Zlango's Icon-based Language for SMS

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Zlango is a new Israeli startup (there is a lot of innovation going on there) that has created a very interesting new language and associated application that could change the SMS landscape (as well as, eventually, email and IM). Israel design firm Mantis is involved with the project.

The language is based on icons, or pictures. Each icon has a specific meaning – a person pointing to himself for “me” or a heart for “love”. There are over 200 icons included in the Zlango language today.

Users of the service download a thin 64K Java or Brew application for their GSM or CDMA phone. The application converts the icons into a SMS message and then re-translates back to icons at the receiver phone. To see how it works visually, check out the flash tour here and then try out the simulator here.

At first glance this is nothing more than a nifty piece of mobile software and a way to send icon based messages over inexpensive and ubiquitous SMS networks.

But I think the cultural implications of Zlango may be much deeper.

First, two users can communicate using Zlango even if they do not speak the same language. The cross-cultural implications are obvious.

Second, Zlango is not a static language. Rarely used icons will disappear over time, and new icons will be added to the language. One thing that isn’t clearly addressed on the site, though, is whether users will be able to evolve the language directly as happens with spoken language. Allowing users to create, use and share their own icons, some of which will eventually make it into mainstream usage, will be critical for Zlango’s success in my opinion.

Zlango claims that user testing shows that “the majority of youth who tried it, felt comfortable to say that they commanded the language in less than one hour.” After testing the simulator for just a few minutes, I believe that to be true. Complex messages can be created in just a few keystrokes, much faster than normal SMS.

I don’t know if this will catch on with users or not – we’ll have to wait for the upcoming launch to see. Downloading the software is certainly a barrier to adoption and I suspect Zlango will focus on doing deals with carriers to build this directly into phones. They’ll need mass adoption quickly to ensure that copycat services don’t destroy the potential network effect before it has time to establish itself. But all that being said, it’s intruiging to see the birth of a new icon-based language and watching this spread virally, or not, will be interesting. Watch for updates on the Zlango blog.

  • http://soeet.com ChrisATSo33t

    Until facebook makes a profit none of this matters.

    You may as well cover the redesign of a website on Angelfire.

    • Eric

      @Steve Gilmor – you need to trim your post down. There’s absolutely no need to write an article that log to get your point across. Seriously.

      • http://www.chrisfinke.com/ Christopher Finke

        @Eric – Don’t reply to the first comment just to have your comment higher up on the page. Seriously.

      • Eric

        Don’t waste valuable comment space while contributing absolutely nothing to discussion. Seriously.

      • http://soeet.com ChrisATSo33t

        Since these comments were spawned off of my comment and are unrelated. I have to say I am VERY disappointed in you boys for hijacking my genuine heart felt comment.

        SHAME on you!

        Have you no decency?

        Have you no pride?

        Have you no respect?

        At least Finke isn’t hiding behind the vast abyss that is the anonymity of the internet.

    • info

      CPO RJ Garbowicz was asked what is YourNight.com, he responded, “Picture this; you get home from work in the evenings and you turn on your PC, what do you do . . . answer email . . . browse your social networking or dating site . . . play online games . . . search videos and music . . . shop online . . . peruse job listings . . . check out local events . . . search for a business . . . go to your online banking . . . well you get the point, YourNight.com affords you all of this, and much, much more – all within one colossal, user-friendly portal . . . that’s all I can say for now, since we are still in stealth mode . . . however, as soon as we complete our Series A capital raise of $10 million our purpose and presence will be known.”

      For more information, please contact:
      RJ Garbowicz President/CPO Extreme Enterprises, Inc.
      PO Box 49271
      St Petersburg, FL 33743

      • What is a CPO?

        Wikipedia lists the following for the acronym:

        Certified Protection Officer, a certification for security guards from the International Foundation of Protection Officers
        Chief Petty Officer, a military rank
        Chief Privacy Officer, an executive responsible for managing issues of privacy laws and policies
        Chief Process Officer, an executive responsible for defining processes rules and guidelines for an organization to follow
        Chief Procurement Officer, an executive responsible for supply management
        Chief Performance Officer
        Chief Production Officer

        Which one are you Garbowics?

      • Tom

        Don;t waste your time – it’s a made-up title. this guy is a retard spammer: the same ad/comment is all over Techcrunch….

      • Joand315

        @What is a CPO?

        Why can’t it also mean Chief Professional Officer, which is kind of like a CEO.

        Wikopedia doesn’t know everything, just most things.

      • You're right

        You’re right Joand315. I just looked it up. “Chief Professional Officer” is kind of odd though. I’m sure it is not used very often. I wonder what this dude is doing that warrants such a title. Tom, what do you mean it is a made up title? Here’s what I dug up about the guy– Robin Wauters wrote an article about him here http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/01/09/if-ambition-were-all-it-took-yournight-would-be-sitting-on-gold/

        Check out the comments. I’ve never seen a worse a** beating. There are 145 comments all of which were reeming him out. This guy is a joke.

      • Tom

        @You’re right –
        “Tom, what do you mean it is a made up title?” For “RJ” it means that he needs to have a “title” – He is a dreamer and a charlatan who is doing *everything* at his “company” which is just smoke and mirrors + lies and more lies… He designed and installed the web site, he makes coffee, runs to buy office supplies, takes out the trash, etc. Get the picture?
        He is promising everything to everybody, “globally.”
        I would not be surprised if he is arrested for running a small-time Ponzi scheme….
        “Tom” is an assumed name I use here. I have known “RJ” since he was an employee for a landscaping company.

      • William

        He started out working for a landscaping company? I guess he’s gone a long way… You gotta give credit where credit is due. You may not like his company, but other people do, otherwise there wouldn’t be a company. Don’t listen to these pessimists RJ & YourNight.

      • William


        In fact, here’s what a professor said about them (are you smarter than a professor Tom?):

        “I’ve seen thousands of new product ideas and business plans over the years–both from teaching MBA and Entrepreneurship courses at USF, and through my business consulting with numerous startups and growth companies. I have to say that EEI, especially with its exciting all-in-one-place ”YourNight” concept, is among my ‘TOP 5’ EVER. The Founder/CEO exudes ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ and his New Venture Team is solidly on the road to create a great success.”
        ~Dr. Ken Van Voorhis, Professor Emeritus and Founder of the Small Business Institute and Small Business Development Center at USF; as well as President of Effective Performance, Inc.

      • http://www.smarbloggerz.com Typhoon

        What is this ‘Seriously’ and all this thing going on??


  • James Borow

    The concept of facebook as an address book is pivotal to understanding their strategy. Take Facebook Connect for example. We made it a focus of one of our sites, http://HerHotSpot.com, because it allowed our target demo of Gen Y girls the opportunity to transfer their address book. The actions they take on our site are drastically different than those found on FB or even Twitter – that is the point. Facebook can afford to take chances with their platform because their overarching strategy is based around making money everywhere – eventually I assume that we will be serving up Facebook ads on our site through FB Connect – why wouldn’t we. The point being is that FB can take chances and try new things as long as they focus on the “address book” – and they do a great job with this. From there the strategy is too make money everywhere – not just on the platform.

  • Neno Brown

    Great post,

    The stream needs advanced but simple filtering.

  • info

    CPO RJ Garbowicz was asked what is YourNight.com, he responded, “Picture this; you get home from work in the evenings and you turn on your PC, what do you do . . . answer email . . . browse your social networking or dating site . . . play online games . . . search videos and music . . . shop online . . . peruse job listings . . . check out local events . . . search for a business . . . go to your online banking . . . well you get the point, YourNight.com affords you all of this, and much, much more – all within one colossal, user-friendly portal . . . that’s all I can say for now, since we are still in stealth mode . . . however, as soon as we complete our Series A capital raise of $10 million our purpose and presence will be known.”

    For more information, please contact:
    RJ Garbowicz President/CPO Extreme Enterprises, Inc.
    PO Box 49271
    St Petersburg, FL 33743

    • Ugh


    • Jason

      Seriously? That’s just pathetic.

    • Nathan

      So, it is OK to advertise on TC with comments, like this from RJ Garbowicz guy? Cool! I’ll come up with something as idiotic, but bigger….

    • Anjali Sen

      @RJ Garbowicz Well done RJ, your post looks like spam but I disagree. It is a legitimate effort to let the world know about your company. Good luck

      Anjali Sen

      From India

      • Ubewe

        Well said, Anjali….

      • noob

        … from one spammer to another.

      • that was fake

        @ noob

        Don’t get taken by sophmoric clowns. Those comments supposedly from “anjalie” and “ubewe” are fake.

      • that was fake

        @ noob

        Don’t get taken by sophmoric clowns. Those comments supposedly from “anjalie” and “ubewe” are fake.

        I think the one from the Garbowicz guy is real though.

      • Matt

        @that was fake

        What is the difference? they are all spammers: the Anjali gal, Ubewe, now this Garbowicz douche bag, etc.

  • stacy

    I don’t know, maybe this is too simplistic… but Facebook users whine whenever ANYTHING changes. They hated the last layout change.. they hate this one.. but yet… they still use the site religiously.

    • Driftwood

      True, and they will whine again when this one changes at all. They will be like, OMG i liked the old one.

      • http://winescorecard.com Steve

        Maybe so, but I couldn’t take the noise level implicit in the new stream. So I haven’t been back to FB really at all since the change.

  • http://www.rajtilak.net Rajtilak Bhattacharjee

    Facebook never made sense even before, so why make a whoopla about it now! Nothing has changed, it’s still the same old MMORPG that we play everyday collecting friends.

  • Que

    Matter of fact facebook should poll users on future designs.

    They can show you a preview and stuff why not have a little box asking do you like this check yes or no and you can only participate once or just have an option to switch to back to the old design like the did in the past before making big changes.

    I actually think its not at the bottom but its damn far from the top. Why is there a all or nothing complex with the feeds go back to the old way it was.

    You cant select which type of news you don’t want to see and stuff you just have see nothing or see all.

    At least myspace and most other sites that changed there home pages have a transition time where you could go back and forth between the old and new design why doesn’t facebook

    Matter of fact does anyone know the amount of people that when on a profile go pass the default wall box and go to the others info, etc.

  • http://www.egitisim-blog.com Egitisim Kariyer Enstitusu

    How long will we wait?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Niels_Wouters/725646486 Niels Wouters

    Wonderful article. Although I definitely don’t always agree with Dare’s point of view, his analysis and his breakdown of the facts is quite accurate.

    One thing that keeps striking me – and what Dare mentions too – is what fellow Facebookees mean by “if they do this or that, I’m outta here”. Guys, for once and for all: there’s no comparable alternative. I’m pretty sure Zuckerberg won’t leave his sleep for some thousands of members who “leave”. Facebook is – more than ever before – crawling out of our spare time occupations, and becoming an essential part of one’s online social presence, like it or not.

    Moreover, I don’t see why Facebook should poll its users when it comes to future design changes. Although they have done this when the new profile pages were underway (somewhere around September if I’m right) most remarks proved what we all know: people don’t want change; in the end we’re all conservatives… Besides, Facebook is offering a free service to us, the end-users. In how far do our remarks count then?

    • Matt Pane

      “Besides, Facebook is offering a free service to us, the end-users. In how far do our remarks count then?”

      Considering they still aren’t turning a profit, we’re the ones – their audience and the incredible amount of data they’ve aggregated about us (which is increasingly valuable to outside advertisers) – who are defining Facebook’s value as a company. I’m sure Zuckerberg wouldn’t lose sleep if a few thousand left, but like the saying goes, nothing lasts forever. Look at what they did to Myspace: in a relatively short span of time, they managed to become the market leader.

      Will they still be on top in 5 years? Who knows. But if they did something to piss off a few million users (which, granted, is a fraction of their registered accounts), that’s where their house of cards might start to fall, paving the way for a new or current competitor to occupy their space.

      Truthfully though, I dunno if that’s gonna happen. Zuckerberg has been quick to correct his mistakes.

  • http://fonearena.com/blog/ Varun

    I dont think the word copy makes sense in Silicon Valley

    Come on .. its becoming a world of status updates and microblogging

    Its just building products what users prefer .

  • Tony C


    Can you provide more details on “Track” ? Thanks.

    • Steve Gillmor

      There are several constrained versions of the original Track feature, most notably the one hosted by Dustin Sallings on his TwitterSPy service. He’s dustin on Twitter and either him or his collaborator Ken Sheppardson (kshep) can explain further.

  • http://twitter.com/socialmedia411 Jeff

    All of the thought, opinions, speculation, commentary, etc on this subject makes the same fatal mistake – It assumes that Twitter will not evolve, that it will somehow be forever what is it today. In addition, people will in all likelihood not “leave” Facebook, only reduce their use of it. In that case they’re left with their registered user numbers intact but a hollowed out audience to market to.

    If you make that assumption that Twitter will not innovate then yes, Facebook may have an opportunity. But we all know that’s not going to happen. Twitter will in the relative near term be introducing groups and some version of filtering, and thereafter threaded conversations. How will that change people’s view of the competitive landscape?

    We’re far too early in the game to be having this inane conversation about whether Facebook users hate or love the new design. It’s the motivation behind the changes that matter. And if you don’t think Facebook didn’t make some of these changes to emulate Twitter functionality then I want a little bit of what you’re smoking.

    • Steve Gillmor

      I don’t make any such assumption. In fact, Twitter innovating is one of the things that may be encouraged by Facebook’s moves. But Twitter innovating (or actually rolling Track back out) will not hurt Facebook.

      • http://twitter.com/socialmedia411 Jeff

        Agreed, I don’t think rolling Track back out will hurt Facebook either. But I’m still taking the opposite view on who’s leading who here.

        Ever since Twitter spurned Facebook’s takeover offer they’ve been throwing everything over the walls of the castle in an attempt to fend off a perceived attack on their user base. They should just stop it already, the two can coexist and compliment each other.

        This has almost nothing to do with listening or not listening “to the masses” and everything to do with Facebook scrambling to create an environment that’s more friendly to marketers while simultaneously trying to steal some of Twitter’s thunder.

        In my opinion Facebook has grown beyond Zuckerberg’s ability to manage it competently – and these recent user outrage problems are a small symptom of this. Nothing against Mark, it’s just that people in the early 20’s rarely have the chops to run an enterprise of this size from an operational standpoint.

  • http://kellypatrickrobinson.com Kelly Patrick Robinson

    “Facebook already had part of the last functionality, so its opening of the micromessaging stream consolidates all three legs of the tripod.”

    Just a tangential nitpick- It technically wasn’t a tripod until after it was consolidated, and we still don’t know what remaining pieces may come to define the social networking sphere.

    I would have preferred you to have said, “..opening of the micromessaging stream at facebook serves as the third piece of the social triforce, promoting Mark Zuckerberg to an unprecedented six levels away from dominating the online social space.”

    I’m no hater, but this blog– indeed this entire web community– could use a little more nintendo.


  • http://www.skedet.com Tedeks

    The new design has its pros and the old design has its pros. In general people don’t like change, so whenever you change something it is always hard. What amazes me is that facebook has a wealth of information and they can’t figure out the best design. It would be neat to see some of the iterations they go through.

    • Falafulu Fisi

      Tedeks said…
      What amazes me is that facebook has a wealth of information and they can’t figure out the best design. It would be neat to see some of the iterations they go through.

      One way to do that is to do live online experiment. Dr. Ronny Kohavi (former head of data-mining at Amazon who now works at Microsoft) and his team continually use live online experiment and use statistical hypothesis test to validate the specific design that correlate to high usages of the site (ie, Amazon) which lead to higher sales. The Amazon users never knew that there was a newer design and they came to surf the site, since the incremental changes made by Dr. Kohavi and team, were small so they were unnoticeable to users. The design that correlates to higher usage was then selected for a major design upgrade.

      I agree with you here Tedeks that Facebook has already got huge amount of information available to them, which might be very helpful in bringing incremental change to the site:

      To Facebook CTO or Senior developers, Dr. Kohavi’s papers (both short & long papers plus his conference & workshop talk-slides) are available from his old Stanford website for download:

      The Kohavi’s online experiment at Amazon that you would be interested in are:

      #1) “Emetrics 2007 talk on Controlled Experiments”.

      #2) “Online Experiments: Lessons Learned”

      #3) “Practical Guide to Controlled Experiments on the Web: Listen to Your Customers not to the HiPPO”

    • Falafulu Fisi

      The correct link to Dr. Ronny Kohavi’s old Stanford website is here. The link in my previous message is for his paper #2.

  • William Tucker

    There is room for Twitter and Facebook…. Plenty of it…

    • http://www.skedet.com Tedeks

      Yup I totally agree, I think it is great that we have both of them!!

  • http://afaqtrafficblog.blogspot.com Mohammad Afaq

    I don’t like the new facebook design because it does not have as many functionalities as the old one. Facebook’s new design looks real pretty but if it had the same functionalities as the old one it would have been great.

    Mohammad Afaq
    Free Website Traffic

    • Andrew

      Which is ironic because everything that i’ve been reading about complaint wise on Facebook is that it has “way too much information and it’s overwhelming”. I agree with you, there’s not enough for me honestly.

      I liked the old functionality of “show more of this user” or “show less”. That was a sweet function they pulled out.

      • Andrew (another one, yeah :P )

        yep, i miss that feature too!

  • http://www.theresumator.com Don Charlton

    Change always brings frustration and resistance. Your changing people’s “normal”. The key is to track this over time and see if people adapt and accept the new page as “normal”.

    • http://kellypatrickrobinson.com Kelly Patrick Robinson

      You’re changing people’s “your”.

  • http://alexschleber.wordpress.com/2009/03/22/important-food-forthought-on-facebook-vstwitter-via-steve-gillmor-please-stand-by/ Important Food ForThought on Facebook vs.Twitter via Steve Gillmor: “Please Stand By” « Mind Hacks, Life Hacks, Personal Development

    […] Why would Facebook users leave? They’d have to have a reason, another better service that provides what they apparently feel is lost by the news stream reworking. Certainly not Twitter, the counter-metaphor that is allegedly causing the trouble. Then who? MySpace? Open Social? Windows Live? Why? The problem with Dare’s thesis is that there’s no motivation to leave something that continues to provide the fundamental service… via techcrunchit.com […]

  • Kyle OBrien

    I think there’s something that’s being overlooked here. That is, the users that corner each market.

    I learned this distinction over the weekend while catching up on feed reading. I have a tumblr account which is synced to my twitter account which is synced to my facebook status. I my reading I found many things I wanted to pass along. Twitter users don’t mind. That’s part of the relationship – you know people will update and sometimes many, many times. On facebook, no one expects this.

    As a result, I got many indications that it’s a bad thing to dominate someone’s stream with your updates. Live updates on twitter = good; facebook = bad. And that’s the fundamental difference and I think the fundamental issue between their competition.

    The flow of information is much, much more welcomed on twitter than it is facebook. And that’s the reason they’re doing fine in the same space: the users view on information.

    • Steve Gillmor

      What’s welcome changes over time. Also, the dynamics you cite help spread a core social graph across many sites, making it easier and easier over time to communicate broadly with focus to a targetted cloud. This in turn becomes valuable in many different ways.

  • http://www.bonfiresocialmedia.com RJL

    There is something lost with this article. It seems to ignore that business is constantly changing and just like anything, if you piss off enough people, they will find an alternative. Facebook’s changes remind me the launch of Vista. Technology’s evolution is expected to make life easier and less complicated. Facebook as gone the other direction with this change. They are not Twitter and will never be. That is why I use both. Twitter was not taking me away from Facebook, it was only opening me to different means of communicating. Like Vista, FB is trying to be everything to everybody and not satisfying anyone.

    Everyone is held accountable to someone, even Mark Z. Nosedives in usership and new membership will be the deciding factor for a swift switch. A heated board meeting can take an intelligent, arrogant 24 year old and make him into a rank and file employee in short order. Remember, this is a very young company that will make several mistakes.

    I have cut my FB usage because it only makes me more lost.

    (side note: None of my RSS applications or feed integrations work properly any longer. As a marketer, this keeps me from integrating my clients on pages and promoting FB on other websites.)

  • brody

    Maybe you guys don’t understand, but only 1m people have used the vote application. 94% of them are against. However, Facebook has over 150m users. When you consider the fact that under .63% of them (yes, that’s less than 1%) have complained about the changes, you’ll completely understand that Zuckerberg (and the rest of Facebook) couldn’t care less.

    And if you’ve ever had the responsibility of administrating a major UI, you’d know that with every single change you make, regardless of whether the data overwhelmingly says it’s an improvement, someone is going to bitch about it.

    • Melvin Tercan

      Ever heard of sample statistics?

      • A

        Exactly. In my company we test changes to our website on a small sample of our customers, and then use the test results to roll out the winner to the entire customer base. Facebook skipped a step here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bijan_Pourriahi/1121530755 Bijan Pourriahi

    It’s not that Zuckerburg isn’t listening. He just isn’t good at public relations. If he see that time being spent on facebook decreases, or actual objective facts that the service is worse now, he will tune his strategy. Every time something changes many will complain. But if the ones are complaining are posting more and spending more time on the website… does it matter?

  • http://alexschleber.wordpress.com/2009/03/22/more-information-overload-theory-tm-from-stevegillmors-please-stand-by-my-footnote/ More Information Overload Theory (TM) from @SteveGillmor’s “Please Stand By” + my footnote « Mind Hacks, Life Hacks, Personal Development

    […] Whoever conquers Track will be like those who made music and pictures come out of thin air, coursing over invisible wires and virtual rabbit ears. via techcrunchit.com […]

  • http://www.startstock.com Tzar

    Another piece covering facebook and twitter in the same article… Do no other websites exist?

  • http://www.geekmom.net Geekmom

    I really don’t like facebook. If I really wanted people to find me by my first and last name I would join Classmates.com. I mean, how much personal information is too much? This is why I like twitter much better–they do not force the first and last name out of you. Whatever happened to privacy?

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