Adventures in Invention: Eric Conn ’85

Eric Conn doesn’t exactly have a traditional career. Then again, he was never a traditional student.

Between switching majors several times and taking a few years off from college to play in a rock band, it took Conn nearly seven years to finish school. However, he has never regretted his decision to take a non-traditional path.

In fact, it is Conn’s adventurous edge that has allowed the 1985 computer science major to prosper as an inventor and entrepreneur.

His latest project, Cellblock.com – a social networking site that allows users to e-mail photos from their cell phones to a real-time online slideshow – will be on display at UMBC’s 40th Anniversary, Homecoming and Family Celebration this month.

The Rock Star Life

After high school, Conn chose UMBC for its reputation in the sciences as well as its proximity to home.

“I lived only 4 miles away in Catonsville, and since I didn’t have a car, my primary means of transportation was my feet.”

He started off as a pre-med major, however, the chance to make a living as a rock guitarist lured him from his studies.

“Since music, especially rock music in the early 80s, was a young person’s game, I decided to pursue that career path while I had the chance. After I had lived the rock star life (albeit on a local level) for a few years, I wanted to get back to school and challenge myself intellectually. My junior and senior years at UMBC were my favorite because I had scratched my musical itch and could really concentrate on academic activities,” he explains.

The Perfect Major

By this point, Conn had also finally found his perfect major. After trying out biology, chemistry, physics and math, he decided to study computer science.

“I ultimately selected computer science because I found it intriguing and it allowed me to solve many of the scientific problems that I had encountered in related disciplines more efficiently,” he said, adding, “There were also many jobs available in the local area and since I paid my own way through college, finding a job was a top priority.”

He credits his experiences at UMBC with teaching him self-confidence, discipline, and problem-solving skills. These skills went a long way to help him establish his career.

After graduating from UMBC, Conn worked as an engineer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory for almost 10 years. During this time, he received a master’s degree in computer science. In 1996, he launched a software development company with several friends, which they sold in 2003. In April 2005, Conn started his new company, Gloto Corp.

“Gloto.com is our original concept for a mobile phone interface that enables social networking and remote directory services like maps and directions,” says Conn.

A Twist on the Traditional Slideshow

Gloto Corp. recently launched a new concept as part of its mobile phone interface. The new component, Cellblock, allows users to e-mail photos from their computers or camera phones to a shared photo album at Cellblock.com.

“The idea is simple; however, the implications are great,” said Conn. “Many people can contribute to a shared photo album using regular camera phones and the pictures can be displayed on a large screen as they arrive. This is ideal for public events like UMBC’s 40th Anniversary where anyone in attendance or at home can contribute and view pictures of the activities without any special software or advanced notice. It takes the traditional photo album concept and turns it into a social event that promotes communication between groups of people.”

Cellblock.com’s technology will be used extensively at UMBC during the 40th Anniversary weekend. Attendees will be able to email photos from their phones to a UMBC album (umbc@cellblock.com). The photos will be updated in real-time and appear in a slideshow projected at various points on campus.

In the future, Conn would love to see Gloto.com and Cellblock.com achieve the popularity of other social networking sites.

“We hope that consumers and businesses discover the uniqueness of Gloto.com and Cellblock.com and use it in imaginative ways for fun or for profit. We’d love to have millions of users visit the site each day and contribute content for everyone to enjoy.”

– Jennifer Matthews ’07
Originally posted October 2006

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