Londongirlgeekdinner

Just sitting in listening to the third speaker of this evening's event (wonderfully organised by sarah blow), - maryam scoble, robert scoble's wife.

She's one of the most enthusiastic people I've seen speak at the event & without any agenda.

It drew into sharp contrast the previous 2 speakers on the bill - one was a chap who did a product pitch & the second was a lady who was staggeringly patronising to women, which was odd considering it was a girl geek dinner! Her pearls included
- don't dress provocatively if you are a women (can men dress provocatively?)
- don't sleep with your male colleagues
- might be unwise to sue for harassment because it may affect your career
- women spend their lives looking for Mr Right
- be more complementary (normal people give 12 critical comments for every one of praise; winners do 12 praise comments & only 1 negative apparently - not sure where Gordon Ramsey the chef fits into this model))
- women are useless at networking, because they try to make friends unlike men who seek to do business.

In case you don't believe me, Ian Forrestor of bbc backstage, geekdinner & cubic garden fame did a video of the event which he will publish soon.

Aside from Ian & the Scobles (not a band!), it was great to see Hugh Macloud resplendent in dapper suit & tie (inc great shirt). The number of folks who feature his cartoons on the back of their business cards is getting huge & apparently its almost mandatory on the west coast of USA.

Hugh also told me that Threshers web site crashed off the back of people looking for the 40% off coupon! Should have gone to Stormhoek website.

Hugh is also organsing a pub crawl for the Scobles this Friday - meet at Eros in Picadilly at 1pm.

Steve Clayton of Microsoft blogging fame was there tonight, together with Katie Ledger - both great company.

Weird thing was, after having just driven back to London after 3 days on biz in Yorkshire, its so clear that tonight's (insular?) discussion has someway to become mainstream. Yet what is niche & early adopter today seems to hit mainstream so much faster than ever provided its useful eg youtube; mobile photoblogs; google maps.

So tonight, maybe I heard next's years headlines!

posted by John Wilson @ 11:21 PM Permanent Link ,

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5 rules for better meetings

Its rare that someone disagrees with the notion that meetings are a great way for people to waste time & fill in their day in an unproductive fashion.

Indeed JK Galbraith, the famous economist, once observed that meetings are indispensible when you don't want to do anything.

Yet every company feels they must hold a meeting citing the need(s)

- to make people feel included and consulted

- to allow for debate on issues

- to ensure consensus decisions are reached on key issues

- improve communication

...same themes, different slant

How often have you sat through meetings in which much of the content was not relevant to you simply because the audience invited was to widely drawn or the agenda too wide/unfocussed. Or the meeting was dominated by a few individuals. Or worse, appalling decisions were arrived at simply because the majority view had to prevail and this could only be achieved by either agreeing to do nothing with more analysis (cop out & just a means of avoiding/deferring a real decision).

Its odd that some companies can get quite wound up when small groups of people just get on and do stuff without inviting lots of people to a meeting - that the small team achieved stuff & didn't waste the time of people who neither cared or could contribute anything of seems irrelevant to them. More important that those other folks at least have the opportunity to contribute something (probability suggesting that at least once in their lifetimes they might, provided they attend enough meetings).

And I am willing to admit that I have fallen fowl of these failings too.

So here are my new proposed rules

  1. Everyone shall remain standing through the entire meeting - no slouching or sitting permitted
  2. No meeting may last for more than 30 minutes, with Outlook calendars set at 20 min rather than 30 min increments
  3. No participant may speak for more than 10 minutes in total at the meeting
  4. No more than 6 people may attend any meeting
  5. All meetings are cancelled

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The SAAS big parade is coming

It appears McKinsey's are soon to go to press with a report that big US companies are jumping en masse onto using software-as-a-service.

The survey found that 61% of North American companies with sales over $1 billion plan to adopt one or more SaaS applications over the next year, a dramatic increase from the 38% who were planning to install SaaS apps in 2005.

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Freeconomics - or is that freakonomics!

Chris Anderson has coined a phrase of freeconomics to describe to growing incidence of things that could be considered to be of value being made available free.

Understanding when to shift out of scarcity mode and start giving away what you once held dear is a core competence for our age.

Michael Schrage had a good column in the FT that talks more about the power of free, and the policy quandaries it creates.

"Never in history has so much innovation been offered to so many for so little. The world’s most exciting businesses – technology, transport, media, medicine and finance – are increasingly defined by the word “free”. Whereas WalMart, the world’s largest retailer, promises “everyday low prices”, entrepreneurs and ultra-competitive incumbents develop business models predicated on providing more for free. It is a difficult proposition to beat."

Does raise an interesting question of how people make money in such an environment and what motives them to provide these facilities for free. Clearly altruism is one reason. But one other model may reflect circumstances in which all output has a marginal cost of zero once the capability to produce the first "widget" has been created, and has been done at low cost.

I've recently asked lots of tech folks how much they would pay for an RSS reader - it's clearly of value to we users; Universal answer has been "Zero"! Why? Because we know that we can get them for free and that despite this "price", people still seem willing to make them available with ongoing innovations/improvements.

When expectations are set, it is nearly impossible to shift them - rather like the withdrawal of free retail banking is causing poor PR, defections.....

What's the consequence of the environment Chris Anderson is describing - in my view we'd better start getting smarter about how else we can make money before investing our time/effort/money in such giveaways. Moreover, when you don't reward effort & innovation, it may just diminish to all our detriments.

posted by John Wilson @ 11:13 AM Permanent Link ,

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The machines are in control of the markets


This New York Times story reports on the increasing interest by capital markets firms in utilising neural networks to detect previously undetectable patterns in data such as news feeds, from which trading strategies may be constructed and implemented.

Neural networks permit computers to create new rules and automaticallychange underlying assumptions by experimenting with thousands of random sequences and processes.

“Five years ago it would have taken $500,000 and 12 people to do what
today takes a few computers and co-workers,” said Louis Morgan,
managing director of HG Trading, a three-person hedge fund in
Wisconsin. “I’m executing 1,500 to 2,000 trades a day and monitoring
1,500 pairs of stocks. My software can automatically execute a trade
within 20 milliseconds — five times faster than it would take for my
finger to hit the buy button.”

........

The downside with these systems is their black box-ness,” Mr. Williams said. “Traders have intuitive senses of how the world works. But withthese systems you pour in a bunch of numbers, and something comes out the other end, and it’s not always intuitive or clear why the black box latched onto certain data or relationships.”

........

“There are some pretty substantial misconceptions about what these things can and cannot do,” he said. “As with any black box, if you don’t know why it works, you won’t realize when it’s stopped working. Even a broken watch is right twice a day.”

Several key things are pertinent to this article

  • The desire by firms to see "order" in "chaos" and thereby extract relationships from which they can identify trading opportunities that others may not see

  • The importance of speed - its no go being right about an opportunity if you are not fast enough to implement it before its gone; such opportunities may last less than a second!

  • The dangers of blindly adopting such technologies without having a clear understanding of how they work and how they draw "conclusions"

The first of these relies upon the past being a guide to the future. Human behaviour is shaped by our past experiences - putting your hand in a fire will hurt! Yet we also appreciate that environments change whilst cause and effect can be incorrectly inferred e.g. markets go up on sunny days. Firstly we have to find such relationships which the computers can do - harder is for them to demonstrate causality. Yet on top of that, we have to assume that others infer the same relationships and will react in the same way.

Many people that work outside of capital markets fail to appreciate that investing is actually about speculating on the reactions of others and assessing to what extent those expectations are already factored into the current price.

A recent example was the legislation in the US that outlawed internet gambling. The share price of many leading UK online gambling companies was devasted by that change in the law. It seemed reasonable to assume that if the legislation passed, everyone would believe that these businesses would be materially affected and put a lower value on them. So, "the profitable bet" was that the legislation passed and so the price would materially drop.

Had the introduction of this legislation already been factored into the price, there would have been no significant drop and hence no opportunity to profit. That it hadn't, was evidence in the price drop. Sometimes, when a profits warning is issued, the share price goes up and the layman is baffled as it seems contrary to common sense. The reality is that the profits warning had been factored into the price already and the upturn may be because the warning is not as bad as had been expected or simply other things are influencing the price on the day i.e. new positive information.

To continue the example, it was easy to see a connection between the two things; legislation and impact on the gambling companies. Yet some of the relationships that the neural networks uncover will be "new discoveries" which the wider market is ignorant of. Had investors not linked the legislation and gambling companies share price, the price would not have moved in immediately, only feeding through in subsequent periods as profits diminished - a longer term bet.

Where a relationship/link is widely acknowledged, it then becomes a speed game of who can react fastest to changes - e.g. have you noticed that when there is a supermarket tannoy announcement that bread has been reduced then what you had perceived to be infirm little old ladies, become superhuman athletes with sharp elbows that beat you to the shelf!

This speed advantage may be in the detection of the change or in being able to execute your order fastest before the price moves. Firms invest staggering amounts in both - the NYT article is focussed on the former, but having fastest comms is just as vital and this is operating at the level of miliseconds. I was chatting with a friend who is a trader in the week about how they've just spent £300k to have their comms moved closer to the Stock Exchange machines - an extra 10 feet inside a machine room. Why bother for 10 feet? Because the laws of physics means that 10 feet closer gives them a speed improvement that they think they can translate into profits!

However, its the last of these three things that is scaring most firms and regulators. Such is the complexity of the "computers", that very few people have any idea how they work. Moreover, if the "machines" stop working, would anyone realise.

The worry is that Firms are commiting considerable capital to backing the "ideas" of the machines and if the answers are "wrong", not only could those firms could bust, this could also affect the stability of the markets.

As an aside, if you think about it, every day we put life/death reliance on things that we don't understand how they work e.g. getting into a lift to travel down from the 20th floor [it could of course accelerate to high speed and smash into the bottom!].

posted by John Wilson @ 9:37 AM Permanent Link ,

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40% of wine & champagne at Threshers - great tip from Stormhoek



Ok, I appreciate it won't be entirely in keeping with my normal musings but stick with me. Thanks to the guys at Stormhoek Wine for this massive tip off.

For ten days, from 30 November until 10 December, Threshers will offering 40% off ALL their wine. That means all Stormhoek, all red and white, all French, all Spanish, all Australian, all Champagne. Everything.

To take advantage of this you need to download one of the coupons here, kindly provided by Stormhoek. Threshers are reportedly not promoting this offer - simply a word of mouth thing. For Threshers part it's quite an interesting test of how powerful viral marketing is. Tada, that's the link with the blog.

Thanks to Alistair Morrell (top bloke) of Stormhoek for letting people know, who happens to be coming along with me to the England v South Africa rugby game with at Twickenham tomorrow (25th Nov). And of course to Hugh Macloud who is publicising on his blog, which is famous for its cartoons on the back of a business card.

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The secret of a viral idea

As Seth Godin points out in his great post on how ideas can become viral.

For an idea to spread, it needs to be sent and received.

No one “sends” an idea unless:
a. they understand it
b. they want it to spread
c. they believe that spreading it will enhance their power (reputation, income, friendships) or their peace of mind
d. the effort necessary to send the idea is less than the benefits

No one “gets” an idea unless:
a. the first impression demands further investigation
b. they already understand the foundation ideas necessary to get the new idea
c. they trust or respect the sender enough to invest the time

This explains why online ideas spread so fast but why they’re often shallow. Nietzsche is hard to understand and risky to spread, so it moves slowly among people willing to invest the time. Numa Numa, on the other hand, spread like a toxic waste spill because it was so transparent, reasonably funny and easy to share.

Notice that ideas never spread because they are important to the originator.

Notice too that a key dynamic in the spread of the idea is the capsule that contains it. If it’s easy to swallow, tempting and complete, it’s a lot more likely to get a good start.

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How to screw a funding deal up




The Canadian Broadcaster CBC is running its own version of "Dragons
Den", which I've previously written about in relation to the BBC version
running in the UK.

The clip above is the coverage of the firstmeeting following one venture having been awarded funding on the show.Unfortunately, during the meeting a huge conflict arises between the investors & an adviser to the young entrepreneurs. Aside fromcheap insults about the VCs, the adviser outlines a completely different vision of the company to that which was originally pitched and won the funding. This vision appears to be supported by the management team. What a surprise therefore that the Dragons withdraw their offer as it a) wasn't the vision they bought into b) createsenormous concern about the management team that they are so hugelyinfluenced by an outside party, sufficient that their vision can so quickly change.

Now its certainly the case that the prelude to deals is usually more than an hour - even if you love the concept, buying into an existing legal entity exposes one to legacy risks/baggage, so you do need to do some investigation. Some pushy advisers will play the silly card of "its such a good deal, why do you need more time" - if it's that good, why isn't the adviser all over it. An investment begins a marriage and some potential partnerships just don't have the right chemistry.

Most fundamental thing in funding meetings - be yourself and say what you passionately believe, not what you think you should say. There's just no point being false because that will come back and bite you when you actually revert to whoever you really are. Moreover, if you don't know something you may as well confess, since the other person may already know they answer and will conclude you are either stupid or misguided - instead, just add that this is how you will go about finding out. If the chemistry isn't good between entrepreneur & investor it much better to find out beforehand because it sure is messy after consumation!

Likewise, it can be important to jointly demonstrate your abilities in these forums. More companies are testing candidates out on their skills/experience against real life challenges. I always use the "job interview of the juggler" story to illustrate this, which I had a long time back. Essentially the juggler is asked questions about whether they can perform various named tricks (2 balls, 3 balls, from behind the back, on one leg, blindfold, 4 balls) and answers yes, so is given the job. At the end of the interview, the juggler says "Would you like to see me actually juggle?"

I was reminded of this on Billions with zero knowledge blog post on aceing a job interview.

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Be careful who you go to bed with - it may be cinderella

This has become an online advertising hit. It's is not hard to see why.

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The "See Windows Vista" show online - its impressive

I have no idea if Vista works, will make a difference to my computing/work experience or is simply more bloatware that I can avoid by using online apps. But......

check out this site which introduces it - I think its visually stunning. Sure, Microsoft have got the money to spend to produce something this good, but when I watch a movie I don't care that the studio are able to throw money at the film, so why should it make any difference here [there's enough example of people throwing money at something and it still coming out badly].

Just one thing small point; they do seem to have plagarised the search engine antics of Ms Dewey if you don't click the screen to select items. See if you agree.

posted by John Wilson @ 11:32 PM Permanent Link ,

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Tips for running panel sessions

I saw these links on Guy Kawasiki's blog and thought them useful observations

12 Guidelines for great panel discussion

How to be a great moderator

How to kick butt on a panel

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This is simply the easiest way to avoid spelling blunders online

When posting comments on webpages or entering text in online forms, I do find the absence of a spellchecker a bit of an inconvenience. I type reasonably quickly and in doing so make slip ups/typos. In sense checking the text, I hope to pick up these errors but sometimes.....

I'd recently read about a spellcheck tools that web administrators could easily embed in their websites to provide users with this functionality. Trouble is, I was dependent on the sites to do this.

So I was delighted to find SpellingCow, which is a favelet I can invoke within the browser which will check my text and reduce my likelihood of looking an idiot by poor spelling [all other reasons still stand]. I've started testing it and confess I've had a few teething issues with it.

Of course, if you happen to use Firefox 2.0, there is a spellchecker in that too.

posted by John Wilson @ 9:06 AM Permanent Link ,

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Why PortableApps.com is becoming irrelevant

12 months ago, I think I would have been excited by the notion that I could carry my important programs along with all of my bookmarks, settings, email and more with me on a flash drive/memory stick, such that I could use them on any Windows computer. All without leaving any personal data behind. This is what PortableApps provides.

But today virtually all of my data and applications are online, accessible via a browser. Since it's increasingly rare to find a computer without a browser and internet connection these days, so I can dispense with the need to carry the memory stick. Moreover, people are far more relaxed about someone using their browser that connecting a memory stick to their PCs.

The only times I have encountered difficulties have been when the browser in question didn't have important add-ins like current java run-time engines [albeit I do find using older browser versions like IE6 frustrating because of missing features like tabbed browser windows]. Similarly, I can't recall having hit firewall issues for sometime, since most of the applications/data goes via Port 80.

Whilst PortableApps is free and will undoubtedly be useful to some, I believe this may be a evolutionary stepping stone that gets skipped over.

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Are we all thinking the same thing?

Isn't it odd how one memo from a chap at Yahoo crystalises thinking from a bunch of people who were also thinking the same thing. Last night, I blog about why i loathe working in a big company and today Hugh Macloud blogs about the same subject. But he's not the only one - I must have read 40+ posts in the last 24hrs from different people that have recognised the issues and perceptions felt by the author of the Yahoo memo.

Here's another from Ben Barren

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Why Big Companies suck when you've got talent

This note from an executive at Yahoo just endorses my views on big companies.

Ok, I confess I'm not a big company guy. I've always preferred operating within a small partnership of likeminded individuals, as I am now, in preference to the roles I had on boards of major companies. There are several key reasons, the flavour of which is echoed in the AOL note.

- In a small company you are forced to talk to the outside world and in doing so remain in close contact with the market. In contrast, you can easily remain within the walls of big company dealing with internal issues/politics and become detached from reality - why trouble yourself with commerce when there's admin to do.

- Small companies aren't big enough to carry passengers nor do firms of "A-Listers" employ "B-Listers", usually detesting people who are unwilling to throw themselves into whatever is required [self-starters] and who aren't willing to take risks because they fear failure. However, Big companies usually enter a viscious circle of being unable to attract "A-Listers" for the reasons above and in hiring "B-Listers" find they drive away the existing "A-Listers". This latter group get tired of working with unproductive bureacrats that are unwilling to accept responsibility and who run from opportunities. As was commented to me on Friday, conscripts rarely fire a shot in battle because that involves sticking your head up to fire.

- Entrepreneurship is often opportunitistics; you sense an opportunity and look for ways to see it through, which may not necessarily follow a pre-determined plan [whenever I've run big programmes of work for firms in my consultancy days, they were usually spooked by my attitudes towards plans - great for considering the many ways that the battle might play out, but when circumstances change its more important to be agile and adapt, that to adhere to a plan and end up in the wrong place which no-one actually wants. Better that you are willing to make decisions and accept the responsibility for their outcome.]

But Big companies don't work like that do they. They have pre-set ways for doing stuff, usually grounded in a project office/admin mantra that "we've done this before", but which completely ignores the fact that environments change. And when they do encounter someone willing to take risks, challenge the staus quo and seek forgiveness rather than permission, they are freaked - I've regularly been challenged about whether I actually had the authority to do "X", and always answered that they were welcome to ask the CEO/COO about that but suggested they firstly assess how they'd be judged on whether their effort in intervening was adding value. They'd usually chicken out because they couldn't ever be sure how it would play out and wouldn't want to take the risk!

Contrary to those "B Listers" impression - I never sought controversy for the sake of it [albeit baiting them was fun sometimes]; it was usually because I felt doing what I did was in the best commercial interest of the client/company and was happy to accept the related responsibility.

In a small partnership, you are all expected to pitch in and get on with it. In fact, peer pressure will maintain that. But you'll do it anyway because you don't want to let your colleagues down and your are motivated to succeed. That just doesn't happen often in the Big company and that's why they are screwed up usually.

I know I'm not alone in having these beliefs - I meet thirty and forty something year old former senior executives almost daily who having made their "pile of cash" got out of the big company because they now wanted to "do something" for a change.

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Springdoo are offering even more great free goodies

I've previously written about the excellent video email service from Springdoo . No install and no fees.

Most of my email activities are handled on my Blaspspringckberry whilst I'm on the move - utilising free moments between meetings to read and respond to emails that only require a short note (80%). For longer compositions, I will usually turn to either my webmail client or Outlook (which these days mainly acts as my backup device for my email messages] simply because I can use my full size keyboard (15%).

But as for the remaining 5%, I've been increasingly using a video email. The circumstances for this usually include

- when I've not met physically met someone to date and so want to introduce myself on a more personal basis than a text email. This is more important if I am to meet them so that they know who to look for - beats agreeing to wear a red rose blind date style.

- emailing a sensitive message to someone. Whilst its easy to type a few lines of text in an email, that's just a cop out/being chicken. Its normally better to meet or talk to someone in such circumstances, but sometimes this isn't possible. Likewise, sometimes that meeting would be difficult for both sides, because there isn't necessarily a productive outcome possible from the discussion. But in such circumstances, I think you should at least have to go through the "mental pain" of talking to the camera.

- when you want to convey a personal/cheeky/friendly message but which could be easily miscontrued if they don't see the little twinkle in your eye ;-) Facial clues are one of the key elements to human communication, hence phrases like "they won't look you in the eye when they are talking to you"

Anyway, Springdoo have added some great new features ncluding the ability to post video messages to your blog, which they call a Springcast - not that I intend to inflict that one on you. Worth checking out.

posted by John Wilson @ 12:19 AM Permanent Link ,

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Internet TV - its very real

I had lunch with the fabulous Katie Ledger this week, former UK Channel 5 news presenter & journalist [& ITN + BBC], who amongst other roles now is an occasional presenter on BBC Click.

Our lunch conversation strayed onto IPTV and the impact on MSM. She'd seen my post on Blinkx and had been similarly impressed by the possibilities it created for the personalisation of TV.

Following our lunch, it occured to me how much good programme content is already available, with favs of mine including
1. Askaninja
2. Rocketboom
3. MobuzzTV
4. ZeFrank

There are also many BBC shows, which are now available online including the increasingly popular Dragons Den.

In addition, its becoming increasingly common for many events [generally geek related] to be filmed & posted to the web. I've caught up on a number of events I couldn't make for whatever reason in this manner. This content is simply a by-product of the production, similar to the Deacon Blue CD I bought last night.

The facilities now available online to support narrowcasting are increasingly sophisticated and have taken much of the complexity out of the process, allowing people to focus on the opportunities presented by generating great content. I've already mentioned services like blip.tv and veotag in previous posts. Another is vpod.tv - an excellent service which even allows you to use your webcam to create content and post it directly to your blog, albeit I've not tried this - I've got a face best suited to radio!

Most of these services are presently free, hence dropping the bar even lower for people to kick off their efforts to "test & prove a concept" and build an audience.

Some people describe the web as one of the most powerful means of democratising the planet - these types of services definitely are contributory elements, providing the means for all to be heard - "listened to" is slightly harder.

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Le Web 3 - Truly international audience

Le Web 3 is certainly pulling in an international audience for its event on December 11th. Here's a summary of the attendee countries I generated from the attendee list published as at November 16

COUNTRY Total
AT 3
AU 2
BE 21
BR 1
CA 6
CH 29
CY 1
CZ 1
DE 44
DK 2
DN 1
ES 13
FI 4
FR 273
GR 2
HU 2
IR 7
IS 6
IT 19
LT 1
LU 7
MO 2
NL 32
PH 1
RO 1
SE 4
SW 1
UK 57
US 33
Grand Total 576

That's impressive - must only be a few web events that can match this, acknowledging that in Europe there are lots of countries nearby.

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Musicovery - Interactive web radio that is visually impressive

Musicovery is a Pandora-like online interactive music station that allows you to create an instant personalised radio station based on how you are feeling at that moment. No registration; No download.

It has an excellent user interface - great design. Simple to use and visually engaging. You can select your mood, genre and period, as well as whether you only want to hear hits and "misses" (non-hits). You can even select to "discover" new music. To navigate between the tracks presented just click on them and watch the screen instantly reform (similar to the visual thesaurus interface)

I'm a Pandora fan, but I'm going to give this a try. I like to listen to music whilst working - have done so since I was a small child doing homework on the floor :-) . I've found that music mood can influence how I think - lively stuff for when I need to be creative/inventive and source inspiration; mellow for when I need to examine detail.

By way of warning, there does appear to be subscription element lurking within the service, which I activated by clicking on the "Discovery" checkbox.

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Best night of the year - probably

I'm standing in Hammersmith Apollo having just seen Deacon Blue do a fantastic gig.

This is my fifth time of seeing them live over the years, which included once in a club in Washington USA in 1989 on their first US tour - it was a tiny club befitting their unknown status in the US and I was taking the Greyhound bus touring round the entire USA, when the two tours coincided.

Anyway, the gig has just finished & of the two thousand or so crowd, there's 500 of us in a queue waiting for the live CD of the gig to be burnt and sold immediately.

I saw this notion discussed a couple of weeks back on a BBC News programme. Idea being
- kills off the bootleggers opportunity of illicitly recording & then distributing the material
- provides better quality recording for the fans, as it comes straight out of the mixing desk
- provides additional revenue for the band
- satisfy impulse demand of the crowd, who've just had a great time, to preserve the memories.

This is the band's comment on the arrangement, which is handled by Concertlive

Really impressive - 10mins after the gig finishes, the CDs are being handed over. At £15 each that's a 50% enhancement to revenues on the ticket. Each gig has run this process so from a tour you get say 15-20 unique recordings to sell as a byproduct of existing performance effort. Not only that, but the band avoids all of the studio costs and marketing expenses that would ordinarily be involved in producing an album.

The promotion literature on the night insisted that only 400 copies of the CDs would ever be made available - buy it now or lose the chance for ever type offer. Doubt that the scarcity element actually bothers the customer in this instance, so they may as well sell as many as they can thereafter, especially as they have a marginal cost of near zero.

Great solution, great biz & very happy customer!

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Be careful if you play with fireworks - derivatives and the buyside

Greenwich Associates has today reported on the widespread use of equity derivatives among institutional investors:
It doesn't report on how effectively they are being used, nor the processing & reporting issues their inclusion in portfolios is causing those same firms - most buyside firms draw from the same small pool of systems and most of those systems cope poorly with derivatives. They normally struggle to show the economic exposure resulting from holding options - simply showing their market value e.g. an option may have a low market value and almost be insignificant in materiality terms, but actually be equivalent to holding a sizeable share position.

I notice that volatility swaps are not mentioned in the top list - this is a straight bet on how volatile prices are and which pay out if price movements exceed pre-set targets. These are becoming popular amongst managers desperate to generate alpha because of the stellar payouts that can occur with these instruments.

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Veotag - add clickable text to your video

Veotag is a new service that lets you display clickable text, called "veotags," within an audio or video file. The viewer can see the veotags whenever they play the video on the web. Clicking on a veotag lets the viewer jump right to that part of the file.

I stumbled (not stumbleupon) on this one whilst viewing a VC video roundtable. The video is 53 minutes long. The addition of the veotags had 3 effects on my willingness to watch a long video.

1. I could easily see the main topics within the video and hence whether it looked worth starting to watch

2. With the tags I felt in control such that I could dip in & out of what I perceived as appealing topics.

3. With the aid of the tags, it was obvious that watching part of the video & returning later would be viable because visual prompts existed to "bookmark", in addition to the timestamp.

Whilst the basic service is free, there is a premium corporate service.

posted by John Wilson @ 12:27 AM Permanent Link ,

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Blinkx TV finds gold

I mentioned about having your own video channel thanks to Blinkx - I put my football team, "West Brom", in and the word "win". Came up with footage from 1978 which is one of the last times we won :-( BUT what a win. Beat Man Utd 5-3 at Old Trafford and that was with Big Ron in charge (30th Dec 1978). Well, at least that will make Neil Martin laugh on both counts.

posted by John Wilson @ 11:17 PM Permanent Link ,

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The video wall - Blinkx outdoes the rest

Go see this. Search results for videos presented as a video wall that dynamically updates as new content is found against search terms. Hover over the video wall "bricks" and get a lightbox + more info. But best of all, click the brick in the wall and navigate straight to the underlying content.

That is very cool. Why? Imagine that you are searching for programme on say cricket. You are presented with a wall of videos matching that criteria. Get the related tags as you hover and then dive into the items you want to view. In effect you could build your own micro channels.

And there's more. You can embedd these video walls into your own web pages and they will continue to dynamically update, serving up new content for you to watch.

Here's a Cricket channel I've created!



Dive in at will (assuming its loads successfully!)

posted by John Wilson @ 10:47 PM Permanent Link ,

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Who will win the fight for control of Capital Markets

7 of the world biggest investment banks today laid down a challenge to Europe's stock exchanges by saying they will set up their own share trading system next year, seriously undercutting the charges levied by existing exchanges.

The banks involved are Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley & UBS, who are effectively the major brokers in the secondary equity markets in Europe, accounting for about 50% of volumes reported on Exchange - this includes business undertaken on behalf of clients.

Money & staff have been committed by the banks to the project, codenamed Turquoise.

This is a fascinating power struggle. For years, the banks have complained that the Exchanges are unfairly extractly value in several ways:-

a) data relating to the prices made by firms, the depth of the order books and the trades executed are sold by the Exchanges, most of whom are not "for-profit" companies. The brokers argue they are providing the content which is then being resold back to them at high cost.

b) Aside from reselling data, the Exchanges make money from the transaction fees they levy. This is a direct "tax" on the market. Running the utility on an not-for-profit basis, it is argued, would reduce costs.

As commercial enterprises, rather than the mutual associations they used to be, the Exchanges have placed their primary duty to shareholders rather than customers. Ironic then that the most commercial of ventures, namely capital markets brokers, are complaining that their importance is overlooked and that rewards are unfairly distributed.

This has been a fairly open secret around the City for some months and I've had many conversations to many friends inside these brokers about the motivations behind it as well as the challenges it presents. Ultimately, no one really wants liquidity to fragment across many execution venues, but technology now enables any the smarter firms to easily re-aggregate liquidity from multiple sources and pick off disparities between them, which may only exist for miliseconds.

For the avoidance of doubt, miliseconds matter and firms spend considerable fortunes trying to get closest to the "machine" which hosts the Exchange data - they will literally pay $100k's to site their trading machines within an arms length of the Exchange box (or the very least the outlet pipe). Physics matters!

Of course, the Exchanges could put much better deals on the table and thereby address the immediate declared issues of the firms. But this option will now be a permanent guillotine over the heads of the exchanges, which can't and won't be disguised by the firms.

That said, other firms may refuse to route their orders to a venue which is operated by their competitors, thus undermining its success. Yet markets move quickly to wherever there is liquidity.

Irrespective of their positioning, all of these firms are wily operators and if any do align with exchanges, they will extract their price.

Make no mistake, the stick has been revealed and the losers will be the exchanges.

posted by John Wilson @ 9:51 PM Permanent Link ,

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Seth's advice on how to avoid making a bad deal

Seth Godin has an excellent post relevant to entrepreneurs and the arrangements they should consider in a shareholder's agreement. Plan for the worst, enjoy the best!

posted by John Wilson @ 9:40 PM Permanent Link ,

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irows - an update

Techcrunch have a report confirming that irows has been "acquired" by Google and is to close.

I got my prediction completely wrong - The service is no longer accepting new accounts and will shut down completely at the end of this year. The company is providing instructions for its users to move their data to Google Documents.

So, the customer bears the effort & cost of migrating, having to accept what's on offer with Google spreadsheets. Meantime, Google neutralises a competitor and the irows founders presumbly get rich via some sort of payout - doubt that the offer of a job is sufficient to capitulate.

posted by John Wilson @ 8:54 PM Permanent Link ,

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Techcrunch v Gootube : that's funny on many levels

Youtube lawyers have sent a "cease & desist" letter to Mike Arrington at Techcrunch as a consequence of a utility on the Techcrunch site that allows people download YouTube videos to their hard drives. Its not the only such utility that exists but I guess Techcrunch is more high profile than many. This is Mike's note on the matter, including a copy of the legal letter.

This is almost like the paparatzi relationship with celebs - when they're starting out they are desperate for attention from the media; then when they get the fame they crave, suddenly they demand their privacy and complain about press intrusion into the very same situations (parties, events) that formerly they begged for attention at.

Its also ironic that YouTube accuses Mike of copyright infringement. Love it.

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Why VCs are fans of software as a service

David Hornik is evidently a passionate fan of SAAS too, just like me.

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eTribes : An anti-social network?

I have to confess to being a simple person, but I've never understood the appeal of etribes, which is one of Simon Grice's ventures.

I signed up for an account and was granted a "home page" with an etribes suffix; I couldn't locate any networking facilities/opportunities or find anything that improved on offerings I could get from hundreds of sites. Admittedly I didn't elect to get a "Premium" paid-for account, which might have been where the interesting stuff is housed.

Well, yesterday I happened to speak to one of the people involved with etribes and was saying how I hadn't sussed out how the social networking element within etribes worked - the response: "Its meant to be your personal website; Its an anti-social network". Isn't that an oxymoron?

posted by John Wilson @ 2:21 PM Permanent Link ,

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Ruthless enough to succeed as a startup

This is a great summary of how the some of the most successful tech start-up have fuelled their growth. Were the means employed all "ethical" or as romantic as their PR suggest? Probably not. Did it make the difference? Probably.

What's the moral?

posted by John Wilson @ 2:10 PM Permanent Link ,

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What the VC looks for in a start up

VC Blog has a piece about what Sequoia Capital look for in a startup investment opportunity. They are probably the most well known and successful tech VC around presently having been invested in Youtube, Greenfield Online and Topio as well as still being investors in Linked In.

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Search engine with neat visual display of results

Quintura is not the first search engine I've seen like this but it certainly has a good UI and means of presenting the search results.

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Sporting Index Dinner - a religious experience


Last night I went along to a Sporting Index Dinner at Lords, which is my "spiritual" home - pun intended, albeit I am a passionate cricket fan and MCC member. (The passion began when I was 7yrs old and was taken to a test match at Edgbaston).

I was taken along by a close mate who is an energy trader at Tudor Capital and who, despite being an avid cricket fan, hadn't been inside the Lords Pavillion. So prior to dinner I showed him round - if you've any interest in cricket, you should definitely take the opportunity to do as Lords tour because not only is the place steeped in the history of the game, it's also stuffed full of memorabillia.

The dinner was held in the Long Room (pictured) and was for 73 of Sporting Index's top 100 clients. These are people who are placing upwards of 50 bets a week on all manner of sporting events from numbers of corners or yellow cards in a football game, to number of runs a player will score in the Ashes series. In fact, you can get a price on almost anything. In all case a two way price is made, which allows you to "buy" or "sell" the item in question and a spread exists between those two prices.

Example. Premiership: Arsenal v Tottenham
Arsenal came into the game in fine fettle after a long unbeaten run. Total goal quote before kick-off was 2.4-2.7.

Sell (Go Low) at 2.4 if you believe that goals were hard to come by.

Buy (Go High) at 2.7 if you think that the crowd was treated to a goal feast.

So I place a bet for £5 and buy goals, because I think that there will be more than 2.7 goals in total in the game.

Actual outcome Arsenal continued their run by winning 2-1 (Total Goals = 3).

Bought Goals Calculation:
Stake was £5.00
Difference between price and actual result = 3 - 2.7 = 0.3
Profit = £5.00 x 0.3 = £1.50

Conversely, had I believed there would be less than 2.4 goals in the game and bet £5 then

Sell Goals Calculation:
Stake was £5.00
Difference between price and actual result = 3 - 2.4 = 0.6
Loss = £5.00 x 0.6 = £3.00


Sporting Index are a market marker and they primarily make money by taking bets from people with contrarian views. Hence in the example above the paid out winning to someone buying was only £1.50 and the losses collected were £3. Hence they would keep £1.50 profit (spread was 0.3 and stake was £5). Clearly they will not always have a matched book and so may carry some principal risk but will try to mitigate this by moving the quote to draw punters in and/or reduce their exposure. Hence if lots of people start buying goals they will move the price up to 2.7-3.1.

The interesting thing about sports spread betting is that, unlike financial spread betting (or trading as we had to call it at Man Group plc because betting was too seedy a term!), there is no offsetting hedge readily available other than laying it off onto another spread betting firm. For example in financial markets, a spread bet on the FTSE100 could be hedged with FTSE options, ETFs or futures. Hence the financial market is normally highly liquid because of the sizeable number of market participants - which is not necessarily the case with a particular football game.

At the dinner, we were asked to guess how many bets the clients present had placed in the last 12 months - lots of discussion at the table about how many bets each person placed, which revealed some scarily large numbers. The actual answer though was 88k! No mention made of stake values.

Oh yes, Chris Cowdrey former Kent & England captain was the after dinner speaker (his family have had constant representation in the Kent county side for 48 years!) and the main competition was trying to guess from a pool of players provided which team he would pick to play in a game that would be held in certain conditions. Well, my table lost despite having correctly selected 9 of the 11 player from the pool of 35 greats. The winner got 10 right.

posted by John Wilson @ 10:45 AM Permanent Link ,

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When to do a start-up venture

I know many people (friends & acquaintances) whose reaction to people involved in start-ups is that they are very brave - giving up jobs in some cases, being able to mollify responsibilities of responsility (families / finances) ; taking a chance; dealing with possible failure & "humiliation". And lets's be clear, it does take a certain character to see it through and face failure.

So for those bravehearts, see Seth Blog, for the best time to start up.

posted by John Wilson @ 12:56 AM Permanent Link ,

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How To Ace A Performance Review - to old friends who remain wage slaves

Having only been an employee forf 2 brief stints of my entire working like - for several years as a trainee chartered accountant after leaving university and for a couple of years on the Board at Man Financial (world's largest non-banking derivatives broker); I've never really gotten into the performance review gaming process. When I was a partner in a capital markets consultancy actual discussions of performance of colleagues was left to one of my fellow partners whom the Partners considered the most human & compassionate amongst us - personality test you can game, whereas people are harder ;-)

Anyway, for my old chums at former clients whom I remain great mates with because of their patience with my non-conformist attitude, as now verified by a personality dna, I'm pleased to direct them to the following tip sheet about how to prepare for performance reviews. NO warranties offered on the advice given.

The sad thing is that gaming of such systems is so counterproductive to the overall economic well being of the company, but is rationale for individual workers nonetheless.

posted by John Wilson @ 12:43 AM Permanent Link ,

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Get Big Cheap


Its interesting how opinions in the VC market are diverging about funding new businesses. I'm with the new camp - Get Big Cheap! However, you'd be amazed how many entrepreneurs we meet that pitch to us absolutely hate this notion, as if their "masculinity" would be compromised if they didn't raise and burn lots of cash.

posted by John Wilson @ 10:02 AM Permanent Link ,

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When your online app provider gets taken out - The perills of online apps

If accurate, the news picked up by Techcrunch that Google has "hired" the 2 people that created irows (Google spreadsheet competitor & IMHO the better of the two) in order to close it down, provides an interesting reminder about the potential perills of using online service providers.

Firstly, looking at the situation when your online app provider is "acquired" as in this case, there could be a number of ways things could play out

- the site could shut without notice thereby locking up customer data; unlikely here as this would create tremendous ill feeling & bad PR, but would encourage customers to only use big service providers like Google, who are likely to stick around.

- the site customers & data could be migrated to a Google badged service, as happened with Writely; Google didn't have a competing product to Writely so there was no real migration required (Youtube & Google video will be the interesting one since it will be Google Video catalogue that will have to migrate). Problem is the degree of compatibility between the services since irows has more functionality - either a) the extra is lost or b) work is required on Google spreadsheet to bring it up to scratch. I think the c) option of dropping Google spreadsheets in favour of irows is less likely.

- the customers could be left to fend for themselves with a small notice period; This seems the least likely in this situation here because of the bad PR. Nonetheless, whilst an acquirer might lose some of the customer base, in electing this option it avoids the customer migration costs and will be likely to pick up many of the customers anyway if it genuinely is the main competitor. Moreover, customers are forced to incur the migration costs/effort and have to "accept" what's on offer, even if it is inferior.

Guess what - all of these apply equally well beween the online & physical worlds. Its just basic business M&A issues.

Where I think the major difference kicks in though is as follows; in the offline world its almost unheard of to provide a "commercial" service for free, with no clear expectations of revenues but just a hope that you'll be acquired for big bucks. Conversely physical businesses always have a specific aim to generate revenues, albeit with some losses in the early days covered by initial funding.

Thus, supplier longevity which is already a matter most physical businesses would consider, should doubly matter in an online environment.

That's not to say that physical businesses don't also go bust, as has just been the case in the UK with Farepak Foods and Gifts Ltd, the Christmas hamper firm through which people "saved" for Xmas with several hundred thousand families having lost their accumulated savings. (Oddly, this "Hamper" market has never come under regulatory oversight, despite it being a "savings club", because it was always argued by the companies that it was a prepayment scheme for goods. As a young accountant, I was sent to review such a business called "Family Hampers" which was part of the GUS group, simply because I had financial services expertise!)

But that example had nothing to do with the core commercial strategy - in the case of Farepak it's alleged that the cash was simply being syphoned off to provide "free" cash for other related companies, which then couldn't repay it.

We saw an online business startup last week who were almost insulted when we questioned their strategy of not charging introducing charging for up to 2 years, despite the service providing demonstrable value which we didn't think people would object to paying for. For them, it was a straight "invest loads of cash upfront; we'll endeavour to do a land grab and down the road we'll either be bought for stellar price or, if not, we will introduce charging".

The consequence of this, however, is that you have to question the likely longevity of such businesses. Sure, I've had recounted to me how Google didn't have a revenue model at the outset and that this only materialised later in the form of adwords. But how close did they come to closing? So if your supplier's longevity is in doubt, do you have a strategy to mitigate against the sudden withdrawal of that service?

For me, with an increasing dependence on online apps, it is becoming a more pressing issue - I can't exactly call round to the premises and ask for a copy of my data on a disc if they close down. So leaving aside concerns about the supplier preserving the confidentiality of my data (another big concern), I've had to seriously consider the importance of the data I am storing based on the impact of it not being "lost" and take steps accordingly.

For example
- Flickr & Zooomr etc: They close and I lose my online photo album. No big deal as the primary copy is stored locally
- Blip.tv: I lose my online videos. Again primary copy stored locally anyway.
- Google docs: Reasonably reliable provider I hope but would be a problem if I lost them. Online version is the primary copy - hmmm. Occasional downloads then is my only option
- RSS reader: Originally didn't think this was a big deal, but similar to online bookmarks, you just know you'll never locate all of them again. Primary copy is online. So now I both regular take an export of the opml files & also have 2 RSS services with that data
- Airset Calendar: Constant synchronisation with Outlook which acts as the backup
- Skype/IM contacts: Maintain offline copy of the address details
- Slidedecks: Primary copy tends to be offline

This just re-enforces one of the themes from Web2.0 conferences that I heard referred to in despatches - the increasing consideration to online apps being usable offline but still within the browser. iscrybe has this feature and Google is introducing it for email apparently.

More importantly, though, the key thing is that the lessons and practices of the physical world shouldn't be discarded because we've moved online.

posted by John Wilson @ 8:30 AM Permanent Link ,

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Youtube deal - $1.65bn + tip

Google announced early Tuesday that its acquisition of video sharing site YouTube has closed. The mostly stock deal was initially priced at $1.65 billion, although at Monday's closing price of $481.03 per Google share, YouTube walked away with $1.775 billion - $115m is a decent tip.

Wonder if the Youtube team had already locked in the price and sold a CFD/Equity Swap at the original price, and missed out on the uplift? How annoying would that be when you've already picked up $1.65bn.

posted by John Wilson @ 8:19 AM Permanent Link ,

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Personality test - scary

Just like my namesake, Fred Wilson, who I referred to in my last post, I collect internet bling [widgets & stuff] much of which is scattered about this blog.

I happened to see that he had added a "personality dna" on his blog so headed over to the provider site out of curiousity and took the test. Takes about 20 mins.

Some of the questions telegraph the associated implication and so you could manufacture yourself to be a "nice" person - assuming that this is a single state and an objective thing.

Well, my test results probably weren't that far off - my wife thought it was bang on apart from a few bits she strongly disputed, but she's never liked me ;-P

Am I going to publish the results page as they enable - nah, just draw your own conclusions OR....just spotted one of other site feature - "psych you / psych me". As it says

You can assess other people's personalities, and ask other people to assess yours. See how well you know your friends and how well they know you.

You can decide whether to share your opinions on them with him or her later, so assess anyone you want! Even better, if that person lets you see his or her results, you'll be able to compare your assessment with the person's actual results.

Now there's a party game, with interesting outcomes guaranteed! Relationship builder or breaker?

posted by John Wilson @ 10:20 PM Permanent Link ,

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Boards of startups - more insight from Fred Wilson

We Wilsons love giving advice (usually unrequested and unwanted :-p ).

Fred Wilson, a US based VC (it oviously runs strong in our clan), has a great blog (albeit I wish he'd syphon off his music posting to a different blog rather than just tagging it, but then that's what makes him who he is).

He has an interesting posting on his thoughts on the composition of a start-up board and its operation.

I agree with most of it, albeit the local board members point is tricky - the best people aren't necessarily the closest but I do agree that meetings can go awry when a couple of the participants are calling in, since its easy for them to become excluded - but then its so easy now to do a userplane call or an IM video session so as to at least let the person see you. We had to do a partners meeting like this last week, and apart from a few dropped connections requiring a "redial" it worked fine.

Definitely agree of the Board size - more than 7 and you've got either a) a heck of a talking shop or b) a sermon from the pulpit to the congregation or c) a small group that meets in the presence of a bigger group! Its also hard to figure out why a startup would actually need this many people on its board - that probably equates to 50% of the number people that actually are employed / do the work in the company ;-)

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Techcrunch UK launch party - was it just a dream?


I'm sure I was there and I even blogged about it, but blowed if I can find myself on the official video of the event ;-)










Update: Hurrah - I was really there! 12 seconds into the video, my moment of fame - I'm in the crowd scene holding a drink! Evidently the cameraman/interviewer was only going for pretty boys for the one-on-ones, which ruled me out straight away (is that beauty'ism - is that even a word?)

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gtraffic - great free traffic mashup

The family & I had to travel from our home in South West London to North West London to meet up with some good friends who are briefly over from Melbourne, Australia. For those not familiar with London traffic, what appears to be a simple 17 mile journey in actual fact took 1hr 20mins and that was having avoided all roadworks on route & having the aid of a GPS enabled TomTom car navigator [astounding how cheap GPS devices are now - got mine for £40 from ebuyer and it works a treat on a PDA in the compact flash slot without needing an external aerial.]

We had been pre-warned about traffic problems to avoid prior to setting off thanks to a great traffic news & google maps mashup on gtraffic. I'd been alerted to this on the BBC backstage blog but as I drive infrequently during the week, using the tube/train, I'd not had occasion to use it before.

Functionally it only covers the UK, in part limited by the traffic news sources it utilises including the BBC. Sadly, the service is also restricted in terms of commercialisation since the BBC precludes any commercial use being made of its output (unless sanctioned by BBC Worldwide which is its commercial arm).

Won't it be great when internet connectivity in the car is commonplace & mobile data tariffs are all reasonably priced "all you can eat" tariffs - then you can have these services on the fly.

posted by John Wilson @ 12:01 AM Permanent Link ,

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Microsoft Photosynth is very cool

Microsoft has done a techlab preview of Photosynth and its very impressive, which it explains on its blog. It effectively will allows you to build a photo montage with depth, enabling you to take lots of shots of an area and merge them so that you can navigate around the space. In this case a picture is defintely worth a thousand words (or should that be demo). Intuitive to interact with, I think its certain to do well.

It also reminded me of the concept that Zooomr launched which allowed you to "navigate through" points on a photo.

This has obvious applications in the property world [sale and rental, residential and commercial]. Equally in the product catalogue space. That's aside from snap happy individuals showing off their photos.

Just think of the possibilities if you could do a mashup of it with www.like.com

posted by John Wilson @ 11:38 AM Permanent Link ,

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Cool calendar mashup widget from 30 boxes

Thomas Hawk has just posted about an excellent mashup tool from 30 boxes, the calendar company. Its calendar widget can be mashedup with any blog, flickr photos page, ical, or any rss/xml

Here's my blog rss displayed in their widget. It dynamically updates the content as well, so that as I add content, these display automatically.






I reckon that there are so many useful applications for this.

posted by John Wilson @ 10:21 AM Permanent Link ,

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Techcrunch UK launches web2.0 dragons den

Techcrunch UK have just announced a new initiative to showcase technology startups looking for funding: “Money Mondays” to be held monthly.

As a partner in a VC that provides funding to start-ups, I believe this is a great initiative - I'd actually been talking to chums like Ian Forrestor & Sarah Blow, of geekdinner & girlgeekdinner fame respectively, about such a forum.

Sure, it may get competitive between investors for the best ideas, but so what. If one's only value add comes from exploiting ignorance & inefficient markets, you are going to become extinct. So hopefully start-ups will be able to
- access many investors and be able to make sensible choices about which investors can offer the most value add
- get real about valuations; when you work in isolation how do you know what you are worth - in most cases, they see that youtube went for a huge number and given that their idea is just as good, or so they think, then they must be worth loads (and advisers are sometimes as guilty of hyping the valuation). Now, in a tech start-up "Dragons Den", perhaps transparency & collective questioning will moderate expectations nearer towards reality.

For me, it will also be an excellent timesaver to connect with many start-ups at a single event who can do a single elevator pitch to the crowd & be collectively questioned.

Obviously, investor behaviour at these events could be unpredictable - collusion, competitive, secretive - an alternative form of Werewolf perhaps! But I know that rather than simply trying to hog an investment, we will continue to actually look for the optimum investor syndicate that will create the most value by virtue of the collective involvement.

It should also motivate firms to get past the "I must keep my idea secret in case its stolen" syndrome. Get real - ideas are free & rarely unique; execution that matters. As Simon Murdoch said at Internet People dinner "“VCs like an ‘A team’ with a ‘B idea’, not a B-team with an A-idea.” Why? Because the B-team will fail to execute, but the A-team will do so & improve the proposition along the way.

Remember, money is actually a commodity - it's what else the investor contributes that is the differentiator.

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AOL buys Relegence

Relegence has just been snapped up by AOL.

If you don't know them, their solution background scans thousands of news sources /blogs /websites and identifies relevant information based upon filters/search criteria specified by the user. It thus eliminates the noise and also uses a relevancy measure to heat map the information. Users receive alerts when "events" occur.

In some respects, it and Monitor110 share similar characteristics in terms of focus - news discovery/monitoring/detection which is then filtered for relevance to the user. Likewise both are targeted at the financial services community, where getting to such information fastest is often the difference between making & losing millions for which users are willing to pay huge sums for an advantage.

In my opinion this is a great trade for Relegence, who already have a decent client list. Whilst the financial terms have not been published, they were on an upcurve with great prospects, which is always attractive to a buyer.

AOL will be in a position to take this vertical market offering and extend it into other verticals. After all, many other industries will benefit from filtering out the ever increasing noise, albeit the timeliness element may not be as significant and hence less valuable. But then with scale across multiple verticals, so what!

Its also interesting that in the last 4 months I have seen a number of firms pitching to me similar ideas, including one today. Sadly, many of them seem ignorant of their competition - not that they should be focussed on that, but at least avoid looking daft when someone like me challenges the "uniqueness of the solution" by pointing out at least 5 other firms doing something in the same space and then looking at me in shock. But it also evidences the interest in this space.

Relegence was a 60 person company, so in dealing with some of its potential capital markets customers, it may have looked small & insignificant (admittedly it would just be the stupid ones that filtered on this basis, but then there's enough of those around) - but with AOL behind it, that won't be the case anymore. Indeed, some of the stupid firms may just cosy up to Relegence in the misguided belief it will bring them closer to a relationship with AOL.

Consequently, I have to disagree with Alacra

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Signalling your intentions in secret

JP Rangaswami, on his blog confusedofcalcutta, posts on Orkut Crush.

Orkut Crush allows person A to register a “crush” on person B, and vice versa; the registered information is only provided to the matched pair when both sides signal.

So at a level of abstraction it allows a signalling of intention, done in secret, with the intention only revealed to the other party when matching conditions are met.

There are many things that need matching. There are many ways of indicating interest or signalling intention.

This approach has already been applied in financial markets with Liquidnet which is the buyside crossing network. Liquidnet is a technology solution that as a system/orchestrator "peers" into each buyside blotter to identify the possibility for a cross to take place between a buyside buyer and buyside seller in a stock.

The concept could equally be used at business networking events. It wouldn't stop people introducing themselves, but it would quickly allow you to identify those whom who might meet first given the mutual interest - hey, I just invented a business idea.

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Cobblers with holes in their shoes

Whilst at Webwednesday I chatted to someone who was purporting to be a direct and online marketing specialist.

So, I inwardly laughed when they gave me their business card which had a yahoo email address and no web address, bearing in mind that these things cost£4.99 pa, AND on the back of their business card it advertised www.vistaprint.co.uk where you can get business cards for free.

Isn't branding important even for a sole trader, and what message does it send when you are too cheap to buy some decent business cards & spend a fiver on a web domain with email.

posted by John Wilson @ 10:55 PM Permanent Link ,

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Timebridge - the time broker

I've just had a look at the offering from Timebridge and can actually see this being a winner in the corporate space. Check out the "See It" presentation.

In essence, Timebridge attempts to solve the problems [mainly time involved] in arranging meetings. You know the thing
- you propose a time to a group of people that you want to involve in a meeting
- some say yes and others no
- so you go round the loop again & again, trying to accomodate everyone only to find that not only have you spent ages arranging the meeting but the only convenient time seems to be in 2 months time!

Sometimes you are lucky that you share a calendar system [MS Exchange or Airset] and can see other people's free/busy time. But its also fairly common that outsiders are also to be invited & then the problem begins.

I have about 4-6 meetings per day which almost always involve outside parties, who each have busy schedules themselves. Consequently, I am very familiar with the aggro involved in scheduling - no, I don't have a PA and never have used a PA as I prefer to organise my own schedule, deal direct with people & have always done my own typing/docs/travel arrangements....I'm not disputing that some people are considerably more efficient with a PA and that they make a huge difference in a big corporate, just that it doesn't suit me.

So how does it work
- I pick a bunch of times & these get notified to meeting invitees by email. If I were an Outlook user (which I use as a secondary email client, with my blackberry being my main email device), it would also reserve all of those times
- the invitees click the weblink on the email and, via the browser, nominate against each option whether they are free/busy and which suits them best; Timebridge then works out the best time from their responses & notifies the attendees - automatically, updating my outlook with the chosen time (I synch my blackberry to Outlook and it in turn synchs with Airset which is remarkably easy)
- In addition, Timebridge also creates a meeting micro-site allowing you to post documents to the attendees, post an agenda which all can contribute to and make notes on

Why do I like it
- it looks simple
- it solves a problem that many people have and I can see I'd pay for it on a subscription given the timesaving involved [not sure how much yet]
- the meeting micro-site would be handy

However, there is one big condition [don't know what Timebridge do here] - do not make my invitees join as users in order to use the system. As an online app freak who has virtually migrated everything I do to online apps, the only grief I get is from other people whom I try to interact with who resent having to sign up for the apps I want to use for collaboration them.

I can understand that if Timebridge are tempted to make meeting invitees sign up asfrom their perspective they would benefit enormously from huge viral benefits of me encouraging others to participate in my convenient world. BUT from experience I know that you just hack people off - moreover, passionate users will promote it and invitees will have it explained to them at the meeting why this service is so cool!

Hope the experience matches the promise!

posted by John Wilson @ 10:07 PM Permanent Link ,

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Simon Murdoch - Words of wisdom for VCs & Entrepreneurs everywhere

Techcrunch UK have a report on an Internet People dinner this week which featured Simon Murdoch as the star turn. Simon was the first head of Amazon in the UK but was also a co-founder of an early stage technology VC company in the UK.

His talk has some really interesting observations about the interaction between investors and entrepreneurs, which both sides should take note of.

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The power of viral advertising

Supposidly we are all familiar with the possibilities created by viral marketing. This is a great demonstration of it.

It's therefore staggering how the two companies benefitting from this reacted differently. See Matthew Ingram's post here on the story.

But it also shows if you want to win clients, don't wait for them to come to you - instead impress the hell and out them and then let them beg you to work with them!

posted by John Wilson @ 9:27 PM Permanent Link ,

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Am I going soft?

My colleague and I went along to WebWednesday last night, nr Regent St and by chance met up with our favourite "young" entrepreneur, Keiran O'Neill. Whilst at Bath University, Kieran founded funnyvideo.com which he recently sold and has another business targeted at the Playstation community. In 8 days time he is launching another site targeted at the Playstation 3 community. These sites have done well in part because of his self-taught SEO skills which get him very high search engine rankings.

We first met Kieran back in June when Mike Arrington from Techcrunch had a party in London. Kieran and 2 of his friends had travelled all the way up from Bath (they are still undergraduates) i order to network at the event.

Aside from having "get up and go" and biz about him, Kieran is also great to involve in discussions in which people are giving us their elevator pitches at events. Having run a business, he's very sharp at picking over the pitch and identifying where the value is (or not).

Anyway, last night I was enthusing about my evening at BBC Backstage widgets and telling Kieran and my colleague about the great widgets that had been built - really cool radio player; neat BBC World news reader etc. When I'd finished, Kieran looked puzzled and said "so how do they make any money from that then?" And I realised, I must be getting soft - I just thought they were simply great apps and didn't care about the commerce end, and for most of the developers (some were submitted by businesses) neither did they.

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BBC Backstage Widgets - update

Sorry, I got the winner of the BBC Backstage Widget competition wrong. Anway, Backstage have published the list & here is it below for convenience

We decided to award three runner up places - each winning a brand new iPod Shuffle, the runners up were

The three winners are (winning an Apple iPod- 3rd, a Nokia 770 - 2nd and a Samsung Q1 - 1st)


As we discussed on the night, the winner reminds me of a Skybox for radio. You set your reminders and it navigates to the show at the right time. Brilliant and it even looks great. Would be even better if it would take you to the Listen Again version if you missed the show - I want it all!!!!

My favourite bands disappointed me a little having seen it. But the BBC World News widget is just so cool. This will be great for many people with no idea about geography [most people especially in the US!] as it navigates you on a 3D online globe to where the event is taking place, so you can see if you should be getting worried about trouble breaking out in XXXXX.

I learnt from people on the night about the difficulties of producing widgets on certain platforms, with Apple seemingly being the easiest. Hence some of the above widgets won't necessarily work on all machines/browsers.

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The web in 3D - a bit of it anyway

3D launched at web 2.0 summit in san francisco and seemingly was the most novel of the 13 firms who presented at launchpad [demo session for startups, albeit some seemed long in the tooth to me to still be termed startups, but then perhaps time is passing quickly!]

Anyway, I'd seen this style of navigating web pages about 6 months ago and was attracted to it, albeit it can be much slower to locate what you are looking for with this visual style than with tags.

Anyway, as per a mail I've just sent to them, my thoughts on it were as follows.

Having scanned the demo, I'm not sure I would want to build my own "village" of web pages - too onerous to create and maintain/add to. However, I would gladly "import" my del.icio.us pages to quickly enable me to peruse them easily. I often tuck websites away in delicious & then forget about them, but the visual clue of seeing the pages along with the tags would remind me what they were/are more than tags (I often forget what tags I've used!). Same could apply to other bookmark services even Favourites stored in the browser.

Further more, you could cluster content into a village on the fly around tags.

Thoughts?

posted by John Wilson @ 2:48 PM Permanent Link ,

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iscrybe.com - the plot thickens

I had recently raved about iscrybe.com on the back of a video about it I had watched online and had signed up to join the beta. Some companies let anyone in there and then, whilst others create an air of exclusivity before letting everyone in. Oddly, still heard nothing.

Anyway, Jonas, of myuninstalledlife, kindly left a comment alerting me to why I'd not gotten access and directed me to his blogpost on the matter.

In response to this, I posted the following comment on his blog

Jonas, thanks for stopping by my blog to dampen my enthusiasm for iscrybe ;-).

The odd thing for me with Faizan's (iscrybe's) approach is this:- in creating a great video of what appears to be a great app which always had the potential to go & spread, he has already generated tons of interest in the application. Now, it may be the case that this interest will linger long enough for when people are actually given access to try it i.e. the teaser.

Alternatively, people may simply forget about it & move onto the next "new" thing and thus all of the wave of interest created is simply wasted. Now, faddy users who try it once & don't return aren't ultimately valuable (unless of course they are influencers who tell everyone else about it, even though they themselves don't have a use for it). But getting people "in the door" to try your site/service/app it is usually hard enough. Fab as it may be (which will be evidenced when tried perhaps?), having your door shut may just lose Faizal some valuable users.

What do you think?

posted by John Wilson @ 2:28 PM Permanent Link ,

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Writetomyblog - NOT a bit sneaky

As I've posted previously, I'm a fan of writetomyblog, which is an online editor for blog posts with rich in-browser features. Despite recurring problems of its interaction with Blogger, I have persevered with it mainly because their CEO got in touch with me to say what the issues were and that they thought there was light at the tunnel - good personal service & great app with some short term pain.

Anyway, as I never click links on my own blog, I'd not spotted that writetomyblog are prefixing all the links I include in a blogpost with "www.writetomyblog.com\" . It was only when Jay over at Snipperoo pointed it out to me in a comment he left on the BBC Backstage widget competition post that I became aware of this. Now I don't mind them getting publicity & I'm more than happy to promote any company/service I like, even passively, but I just wish they'd made that clear upfront - right now, it just feels a bit sneaky :-(

UPDATE - The guys at Writetomyblog have been in touch in the comments section to correct my idiocy. It seems that they only insert that prefix whenever I (the user) forgot to put http:// into the link i.e. error handling. Chaps, I sincerely apologies & unreservedly withdraw the accusation. Indeed, I happily revert to my original stance of you having great service coz a) you took the time to reply b) you thought ahead about ways folks might make errors and thereby put measures in place to mitigate. BRILLIANT.

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BBC Backstage Widgets competition awards night

Last night I went along to the presentation of the awards for the BBC Backstage widgets competition. This, I hasten to add, was not a big London hotel glitzy affair (how many years will that take?) but was held in the private room of a big City pub in London.

BBC Backstage is relatively new within the BBC and you can read about them here . As a consequence, they are not too well known either internally or externally and sadly the competition therefore received little publicity. Only 10 entries were submitted, which I was surprised by, particularly given the excellent prizes offered.

Anyway, the submission that were made sounded great, with the winning entry. "My Music" enabling you to name your favourite bands and then rather like earFeeder, will notify you ala RSS whenever those bands are mentioned on the BBC with links to the content. Doesn't work for say whenever the tracks from the artist is played, but would spot them being featured in programmes or in articles.

Other widgets captured traffic info and the one I most liked and sure endless possibilities for was one that geomapping news articles. So you navigated (google earth like) round a globe between the news stories - my extensions to this were news heatmaps. In fact much of the evening was turned over to chatting about ideas for widgets.

I also got to meet Jay, one of the co-founders of Snipperoo , who are staking their claim in the widget space, with a widget manufacturing platform [sounded a bit like a ning for widgets which I hadn't detected when I'd originally checked out their website - I had just thought they were a widget directory listing/aggregator through which you built your personal "bling" inventory]

Fun night, shame more people didn't entered but then there's always next year.

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Interviews with web 2.0

The Guardian's weekend magazine has a number of interviews with notable web business execs/founders - click here to connect.


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Why Kathy Sierra is my favourite blogger

Creating Passionate Users is the blog I will always read first when opening up my rss reader if its showing a new post. Its focus is primarily marketing related but that's not why I'm a huge fan.

It's usually the case that you get a great post from a blogger every couple of posts, and more often its less than that [I know I'm definitely no exception]. Clearly, not every post will be of interest to you so it stands to reason that you won't rate/take note of some. With Kathy Sierra, I don't think I've ever read a post of hers that I didn't think "Wow".

It's not that her insightful comments necessarily reveal earth shattering discoveries. Its just that they are conveyed in a manner that make them seem like "a Eureka moment" and she has an evident passion for her subject. Moreover, as her blog title says, she regularly comes back to the point that everything stems from "creating passionate users". Get that right and everything else falls into place - customers, revenues (assuming you're charging!), repeat business & brand loyalty, growth, viral & word of mouth explosions! I heartily recommend you give her blog a try.

Example of Kathy's view from Kathy's latest post

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