chinatown
Union Square Soho
Soma Tribeca
Potrero Brooklyn Heights
Dogpatch Red Hook
Civic Center Civic Center
Hayes Valley Chelsea
Western Addition Carroll Gardens
Pacific Heights Upper East Side
Noe Valley Upper West Side
Marina Murray Hill
Haight Ashbury East Village
Castro West Village
Mission Williamsburg
Lower Haight Lower East Side
Russian Hill Park Slope
Fisherman’s Wharf South St. Seaport
Treasure Island Roosevelt Island
Sunset Brooklyn
The Richmond Queens
Berkeley Morningside Heights
Golden Gate Park Central Park
Tenderloin Wherever Giuliani put it
Stanford Princeton
Marin Westchester

1.   Of course there’s a lot of need for improvement. I would personally love to see similar guides made for every pair of cities (“I’m an Atlantan in Chicago. Where’s Little Five Points?”), but that’s a big task for one person with limited knowledge.

Flea market Montgomery: Just like a mini-mall

Every once in a while there’s a meme. Living rooms. Dinettes. Yeah, I’m talkin’ bout flea market! Mongomery! It’s just like.. it’s just like.. a mini.. mall.

I have basically been living life through this commercial for the past couple of days, so I had to make a historical note of it; it’s infectious like Empire Carpet. The brilliant salesperson is Sammy Stephens, a Montgomery, Alabama resident where his ad currently graces the airwaves. It was launched into the public Ellen Degeneres’ audience’s eye recently when an anonymous person sent Degeneres a tape. I would love to see Sammy sucked into the big media world, doing ads for Nike or Budweiser, but I’m afraid he’ll probably fade away like Bubb Rubb and the whistle tip.

Update: The Montgomery Advertiser is hosting a remix contest! Download the audio and make a new song or download a bluescreen video. There are no prizes, but they’re embracing the randomness of the mini-mall.

Firefox autocomplete: how much?

One of my favorite parts of Firefox 2.0 is the autocomplete functionality built into the search bar. Every time I start typing a random query, I am completely surprised to see what the rest of my brethren are searching for. Recently I started typing “how much” and came up with this amazing list:

How much?

You thought that all of those mortgage banner ads were overkill; it appears not. Besides the iPhone your car and your weight, mortgages account for 7/10 how-much searches.

Graffiti research with Flickr

So you took a picture of some cool looking graffiti and it has piqued your interest. You want to know what it means, where it came from, and who put it there. Gone are the times when tags were a mysterious, obfuscated communication only to be understood by other artists and anthropologists. These days, you can be your own graffiti researcher with the simple use of Flickr. Here’s how it works:

1. Snap a picture of the tag. Here’s one I took the other day:

Les Crabs

2. Decipher the tag. This can vary in difficulty. If you’re not blessed with tag-deciphering skills, you can ask one of your more graf-savvy friends, or ask the Wooster Collective. In my case this is simple; I’m dealing with someone named “les crabs.”

3. Search on Flickr for the name. Also look at the Flickr tag for the name. If you come up with a big list of graffiti photos, you’re on the right track. If not, try adding the word “graffiti” to your query.

4. Do some research. Look at the other photos and take note of the Flickr tags, titles and comments. Graffiti photographers will usually give some details about the location. I see that les crabs is most prolific in San Francisco, but has also been seen in Oakland and Brooklyn:

Les Crabs in San Francisco

Les Crabs in Brooklyn

Les Crabs in Oakland

5. Upload your photo to Flickr. Add tags it with the city and the the name of the artist, maybe even geotag it. Be proud of the fact that you’ve joined the ranks of graffiti anthropologists around the world.

Orkut to take over MySpace?

Orkut logoAlexa has recently been improving the global coverage of their traffic statistics. Their Global 500 now shows a number of sites that have almost zero attention in the US market (e.g. Baidu, QQ, and Yahoo Japan). Many on this list had a negligible presence on Alexa a year ago, most likely due to their marketing of the Alexa Toolbar in foreign markets.

While I was looking at the list of top 10 global sites, one was extremely startling: Orkut, Google’s social networking service that has been extremely successful in Brazil. Since January of last year, Orkut has grown by a factor of 10, moving from a daily reach of 3,000 to 30,000 per million. Since MySpace’s traffic has been more or less constant over that time period, it’s not surprising that Orkut has covered some major ground towards being the world’s largest social networking service:

Orkut vs. MySpace 1 year

Looking more specifically at the race for top ranked social networking service, it appears that the two will be neck and neck from here on out:

Orkut vs. MySpace

Orkut gets no attention in the US market mainly because their US presence is tiny compared to Facebook, MySpace or even Friendster. If they take the number one spot worldwide, will Americans respond? Google paid $900M to be MySpace’s search provider, a partnership that might lead people to believe that their business interest in social networking was diminishing. Another explanation could be their interest in monetizing a mature social networking service while Orkut continues to grow. As the service continues to drive traffic globally, it is inevitable that the press will take notice, and Google can take this opportunity to grow their domestic user base.

I hadn’t logged in to Orkut for years, but upon returning I realized that very little has changed. Same strange photos, same hearts and ice cubes, same periwinkle-and-purple color scheme. Orkut’s growth reinforces the fact that the value of social networking services, and social software in general, comes from the base of active users, not the set of features they offer.

Lady not so Sovereign in SF

This is a story about one man’s brush with celebrity, and a donut.

So this guy (Zach Slow) goes to Coachella and sees a cute girl who goes by the name of SOV. Mesmerized and inspired, he sets up a website to get her attention by raising $10k for a date with said girl. After some serious media coverage, girl agrees to go on said date, but only if he reaches $10k. The amazing part: he succeeds.

Boats, champagne, and some other things happen. MC Jelly Donut is present. The final Mastercard bill:

Yacht and private chef: $5,000
Stretched SUV limo for 5 hours: $1000
First class flights to LA: $1000
Hotel rooms plus a suite at super fancy hotel: $1500
Overly priced primo booze for 7 people: $700
Tips for staff on yacht and limo: $180
Limo to airport: $150
Gifts: $200
Paypal charges: roughly $270

The date goes so well that the girl has a hard time at her show the next day in LA. She claims she was sick.

Round two. The girl comes back to San Francisco for a second tour only a few months later, this time with a bigger posse. She plays the bigger venue for a bigger crowd. In an interview, she talks about her date with the boy. For whatever reason, she decides to lay in on the poor kid from SF. His grandma has cash. It was a horrible night. Somehow it’s all his fault because the donut came along. Then she plays her worst show yet, and people demand a refund. She says she was sick. She does it again the next day in LA, and someone actually catches it on tape. Still sick, apparently.

The boy responds to the press, but no one is listening this time.

Round three. I get an email last night about another show. Apparently she is back for a third visit, this time because her previous show as so bad. After the last interview, the boy is ready for action. He’s ready to take her on… er, the donut will for him:

tomorrow night (monday the 8th), my good friend Lady Sovereign is playing at the Mezzanine. i say “good friend” with a sense of irony because she has been kind of a jerk-face to me.

if you don’t already know the story… it’s long and boring, so lemme just skip to the good part.

monday night, our buddy Jelly Donut is trying to pull off one of the most amazing stunts ever conceived. he is going to try to battle Lady Sovereign at her show. yes, you heard me correctly. HE IS GOING TO TRY TO BATTLE LADY SOVEREIGN DURING HER SHOW.”

WE WANT JELLYDuring the show, supporters of the kid handed out images of a Jelly Donut with the instructions, “hold this up and chant for Jelly Donut after the fourth song.” The girl leads off with her most popular jam, followed by a couple of forgettable tracks. The crowd is anxious (well, at least I was) when the fourth song arrives. Some people hold up their donuts. Nothing happens.

After the fourth song, the girl notices the guy in the audience and starts taunting him, “you fucking kid. You stoner. I love SF but I hate this kid. You fucking grandma’s boy. You stoner.. you’re just a Beavis! Hahaha (lauging at self) Hahaha.” Meanwhile, people have started chanting “JEL-LY… JEL-LY… JEL-LY…” and the bouncers are running around the audience and hopping up on stage. The girl spits her drink at the donut, and the audience retaliates with some more liquid, tagging her square in the face. Bouncers continue to bounce, the girl drops another song, the crowd is quelled, and the donut is ejected.

Donut needs a drinkMeanwhile, MC Jelly Donut, Zach, et al. are hanging in the parking lot. They reenact the scene where the girl spits her drink all over him. All he wanted to do was battle her, no violence intended; just a merry prankster dressed up as a donut. The donut’s final words: “Anyone know a good dry cleaner? I got SOV all over my donut. Hold on a sec, I need a ride home. Lemme take this thing off.”

Will there be a round 4? Maybe when the girl grows up someday. Wait, she’ll probably be sick that day.

Update: Thank you Flickr for documenting everything.

Update: plans for Lady SOV domination on Flickr.

Update: Perezhilton and Idolator on the Lady Sovereign/Jelly Donut showdown.

Update: Yahoo! News is covering the Jelly Donut/Lady Sovereign battle.

Update: A YouTube video of the incident has appeared.

Flickr Social 101

A certain friend of mine (who shall go unnamed) is living in Kenya. I met him today for lunch and was super psyched to hear about his life, but a little vexed to discover that he has 5000 photos he’s sitting on, a Flickr pro account, and a substantial internet connection. I asked him why he doesn’t upload one photo a day and he responded with, “I use Flickr as storage.” I thought this completely was absurd, until I remembered that some people have never been properly introduced to the social features within Flickr.

What I find most engaging about the product are the lightweight social interactions that allow me to keep up with my friends, even those who don’t have blogs or active myspace/facebook accounts. Much of the social functionality, such as searching for people, adding them as contacts, and following their progress, are not immediately obvious in the interface. This short tutorial should get Nathan him up to speed, along with anyone else who uses “Flickr for storage”**:

1. Find your friends. First, do a few searches for your connected Flickr friends. These will be the people who told you about Flickr, extol its virtues every time you’re out with them, or use their phone cameras to beam pictures to the internets. Whenever you see someone you know, drag your mouse over their photo, and when a box appears over the photo, press the arrow to expose the secret contact menu. Here you can click the link that says “add them as a contact.” You can also use this menu to get to their contacts page where their friends are listed. Use this list to find any friends you might have in common. Also, when you meet someone you like, exchange Flickr handles. Chances are they’ll be happy to swap photos.

2. Setup alerts. The next step is to make yourself aware of what your friends are doing on Flickr, both in their world and on your photos (you probably didn’t know people were commenting on your photos, did you?!). This is probably because you only go to Flickr when it’s time to dump some photos into the hard drive. There are three feeds of information that you want to track. Find your user id using idgettr and modify these URLs to be your own (right-click, copy the URL and paste it somewhere to replace USERID with your id):

Once you have these three feeds, you need to track them. If you already use an RSS reader, simply add these to your list of feeds. Done. If not, Yahoo! Mail beta users can add them to the feeds box in their mail. For people who don’t know what the hell RSS is, and don’t care, use RMail or RSSFwd to send updates to your email. This should take 5 minutes to setup.

3. Be social. When you see that your friend has uploaded a picture, say something to them. It might not make their day, but it will probably make them happy to know that you’re watching. It’s a small amount of effort that can have a positive impact on someone’s day. Or, if you’re a little shy in the online world, drop one of their photos in an offline conversation, e.g., “hey man, I thought that picture of you with a tiny 49ers helmet on was nuts! Were you drunk?” The answer will, undeniably, be “no.”

I made this guide so that every time I have this conversation I can tell people to search for “flickr social 101.” Please let me know if you have any comments on how to improve this tutorial and I’ll be happy to incorporate them.

** note this guide does not apply to misanthropes or pop-stars.

Five things you didn’t know about me

I don’t usually participate in the “what is your favorite citrus fruit?!?” games, but when Chad calls, I listen. I got tagged Chad, Cody, Ian and some number of intermediaries back to the ur post.

1. I wanted to be an engineer from a very young age. When I was 5 years old, we had this yellow velour couch (it was 1982, remember) and solid oak coffee table. While my mom was talking to a friend or something, I placed one of the cushions between the coffee table and the couch. Then I said, “look mommy, soft bridge!” followed by one step and then the sound of my teeth making contact with the hard oak. Blood, tears, and a dental specialist for years didn’t get me down though: at age 8, I wore an MIT sweatshirt despite not knowing anything beyond the meaning of the letters. Not that I thought at ALL about the place between 8 and 22, but my 8 year-old self must have pulled some strings to get me in for grad school.

2. I was a frat boy in college. I was a member of the Alpha Delta Phi chapter at the University of Chicago. This is a statement that I always have to back up with excuses, like, “I was young, I needed the money,” or “I saw their hip hop a capella group as a way to explore my sensitive side.” Although it didn’t end on the best note, I admit that I had a great time there, and it put me among the likes of Ben Stein, P.J. O’Rourke and John Perry Barlow.

3. I never have been a very good actor. In the third grade my whole class put on a play. I don’t even remember the title, but I do remember my part: bus driver. I had one line in the entire hour-long production, and it went something like, “all aboard!” Anyway, my teacher at the time didn’t think that I was putting enough energy into it, and he coached me on how to be more expressive. In the end he yanked me from the part and I was the only student not to perform. This is the part of the story where I’d love to say, “but then I went on to star in a broadway production of the same play 10 years later.” But I didn’t. I became an engineer and I can’t even remember the name of the play.

4. During my Ph.D. I spent a summer working for the CDC studying STDs. When I tell this to most people they respond by saying “haha, so did you get a lot of hands on experience?” as they step away from me pretending I’m infected. The truth is that it was a really amazing internship, with them helping me understand the mathematics of diffusion on networks, and me helping them understand technology. Besides my published work, I did some fun projects looking at search traffic to their sites, correlating logs with seasonal outbreaks of various diseases (e.g. herpes and syphillis). I also showed them a little SEO to get their herpes information onto the first page of search results. And I learned a host of knowledge about sexually transmitted infections, which many of my friends find useful on occasion (please send your questions over email).

5. For a little under a year I co-ran a show on MIT’s radio station called electronic experiments. It had the brazen goal of being completely live, and mostly improvised electronic music every week. It was a hell of a lot of work, but ended up introducing Dan and I to just about everyone producing music in the Boston area. As for our music (Tek Fu), which was always improvised, I think someone once compared it to free jazz: “hours of monotonous garbage punctuated with (brief) moments of brilliance.” That led to the creation of our local music crew unlockedgroove, and eventually to the creation of our label under the same name. All of our vinyl is creative commons licensed, and Dan’s most recent record with Ben Recht is pretty dang hott.

My turn:

  1. Maciej Ceglowski
  2. Andy Baio
  3. Ernie Hsiung
  4. Justin Foster
  5. Michael Buffington

Likelihood of getting transmission? Low. But if I did it, they should have to as well…

LinkedIn to launch answers product

LinkedIn logoIn a marketwatch story and online video interview, Keith Rabois of LinkedIn revealed that the business network is planning to launch a question/answer service similar to Yahoo! Answers, but directed at business intelligence. The service will take advantage of the identities LinkedIn users have taken time to construct, and utilize the existing social relationships as an incentive to get people to answer questions. From the interview with the head of business development:

Rabois: One of the things we’re doing is transcending the traditional value propositions of LinkedIn. Historically we’ve been focused a lot on hiring, recruiting, and finding new jobs and opportunities. We’re going to be using LinkedIn exploring new opportunities for people to conduct research, business research. One of the most important uses of a professional network is to get intelligence and get business information. For example, if one wanted to know what three changes are going to occur in patent law in the next five years, LinkedIn is a perfect tool to find that answer. Or, what venture capitalists are most appropriate for investing in a sports medical device. So we’re going to have a LinkedIn answers. You can sort of envision a useful version of Yahoo! Answers tied to people’s professional credentials and profile so you can assess the validity and credability of people’s answers.

Francisco: And how do you get the incentives? How do you provide incentives for people to actively participate in that?

Rabois: Principly social capital. It’s going to work within two degrees, and that means a friend of a friend. So if someone I know is asking a question and I know the possible answer, I’ll be willing to respond because I know the person in common. So I’ll earn some social capital as well as develop a professional set of expertise and reputational devices on our site that allow you to market yourself as an expert in a particular topic.

Answer sites have been coming out of the woodwork lately; after the overwhelming success of Naver and others in Asia, Yahoo! Answers opened a free, public question/answer site in America. Microsoft followed shortly afterward with Live Q&A and then Amazon with Askville. Each of these sites has a slightly different take on the incentives and social dynamics that make up the system, and each hoping to find the magic arrangement that creates high-quality content for its users. Of course the holy grail for these services is to achieve what Naver did, namely gaining the #1 search market share for search a year after launching their Q/A product.

LinkedIn presents an interesting player in this game, specifically because they have a substantial amount of information about their users, and because these profiles represent serious, professional concerns. Their opinion of Yahoo! Answers is obvious (“imagine a useful version of Yahoo! Answers…”), and they believe the users of LinkedIn will participate in something much more serious than the current competition. The interview does not mention when they plan to launch the system, but I would expect it to be soon if the head of BD is talking to MarketWatch.

How many taps in a URL

Since I’ve started using my mobile phone more often for web browsing I have become painfully aware of how many damn key presses it takes to enter some of my favorite URLs. It’s great that so many sites are offering stripped-down versions for quick mobile browsing, of course with the added expense of entering the URL. This sort of thinking led me to ask, how many taps does it take to get to a website?
Multi-tap is the method by which many mobile users interact with their phone. Each letter is entered by tapping a given key a number of times corresponding to the letter on that key. For instance, the letter ‘S’ would be entered by pressing the 7 key four times. I have developed a system to calculate the tappage for an arbitrary string. You can find it here:

In addition to the standard tap semantics, I add an extra tap for each time a key is repeated. This is because a repeated key requires that you either press a forward button (painful), or wait for the letter to register (painfully long). Also, since the tap dynamics for symbols vary from phone to phone, I set ‘.’ to one tap and everything else to 4 taps. So of course everyone is asking at this point: who has the shortest URLs?

After playing with this (highly addictive) tool for a few hours, I find the results to be really non-intuitive; some short things are long, some long things are short. I guess this is yet another dimension to consider when you are looking for a domain name.