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Mark Myerson

Avid photographer of no note whatsoever, and professional Facebook loather.

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Sitedrop: Design-Conscious File Sharing

Sadly, much of the work done by those in the creative arts isn’t terribly creative. This isn’t because all the talented designers, musicians, film-makers and photographers out there aren’t capable of producing works of stunning originality. It is actually due to the irritatingly small amount of time that they can dedicate to making beautiful things, and the frustratingly large volume of time dedicated to the trials associated with a service-based profession.

One such trial is the toing and froing of work between the professional and the client. Many of the platforms that are technically capable of performing this task are not focused on the client-facing niche of file sharing, and as a result, few prioritize both straightforward operation and high quality presentation.

This is why I think the concept of Sitedrop, a new beta hot off the Betaworks press, makes sense. Based on Dropbox for storage and hosting, Sitedrop wants to make the delivery of your work within a beautiful interface as simple as moving a file. Is that too much to ask? (more…)

MapBox: Straightforward Beautiful Map-Making

The independent cartographer’s future business options are looking a little shaky at present. There’s only one platform most of us use for visualizing addresses and researching locations, and it just happens to be attached to the world’s most popular search engine.

I am, of course, referring to Google Maps — a service which, due to its general-use popularity, seems to provide about nine out of every ten maps you see embedded around the web. There’s nothing terribly surprising about this, even when the restrictive nature of map-building with Google is taken into consideration — convenience, after all, is king. What is surprising is that no competitor has produced a similarly easy-to-use platform that also offers greater freedom. But things are changing.

A startup named MapBox, three years in the making, is out to corner the online cartographic marketplace. Its original breakthrough came in the shape of TileMill, an open source native mapping app. Now, however, MapBox has its own online platform — but can it snatch Google’s crown?

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Streme: Simple Intelligent Link-Sharing

I have a ludicrous number of links stored away in my browser, saved in my Pocket account, and clipped into my Evernote library. What I’d like is a simple, efficient system for sharing my bookmark collection. Thus far, I haven’t had much luck in finding one. Given our collective obsession with sharing pages, posts, photos, videos and Rickrolls, this seems a remarkable state of affairs.

Of course, there are a few aids out there for sharing links. If you belong to the small population of Delicious users still roaming the web, or you moved on to a service like Pinboard, you’ll be wondering what all the fuss is about. The problem is, not many of us do use these services any more.

So, what about a really simple way of collecting links together — perhaps in a theme — and making them accessible on one page? Enter Streme, a new platform which has been designed to make the creation of shareable link collections as easy as possible. But can it really fix link sharing?

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Silk: Data-Driven Content Management

Traditionally, the perceived role of the written-word journalist is to depict an event, a place, or a scene, in eloquent prose. In most respects, this traditional perception still holds true, even in today’s multimedia-rich publishing climate.

There has, however, been one seismic change in the industry, which has completely altered how stories are written: data. Big data. Data so huge that it has only entered the mainstream in tandem with the recent advent of powerful home computers. Now, stories are told as much in numbers, averages and probabilities as they are in expressive paragraphs. But, bizarrely, the internet has yet to catch up; ever tried to include graphs or infographics in your blog? If you have, you’ll be well aware of the stilted nature of the task, and the unappealing bitmap-based finished product. In other words, it isn’t pretty.

That’s why I’m excited about the concept behind Silk, a new hosted CMS which has information, graphs and infographics at its heart. But is it the platform to start a data-driven trend in citizen web publishing?

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Cumulus.fm – A Unified Home For Your Streamed Music

Consider broadband’s contribution to music. Without it, we’d all be stuck in our pre-Napster bubbles, unable to hear any harmonies on demand other than those we owned; no wonder music TV shows did so well back then. Without broadband, “iTunes” would just be a weird way of describing your CD collection. And without broadband, we’d still be sharing our playlists on tape. Nowadays, we can access virtually any piece of music ever recorded, and instantaneously share our latest audio discoveries with our friends. Thank you, broadband.

However, despite being spoilt for listening choice, we now have 2013 problems to deal with. Streamed music is a highly fragmented marketplace, and if you are trying to build a cloud-based library, it is unlikely that every track you’ll ever want will be on Spotify, or Rdio, alone. As a result, playing your internet-derived library may require a haphazard tour around the likes of YouTube and SoundCloud, just to get the sounds you’re after. That’s just silly.

The makers of the beta, music curation platform, Cumulus.fm, want to make the musical site-hopping game a thing of the past. But is a slick, cross-service, music library really achievable?

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Blogvio: Beautiful Customizable Widget Creation

Speak to any progressively-minded and well-educated web designer or developer, and you’ll soon realize that you are conversing with a master craftsman. Like any professional who is highly skilled, these shapers of pixels and writers of code take pride in the jobs they do, and they work to the highest possible standard. This requires, among other practices, the use of clean, semantic code — one less media query here, and one less repeated CSS rule there adds up to a noticeably faster website.

That is all highly commendable if you know what you’re doing (or if you can afford to employ someone who is suitably knowledgeable). But what about when David, the hotelier, wants to add a promo video to his website, or when Rachel, the musician, wants to include her recordings in her web presence? These folks may have basic web-building skills, but they certainly aren’t capable of writing functional micro web-apps. The solution? Embeddable widgets.

Unfortunately, widgets haven’t always been terribly adjustable, good-looking or quick to load, and finding one to suit your exact needs has always been a painful search. A new service named Blogvio, fresh out of private beta, aims to address these issues with a library of stylish, customizable widgets. But can any paste-in code really provide a satisfying addition to your website?

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Fleep: Early-Stage Team Communication

Remote working definitely has its advantages. That’s an assertion I can back up with my own experience, not least in terms of my writing for AppStorm. The opportunity to work anywhere within range of a Wi-Fi signal provides wonderful freedom, and the lack of workplace distractions can make a significant, positive difference to productivity.

Not that it’s perfect, by any means. One of the key challenges of employment-by-broadband is trying to work with a team. An on-site employee or employer needs only to get up and walk a few steps to give or receive feedback, share ideas, or simply have a chat at the water-cooler. Of course, those of us who work from afar do not have that luxury. It’s not surprising, then, that there are plenty of video-calling and instant messaging options aimed at suiting the needs of geographically spread business teams.

Whilst no online platform can replace the instantaneous, spontaneous communication available in person, the next best thing, in my view, is a chat platform which works swiftly and efficiently. New beta collaboration service Fleep is aiming to provide just that, together with productivity aids such as file sharing. Fleep is up against some tough competition though (we’re all very impressed with Slack here at AppStorm, for example), but can it shine through?

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Portfoliobox: Streamlined Website Building for Creatives

I love taking pictures. I also like sharing the images I take, showing them off to the world in style, and offering others the opportunity to own the artworks I create. It doesn’t sound like a particularly challenging feature list to satisfy, but my experience says differently, particularly when it comes to affordable solutions. Over the years, I have tried literally dozens of hosted site builders, content management systems and design-conscious networks in the hope of finding the desired blend, with only limited success.

There have been a few close misses. I’m impressed with many elements of Behance‘s ProSite system, particularly on the design side of things, while at the other end of the spectrum, Weebly is affordable, customizable and easy-to-use, with some decent ecommerce options. Unfortunately, the former service’s $11/month price tag, and the latter’s inability to deliver dynamic galleries and photologs makes neither platform truly viable.

My most recent tour of the available services ended with the creation of a Tumblr blog — but I still think there must be a better option. Maybe that option will be Portfoliobox. This one-year-old Stockholm-based outfit has already amassed 62,000 users, which is hardly surprising given the generous feature-set offered even for free account holders. But does it deliver on its promises?

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Loom: Your Automated Photo Vault

The prevalence and compactness of high quality photographic equipment today is fantastic. The always-there, always-on nature of the smartphone makes missing a photo opportunity a rare occurrence. We’ve always captured parties, weddings, births and graduations, but we’re now able to fill in the gaps between these big events by recording everyday happenings, which are often just as precious, and are usually a great deal more intimate. These life-documenting images are stored as digital files, so they are memories which we will forever have access to.

Well, it should be forever. But ever since digital photography became the norm, we’ve all shared one problem – what do you do with all those images? As a committed DSLR photographer, I’ve filled hard drives with my camera’s output alone, so the increased photographic output made possible by my phone is a serious problem. Sure, you can back up online, but most options are worrisome or expensive, or a combination of the two.

Both Google and Apple have, in recent times, sought to address this issue. Google+ and Photostream both provide automatic cloud backups, and both also provide later access to your images online. A new service called Loom (still in private beta) thinks it can do better still. It provides automatic backup, 5GB of free space, Mac and iOS apps, as well as a web interface. But does it provide a compelling alternative to the built-in OS backup systems?

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Line: Beautiful Chronological Storytelling

In the digital lives of today, chronology is everything. Our experiences are mapped out via timelines, and every turn of events is a narrative without a beginning or an end. This is a change of culture which has mostly been brought about by the concurrent social and mobile revolutions. Together, they have supplied us with the platforms and the technologies to make both real-time updates, and later access to them, a reality.

This functionality, of course, opens up the possibility of constructing compelling stories from real-life events. Sadly, the selection of elegant, reader-friendly tools with which we can deliver our reports is painfully limited. Social networks are nothing better than pragmatic, and the structure of a blog is not inherently suited to multimedia.

Hence, I’m very interested in trying Line. It is a new platform dedicated entirely to the creation of multimedia-rich timelines, and their subsequent presentation in a beautifully minimal, Medium-like design. But can it really provide the format that digital storytelling has been crying out for?

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