Author Archives: Javaun

About Javaun

32 and married to a wonderful woman, my life is meeting new freinds and recreating outdoors. Once they put a screw in my ankle, I'll be back to hiking and trail running and mountain biking.

Minivans Will Make a Comeback (and not because of the advertising)

My coworker Sara Sarasohn tipped me off to Toyota’s hilarious and self-deprecating commercial for the Sienna minivan. Shot in the style of a hip-hop video, two late-30’s parents rap about bake sales and tea parties.

I think the minivan is poised to reemerge — but first a bit of history.

Minivans became the vehicle-of-choice among suburban families beginning in the late 1980s, when they unseated the then dominant family vehicle, the station wagon. (If you’re too young to remember family wagons, you may have seen them in movies). The minivan’s layout provided more passenger and cargo room in a shorter length vehicle. They were easier to park, load and unload, were often safer, and had better gas mileage than their large engine predecessors.

The emergence of the SUV or “sport” utility vehicle precipitated the end of the minivan era. At some point in the late 90’s, a minivan dad was stopped at a redlight. He peered at the SUV in the adjacent lane and wondered “can you put a carseat in one of those?”.

Ironically, a lot of used minivans were snapped up by outdoor enthusiasts seeking a practical vehicle. Paddlers, mountain bikers, and climbers found they offered tons of room for gear and you could even live out of them.

Minivans will come back into the mainstream because my generation is having kids and that’s what we remember riding in.  I expect to see a lot more modern amenities added to minivans, but they’ll be more modest and design-conscious than the ginormous-everything features of SUVs.

We Gen-Xers have hung on to our cynicism but have also become more pragmatic. Even if — like every generation — we’re becoming everything we said we wouldn’t, we’ll appreciate that Toyota is keeping us honest about it. We mocked our nuclear-family origins and the minivans we grew up riding in. But we’ve seen the alternative, and we’re not going there.

Leaving My Job to Run a Tech Startup

It’s been a great ride at NPR Digital Media, but a new venture has really taken off and demands my full attention.

Today, I will announce the full beta launch of  my new project — HookBook — a social networking site to take relationship histories online in meticulous detail. I had a conversation last week with Mark Zuckerberg, and he agreed that my technology was a huge breakthrough in charting what we call the ‘coital graph’.

The concept is simple. Everyone who’s ever had a relationship  has a relationship past, and that past is usually pretty complicating for new relationships.  So why not get everyone’s dirty laundry out in the open, completely transparent. Imagine being perfectly comfortable with your new relationship because you know everything about your new lover’s past. Now, you’ll know every sordid detail of your partner’s prior life before you even go on your first date.

Log on to HookBook and you see all of the people in your network and all the people they’ve slept with — relationships, summer flings, drunken  hookups — charted in a network diagram. For each partner listed on a member’s profile page, you can view details of the encounter and how it ended. Egos, narcissism, lack of trust, mental instability, poor communication, cheating — these are just a few of the issues that bring relationships down. And we can chart those too.

(HookBook profile page)

(HookBook member profile page)

Unlike most social networks, HookBook has a lucrative revenue model. Jilted lovers can purchase contextually relevant ads next to an ex’s name. Individuals who want to control their ad space can purchase their whole inventory for a convenient monthly fee, depending on their stature (A and B-list celebrities and politicians have a higher cost-tier for their ad inventory.) We are also inking partnerships with companies in the online self-esteem space who are very interested in HookBook’s ability to behaviorally target certain types of customers.

Third-party developers can share in the revenue by writing apps for the HookBook AppStore. Our best-seller, the National Pasttime App, charts your past escapades on a baseball diamond and calculates statistics for Strike Outs and On Base Percentage.

HookBook’s privacy terms state that we will never accept payment to remove an embarrassing hookup from a member profile. Like all personal information, HookBook believes one’s sexual history should be public and permanent on the web.

I encourage all of you to sign up for HookBook and begin exploring your pasts. Finally, I want to give thanks to my wife, who is  very supportive of this new venture. Despite having just given birth to our first child, she’s agreed to return to work earlier than planned because, above all else, we value our lifestyle.

Smart Bike DC Launches. Will the Bikes Last?

I rode my bike to work today, so had I not run an errand in China Town, I wouldn’t have noticed that SmartBike DC launched today.

Ironically, I was coming back from the camera shop and had a real camera this time.

According to SmartBike’s website, 10 locations opened today, and the one I visited (Gallery Place) had about 12-15 slots for bikes. This is a far cry from the 750 lockup stations and 10,000 bikes that Paris launched on its opening day (they’ve since doubled both numbers), but still infinitely more than have ever existed anywhere in this country. Continue reading

NPR Launches API to Open Up its Content

This morning, the NPR online team launched the NPR API, or Application Programming Interface, to make NPR content freely and publicly available.

So what is an API and why should you care? From a technology perspective, an API is a channel that allows one application (such as a website) to share information and procedures with another website or application. A perfect example is a Google Map mashup. Any website or blog can embed a Google Map and plot their own data on top of it; for example, Trulia plots homes for sale in DC on a Google Map.

From the larger perspective of freedom of information, an API is a much bigger idea. It means that our content can appear anywhere, in almost any format. Anyone with an idea and some basic web skills can select, repurpose, and embed our content on the web, on a desktop computer, or even on a handheld device. Fans of David Sedaris, NPR Election coverage, or Ketzel Levine’s Talking Plants no longer have to search all over our website to find their favorite content. Audio, text, and photos can now come to them now as an embeddable blog widget, a Facebook application, or any other format they can imagine. I should mention that only a few of these widgets exist so far, but the API is out there, so it’s only a matter of time before people start building them.

The UK Guardian and BBC have experimented with very limited APIs. The BBC makes available feeds of short program descriptions and its program schedule, but it does not make its full content available. Back in May, the New York Times announced that it would be making all of its content publicly available via an API. As far as I know, NPR is the first major media organization to launch an API to make all of its content available.

NPR’s Zach Brand and Daniel Jacobson were the leaders of the project, and here are the full credits :

There were a ton of contributors to this new API with the primary technical architect being Harold Neal. Other major contributors include Joanne Garlow, Jason Grosman, Tony Yan, Ivan Lazarte, Stephanie Oura, Ben Hands, Shain Miley, Lindsay Mangum, Sugirtha Solai, Todd Welstein and Vida Logan, and others.

NYTimes A/B Testing New Google Site Search?

I’d noticed something different about the NY Times search over the last few weeks, but just realized today that it’s because they’re split testing a new interface. I have to say I really like it.

Google launched a new hosted site search solution on June 11. Though aimed mostly at SMBs, it wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of large enterprises give Google’s Site Search a serious look. is splitting traffic, so to see the beta search you’re going to need to click the links below. In addition to the differences mentioned below, the algorithm is tuned differently in the new search. There is a different result set returned, possibly with less emphasis on AP stories, and I notice a lot more photos in the new results.

Old Search:

  1. No multimedia included in results. Toggle result to match on “Closest Match”, “Newest First” or “Oldest first”
  2. Date range radio buttons are difficult to discern and include a “custom date range” function
  3. Complicated search filters and link to advanced search
  4. Numbered results set
  5. Separate blog results included in a right hand box
  6. Refine results by NY Times section (Arts, Books, Business, etc). Pagination suggests an overwhelming results set.

(Click to Enlarge)

(Click to Enlarge)

Continue reading

Crowdsourcing Brand Identity with BrandTags

Jen’s friend Christine alerted us to a fascinating and highly-addictive website called brand tags. The concept is simple: the site shows you a familiar brand logo and you type the single word or short phrase that comes to mind when you see the logo.

The site is a social tagging experiment, and it aggregates all of the phrases for each brand into a tag cloud. (For those unfamiliar with a tag cloud, it’s a way of visually showing the prevalence of a certain tag. The more often a brand phrase is tagged by users, the larger it appears in the cloud.) The site is a side-project of a marketer, and in his blog he reports that he received over 600,000 tags in the first 2 weeks.

NPR: Awesome AND Boring

What first comes to mind when the masses think of NPR?

NPR’s brand tag cloud.
High recognition and a lot of favorable brand attributes, such as “intelligent”, “smart”, “honest”, “good”. We also have some negatives: “boring”, “stodgy”, “old”, “who?”. There are some misperceptions to overcome, such as “liberal”. And let’s not forget “schwetty balls”, the legacy of a very memorable Alec Baldwin SNL skit.

What about Taco Bell’s brand tag cloud?
As khopper said on Twitter:

The largest brand associations with Taco Bell, after CHEAP FAST MEXICAN FOOD appear to be CHIHUAHUA and DIARRHEA – yikes!

Comments? What did the masses say about some of your favorite brands?

My Poor, Neglected Blog

Just when it looked like my writing was becoming a habit, life got in the way. For the past 2 months, most of my off-work hours have been spent on the bike in preparation for this weekend’s race.

I have a few that I’ve put on the back burner. More immediately, I’ll probably throw out a lot of mountain biking related posts, since that’s preoccupying my thoughts.

‘Mornings with NPR’ – My new favorite blog

Each morning, Alessandra Olanow chooses an NPR radio story to illustrate in tongue-in-cheek fashion.

as a morning practice I listen to npr and do a little sketch on one of the stories

It’s a really simple and unique idea, and she does it extremely well. Alessandra already has a following who listens to the radio and tries to guess which story she’ll choose.

You can also receive her illustrations as a daily email newsletter through feedblitz.

Here’s one from April 14: “too many boys: demographic crisis looms in china”

'too many boys: demographic crisis looms in china'. Illustration by Alessandra Olanow

Illustration by Alessandra Olanow

Jen and I are Building our Dream Home

That’s right! We absolutely love it here and we’re building our dream home in the outlying Washington DC suburbs. We can’t even believe our luck! Someone just stalled construction and left a half-finished home, and we’re going to take it over and finish it to our ideal specifications. Jen and I constantly complain that we don’t have enough room to buy more stuff. That won’t be a problem anymore.

Jen and Javaun at our new home site

The lot is situated on several acres of old growth Virginia forest, which we’re clearing to make room for an extended garage, concrete patio, and tetherball court. Not counting the 3 story deck, the home will be about 12,000 square feet. It overlooks the highway and is just minutes from a mall that has a Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant and the largest indoor Laser Tag in the DC beltway.

Honestly, we never thought we could afford a home like this, but it’s amazing what you can do with financing. Jen and I got a 5 year ARM with a 1.5% introductory rate that won’t adjust for at least 6 months. Because home prices always go up, they’re also extending us an equity line of credit for an additional $80,000.

Jen and Javaun at our new home site
Our new neighbors are awesome! They’re helping us pick out molded falcon sculptures and bronze torches for our front gate.

One downside is that we can’t ride our bikes to work anymore. Our commute is increasing from 30 minutes one-way to about 4.5 hours roundtrip. But I think we’ll be really comfortable in our new rides, thanks to the home equity advance. Jen and I are each buying one, since she gets up 20 minutes earlier than me and it’s therefore impractical for us to carpool.

We’re going to have 16 guest bedrooms and are really excited to host all of our old friends. Come and see us!