Ben Brown:

GO CLIENTS GO!

Our work with Total Immersion on the Go Hamster Go! Facebook application has been named the #1 augmented reality application by Revolution Maggazine because it represents "a fantastic example of how the technology is being integrated within the media environment." If you haven't suction-cupped a few hamsters to your face yet, we highly recommend it.

Meanwhile, NeighborGoods is rapidly approaching a public beta, and they've launched a cool partnership with Los Angeles Metblogs. Readers of LA Meblogs can join the site and immediately be introduced to othe readers of the blog using the cool new group invite system that we built. If you live in LA, check it out now so you can tell your friends you were a member before the site went public.

New features at SMITHTeens.com

To coincide with the Sept 1 launch of SMITH Magazine's newest book, I Can't Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure, XOXCO designed and built several new community features for the SMITHTeens site. We launched a brand new forum for the talkative teen memoirists, improved profiles, a smoother user experience for posting memoirs and comments, and an activity tracker that, for the first time in the site's history, gives it's members a way to see who is talking about their memoirs.

In the weeks ahead, we'll be expanding some of these features to include even more ways for the teens to connect with their friends and collaborate on creative projects. And, we'll be bringing some of this magic to the main SMITH site so that adult memoirists can also benefit!

XOXCO's Busy Summer

We have been having an extra busy summer here at XOXCO. Check out some of the nifty stuff we've launched in the last few weeks:

We worked with Total Immersion to create the Go Hamster Go! game to promote the KIA Soul. The game uses augmented reality head tracking software so that you can control the game with your face. We built the Facebook application portion of the game.

NeighborGoods, a platform for community-based lending and renting, has just gone into alpha! Our project with Micki Krimmel, NeighborGoods hopes to make it easier for you to save money by borrowing stuff from your friends instead of buying new stuff. NeighborGoods is built on our PeoplePods framework, and we worked with designer Mari Sheibley to implement Micki's vision.

Speaking of PeoplePods, we've been working with designer Mark Bult to get PeoplePods launched. As soon as we're doing building the new site, the community building framework will (finally) be available to developers.

Finally, we launched a new blog a few weeks ago called Must Share Hair - a place for real people with real hair to share their hair awesomeness with the world. The submissions of great hair have been pouring in, and The Wall Street Journal covered our launch. The blog has already clawed its way up the Tumblr popularity scale, where we are currently the third most popular blog about hair.

Coming Soon: Neighborgoods

XOXCO has been working with Micki Krimmel over the past few months on a really cool project, and we are now getting tantilizingly close to letting you play with it.

NeighborGoods is a tool that will make it easier for you to share your stuff with your friends and neighbors, and to save money by borrowing or renting stuff that you'd otherwise have to buy and then store in your closet. We can't wait to loan you our awesome (but hard to store) collapsible 16-foot ladder!

Sign up to be one of the first people to use Neighborgoods, and follow us on Twitter for tantalizing tidbits of info that Micki will be releasing over the next few months.

Just Launched: Six-Word Memoirs for AARP

We just helped our pals at SMITH Magazine to launch a new branch of their ever expanding network of personal storytelling sites. The newest addition is a print and online collaboration between SMITH and AARP Magazine, collecting six-word memoirs from seniors about life, death, and most importantly, food.

We're always happy to work with the folks at SMITH. They were doing the wordcount thing way before Twitter made it hip.

Flixel

Oh great! Another super cool pixel programming framework just launched. There goes my weekend.

Flixel is a set of ActionScript classes that make creating games a lot easier. I just poked through the code for the sample game, and it looks brilliantly simple. I am very, very excited to play with this code.

Check out the code for doing collision detection between all the objects in your game! 4 lines!

//collisions with environment FlxBlock.collideArrays(_blocks,_bullets); FlxBlock.collideArrays(_blocks,_botBullets); FlxBlock.collideArrays(_blocks,_bots); FlxBlock.collideArray(_blocks,_player);

(Don't miss Gravity Hook and Fathom, also built using Flixel)

UPDATE: I spent some time hacking on the demo code and was able to create this: a version where you can draw the map with your mouse as you play. NEAT!

Staying Simple While Adding Features

Over Memorial Day weekend, I finally got a chance to work a little bit on the next version of do.Oh, our super simple todo list application. do.Oh quietly launched in 2006, and has been running virtually without update since then.

The tagline of do.Oh is "Now with fewer features." Our initial idea was to create a todo list that did not have the clutter of modern "task management systems" that cause you to spend more time managing tasks than actually doing things. No tags, no due dates, no calendaring, no categories, no sub-lists. You put something on your list, then you do it. That's it.

But there are a few key features we want to add! So the task has become designing an interface that allows these new (and awesome) features to live alongside the extremely simple list interface without distracting you from the tasks at hand.

Right now, we're experimenting with simple keyboard shortcuts that open up implicit information spaces that otherwise hide behind an ellipses or small button. The key is to leave the list interface mostly undisturbed until you absolutely need one of the more advanced features, at which point they appear magically before you.

Here's a screenshot of the prototype I built last night to test some ideas. The "advanced options" bubble appears around the selected task when you hit the Tab key on your keyboard. While the bubble is open, several other keyboard shortcuts become available.

Pixel Programming with Axonome

Michael Buffington has created a Javascript library for creating dynamic isometric pixel grids, complete with the ability to navigate an player avatar around the grid. My brain is currently exploding with ideas for using this in games and art and user interface design. It might even find its way into PixlPinchr.

WolframAlpha Search Plugin

When I saw WolframAlpha, I knew I was going to have a lot of questions I wanted to ask it. So I made a Firefox search plugin. It looks like this:

WolframAlpha Search Plugin Screenshot

Hey Lifehackers! Check out the other things XOXCO makes like a way to get random reruns from Hulu or a Twitter bot that tracks the DJIA. And snag our feed to get Fresh Clickables in your inbox.

Shifting Pixels

Pixel Shifting

Tonight, I played with adding some features to PixlPinchr. The image above is the result. Too much fun, not enough hacking.

Zip Code Proximity Bounding Box Function

This afternoon, I am working on a project that involves zip code proximity. To find zip codes that are near to other zip codes, you need to create a geographic bounding box to search within. Creating this bounding box (really, just drawing a virtual square around your point and finding it's corners) involves a bunch of semi-scary trigonometry the likes of which I have not seen since college. I searched the internet far and wide for a pre-existing function that does this, but most of the examples I found were wrong and/or confusing. So, like the good little hacker I am, I created my own.

Download getBoundingBox.php

include 'getBoundingBox.php';

// find zipcodes within 100 miles of 78704
$lat = 30.240685;
$long = -97.768829;

list($lat1,$lat2,$lon1,$lon2) = getBoundingBox($lat,$long,100);

// now we can query our database and do easy number comparisons...
// ...instead of scary math!

$sql = "SELECT * FROM zipcodes WHERE latitude between $lat1 and $lat2 AND longitude between $lon1 and $lon2";

...

It should be noted that due to the curvature of the planet and vagaries of floating point arithmetic that this may not be 100% accurate. I encourage you to do what I'm doing - post process the results and do real distance calculations on each one to verify and refine the selection.

This code was made possible by the formulas on this handy page, and my math savvy pal Robert Swirsky.

RandomTrek

I know it has only been a day since we asked you to get excited about Random Reruns, but with the new Star Trek movie on the horizon and The Iconfactory making us crazy with all of their awesome Star Trek icons, I couldn't resist jumping on the bandwagon. After all, not a day goes by when I don't spend a little time with Kirk, Spock and Bones. Usually in bed.

Random Reruns + Star Trek = RandomTrek

Every time you click on it, RandomTrek will give you a random episode of classic Star Trek from CBS.com.

And while you are instantly loading random episodes of this historic show, ponder the fact that it's been more than 40 years since these episodes originally aired on olde tyme broadcast tv.

Random Reruns

We don't do TV at the XOXCO HQ. After years of paying exhorbitant fees for cable, we've gone 100% internet for our viewing needs with a Mac Mini attached to our TV in the living room. This is all made possible by the folks at Hulu who offer a ton of our favorite shows, new and old, on demand, in full screen, for free.

But making the leap from normal TV to internet TV means you lose the ability to just turn it on. In order to watch something on Hulu, even in the background, I have to search, sort, browse and select through thousands of choices. Do I want to watch a new episode of 30 Rock? Or maybe an old episode of He-man? It takes way too much thinking!

That's why I created Random Reruns. I wanted a way to channel surf through my favorite shows on Hulu. Using the magic of personalized feeds and embed codes, Random Reruns will pick random episodes from your Hulu favorites and let you stay on the couch where you belong.

Random Reruns

Stephen Elliot on How to Launch a Content Website

Earlier this year, we helped Stephen launch his awesome magazine, The Rumpus. In an interview with the LA Times book blog Jacket Copy, Stephen talks about the aggressive way we got started.

If I were giving a seminar on how to start a website, which would be ridiculous, I would talk about the importance of launching a site this way. We were gathering content as we worked out our design. Because of that the content pushed the design, not the other way around. The Rumpus is a content-driven magazine. We will never have more people working on technology or design than we will writers and editors.
Anyway, the worst thing you could do, I now realize, would be to launch a site without content. You would have to completely redesign it, which would have been out of our budget.
It was actually Ben Brown's idea. He's at XOXCO and is responsible for the design and back end of the site and he's kind of a genius. He was the one who told me to start gathering content right away rather than waiting for the site to launch.

Stephen is right. We absolutely believe that the best way to launch a website - any website - is to start posting content online, even if the "final" design and functionality is weeks away. Like any activity, it takes a while to build up the muscle memory of actually doing before you can get good at something. The "beta" period we had with The Rumpus allowed the magazine to gather an early audience while it was still learning how to be a magazine, and we were able to "launch" with a site filled to the brim with good stuff to read.

Read the full interview here

PeoplePods Preview

Are you ready to add social networking functionality to your existing site, or create an awesome new community site from scratch? You better get ready, because PeoplePods is almost here!

PeoplePods Dashboard We are in the final stages of preparing the first release of PeoplePods, a software package that will let anyone create cool social/community websites almost as easily as we do. In giddy anticipation of this release, we're showing off some screenshots of the product - a sneak preview of the community building tools, the backend administrative toolkit that'll help you manage your community on a day to day basis, and even a shot of the installer that'll get PeoplePods up and running in just a few minutes.

Check out PeoplePods Sneak Preview on Flickr.

PeoplePods will allow visitors to become members of your site, create personal profiles, post content of virtually any description, find and follow their friends, create and join groups, search, filter and subscribe to content, and do all of the magical little things members of sites need to do these days - and all of this stuff works right out of the box! In addition to a bunch of pre-built modules and templates, PeoplePods includes and is built upon a flexible and easy to use software library that we're sure developers are going to enjoy. We've built dozens of community sites and social apps over the years using a variety of platforms, and PeoplePods represents the collected lessons from all of those experiences.

We've been working on the 'Pods for close to 2 years now, and the fact that we're now able to share screenshots of the installation process is a little bit mind blowing. We're also really excited to move past the initial release of the software so that we can get to work on a few PeoplePods-powered sites of our own!

Want to be the first to know when PeoplePods is available? Follow PeoplePods on Twitter or bookmark the PeoplePods homepage!

Pixel Power

We here at XOXCO believe that, like the atom is to the analog world, the pixel is the fundamental building block of all things digital. Pixels are a pure representation of their own simple value, yet when combined, they create all the wonders of the modern world. And if you can create pixels, you can create reality.

One of our main areas of interest in the low-rez world of pixels is pixel art. The incredible constraints put on these artists force them to evaluate and reevaluate their representation of every day objects so that they can be fit into the grid world of pixels. For example, how does one draw a recognizable human hand in a 3x3 space with only 9 colored squares? It requires elements of impressionism, pointillism, and cross-eyed brain trickery. These kind of tiny, intimate details are everywhere, but they go mostly unnoticed by the audience because today's screen resolution causes them to appear on the screen at a fraction of an inch.

Arlo! One of the projects we're working on is a browser-based pixel drawing tool, code named PixlPinchr. Though we still have a lot of work to do before releasing it as a product, we've been leaking out development versions to our network of secret XOXCO agents. One of these lucky few is a dude named Arlo Robbins. I gave Arlo an early copy of the iPhone version, and he has been busy ever since cranking out awesome pixel drawings.

Arlo's Pixel SKullAmong the many drawings Arlo has pecked out in PixlPinchr is this skull and crossbones. Arlo's awesome mom, Jen Robbins recognized Arlo's lo-rez genius and put his pixel art on teeshirts. These shirts offer definitive proof of the age old internet meme that pixels make you look cool. (See also: Jason in Arlowear, Ben in Arlowear)

Arlo's art and these teeshirts are extra cool for us because they were built with pre-release, experimental code. I had an idea, I executed it, and almost immediately, cool people are doing cool things with it. This is pixel power! This is why we love to make stuff. I can't wait to see what happens when we actually finish and release PixlPinchr for public consumption!

Until then, I look forward to more super low-rez creations from Arlo. He is so busy creating pixel drawings that when I accidently moved the site to a new location and his bookmark broke for a few days, he and his dad, Jeff Robbins sent me a SINGING VIDEO BUG REPORT! Note to all current and future clients: if you want the quickest possible response, file your complaint in this format!

Buy some Arlowear of your own, or browse some pixel art on Flickr.


Clickable: Ups and Downs

Latest Tweet:
    Follow on Twitter

    For a reason I don't fully understand, I get a kick out of watching the stock market spluttering around like a balloon that has come untied. I have no idea how this is directly affecting me - I swore off that tab in Mint long ago - so I am excited by both the ups, and the downs. All I know is, I want to be watching when The Great Depression II starts!

    To make my sick little obsession easier, I skipped some SXSW morning panels to hack on Ups and Downs, a Twitter bot that will tell you how the Dow Jones Industrial Average has been doing. The bot tweets every 30 minutes while the market is open in New York. Follow Ups and Downs on Twitter and bear witness to the ECONOCALYPSE!

    Clickable: Click to Swim!

    Dakota and I are always kicking around silly ideas for videogames. I hadn't worked on a game since the mid-Nineties when everything I did was written in Turbo Pascal for DOS. But when Dakota and I thought up the concept for Click to Swim, I knew I had to make it real.

    It took me about three days of work to hack out the first version, mostly spent drawing 50 versions of a little naked guy treading water. It was a lot of fun, and I felt like I was learning a lot about how Flash 9.0 works. The game went through a few revisions as Dakota and I played it and sent it around to our friends. We even tested out a multiplayer mode. I probably swam for about 20 hours while on conference calls.

    The final version, to the right, represents about 6 furious hours of refactoring and redrawing (and a restore-from-backup) that I did a few weeks ago. To commemorate the glorious launch of this new section of our website, I think its time for this to become the very first "XOXCO Clickable!" I am now attaching the official seal of "It works, ship it!"

    All of the work we did, including all the previous versions (and a few wallpapers) are available on Swim's permanent page: CLICK TO SWIM

    Yes, we will be at SXSW.

    This will be our 9th year at SXSW, and my 7th year as a speaker. This year, I will be appearing alongside Andy Baio, Michael Sippey, Jane Mount and Lane Becker on a panel titled "What Do I Do With Myself, Now that the Economy Has Collapsed?" Be warned: I plan on talking about my worm farm.

    Update: Listen to me talk about our panel on Austin's own KUT radio! Or, watch me in this 5-minute interview with SXTXState.com where I talk a little bit more about what XOXCO is trying to do.

    Previous