Posted by: Will | October 5, 2011

A Tribute to Steve Jobs

Reflecting on the passing of Steve Jobs tonight and thinking about his impact on the world, I wrote and recorded this song … on my iPhone.

Steve said “Live each day as if it was your last…. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” RIP Steve Jobs – our generation’s Edison, a true genius. Your passing is society’s loss.

“Live Each Day (Steve Jobs Tribute)”: original composition by Will O’Brien, written and recorded on October 5, 2011.

Posted by: Will | November 23, 2010

iPainting – Boulder Sunrise

I painted this on my iPad with the app Brushes.

iPainting by Will O'Brien - Boulder Sunrise

You can see all of my iPaintings on flickr.

Posted by: Will | November 8, 2010

iPainting: Still Life – Orchids

I painted this on my iPad with the app Brushes.

iPainting by Will O'Brien - Still Life, Orchids

You can see all of my iPaintings on flickr.

Posted by: Will | November 5, 2010

Freeform Art: November 5, 2010

Tonight I indulged myself in some freeform art: poetry and music.


The North Star has gone out.
Can I guide this boat
by the ambient light
of the Ocean?

The effervescence of the
underwater reef life
provides a radiant glow
but how long will it last?

My crew sleeps while
I, awake, wonder what
tomorrow brings.

Which begs the question:
How did I get on this
damn boat?

November 5, 2010
Will O’Brien


Click play. The music you hear was entirely improvised and recorded on an iPhone at my piano moments after writing that poem. I like to believe that the notes on the piano are expressing the same emotions as the poem in a different medium.

Here is my piano

How does this resonate with you?

Posted by: Will | October 16, 2010

Painting Picasso on the iPad

The Seattle Art Museum is presenting a landmark exhibition of the works of Pablo Picasso. Along with many other residents of Seattle, I visited the exhibit today. I also brought my iPad with me, armed with the app Brushes for iPad.

First I painted my own interpretation of “Painter with Palette at his Easel” while standing in front of the original by Picasso. The image you see below was constructed on the iPad with finger strokes.

Painter with Palette at his Easel (Picasso iPainting by Will O'Brien)

And here is a time-lapse video.

That one turned out rather well if you compare it to a photo of the original I found later on the web (below).

I decided to try one more. This second one, entitled “Large Still Life on a Pedestal Table” took me about an hour. Below is the result and again you can watch the time-lapse brush strokes in the video.

Large Still Life on Pedestal Table (Picasso iPainting by Will O'Brien)

As I was painting, I started to attract a bit of a crowd including two guards who told me that photographs were not allowed. When I told them that I was painting this by hand (or finger) and showed them that my iPad does not have a camera, they were slightly stunned.

For comparison, here is a photo of the original “Still Life” painting I found on the web upon returning home.

What do you think? Maybe iPainting will be a 21st century art movement?

Twitter proves again it is the real-time web.

A 4.3 magnitude earthquake hit Northern California, minutes ago. After I felt the shake, Twitter confirmed it happened seconds later without me asking.

Twitscoop Showing the Most Tweeted Topic Now

Twitscoop Showing the Most Tweeted Topic Now

A quick search on Twitter gets me to relevant news and links from real people.

Twitter Search for "earthquake"

Twitter Search for "earthquake"

Google doesn’t even know that the earthquake occurred.

Google doesn't provide any relevant links for the earthquake

Google doesn't provide any relevant links for the earthquake

Here’s the most important point. 

Twitter told me about the earthquake before I asked.

Google did not know about it when I asked.

Posted by: Will | March 19, 2009

One-Click To Watch March Madness In Your Browser

march-madness-on-demandMarch Madness In Your Browser

I’m the kind of guy who likes to set things up once.  Since I have a bracket for the NCAA tournament, I’ll probably tune into some games. So the question is, should I google “march madness 2009” each time or should I setup a dedicated browser that I can launch with one click?

Here’s a step by step guide for the 2nd option.

Step 0: Get Firefox

If you are not using Firefox, shame on you (although Chrome is pretty good too).

Download Firefox and install it.

Step 1: Create a New Firefox Profile

[Note: These steps are for Windows XP. I’m sure Mac fanboys can figure it out too]

You can follow the steps at this link, or read below.

Using the Start menu, click on Run… and type “firefox -P

Firefox Profile Manager

Firefox Profile Manager

This opens the Profile Manager (which is a little known feature of Firefox). We’re going to create a dedicated profile called “March Madness“.

Firefox : Create A Profile

Firefox : Create A Profile

Once you have created that profile, it will return to the profile manager. Launch the profile called “March Madness”. You will get a default Firefox configuration.

Firefox: 1st Time Startup

Firefox: 1st Time Startup

Step 2: Set the Home Page to CBS Sports

The link is Just paste that link into the address bar and the player should load. If this is your first time going to the player, it will ask to install Microsoft Silverlight which you must do. After that, it will bring you directly to the menu of games.

If you have any problems getting to the menu, just go to and click through until you are fully configured.

Finally, we want to set the home page to Go to Tools > Options and paste that address into the “Home Page” field.

Firefox: Set NCAA Video As Your Home Page

Firefox: Set NCAA Video As Your Home Page

After clicking OK, test it out by clicking on the Home icon on the browser.

Step 3: Slim Down the Browser

Alright, you’ve got the browser configured, but it’s big, it’s got toolbars and maybe add-ons. Here’s how you slim it down:

  • Open Tools > Add-ons and disable any Extensions that are listed (you’ll need to restart Firefox)
  • Under the View menu, you will want to click on any visible toolbars to hide them (including the status bar)
  • Finally, resize the window so that it exactly fits the content.

Here’s the final configuration

Final Config - March Madness

Final Config - March Madness

Close the browser and your size and toolbar preferences will be saved for this profile (“March Madness”).

Step 4: Create a Desktop Shortcut

You probably have a desktop shortcut called “Firefox 3” that was added when you installed Firefox. Click once on that shortcut, hit Ctrl-C to copy, then Ctrl-V to paste. You will get a new shortcut called “Copy of Firefox 3”


Change the name of that shortcut to “March Madness!” or whatever you like.


Here’s the magic: Right-click on that short-cut and choose “Properties”. Under Target, enter this text “C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\firefox.exe” -no-remote -P “March Madness” including the quotes.


That’s it! Click OK and you are good to go.

Enjoy March Madness in One-Click

Double-click on the shortcut you created and your custom browser will open, resized and at the menu of games currently being played.

Oh, and don’t forget about the Boss Button, which brings up this screen.

March Madness Boss Button

March Madness Boss Button

Comments and other suggestions? Please add them.

Twitter is on a roll

After an incredible 752% growth in 2008, Twitter jumped 33% in February to reach over 8 million people.

CEO Evan Williams has been profiled in the New York Times, interviewed by Charlie Rose, and invited to the White House by Barack Obama.

I decided to write a post that looks beyond the hype and explains why Twitter matters and what it may grow up to be.

Twitter is the Real-Time Web

Despite Twitter’s impressive growth, it’s traffic is still dwarfed by that of Google and Facebook. So what’s the big deal?


I believe Twitter will be the backbone of the real-time web. 

Google organizes and finds documents and media files that are stored online. Facebook helps you feel more connected to and share your life with your friends. Twitter has tapped into a new source of data, one that never before existed on the internet: sincere opinions from real individuals.

I will make several arguments and comparisons to illustrate why this is valuable.

Twitter’s First Killer Application: Real-Time Search

Over the last several months, nearly every major news event – from earthquakes to the Mumbai attacks to plane crashes – Twitter was first to report what was going on, by people involved.

On March 10th, 10 people were killed by a shooter in Alabama. I learned about this tragedy from a tweet by @MCHammer. Immediately I jumped onto google and searched for “alabama shooting.” Below is the results page:

Twitter vs Google Results: Alabama Shooting

Twitter vs Google Results: Alabama Shooting

[Note: Using a Greasemonkey Script that mashes up Twitter search results on a Google page, I can see both real-time search results and Google search results.]

Take a look at the screenshot. Each of the Twitter results are accurate, real-time, and personal. Excluding the first Google result, the other links are either inaccurate (reporting an incorrect number of fatalities) or inappropriate (it’s arguably poor form to link to an Alabama shooting range during a tragedy).

But Google Doesn’t Want Real-Time Search, Right?

In recent weeks, Google has been outwardly critical of Twitter. First, CEO Eric Schmidt called Twitter a “poor man’s email system” and dismissed the notion of buying Twitter. Soon after, Google executive Brian Bershad indicated that Google does not want real-time search because “There’s relatively little data in Twitter.”

So Google does not want to be Twitter nor buy Twitter. Fine. But not wanting real-time search? I think that is just posturing. Let’s take a look at more examples of where real-time search beats Google results.

Example: “tech jobs” – would you rather have links to real job postings and insights (Twitter) or links to sites you already know about (Google)?

"tech jobs": Twitter on top, Google on bottom

"tech jobs": Twitter on top, Google on bottom

Example: “tim armstrong” soon after the announcement that he is leaving Google. Twitter shows commentary about the real-time news. Google gives a link to Tim’s old corporate bio page on

"tim armstrong" search: Twitter at top, Google at bottom

"tim armstrong" search: Twitter on top, Google on bottom

Facebook Understands the Potential of Twitter

Even though Google is still in denial, Facebook knows that Twitter has tapped into the real-time web in an innovative and valuable way.

Facebook’s attempt to acquire Twitter for $500 million failed, but they did launch a response to Twitter in the form of a new homepage that gives users a real-time feed of status updates and published content from their friends.

Well Facebook, imitation is the biggest form of flattery. Smart decision though.

With Twitter and Facebook (and FriendFeed) now battling over the same turf of real-time updates, who will win?

Facebook has a strong advantage in that the network already exists (over 175 million users). However, what about connecting with people who are not my friends?

Twitter lets me follow anybody and anyone can follow my updates. Ad hoc social networks are created by simply using a hashtag to specify a topic (like #sxsw for the South by Southwest festival).

It is not clear that Twitter can win against Facebook, but momentum and hype will help Twitter continue to grow its own network and be a strong contender.

Twitter’s Monetization Strategy

Twitter has a lot of hype, so where is the revenue model? Well, there isn’t one yet, they admit, but they have raised $55 million in venture capital to find one. And in recent months, several possible business models have started materializing.

Search advertising – Taking a page from Google’s highly successful AdWords business, Twitter could build out a performance-based advertising platform that integrates with its real-time search capabilities.

Paid placementJason Calacanis offered to pay $250,000 for one of the top 20 Twitter accounts recommended to new users, commenting “I believe that in five years the top 20 recommend slots will be worth $1m a year each-super bowl commercial level in fact.” Companies like Whole Foods and Zappos have built strong presences on Twitter and many firms like these would be willing to pay for premium placement.

Selling Virtual Goods – In a recent post, Benchmark Capital Partner Bill Gurley wrote a fantastic piece on how MySpace and Facebook should monetize: sell stuff online. Twitter could build a marketplace for virtual goods and casual games that directly leverages its social connecting capabilities.

Final Thoughts

This is probably my longest post to date. I have been actively participating in the Twitter community for some time now, and have watched the hype and innovation unfold. The source of innovation is clear to me now: Twitter has built a new form of communication that encourages activity like never before.

By limiting tweets to 140 characters, users are willing to write quick responses to direct requests. 

By allowing any user to follow another user’s updates, Twitter has traversed the limits of friendship circles and introduced a new channel for personal and corporate brand marketing.

By opening up its API to a multitude of other players, Twitter has become ubiquitous to all platforms, PC and mobile, encouraging intimate, personal tweets.

I believe the best comparison for Twitter is the invention of the telephone, on top of which industries and fortunes have been built. There is no guarantee for success, but the possibility for a new platform technology on which new industries will be built is the strongest since the advent of the Internet.

Startup Corner

seo-and-social-media-logos I was asked to present to a group of entrepreneurs about using SEO and Social Media to build buzz for an early stage internet startup. I am uploading the presentation as the first of a series I am calling Startup Corner.


Web startups will struggle as we continue to face challenging economic times. There are fewer sources of capital and more risk is pushed onto the entrepreneur.

With limited resources for paid search and other costly marketing techniques, an early stage internet company can build organic traffic through SEO and social marketing. This presentation gives best practices for these approaches.

SEO and Social Media In Practice

For His Catalog, we started late with our SEO efforts, in fact, after our public launch. SEO experts could cost as much as $2000 / month so we had to figure it out on our own in the early days. I learned several valuable lessons through this experience:

  • Bake SEO into the DNA of your product – it takes a while for Google to index
  • Allow users to share your content and promote your brand (e.g., ShareThis)
  • Build a following on Twitter and Facebook
  • Blog as often as you can, and about all angles of your business

Your Vote Counts!

facebook philosophyI attended the Facebook Developer Garage in Palo Alto, CA tonight. There were 620 confirmed guests for this event posted on Facebook, who picked up the tab for a drink and some appetizers. Here are the highlights from the event.

Voice: Changing from 3rd-Person to 1st-Person

When something is posted to the news feed on Facebook, it currently reads like a 3rd-person report: “Brian was tagged in a photo”, or “Brian said he liked The Beatles.”

Facebook Wall Post (3rd-Person Voice)

Facebook Wall Post (3rd-Person Voice)

Facebook is making a subtle shift that will have a big impact – the move from 3rd person to 1st-person. For example,  “Brian I love the White Album by the Beatles.”

News feeds going forward will start to read more like Twitter messages, with the authority of the actor. When friends read the news feed, they will be reading messages from their friends, not from the Facebook narrator.

Media – More of it, easily embedded

Media is clearly going to play a bigger role on Facebook. To date there are 700 million photos on Facebook and video uploads have been accelerating. In addition, Facebook will allow users and applications to upload audio and Flash games.

Each of these rich media formats will be easily and automatically embedded in the Facebook social news feed. This is the beginning of a significantly more interactive web experience, one which users will come to demand from all sites.

Verification – Is your application up to Facebook’s standard?

Another message that was reiterated by the presenters tonight was that Facebook is really focusing on verification.

There are two ways that 3rd party sites can integrate with Facebook. Developers can build applications that embed into the Facebook experience, or developers can use Facebook Connect to let visitors to their own site login with their Facebook credentials.

When Facebook Platform was first launched, it was a new Wild Wild West where early applications could use spam techniques to amass a large following. Facebook has officially declared an end to this practice with the launch of the Application Verification Program which will determine the applications that are good for users and those that are suspicious. Unverified apps will likely have  the steepest of hills to climb to get traction with users.

So the question is: are you friends with Facebook enough to get your app verified?

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