Nexo - impressive tools for online groups

Having seen Nexo's name on the Demo 07 list, I took a look at their offering and am happy to give them a thumbs up.


Ok, at first glance they appear to offer something similar to many other sites, namely

In just a few minutes, you can create a free website where your group can share pictures, comments, blogs, files and much, much more.

But don't be put off by the cheesy intro or the ready made templates for families, school, and sports teams. I selected to use a group template and under the hood found a very easy to use and functional rich site. It did only take a few minutes to get things set up and the facilities were well designed.

With Nexo you can create a website that


Having been chatting with some friends earlier in the evening about creating a new group, I could see this being a contender to help administer the groups activities.

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Zoho Notebook launches in alpha - update

Dennis Howlett has done a great write up on his experience of the Zoho Notebook alpha. It leaves out the gushing techno awe and focusses on "will it make a difference for me".

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How many staff does it take to hire someone?

In the case of KPMG, the answer appears to be 20. A friend popped over last night and mentioned that there were being interviewed for a position and that they were scheduled to do 16 interviews at KPMG, with the early few involving more than one person. Due to diaries this may take several months.

This seems bizarre to me. Everyday, the partners are relying on one another not to screw up an audit which might ruin the firm, but when it comes to hiring everyone wants in. Bearing in mind that some candidates won't be hired (even KPMG must turn some people away), think of how much manpower is involved in this process.

A positive view on this might be that they take hiring very seriously, which is why they invest so much effort in it. My perception is that they are hopelessly bureaucratic and incapable of making a decision. Hardly a dynamic process.

The other point is that good candidates hardly need to hang around for several months to find out if they've made it - most likely they will be snapped up. So, you are actually going to be left with the folks who couldn't get a job elsewhere and hence could wait but who also didn't offend anyone in the 16 interviews by venturing opinions! Hmmmm, sounds like a great intake.

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Craigslists - onto a winner with only 23 staff

Smartmobs reports here that Craiglist that has a staff of only 23 people is the 7th most visited internet site.

Of the top 10, two are a crowd dependent services i.e. one where the size of the customer base actually determines it's usefulness, namely ebay and craigslist.

This sites demonstrate that people will herd towards the largest crowd, happily foregoing the "best" for the largest. Such services are fascinating from an investment standpoint at their inception, as I discussed the other day in a post

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Zoho Notebook launches in alpha


Zoli Erdos has posted about Zoho's new offering that they previewed at Demo 2007, Notebook.

Still in alpha, Notebook is an online application to create, aggregate, share, collaborate on just about any type of content easily - all in one place, without having to switch applications.

Zoho are proving an amazing powerhouse in the SAAS space for SME and enterprise workers. Their product innovation cycle is blistering and I'm looking forward to trying this one out. I particularly like the idea of the skype integration given how much time I spend communicating with others via skype.

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Bulldogdsl SUCK

Apologies for the rant but after the excellent experience with T-mobile, I've been fortunate to go to the other extreme.

My elderly & infirm parents rely on their phone service for emergencies. I also installed a broadband service at their home so that I could a) monitor them remotely b) their grandchildren could have video chats with them.

After period of repeated problems with the broadband service due to an evident fault, Bulldog deigned to investigate some 3 weeks later. However, after 2 hours of remote investigation they managed to worsen the fault and suspend the phone.

Had it been quickly restored, so be it. Instead, because they hit their 8pm cutoff they advised another engineer would have to pick it up another day!

So
They may offer a reportedly fast broadband service, but their customer service is appalling and exposes vulnerable customers to being without a lifeline phone service. Steer clear.

Before you ask, I had to make separate provision to get them a mobile phone in order that they could still contact the outside world.

Rant over.

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Loughborough University set example in energy use

The Alumni magazine reports that for the last 5 years the Universite has been purchasing 100% of its power from renewable sources. Now it's gone further and is constructing a heat & power plant on campus at a cost of £1.3m to be ready in March 2007. The plant should prevent 1,2000 tonnes of CO2 being released into the atmosphere.

Of couse, they forgot to mention what energy & environmental damage the construction cost.

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Accountant's wife improves on double entry

Dennis Howlett posted the following story,

An accountant leaves a letter for his wife one Friday evening. It reads:

“Dear Wife. This week I turned 54. I am going away for the weekend. I will be staying at the Hilton with my gorgeous, sexy, 18-year-old secretary.”

When he arrives at the hotel there is a letter waiting for him. It is from his wife. It reads:

“Dear Husband. I too am 54. I too am going away for the weekend. I will be staying at the Sheraton with my handsome and virile 18-year-old toy boy. You’re an accountant. You’ll appreciate that 18 goes into 54 many more times than 54 goes into 18.”

Excellent.

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T-mobile insurance works as all insurance should

I confess to being a crackberry user and have been guilty of many of the associated failings that are criticised by many, including using my blackberry during meetings.

So imagine my horror when the trackwheel on my 7290 stopped "clicking" at the weekend, rendering the device inoperable! I'd taken out insurance from T-mobile ("fone safe")and was ready for the trauma of insurance claim hell in order to get a replacement. But I confess, T-mobile lived up to their service promise (almost), namely
Sadly, they didn't have my current model (7290) in stock because it's been replaced by a later model (8700g), which was also out of stock - they'd had a run on the model. However, the store assistant advised that they could get either in the store for me within 24 hours.

So stocking issues aside, this is exactly how insurance should be - simple, efficient and customer centric.

Thanks to Steve Clayton of Microsoft (a fellow Lufbra alumni) for the cartoon tipoff

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Microsoft To Set Up Online Payment System

Microsoft has announced it is going to introduce an online payment system that will be cheaper than credit card transactions, making it possible for companies to charge small fees for Web-based content and services they now offer for free.

This a direct challenge both to the banking community and duopoly of Visa/Mastercard, not to mention Paypal. Undoubtedly the brand power of Microsoft could make a big impact on the market - but as I mentioned in this post, it's all about the network effect and barriers to entry.

For most merchants, I suspect there will be no hesitation in signing up provided the pricing is not too different. But for consumers, one of the key issues will be is it available to use on services like eBay. And the probable answer will be no!

Astonishing, eBay has gotten away with allowing only 3 payment processors be used on its site, one being the in-house Paypal. If Microsoft doesn't get access to this, this may be a considerable deterrent to customers. For this reason, I suspect Microsoft may take steps to press for admittance either by direct agreement or lobbying the competition authorities.

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Marketclusters raises $3m

Venture Beat reports on Marketclusters fund raising.

Marketclusters, latest effort to filter blogs for corporate clients — It is the old lemming play. Monitor110, of New York, and TechDirt, of Belmont, Calif. (Silicon Valley) are doing versions of this, and have just raised capital to sign up clients. And so Marketclusters, of London, has raised $3 million from New Media Spark. It serves corporate and financial clients. Notably, it lists among its clients Silicon Valley venture firm Benchmark Capital, which happens to be an investor in Seeking Alpha, a company that aggregrates information from financial blogs, and so is somewhat related. Benchmark has been known to hedge (for example, investing in both online loan marketplace competitors, Zopa and Prosper).

Coincidentally I met met with their COO on Tuesday at Second Chance Tuesday being shadowed by New Media Sparks.

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Antigua challenges US online gambling law

The Sunday Telegraph has a report about how tiny Caribbean island of Antigua has won an unlikely victory against the US in bringing a successful challenge against its internet gaming laws before the World Trade Organisation.

It notes that Antigua will need backing from other countries on this but neither the UK nor Europe seems interested.

The Sunday Telegraph has a separate article here highlighting the US hypocracy over the arrests and legislation.

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One man built Stonehenge - no tools required

For centuries people have puzzled as to how Stonehenge could have been constructed. Sometimes, perhaps we think too hard about problems and the solution might be more straight forward than we imagine.

A friend at dinner last night pointed me to this video. Quite astounding.

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How to deal with telemarketeers

This audio is really funny - not for work environment without headphones.

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In case you need help with words of love

With Valentines Day fast approaching (at least it feels that way if you have been into a shop recently), here's a useful online tool if you need a little help with composing a verse or two.

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"I'll use it if you will"

Online and offline there are two types of business
Examples of "crowd dependent" are markets like ebay and the stock exchange; telephone networks like skype; social networks like bebo; "knowledge aggregators" like crowdstorm. In each case, their value increases as more people join.

Conversely, services such as calendars (airset, google), spreadsheets (google) and docs (zoho, think free) or something as simple as a ticket agency/online store can be useful to an individual or a small group regardless of the total customer base.

This is a significant distinction because the likelihood of success for a venture varies enormously between the two.

Crowd dependent businesses are hugely dependent on early adopters joining in "anticipation" of it eventually becoming useful. Hopefully, a virtuous circle is created in which sufficient people join that it reaches a tipping point. Depending upon the crowd size required, this may demand enormous marketing spend to drive customers in quickly. Of course, once you achieve the tipping point, this provides you with enormous competitive advantage over other new entrants - essentially it creates a barrier to entry. Customers are also locked in to your business to some degree since they derive benefits from being part of the crowd.

A self-standing service can afford to grow more slow (funding permitting) and can immediately deliver value to its customers. However, it's far easier for customers to switch to a new service. Whilst they may have invested time in using your business

Hence in evaluating a business opportunity as an investor you intuitively think along the lines of

Investment required

Success probability

Potential value

Crowd dependent

High

Low

Very High

Self standing

Low

Medium

Low-Medium


This isn't gospel and obviously the nature of the opportunity will affect this rough guide.

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London Minibar is huge

Tonight the signup list was closed at 170 people, double the number from Dec 06. A packed bar saw demos/talks from:

- www.drupal.org; content mgt platform including blog facilities; collaboration tools; web devt platform for the open source community with 100k users. Drupal purports to act as the glue for web projects. It's now on v5.
- www.tioti.com; tape it off the internet a web site that aggregates data about tv shows & where you might download them. Its 12 months old & all content is user generated. Lots of broadcasters reportedly are making their content (back library) available online for download. Using friend recommendation concept, you can discover new stuff & comment on it. 13k beta users with public access due next week. Paul, the founder, claims there will be no copyright issues for them (really!) & will rely on advertising for its revenues.
- www.MODfilms.net are looking to be a film licence convergence orchestrator! Mixing up all kinds of film & animation content with interactive uses. A proponent of semantic web, they want to provide a means of tagging contents & linking between content items. Unusually they are aiming to invest time to encourage/promote use of creative commons licences amongst content producers for derivatives of their product. Suggested you also check out Trailermash.com which is an authority on content mashups
- www.platoniq.com From Barcelona they are focussed on "sharing media in public spaces". They advocate opensource copyleft music distribution & a common bank of knowledge.
- wikidot.com allows you to edit webpages! Like wikipedia but a one-man band done in 6 months. It has 8000 users with 3500 wikis & 90,000 pages. All done for $1k.
- Ester Dyson, ex CNET & recent non-exec of of etribes. Speaking on tech investing she asked how will your site make money! Are you a lifestyle entrepreneur or money mad? Running companies is hard - her 10 companies face the same issues as any business. She believes investors expect 1 out of 10 to be a hit & 3 limping through. Brands have to be built & deliver an experience. She was asked is social change more important than ROI. Answer - social change can deliver ROI as a byproduct.

Christian, who organises the event, announced that Google is sponsoring a film competition under creative commons licence.

Sorry for the bitty notes, but this liveblogging!

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Disposable email accounts

Hate giving your email address when registering to try out new websites? For a while I've used the free service of tempinbox which creates an account whenever it receives an email.

An alternate is Guerilla Mail. It provides you with disposable e-mail addresses which expire after 15 minutes. You can read and reply to e-mails that are sent to the temporary e-mail address within the given time frame.

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How easily can you be fooled?

A post by Confused of Calculta points us to an excellent set of visual illusions, which are frankly astounding. JP & I share a favourite in this one. In the picture, A & B squares are the same shade of grey - honest. Here's the proof.

There's more of these visual illusions here. Lesson - never trust your own eyes! or Seeing may be believing but belief is not fact.

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Blogging for mercenaries

Charlene Li of Forrester is referring to a report they've produced on blogging called “The ROI Of Blogging: The “Why” And “How” Of External Blog Accountability” which apparently includes a spreadsheet to compute the monetised benefits/costs.

She goes onto list some Q&A she considered relevant, one of which struck me.

Q: But this is heresy - you can't put the benefits of a blog on a spreadsheet! You've just got to believe that blogs are a good thing because they develop conversations with customers. A: At the core of my bleeding heart pumps the soul of a pragmatist. Sure, I buy into all of the positive, feel good reasons to have a blog. But when your manager asks why the company has a blog versus spending more time and resources on XYZ initiatives, it sure would be helpful to be able to show a spreadsheet of those blogging benefits in dollars and cents.

Funny, most companies I know don't have the first clue how to calculate a return on their marketing spend but happily commit large sums to marketing because it seems "the right thing to do". Bigger challenge if one is to adopt this fiscal disciplined approach is surely assessing whether the company is prepared for the blog author(s) to speak with a honest voice about interesting stuff. Recycling press releases as blog posts don't tend to work so well, nor does related corporate fluff or failures to recognise the imperfections of a company.

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SAP on the slide or is this a turning point?

SAP, the world's largest business software company, is getting battered on the stock market. Its' shares are down 15% already this year as worries mount about its' ability to continuing growing given the saturation in the large corporate market.

Back in 2000 it did begin attempts to enlarge its market focus to include SMEs but most people consider its' software far too complex for this space.

However, SAP is clearly renewing its focus on this SME market and has announced that it is to introduce a SaaS offering from the end of March. It will be subscription based and mark a departure from SAPs usual licencing model.

SAP claim they will be the first company to offer a business suite of products on demand, rather than niche CRM or accounting components.

Is this a desperate attempt to revive their fortunes by hooking up to what SAP may perceive as a fad/fashion or a genuine refocussing of the company to eventually operate alongside pure-SaaS players like Salesforce?

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Fabricating your audit report

You open a set of accounts and somewhere in it is an audit report signed by an audit firm. Or was it?

Have you ever contacted an audit firm to confirm that they actually audited the company and signed off the audit? Me neither. How likely is it that audit firms themselves would spot someone passing off an audit report? The large firms have tens of thousands of clients, so it's reasonably unlikely anyone inside those firms would easily spot that a firm wasn't a client unless it was of more than passing interest.

I raise this simply because this "loophole" is exactly what Renaisance Asset Management, based in Georgia USA exploited. They had filed financial reports including an audit report from Grant Thornton. Renaisance had never been audited by Grant Thornton or indeed any firm. The fabrication only came to light by chance and not through the existence of any regulatory/ government/ accountancy body structural controls to detect such matters (which don't appear to exist).

Makes you wonder.

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French Chairman of AXA is sadly misguided

It appears that Claude Bebear, founder of the AXA empire, has lot the plot.

He is calling for stringent transparency rules and restrictions on leverage to curb the activities of hedge funds. Most notably he wants there to be differential voting rights based on the longevity of the investment in a company i.e. long term investor gets more votes per share than recent investor.

This is crazy for several reasons, some practical and other philosophical.

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Skype disappoints eBay

Despite rapidly growing user numbers (171m users, up 129% in 12months), eBay acknowledged "revenue has not developed as quickly as they'd hoped" in its earnings statement ($66m in Q406, up 31% on Q306).

Is this news surprising? I spend lots of time using skype for calls, video calls and IM. Yet I've never paid a cent in 3+ yrs of use.

Whilst skype anticipates only a small proportion of its users will generate revenues, it faces an unusual scenario with its current pricing structure; the more people that join skype, the less I and other skype users need to consider skype in/out paid for services. And when I do need to connect with none-skype users, I can usually find a number of online voip operators that have a promotion with free calls to my destination e.g. voipcheap.com

Would I pay a subscription for skype? Given the network benefits of lots of people being on it, I would - say £10 per quarter. But if subs came in, would there be a mass exodus, thereby destroying the hoped for revenues and creating a viscious circle in which other left because their contacts were no longer using it? I believe so.

Other brands are piling into this space, so I can't see life getting any better for skype. That said, with such a large customer base and recent prices paid for "customers" of nearly $10, it still implies a current value of over $1.5bn. Note, the 171m number reported relates to accounts in existence and not active accounts - in my experience skype never reports over 9m online at any one time.

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Norway declares Apple's iTunes illegal

In light of the Neteller post, it's ironic that Norway's consumer ombudsman has ruled iTunes illegal because it does not allow downloaded music to be played on rival company devices.

The ombudsman has set a deadline of 1 Oct for Apple to share it codes with rivals otherwise it will be fined and closed down!

Other European companies are preparing to launch simialr actions.

Again, I find this bizarre. Obviously it's great that the US gets a taste of its own medicine with overseas court imposing their jurisdiction on US firms.

However consumers have a choice when shopping with iTunes. You do so knowing that you are locking your music collection into a proprietary format, despite that data having a probable life expectancy longer than their ipod device.

It's not as though there is a shortage of music download stores.

Interesting, this precedent would also hit Microsoft with its music site & the Zune lock-in.

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Neteller founders appeal

Unsurprisingly the Neteller founders are lodging appeals against their arrest, challenging the jurisdiction of the US courts in imposing laws on non US companies operating outside the US.

Leaving aside the morality issue on gambling, this is an important issue of general commerce & establishing where online business is done.

If a business declares itself to be operating on UK soil & its T&Cs are sold subject to English Law, surely it is fair for the consumer to accept this as the province - they have a choice to proceed or not.

Furthermore, to expect an online vendor to understand the laws of every jurisdiction where customers originate from is unreasonable. After all, I believe that in typing a web address, I have "travelled" to that business, not visa versa.

Don't World Trade Organisation provisions apply here somehow?

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BBC plans online children's world

The BBC so loved SecondLife evidently that it has decided to spend money on building a virtual world for kids aged 7-12.

Naturally "Bosses said CBBC World would not have the financial aspects of other online worlds such as Second Life."


It is expected to go live in the summer with a full launch in the autumn to coincide with the CBBC relaunch.


This is what folks have been crying out for, particularly at a time when the BBC licence fee rise was claimed to be insufficient for the BBC's needs!

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How to use OpenID

Simon Willison, formerly of Yahoo and an evangelist for OpenID has a good explanation of how to use OpenId here in a screencast.

As its says on the opening screen

OpenID lets you log in to different sites without having to create a new username and password for each one.

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Salesforce to make money from AppExchange finally

6 months after posting about Mark Benioff's ("evil") plans to get rich from AppExchange, I learnt this week from a couple of companies on the Exchange that Salesforce will be introducing consolidated customer billing and simultaneously introducing a revenue rake off of what I understand to be 20%.

To my surprise, there hasn't been more comment about this and I am still searching the Salesforce site for the details of the arrangement. Nonetheless, it's beneficial for customers since they now only have one invoicing supplier to deal with rather than many.

As for developers, clearly handing over 20% when you didnt before may feel like a drawback, but I think the early days were simply the free trial and 20% still represents considerable benefit - think of the costs of selling outside of the AppExchange with its' prebuilt distribution channel.

I'm intrigued as to whether Salesforce will simply book the commission or take the whole 100% to top line revenues and show the 80% as a cost of sale. Much will depend on the presentational impact on the absolute values and the ratios in terms of the materiality of the change this introduces.

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When to drop an idea?

Listening to some of the entrepreneurs describe their ventures on Tuesday at SCT, I found myself wondering at what point some of these people would call it a day - the ideas felt flaky and the financial viability unclear.

The trouble is that it's very hard to let go - you've sunk your emotional capital into the venture; people know what you are doing; you've probably invested your own capital and you may have even taken money from friends/family. Just another week/month/customer/project/deal will make everything fine.

So do you stop only when the money runs out?

It's easy and rationale to say no and that you should stop well before. But the reasons I would advance are as follows

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Another excellent Second Chance Tuesday event

Last night Glasshouse events ran another of their London networking events and once again it was excellent. Held at the Commonwealth Club, which was a much improved venue on last time, there was a good mix of people that had been selected from the applicant list.

Whilst some of the faces were familiar including Danny Bull of MyNeighbourhoods; Shivaun Farr of Foundem; Kieran O'Neill of Everwire; Tim Barker of Koral, many were new to me (company list here). This highlights the broader appeal of the event than some, albeit all of the entrepreneurs I spoke with were web/IT businesses of some description. Interestingly, many were unfamiliar with the other regular events in and around London. In case you are curious which events I am referring to check out my upcoming.org profile here.

I understand that there is a Second Chance Tuesday in New York next week - based on the London showing I'd happily recommend that New Yorkers should head along.

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OpenID and Portable Social Networks

Brian Oberkirch has an excellent analysis on Open ID and how it has the potential to create portable social networks, which would aggregate our identity, activity and friends from the many "islands" on which we are registered into a consolidated entity. The post contains some interesting ideas on how LinkedIn might benefit from this area.

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BA self service check-in is not customer friendly

I'm just flying back from Newcastle on an early flight. Thinking it would save time this morning, I checked in using one of the new BA self service machines on Sat evening.

So it was a surprise to find myself in a long queue for baggage drop similar to check in & to go through an almost similar procedure as check in at the front desk.

The check in desk saving for the staff member must equate to less than 2 minutes. Multiplied up this obviously matters to BA.

However, whilst it was painless for me, there were long queues this morning for the machines, followed by queues again for baggage drop.

Many people were evidently finding the check in machine confusing & unwelcoming. They'd have clearly like to have dealt with a person.

Whilst I appreciate that in time people will get used to the machines, there's no obvious material service benefit to the customer of the machine, unlike an ATM. Is this how companies should operate?

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Kicking off an MBO is risky

The directors of UK listed sofware business Misys, which tried to arrange a buyout last year, were turfed out this week by the CEO.

Arranging such a deal is always tricky given
- you need secrecy initially but also need some conspirators
- you can't be doing your job fully whilst arranging your bid
- shareholders are suspicious of you (have you deflated the company performance to get a lower price)
- your susbsequent commitment to the firm if its fails is questionable

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Web startups are just like garage bands

At mobile monday last week, I made an observation to the audience that web/mobile startup business environment reminded me of the music industry

- you can easily start a business/band in a garage with a few mates

- you don't necessarily need much (any?) talent nor do you need much money these days

- whilst there are examples of some bands/firms catapulting to fame & riches on the wave of viral fortune, many others have to do the hard work of marketing to a sceptical market full of noise & short on attention

- most firms/bands hope to be discovered by the big industry giants who'll promote & bankroll them

- some bands/firms are condemned to forever play to small audiences, or simply fall out with each other before fading away into oblivion



I say this because I don't think the existence of a large number of startups equate to a bubble. Of course there have been some big hits for firms with a large "fan" bases or awesome output into supergroups. Yet in the music industry this is just the natural order of things - frothy & hyped, but not a bubble in the way people are talking about the web space..



Certainly the music industry structure is changing & bands can make it on their own with the right talent/luck. But the helping hand of a large record company marketing budget can massively help an otherwise average/weak product.



Perhaps one day, being an entrepreneur will be as cool/hip/happening (whatever is the phrase; I don't have teenagers so am out of touch) as being in a band......... just fewer screaming/adoring female fans.

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GNER trains have wireless

I'm travelling up to Newcastle from London for a meeting by train. Its a journey I've not done for years.

Cautious with my money, I'm travelling standard class. So I was delighted to see even these carriages have
- wireless internet access on board
- at seat power sockets for laptops/phones

How times have changed such that
- the trains are evidently listening to customer needs which helps in trying to compete against low cost airlines
- customers feel the need to be online much more. Are we far away from an "always on" expectation amongst the mass market (which the mobile phone has probably created anyway)

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Spinvox PR blunder

If you want to annoy people, spamming them is usually a good technique.

Its even more effective when you follow these simple steps
- spam a private group list you've been permitted to join
- send the spam under the guise of someone seemingly unconnected with the company/product
- send self absorbed fluff to highlight your own self importance that is of no interest to anyone else
- link the fluff to a bigger story/keyword in a move to add interest

I can claim no credit for inventing this. Thank the PR company of Spinvox who
- sent a Spinvox press release to all the members of Mobile Monday London,
- sent it from an yahoo email account that was easily traced to someone at Spinvox's PR company
- felt we'd be interested to learn the opinions of the CEO of Spinvox on the iPhone & why her service was superior(product plug made by disparaging others)

This little stunt
- generated lots of email traffic amongst the group condemning the breach of list etiquette in send a spammy press release
- was quickly traced by a group member to the PR company
- was interpreted as a desperate ploy by Spinvox to be noticed and appear to matter
- earnt many suggestions on how to voice displeasure with Spinvox for such behaviour

Leaving aside the brand harm to Spinvox as the stunt backfired, it was fascinating to see a community group form around unwritten rules of what constitutes reasonable/unreasonable behaviour and "punish" the perpetrator.

Sometimes groups remain quiet because individuals feel uncertain about their status and ability to speak up. They fear looking silly if theirs is an isolated view. Other times the perpetrator is a bully.

A good example is the present furore over Celebrity Big Brother where three "educationally/intellectually challenged" women are bullying another a fourth. The fourth happens to be Indian, and possibly is perceived by the bullies as coming from a higher "social class". Within the "House" their unacceptable behaviour hasn't been challenged, yet outside there is universal condemnation - many have written about the damage to the bullies "celebrity" brands which is already having commercial implications for them & the programme makers.

The seriousness of the transgressions is clearly different between Spinvox & CBB. Nonetheless its gratifying to see their respective behaviours challenged by natural social order.

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"1&1" are proving inept as an ISP

1&1 are one of the largest ISPs in the UK. Sadly, for the last 4 days, their email service has been screwed. It's affected both their web mail and pop account service. Not too impressive for a hosting company to suffer such problems given it's supposed to be their area of expertise.

So, apologies if I've failed to respond to your emails and my sympathies if you too are a customer of this firm - you'll be familiar with this message if you are.

500 Internal Server Error

An unexpected condition was encountered. Please try the request again.

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The idiocy that is American law & the Internet

The arrests of the two founders of Neteller in the US is sending chills through the spines of the millions who play a part in the online gambling industry.

As this story reports that has extracts from the arrest report, law enforcement officers, with the aid of a "co-operating witness" opened a Neteller online payment account. Funds were then transferred into the account whilst the US resident was in the USA. NEITHER OF THESE ACTIONS ARE ILLEGAL.

The Co-operating Witness then transferred their money on Neteller to several online gambling ventures that operated in locations outside of the US on several occasions between September 2006 and December 2006.

Neteller is an Isle of Man domiciled entity, listed in London on the AIM market. It is authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority in the United Kingdom as an e-money issuer (FSA Register Number: 229737).

"Since in or about June 2006, the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") has been conducting an investigation of Neteller PLC, a company that is based in Isle of Man and is publicly-traded in the United Kingdom. The investigation has revealed that Neteller PLC conducts and facilitates illegal
financial transactions between gambling customers in the United States and numerous offshore online gambling businesses."


So, a US law agency has deemed that it has jurisdiction over the actions of a UK regulated entity.
Things I find most objectional here are
As the Mercury News reports from Kansas

U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia said the men knew when they took their company public that its activities were illegal.

FBI Assistant Director Mark J. Mershon, assistant director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, said the multibillion-dollar online gambling industry is ``a colossal criminal enterprise masquerading as legitimate business.''

They joined in 1999 to found Neteller, which is based in the Isle of Man. Lawrence left the company's board of directors in October and Lefebvre left in December 2005, prosecutors said.

Neteller's shares were suspended and it announced today to the London Stock Exchange that it is ceasing to handle gambling transactions from U.S. customers because of restrictive legislation and uncertainties about regulations.

If the US thinks gambling is morally wrong and wants to ban it, then it should legislate accordingly and close all US gambling businesses and criminalise US citizens who gamble. Extending its legislative reach to businesses outside America and seeking to impose a moral view on those who have no democratic ability to change this situation is simply wrong.

Furthermore, as is reported here, the legislation has some convenient loopholes

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 requires banking institutions to monitor internet gambling transactions. The banking sector has claimed they do not have the necessary means to do so. The law was tacked onto a Port Security Act and written hastily by politicians with what many believe to be ulterior motives (i.e. horse racing was exempt from the new law as were state lotteries).

If only UK politicians had the spine to do something about this injustice, such as impose equally mindless laws on that affect US businesses e.g. against the law to buy online goods from a US owned business (thereby scuppering Asda which is owned by Wallmart; or making it illegal to download music from iTunes). Then when dear Mr Jobs & Co happen to pop through Heathrow, they too could be arrested - perhaps this is the only way to draw light on this situation, because you can bet (or perhaps you can't if you are a US resident) that US politicians would be screaming trade sanctions at this point......

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Barcamp is back in London

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Startup entrepreneurs rejoice!

I've just been speaking to David Cohen, Colorado investor/entrpreneur, who I first came across with his Earfeeder venture. Yesterday, he and three friends launched Techstars.

This is simply brilliant and I am already speaking to a number of people in the UK scene about how we can do the same as a UK "chapter" of the idea.

Simply put Techstars is inviting startups to apply for a small amount of seed funding ($5k per founder to a max of $15k). Ten firms will be selected from the applicants. However, the bigger prize for the lucky firms will be access to the Mentors that have offered their time to help the startups - there are some notable names amongst the list of mentors offering their time over the Summer.

In exchange, Techstars takes 5% of the equity of your company, with no dilution protection required.

Clearly TechStars companies will get immeasurable benefits that come from introductions and connections to potential partners and customers. At the end of the summer, each company also has the opportunity to pitch during an investor event that they organize.

Worth checking out. As they say get funded; get educated; get started

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Told you Beckham would make me rich!

My portfolio is 51.6% up on Trendio in a week, primarily thanks to the proliferation of the term "David Beckham" in the news. It's up 300.11% since I bought the term on 11 Jan just before his transfer to LA Galaxy was announced.

Sadly, Trendio doesn't allow short selling on its markets, thereby denying me the opportunity to benefit from falling as well as rising markets. It's also very limited on the words in it's inventory, which denies additional opportunities. Oh well, it's only a game after all.

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A blogger with the "Hoover" syndrome

This blogger has made the offer to anyone that comments on his blog in the next two weeks, that he will comment on every blog post of theirs for the next two weeks.

Potentially, that's a huge undertaking as there are already 36 people that have left a comment on that post alone. Assuming he has the time to do any more which attracts new people that comment, you can quickly see how fast his task might multiply. It reminds me of the Hoover offer, whereby everyone that bought a Hoover vacuum cleaner received a flight ticket(s) to New York. So many people took them up on their offer that the company was forced to make a huge write off, given that the flight costs greatly exceeded the profits on a vacuum cleaner.

Obviously he may just quit once the enormity of the task becomes apparent; it could even be a great stunt.

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Mobile Monday London 14 Jan 2007

Tonight's theme was bubble 2.0 and is the mobile/tech space overheated?

Azeem Azhar of Reuters had little to say other than cite Library House findings that reckons startup & series A funding in Europe was £24m in 2005 & already 84m in UK in 2006. He did suggest in response to a question on non-execs that they should be forced to invest; not receive any salary and paid in options. Whilst I endorse the sentiment, entrepreneurs have to recognise that if they want talented individuals to assist, not all not execs will be attracted to these terms of trade!

Sam Sethi of Vecosys pointed out the mismatch between entrepreneurs who only need small amounts of capital and VCs who are only interested in big deals in order that they can invest the huge sums they've raised. Sam picked on a skills gap as being a real issue in the space presently.

Madhuban Kumar of Doughty Hanson Tech Ventures endorsed Sam's point about the funding requirement from tech companies often being below the VC radar on starting threshold.

Jan Kuczynski of Wireless World Forum had nothing to say & spent 5 mins saying so. Didn't manage to refer to the topic once which left most people confused.

The evening's Demos were by:

Aditon
An ad funded mobile content discovery service. Free to consumers who select categories to have content served up & it claims to be "self learning" in what each consumer likes. Data charges are borne by aditon, who deliver pre-canned content overnight to your phone. Content manufacturer can deliver their content free as well, at least initially. Advertiser pays for everything!

This service looked good and I liked the idea of using network quiet time to deliver content down to the mobile. I'm cautious about the service acting as a screen saver on your phone - when you're not using the phone, why would you be looking at it? Also this could quickly eat up your battery life.

Ookl
This service is reinventing trips to cultural venues to give you a better museum experience. Kids are its target who capture images on a handset supplied at the museum. Content is already on the device with presupplied tags as they walk round. They can then add their own photos & comments as they walk round. They can review this mashup when they get back to class. Looked very niche and felt like it would involve considerable work and cost for museums. Priya Prakash of BBC and DigitalWellBeing who I sat with, also mentioned to me that the BBC did something very similar to this 3 years ago.

Quicka
create & deliver mobile marketing messages, using a pre-canned framework. Similar to content management system. This was an awful demo, involving no demo and a very confused explanation.

Reporo
This was a content service portal/provider for mobile. It has some premium services like live football streamed data like scores (not matches). Also has an SMS, IM & chat room capabilities from the mobile. This is an ad funded service. 5% click through rate & 2% conversion rate. This looked good visually and the demo

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Software as a service - ups and downs

I'm a Saas fan. If you are too, you'll have no doubt met lots of doubters about it who've raised objections concerns etc. I've even listed some of those concerns in past posts and in this slidedeck.

One concern cited is the reliability/availability of the service. No matter that you rely on the phone company or electricity company to enable you to do your business, which is rarely raised by folks (unless they live in California where power outages have been known or some third world states), it just feels different, especially if you feel the service could be hosted internally.

So, in case the doubters are struggling to provide examples to make their case, and in the spirit of honesty and openness, they should be aware that posterboy of the Saas world, Salesforce was reportedly offline the other day.

Thanks to Dennis Howlett for the tipoff. Pleased that Dennis likes Koral too. He's correct whe he points out, I did forget to mention that Koral handles document version control too, which is a hugely important feature when talking about a collaboration app.

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Crowdswarm - circular popularity syndrome

A fascinating study by Matthew Salganik of Columbia University in New York re-enforces a point I was making to Nic Brisbourne of Esprit Capital Partners. Nic had posted about the wisdom of crowds (Last.fm) v machine intelligence (e.g. Pandora).

I feel that there is an important sub-division in the “wisdom of crowds” category, between trust networks like LinkedIn and crowd sites which give you data on which you may or may not choose to rely like Toptable reviews. Clearly the former is much stronger since your reliance on the information is based on your assessment of the source. In the latter, popularity is your main guide, which doesn’t necessarily equate to wisdom. Sam Sethi (Vecosys and formerly techcrunchuk) and I also recently chatted about this and its impact on the long-term success of “social networks”.

As regards machine recommendations, the ability of computers to spot correlations in behaviour to help make “insightful” suggestions I believe is a very powerful force but only to the extent that the dataset and population on which it draws is sufficiently sizeable to allow meaningful conclusions to be drawn. Too often social networks have/use insufficient data points in making comparisons to allow them to identify genuine correlations e.g. male & works in capital markets as our shared points isn’t sufficient to guess our interest/tastes will overlap. Add on music, hobbies, education….. At which point we start to use something akin to “dating service” algorithms to identify people we “correspond” with and hence have increased likelihood that the machine recommendations will resonate.

The Columbia study created a "music market" and identified that when songs were ranked by how many times they'd been downloaded, people followed the crowd. When the songs were not ordered by rank, but displayed the number of downloads, there was a less significant "social influence". It wasn't wisdom, just popularity that drove behaviour - "Swarming" as they termed it.

As separate study by the Florida Institute of Technology is testing out "swarming" in supermarkets, by providing shoppers with a device that indicates to them how many people currently in the shop have bought the item (or from the shelf) they are walking past. The idea is supermarkets benefit from increased sales without giving discounts and consumer get the satisfaction of buying a "popular" product. This is obviously a vicious/virtuous circle depending on your view, with visibly unpopular products being further shunned.

Oddly enough, whilst reading about these studies last night, the TV was showing a BBC Nature programme on the migration of the wildebeest across Africa, with an annual migration of one million of them on a round trip of 3,000km. A large chunk of the programme was devoted to the "watering hole" inhabited by 300 or so crocodiles. Despite the crocs repeatedly grabbing victims as they drank, the crowd kept returning to drink every few minutes. Admittedly there was nowhere else to drink for 30km, but maybe it shows that sometimes the crowd never learns.

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Guardian backs the BBC licence fee rise

Ian Forrestor has a post here that picks up on the Guardian endorsement of the BBC licence fee increase.

Back in May the BBC - Radio 1, actually - was prescient in launching a pop concert in the now-fashionable Second Life virtual world that attracted 6,000 people. The spin-off from the event is credited with tripling the number of SL participants and helping to change it from a geek's secret paradise into a mainstream phenomenon. Justin Bovington, chief executive of Rivers Run Red, the enterprising Soho company that employs 22 people to build projects in SL, reckons that only the BBC could have done that because private sector companies wouldn't have taken the risk.

Hmmmm. So an example of the value added by the BBC is its' endorsement/promotion of a American commercial enterprise has helped Second Life's commercial success.

A commercial broadcaster would have been paid for such a promotion, given the value its' brand brought to the party, but the BBC undoubtedly refused to take any fee, citing its need for independence etc. and not wishing to entangle itself commercially.

So we have broadcaster that can selectively bestow its' favours on companies (not even a UK firm in this example) and thereby allow those companies to benefit commercially, at UK licence payer expense. Does this make sense?

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Koral - an excellent content & collaboration management solution

I'm really impressed with Koral which is an online (SaaS) enterprise content management solution, which launched on 26 Sept 2006.


Koral helps you put an end to wasted hours trying to find your most recent and relevant content by synchronizing it in a central place and making searching for it very intuitive. Say goodbye to a mess of folders: Koral doesn't require them. Koral then helps you use your business information to collaborate within your company and with partners, suppliers and customers.

With this online service you can
Koral is offered soley as a Software-as-a-Service solution (like salesforce.com). A business user can create a workspace to collaborate, then invite others (similar to how linkedin works). The sweet-spot of companies using Koral at the moment is department and team-level collaboration. This is smart - I've always believed that the best way for these apps to succeed is to sneak in under the corporate procurement and IT radar, and then spread between users who entice their colleagues in because of the network externalities benefits.

To make it easy for business teams to adopt, Koral has focused on (i) usability (ii) self-service administration (iii) ease of adding co-workers. The UI is very slick and intuitive, as is the navigation.

I always approach Enterprise 2.0 applications with some apprehension, because the developers often forget that corporate users rarely have the option to install plugs Java Applets or ActiveX as it's highly likely these will be blocked in a corporate environment. So in demanding that users have the latest browser, Java RTE etc they lock out most users. With Koral, they've not fallen into this trap and so are more likely to achieve viral success.

There is an optional desktop application which extends the value you can get from Koral, but it's not mandatory. If, in comparison, you look at something like Microsoft Groove, the fact that it requires a 30Mb+ install of a windows app to do *anything* makes you realise why it didn't spread virally amongst corporates.

Another smart move by Koral is offering this service via the Salesforce AppExchange, which plugs them into a large distribution opportunity.

Check the introductory video out which provides a good insight into its capabilities. There's also a pretty good video of Tim Baker (a Brit involved in a great web app still living in Britain!) doing a demo to Robert Scoble here. However, one cautionary note is that without the optional desktop piece shown on the demo video you can't simply drop documents into an icon on your desktop for them to upload nor do you get the IM alert/notification that you are using an out dated version when opening it on the desktop. Oddly, as you'll see in both videos, this a pitched as a major benefit of the app without mentioning either the install requirement or that this ordinarily won't be available to many corporate users.

The service is free for basic usage with fees kicking in as it is more widely adopted within a business in similar fashion to Salesforce.

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Cold Xmas in Dubai

Just heard from friends that returned on Tuesday that the temp over xmas was 16-18c v normal 28-32c. Coldest since 1987. People not going on the beach or in the pool because it was chilly. Even attendance at Wild Wadi was down.

New York was warmer on a couple of the days! Global warming perhaps..............

Reckon that this might flush out a few discounts for next Xmas, assuming you're in the market for luxury hotels & fabulous service.

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Waterfall 2006 - The best tech conference never

This was a must attend event for a serious people interested in software development inside big corporations. For those of you in fly-by-night, agile firms interesting in faddy things like rapid development or commercial success, its contents may be educationally enlightening.

Please read its contents carefully, following most links, for maximum benefit. Skim reading of such content may leave you missing the point.

"The International Conference on Sequential Development"

Some of the sessions
This last one is excellent and the best advice if you are looking for rapid career advancement.

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The future of the BBC - serving the Saga market

The Economist has an article here about the BBC which is set to get another 10 years of public money, but argues that technology is undermining the case for its public funding of GBP3.3bn ($5.9bn) per annum.

It offers up some fascinating stats -
Perhaps in future it could be run by Saga, the company that specialises in services for the 50+ market

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Ways to create the innovative organisation

It is widely accepted that some types of organisation can be more creative and innovative than others (Hesselbein, Goldsmith and Somerville, 2002). Why? Some argue that organisational features can override and stifle the innovative capabilities of individuals. Kanter (2002) identifies ten, which she argues are common in organizations of all types and sizes.

Rules for stifling innovation

  1. Regard a new idea from below with suspicion, because it’s new, and because it’s from below.

  2. Insist that people who need your approval to act first go through several other levels of management to get their signatures.
  1. Ask departments or individuals to challenge and criticize each others’ proposals. That saves you the job of deciding; you just pick the survivor.
  1. Express criticism freely, and withhold praise. That keeps people on their toes. Let them know that they can be fired at any time.
  1. Treat identification of problems as signs of failure, to discourage people from letting you know when something in their area isn’t working.
  1. Control everything carefully. Make sure people count anything that can be counted, frequently.
  1. Make decisions to reorganize or change policies in secret, and spring them on people unexpectedly. That keeps people on their toes.
  1. Make sure that requests for information are fully justified, and make sure that it is not given out to managers freely. You don’t want data to fall into the wrong hands.
  1. Assign to lower level managers, in the name of delegation and participation, responsibility for figuring out how to cut back, lay off, move people around, or otherwise implement threatening decisions you have made. And get them to do it quickly.
  1. And above all, never forget that you, the higher-ups, already know everything important about this business.
Sound familiar? Usually creative types and doers will simply leave this environment, preferring to step away from the committees environment demanded by "B-listers" looking to fill their days and prevent change.

When experimenting with the new, failure is to be expected. Ideas that do not work out must be regarded as learning opportunities, not as platforms for recrimination and blame.

Innovation is inhibited where organisation culture favours blame over learning. Is this a problem for firms, where risk management and the avoidance of error are paramount considerations ? It is difficult for individuals and teams to be innovative and to take risks in some segments of their working domain, while following standard rules and protocols to minimise variability and risk in other areas.


I've always hated big firm environments for this very reason - the public and management face says "We encourage innovation and creativity", whilst ensuring it's too hard or too much of a career risk to be try new things.

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You idiots gave away my power supply?

I bet you this is the next episode in the story reported here by Howard Morgan about the great customer service he received from Lenovo Computers at the CES show.

Lenovo Employee A "Has anyone seen my laptop power cable? I'm sure I left it here behind the table. Help me look, I've got an important slidedeck to show to a big account in 10 minutes".

Promo Person B "What did it look like?"

Lenovo Person A "You know, a power cable. Plug on one end, attached to a lead, that goes into a computer. Duh"

Promo Person B "Oh, you mean those corporate gifts we were handing out"

Person A "AAAAAAAAAArrrrrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh"

:-)

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Sex sells at CES show in Las Vegas

Do you reckon all of these ladies at the CES show in Las Vegas are Girl Geeks?

I did love the irony, reported on BBC News at 10 last night, that the CES show was immediately followed by the Adult Entertainment industry convention. Obviously the BBC cited the immense importance of the Porn sector for driving advances in technology, given it tends to be an early adopter of innovative concepts in commerce.

Could it just be that by running these events sequentially the organisers realise that they are saving their core customers (male geeks) an airfare and providing them with a cover story, thereby driving up attendance from people who "just happen to be in town and extending their stay by a few days" ;-)

It certainly seemed that way for the BBC reporter that presented the story on the news, and who'd evidently persuaded his London bosses that it would be worth him extending his stay beyond the CES show just to do one more piece.

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Re-enforcing our own prejudice. A tidy mind is an empty mind!

It's often remarked that we buy newspapers or read material that support positions we believe in/take. It's invariably true, since most people can't be bothered reading material they'd fine intensely annoying.

So, its true of theories.

I'm not a clean desk person and never have been. I'm more in the cluttered desk camp, with lots of my stuff scattered around where I'm working. This often prompts the "cluttered desk, cluttered mind" comments from people who frankly should be off looking for their other brain cell rather than annoying me.

So, back in my University days at Loughborough, I was delighted when a fellow student on a different (and evidently simpler course) wrote his dissertation on cluttered desk. Called the volcano filing system, he "successfully" argued that actually this system was the most sophisticated and efficient filing system in existence. It's key observations were that
This approach specifically avoids the need to tag an item in an one dimensional way i.e. under date, an alphabetic reference or the like. When filing a hard copy letter, do file it by date received/sent, sender, topic, company........? Usually the logic is comprehensible only to its creator. Whilst the volcano filing system is the same, at least it allows an item to be reference in multiple ways simultaneously.

This theory was adopted and developed.

Work by Steve Whittaker and Julia Hirschberg of ATT Labs-Research, suggests that clutter may actually be quite an efficient organising principle. In “The Character, Value and Management of Personal Paper Archives”, they examine the distinction that MIT's Tom Malone draws between “filers” and “pilers”. When filers receive paperwork, they put it away. When pilers get it, they leave it on the desk—not randomly, but in concentric circles. There is a “hot” area, of stuff that the worker is dealing with right now. There is a “warm” area, of stuff that needs to be got through in the next few days: it may be there, in part, as a prompt. And there is a “cold” area, at the edges of the desk, of stuff which could just as well be in an archive (or, often, the bin). Source Economist December 2002.

The biggest danger with such a system is some well meaning idiot trying to tidy it up! [Mothers, wives, secretary's, people looking for stuff]. Many companies also operate a clean desk policy ["please shove everything into your drawer out of sight at the end of each day, so you can spend 15 minutes each morning retrieving & sorting it in an unproductive manner.
Other reasons advanced
So, back to my original assertion, if you are like me you'll be drawn to the book "A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder - How Crammed Closets, Clutter Offiices and On-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place". Written by Eir Abrahamson and David Freeman, it will make you feel better about your natural inclinations. It's reviewed here.

The authors also argue that Procrastination makes sense too. America's Marine Corps never makes detailed plans in advance. Leaving important things to the last minute reduces the risk of wasting time on things that may ultimately prove not important at all. Go tell that to the Project Office!!!!

An older article from the Economist in 20o2 advances the same thoughts on the inefficiency of tidiness here, under the title "In Praise of Clutter". My favourite piece is this:

People spread stuff over their desks not because they are too lazy to file it, but because the paper serves as a physical representation of what is going on in their heads—“a temporary holding pattern for ideas and inputs which they cannot yet categorise or even decide how they might use”, as Ms Kidd puts it. The clutter cannot be filed because it has not been categorised. By the time the worker's ideas have taken form, and the clutter could be categorised, it has served its purpose and can therefore be binned. Filing it is a waste of time.

The articles also assert that creative/innovative people tend to be more cluttered because their ideas are often generated by joining seemingly unconnected things together or looking at things from different angles. "Filers", in contrast to "Pilers" only care about the existence of order.

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A great idea for wine buyers

Alistair, my chum over at Stormhoek wines (they of Thresher's coupon virus fame), and I have chatted several times about the issue of wine brands and the challenge for consumers of remembering the wines they've tried/liked. With so many brands and varieties, it's hard to stand out on the shelf but worst of all is that having been purchased/consumed people rarely remember which specific wine they drank last night, never mind last week, something not attributable solely to being drunk!

After all, if you're like me, you try/drink wines in many settings and yet few people rarely take the trouble to make a note of what they just drank to say if they liked it or not. So they all just blend in (pardon the pun). Try it - can you remember the last say 5 different bottles of wine were you tried and what you thought of them.

This is clearly bad news for wine producers - you liked my product but can't remember what it was called and so don't buy it again. Arrrrrggghhhh

One idea, is this one. However, I don't necessarily want to make a purchase straight away. So ideally I quite fancy submitting the name/vintage/grape or better yet a unique identifier along with my rating to an online service via sms or email that I could later refer to. Does this exist or have I come up with a brilliant new service idea........you could hook this up into a "wisdom of crowd" system which recommended other wines based on the preferences of other people who liked the same wines/types. If it doesn't exist, it would be easy to do.

Similarly, perhaps wine bottles could have a little tear-off slip that you could slip in your wallet to remind you. This is less easy to orchestrate but a) would access a much wider market than we "onliners" and b) could be easily be implemented but individual wine producers!

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THE SOCIAL CUSTOMER MANIFESTO

Just saw this over on Hugh Macloud's blog

Christopher Carfi who is a marketing blogger submitted:

THE SOCIAL CUSTOMER MANIFESTO

* I want to have a say.

* I don't want to do business with idiots.

* I want to know when something is wrong, and what you're going to do to fix it.

* I want to help shape things that I'll find useful.

* I want to connect with others who are working on similar problems.

* I don't want to be called by another salesperson. Ever. (Unless they have something useful. Then I want it yesterday.)

* I want to buy things on my schedule, not yours. I don't care if it's the end of your quarter.

* I want to know your selling process.

* I want to tell you when you're screwing up. Conversely, I'm happy to tell you the things that you are doing well. I may even tell you what your competitors are doing.

* I want to do business with companies that act in a transparent and ethical manner.

* I want to know what's next. We're in partnership…where should we go?

Excellent. I can relate to everything here.

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Wow - free real-time NYSE share prices

This set of announcements here and here from Reuters and Google could really shake up the market data industry in capital markets.

Right now, firms typically devote sizeable chunks of their budgets to buying market data including real-time price feeds. In most cases such feeds are mandatory spending because professional traders need to see what's happening in the market to both take advantage of opportunities and avoid howlers. These real-time feeds are sold by Stock Exchange for whom they represent considerable income streams.

Large brokers and banks alike have always hated these fees primarily because the stock market is the original "user supplied content" concept and hence they are providing data to the Exchanges only to repurchase an aggregated set back from them.

Unsurprisingly, the Stock Exchanges, up until now at least, have always carefully controlled what users have been able to do with those feeds, particularly around re-distribution attaching very high charges to such practices or forbidding it. This has successfully deterred most firms from making the data widely available and avoided Exchange revenues from being undermined.

It therefore takes a firm of the financial muscle and standing like Google step in and pay punitive monthly charges to the NYSE to make it universally available on the web, assuming this deal goes through. Whilst that is not a large sum for Google to absorb, I reckon they may well recoup (much of) that $100k per month simply from rendering adwords etc on the relevant pages.

From the SEC's standpoint this is a win-win. After all, it's hard for a regulator to support a scenario under which access to market data should be restricted and shouldn't instead be a free public good. Yet its another thing to actively intercede and change such a practice - far better than Google have resolved it!

This will undoubtedly hit a number of Data Vendors that redistribute NYSE real-time prices, as well as putting pressure on other exchanges to follow suit.

The google blog suggests that:

The NYSE proposal would allow you to see real-time, last-sale prices across all Google properties including Google Finance, Personalized Google, Mobile, and of course, Google.com. It won't matter if you're on Wall Street or Main Street -- you'll have free, easy and fast access to real-time prices from NYSE on Google.

Depending on how such data is made available e.g. only viewable on a page or capable of being consumed as a structured feed that can be used by other applications, this could be of use to some professional investors as well as retail investors. If the former, this is likely to be of little interest since most current feeds are plumbed into trading and portfolio applications.

Another key consideration will be what important data, if any, is missing from the feed and how real "real-time" is it. I've written before about how firms will spends considerable sums to receive their data milliseconds/seconds faster since it can give them a trading edge over others - i.e. if I see a good price before you, I can grab it and make money.

Nonetheless this could be the start of an avalanche with market data vendors in its path.

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

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I'm sitting with Britain's next Prime Minister

Funny who you bump into when commuting. I'm sitting next to Gordon Brown on my commuter train & his entourage. We're on the local train from Waterloo which passes through Barnes (my home stop).

Weird thing is I'm being polite & mentioning mutual acquaintances (his old assistant, now an MP, and I were at school together). Why am I not giving him grief over the increasing tax burden in the uk, screwing up the private pension system and creating a boom & bust as well as a tax & spend UK. Because I'm English and we just don't do that on trains! Arrrrrrgggghhhhh

However sometimes you just get lucky. I'm reading my Economist though and what is the feature that I've just unwittingly turned to - Bagehot's piece entitled "Mr Brown's awfully big year" suggesting Gordon Brown will achieve his life's ambition in 2007 but that his problems are just beginning. So I just get to sit and read this fascinating piece after which I ping off an email (this blog post)!

posted by John Wilson @ 7:03 PM Permanent Link ,

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Trendio - A marketplace for words

I confess to have a fascination with markets; how they operate; what makes them successful; the types that exist and where they are applied. It was probably inevitable I would work in the City which has the the clearest manifestation of markets in action (and there are many versions that operate to suit different products/instruments).

Indeed, most of my new venture ideas (origination) tends to have a "marketplace" element to it. This will become readily apparent in the coming months as some of the ventures coming out of our sandbox hit the street.

Hence, I was taken with Trendio for no other reason than their creation of markets in "words" linked to their appearance in the media.

Trendio claims it is the first current events stock exchange, where words from the news are the stocks. The value of the words is calculated according to their presence in the media.

On the Trendio current events stock exchange, you can buy and sell words. Buying a word is making a bet that this word will be increasingly present in the media: if this is the case then the price will increase and will make the value of your portfolio increase.

Quite simply, Trendio are tracking many newswires and identifying the frequency that a word is used. Users then "trade" their forecasts of how often the word will appear in the media versus the current market expectation or price. If you think a word/person/place will appear more in the near term than the current market forecast you will buy the "stock". Conversely if you think the word will be edged out from the news and appear less frequently than the current forecast you will sell.

However, in this market, you are not trading against others but against the "bank" and the value is calculated according to the presence of the word in the media - not easily influenced.

You are using a play currency, but it's still competitive - increase your currency in absolute terms; compete against others (fantasy football style) you know or in competitions run by the site. The only limit to the number of words you can have in your portfolio is the currency balance you've got to spend to buy/sell things.

If you are familiar with spread betting, this will be very familiar. If not, its a great way to learn in a safe environment.

Its actually very similar to inklingmarkets, the main difference being that with inkling you can make markets in anything with a future outcome such as stock prices, goals, project success likelihood!. This is gaining increasing traction with companies as a means of getting insight into employee sentiment - if staff are "selling" the likelihood of a project succeeding from its current likelihood price of 80%, it's a good indication there seem to be some serious doubts out there that you should look at. Why do staff dare to contradict the party line that everything is fine; because they are rewarded for trading in the market and correctly predicting outcomes.

It doesn't matter if staff can materially influence the outcome individually (near impossible in Trendio, unless you are Paris Hilton deciding to streak) since they will be signalling their intentions eg Project Sponsor bets on the likelihood of the project being cancelled and sells!

Obviously, the rewards from trading shouldn't be large in real world money/goods so as not to make it worthwhile to derail things deliberately (converse is true that some people might be motivated to work harder because they "bought" because they think the current expectation of success is too low). But you do want to motivate people to participate. If the developers start betting something is going to be later than the current "market" forecast, that's a pretty good sign they probably know something is wrong.

Go on, give it a try. My tip is Beckham is a buy given the uncertainty over his contract with real madrid and the likely speculation on where he will turn up.

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posted by John Wilson @ 12:06 AM Permanent Link ,

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High-Performance Social Networking - Part I: The 8 Basic Networking Styles

I confess I did glaze over a little with this piece which is almost a scientific analysis of networking.

In essence, if you network you've got people you've just met but have yet to do much with (not figured out where to take things); people you're actively talking with regularly; and your black book of old friends/colleagues/acquaintances who get activated from time to time when something relevant pops up.

Sometimes people move quickly into the black book, after an initial flurry, but that's often because you are trying to churn through lots of ways you might collaborate as you get to know the person before becoming more selective about your discussions.

The piece did prompt me to think how much easier it is to keep in touch with a larger network thanks to technology. For instance, I have a large number of people in my IM contacts and it's quick and easy to say hi etc when they come online and strike up a casual conversation (what I think of as the coffee machine chat in some cases).

For me, IM has replaced email, which is a more impersonal but still useful occasionally, albeit it's somewhat unconventional to email with no reason.

Reading blogs of friends/acquaintances is a great way to remain informed about what they are up to (haven't got into Twitter yet - not sure I care what people are up to every minute!).

I realise that I rarely just ring someone up for a chat/gossip. This is something I perhaps did 10 years ago, back when the thought of writing letters seemed bizarre.

Perhaps the only thing that hasn't been replaced by technology though is the chance meeting. I confess I love working in the City ("Square Mile"). Its' fabulous history aside, it remains a remarkably "small" community in many ways and remarkably incestuous. Everyday, it's a great delight to bump into people you know in the business community as you walk between meetings. It was for that reason that I abandoned getting cabs around the City - the few moments saved between meetings was usually at the expense of chance meetings as you walked between locations. Most places in the City can be easily walked to in 10 minutes or so. Not only is it better for my health, but has the potential to be better for my wealth as chance meetings convert people from black book to current!

I'm sure I am not alone in this experience.

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posted by John Wilson @ 7:39 PM Permanent Link ,

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