Life is just a series of trades

When you ask someone for help, whilst they may do it out of sheer kindness, it's good to have considered what's in it for them and at least try to offer someone evidence of compensation.

In saying this, I'm not referring to ambulance crews or life threatening situations and suggesting you need to get you wallet out. I'm referring to business, and in that environment the process doesn't involve take, take, take. And if that's how you operate you are screwed. Sure, you may catch some people out a few times, but you will quickly get the wrong kind of reputation and that news always goes viral!

So, when approaching someone for help, consider what it is you can offer them and that doesn't need to be cash/stock in most instances. It may simply be a token but at the very least it shows you understand the game. Similarly it may not be much relative to the recipient's "worth", but if it is relative to yours it shows you care - better yet, find something that will be worthwhile to them. In many cases, you may get a "don't worry about it" but it will matter to them that at least you offered, unlike the hundred other people that didn't.

Hence, offering Bill Gates a dollar isn't going to register on the scale but it may if you only have $2. But if you offer to help his foundation by getting them seats to XXX for auction from your brother who does YYY, that could be worthwhile.

Noah Kagan puts this even more starkly [He's the crazy guy who offered to post a comment on every blog post for two weeks in exchange for a single post on his blog - he was overwhelmed by the volume].

posted by John Wilson @ 11:40 PM Permanent Link ,

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The Users that know more than IT

It was never meant to be this way. IT was way too complicated for the users and that was the way IT departments liked it. "You pay us and we'll sort out this difficult stuff, just hand over the money and watch us do our magic."

Well, a combination of increasing number of IT literate users and available online services are starting to challenge this arrangement. When the guy paying the bill knows as much as the person providing the service, or at least enough to ask the right questions, the balance of power shifts back towards the user. When the user can declare UDI when either service satisfaction is not forthcoming from IT or is not delivered at a reasonable cost or in appropriate timeframes, then the power has truly moved.

This post from Ed Sim nails the story.

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First Crackberry Olympics televised



It's childish, geeky, and probably is only amusing to crackberry users - yep, made me laugh.

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Charles River Ventures startup scheme - a marketing con?

Paul Kedrosky reports that the Charles River Rivers much heralded startup scheme offering a $250,000 venture loan program and which launched late last year has been very disappointing. Stats to date are:
As Paul observes, these are lousy odds.

So, was it just one heck of a cheap marketing campaign to endear oneself to the tech community.

Or was it that they applied the same valuation techniques to startups as they do to their usual investments and found the price:risk ratio off the scale?

Or was it that they received a ton of trash from highly unsuitable chancers with dreadful ideas, that read about the scheme? Bear in mind that most VCs don't look at unsolicited pitches, preferring to rely on trusted sources to refer businesses. For these VCs, you would expect the ratios to be significantly higher.

Wouldn't it be great if all the applications could be posted to an public site for wider scrutiny. If the entrepreneurs consented, it's possible they could find other firms/angels that are willing to talk to them.

I suspect most applicants would be terrified by this notion, fearful that their "unique" idea would be stolen. However, as I explained a couple of weeks ago at Barcamp London, ideas are rarely unique and often benefit from "sunlight" (slidedeck is here http://www.slideshare.net/johndwilson/sex-the-investor). Moreover, if your idea is so simple to copy and exploit, that in itself may well be a deterrent to investors.

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How will OpenID providers make money?

Paul Lomax, who I met last week at Geek Dinner, was at the Future of Web Apps conference and has done a good write up of some of the talks.

His post on OpenID caught my eye and in particular he noted that The Times newspaper had reported on the various announcements about the launch of OpenID services but had described it terms of competition.

As I noted on his blog, I think the Times is right in choosing to describe the scramble as competition, since I shall only need one OpenID provider. Ultimately, winning customers to your OpenID service should be far stickier than many other types of offering on the web. Microsoft saw this long ago with their passport service but lost out, I believe, because many companies were fearful of playing with Microsoft.

What OpenID providers can do with those customers when they get them is less clear. They will clearly have lots of data about the services that you are using, which they may be able to exploit (worth checking what the T&Cs say).

I don't think OpenID providers will have much opportunity to extract "access" charges from services that their customers connect to, as some business models have sought to do. Nor do I think they have any particular advantages in trying to sell their customers other services.

It's possible these businesses may be funded by advertising because it's often the case that you need to be logged into your openid provider when accessing services, or it certainly seems to be the case with Livejournal who have operated OpenId services for some time. Hence, I need to keep going back to the livejournal site.

But I still wonder what the business model is.

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Oh no. Big corporates think they need a social network

I was speaking today with a company that offers the infrastructure for people to create their own social networks. Similar in some respects to Ning, these folks were targeting themselves at the corporate market and particularly at companies that want to launch their own social network for their customers.

I can certainly believe that some big companies fancy the idea of having a social network in order to appear trendy and so there's no reason why startups shouldn't exploit this naivety and take the money.

Thing is, I initially struggled to name any companies whose social network I would want to join or have any reason for joining, and they did too. But this may be down to our views on what an SCN is, as web 2.0 savvy folks, rather than the wider general public.

I might visit/participate in a forum on a company site if customers/users could share solutions/ideas about the company's products that the company itself failed to provide. But commonly such forums are a whinge/complaint/moan site about lousy service, which most companies hate because the opinions aren't always those they want aired.

This is different from joining a company's SCN and electing to use it to blog, post videos/photos and discover/connect to other participants. Equally, even if some companies were sufficiently alluring and you benefited from "meeting" and sharing with other customers, how many SCN can an individual reasonably join and be active in?

Certainly there are some services where I can see this works e.g. health club; golf society (or PGA); local pub because these have natural offline communities. But washing powder brands or brewers?

Marginal ones are clothes shops (swap fashion ideas online?), holiday companies (connect with other Mark Warner customers from the holiday and other resorts?).

So what have big companies got to lose by trying this out? The cost is likely to be immaterial v the marketing budget. I suspect the bigger concern will be letting the tiger out of the cage - trusting customers to behave in a manner that suits the company. Unfortunately, if the company does try to exert control I believe it will backfire either in the form of customers abandoning the offering or worse, seeking to overthrow the tyrant! Even web savvy firms like Digg, found themselves on the end of a backlash when they changed how their users could behave.

A real example of this "loss of control" was the Channel 4 show "Shipwrecked" which launched a SCN to find contestants. The result, Islandoo, has taken on a life of its own which is mostly independent of the show.

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Blogger think I am a blog spammer!

I just went to post and got the following message

Your blog is locked

Blogger's spam-prevention robots have detected that your blog has characteristics of a spam blog. (What's a spam blog?) Since you're an actual person reading this, your blog is probably not a spam blog. Automated spam detection is inherently fuzzy, and we sincerely apologize for this false positive.

You won't be able to publish posts to your blog until one of our humans reviews it and verifies that it is not a spam blog. Please fill out the form below to get a review. We'll take a look at your blog and unlock it in less than a business day.

If we don't hear from you, though, we will remove your blog from Blog*Spot within a few weeks.

Find out more about how Blogger is fighting spam blogs.



So this may be the end of the road for greatapps.

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Don't mess with us - we are the VC mafia

I was greatly amused by this post from Business 2.0 Beta with his take on VCs and the fact we're a little like the mafia.

His [tongue in cheek?] conclusion

Forget all the nonsense about providing capital for growth and creating great companies. Today's venture capital is just an elaborate protection racket, making sure no one breaks your startup's virtual kneecaps. And the best part? It's completely legal.

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Investing in a search engine business

Yesterday, a colleague and I discussed whether a) there were investment opportunities in search engine businesses, given the default answer for most people was google b) how such businesses could quickly demonstrate value over google search.

This followed two recent but separate conversations about "Google is the internet!" for many and how many sites see that people have navigated to them via Google, but have done so by typing the full web address into the search box in google - they don't realise there is an address bar for this.

Well, there's no shortage of search engines as this list below from Read/Write Web today demonstrates, although it's by no means exhaustive! As the post states, search engines have to demonstrate some superior characteristics to google - not beat it hands down, but be better in some respect.

The Top 100 Alternative Search Engine List for February 2007

This list is also available in Excel format.

AllTha.at www.allth.at The search engine that keeps on looking.
Ask Mobile www.m.ask.com Mobile search engine from Ask.com
ASK VOX www.askvox.com A second talking female user interface.
AnswerBus www.answerbus.com Ask in English, French, Spanish, German or Italian.
Blabline www.blabline.com Podcast / videocast search engine
blinkx www.blinkx.com Video Search
boing www.boing.mobi Search the Mobile web
bookmach.com www.bookmach.com Searches for posts related to your keywords.
ChaCha www.chacha.com Human Guides are available to aid in your search.
ClipBlast! www.clipblast.com Video Search
Clusty www.clusty.com Clustering search engine
collarity www.collarity.com Behavioral personalized search / Collarity Compass
CONGOO www.congoo.com Searches for Premium Content
crossEngine www.crossengine.com Searches Search Engines; formerly mrSAPO
d e c i p h o www.decipho.com Behavioral personalized search / Social Meter
Ditto www.ditto.com Visual search engine
Dogpile www.dogpile.com MetaSearch Engine
dumbfind www.dumbfind.com Featuring the Two-Box search method.
exalead www.exalead.com/search Web / Image search with a European flavor
factbites www.factbites.com Search Result snippets are complete sentences.
fazzle www.fazzle.com Search engine that emphasizes Boolean Search
filangy www.filangy.com Personalized Search Engine
FIND FORWARD www.findforward.com Multi-featured search engine; check this one out!
FindSounds www.findsounds.com Search for sound effects and musical samples.
FyberSearch www.fybersearch.com Parent site for some interesting new search engines.
GIGABLAST www.gigablast.com A multi-featured search engine.
girafa www.girafa.com Visual search engine - results are thumbnails
gnod www.gnod.net Oustanding recommendation search engines
gnosh www.gnosh.org Metasearch engine
GoLexa www.golexa.com "COMPLETE page analysis for each result."
goshme Beta 3.0 www.goshme.com A search engine for search engines. Top 10 pick.
GoYams www.goyams.com Metasearch engine where you select the mix.
grokker www.grokker.com A multi-featured meta-search engine.
GRUUVE www.gruuve.com Groovy music recommendation search engine.
hakia www.hakia.com "Meaning based" search engine
ICEROCKET www.icerocket.com Blog search engine
ixquick www.ixquick.com Metasearch engine
KartOO www.kartoo.com Visually appealling clustering search engine
Lexxe www.lexxe.com Natural language processing (NLP) search engine
like www.like.com Visual shopping engine; see also riya
liveplasma www.liveplasma.com Attractive music / movies clustering / recommendation engine
Local.com www.local.com Search for local businesses, products, and services
lurpo www.lurpo.com Searches for custom Google search engines
mamma www.mamma.com metasearch engine
MetaGlossary www.metaglossary.com Searches for definitions, phrases and acronyms.
mnemomap www.mnemo.org Clustering search engine
Mojeek www.mojeek.com Customize your own personal search engine.
Mooter www.mooter.com Clustering search engine
mrquery www.mrquery.com Metasearch engine / metasearch providers
MS. DEWEY www.msdewey.com Unique user interface - enough said.
Omgili www.omgili.com Social community search engine
onkosh www.onkosh.com Arabic / English Search Engine
Pagebull www.pagebull.com Visual results search engine
pipl http://pipl.com People search engine
PlanetSearch www.planetsearch.com Metasearch engine
PolyMeta www.polymeta.com Metasearch and clustering search engine
pronto.com www.pronto.com Metasearch engine
qksearch www.qksearch.com Multi-featured "3-in-1" multi-search engine
Quintura www.quintura.com Clustering search engine with a new interface
Quintura for kids http://kids.quintura.com/ Search engine for kids by Quintura
RedZee www.redzee.com Search Engine with nice preview results
retrievr http://labs.systemone.at/retrievr/ Visual search engine
riya www.riya.com Visual search engine; see also Like
scirus http://scirus.com Scientific information only search engine
searchbots www.searchbots.net Have a little fun, create your own searchbot.
SearchTheWeb2 www.searchtheweb2.com Search The Popular Head and The Long Tail
sidekiq www.sidekiq.com Multi-category search engine. Very nice.
Slideshow http://slideshow.zmpgroup.com/ Displays search results as a moving slideshow.
Slifter www.slifter.com A mobile shopping search engine.
soople www.soople.com A simplified version of Google's search options.
Speegle www.speegle.com The speeglebot talks to you.
Sphere www.sphere.com A blog search engine.
Sproose www.sproose.com Social search engine
S R C H R www.srchr.com Metasearch engine
SurfWax www.surfwax.com Meaning-based search engine
Swamii www.swamii.com Search engine that keeps on searching for you.
Swoogle http://swoogle.umbc.edu Semantic Web search engine
thefind.com www.thefind.com Shopping search engine
Trexy www.trexy.com Follow "trails" and "trailblazers" with Trexy.
turboscout www.turboscout.com Metasearch engine
TWERQ www.twerq.com Multi-category search engine with tabbed results.
UJIKO www.ujiko.com A fun interface where you can vote on the results.
url.com www.url.com "Search with many" community metasearch engine.
VMGO.com www.vmgo.com Vote on the search results with emoticons.
WASALive www.wasalive.com A new member of the list.
Web 2.0 www.web20searchengine.com Web 2.0 search engines
WEBBRAIN www.webbrain.com Clustering "see the web" search engine.
whonu? www.whonu.com Deluxe metasearch engine.
WIKIO www.wikio.com "Live information from 33981 media and blogs"
Windows Live Mobile www.wls.live.com Windows Live Mobile search engine
WiseNut www.wisenut.com Clustering search engine
Yahoo! Mobile http://m.yahoo.com Yahoo! Mobile search engine
Yahoo! MINDSET www.mindset.research.yahoo.com Intention-driven search; commercial versus research
yoono www.yoono.com People-rated community web search
yoople www.yoople.net Yoople! = Yahoo! + Google + People
yubnub www.yubnub.com Use command lines to search the web.
ZABASEARCH www.zabasearch.com People and Public Information Search Engine.
zapmeta www.zapmeta.com Metasearch engine
Zippy www.zippy.co.uk Search engine for webmasters
ZUULA www.zuula.com Multi-category, multi-search engine, with good tabs.



Personally I get daunted by a search engine that returns 198,000 results, because that is simply unusable and I know I'll get bored after the first 12 entries or so. Sure, it may mean that my search terms are too imprecise, but it's frequently the case that I'm not entirely sure what the "magic code" is that will unlock the narrower set of results I want.

In this regard, services such as quintura and grokker appeal to me because they summarise recurring terms found in the results. From this, I can improve my search terms or simply navigate to those clusters with terms that more closely approximate to what I think will be the "magic code".

But perhaps I should choose a vertical search engine for my search. Ok, but which one is best suited to the particular search I am doing? Even skipping through the list above takes some doing.

I do find it interesting that, on many occasions, the top results returned for a search are actually vertical search engines. Hence, google acts as a stepping point into the vertical search engine. Simple example being when looking for insurance companies from whom to get home insurance quotes, google leads me off to services like moneysupermarket.com [disclosure: one of my closest friends is the CFO there - that's just to highlight bias in referring to them, not simply to show off as to how well connected I am].

Our expectations keep moving as our experiences inform us about what is commodity and what is also possible. In turn, the user base is fragmenting at an faster rate as our experiences of both vary. My parents, who do use the web, would never think of looking for something other than google, but whilst they represent the mass market, I believe that there is an increasing market for better search that cuts out the "noise" and that people will also begin to place a value on this that may translate into "paid for" services. If my time has a value, something that increases my efficiency should be worth paying for, which indicates that investment opportunities should exist. Hard bit is finding the right ones. Guess I'd better google for them.

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Being conned by non-execs

During a chat this morning with the founder of a tech startup that sells to corporates I asked about their sales process.



He described how he was expecting his non-execs would be key in this because of their great connections into big companies.



Hmmm.



So I asked how they were being rewarded, to which the answer was they'd received shares for cash.



Hmmm.



Here's what's wrong in this scenario

- as a rule non execs don't sign up to be sales people. Some mentoring & a few intros perhaps but not sales. They will also be cautious about calling their contacts in a sales mode because you can only do that so many times & that's not necessarily how they will wish to be perceived. Moreover most non-execs usually have several companies in their portfolio.



A further difficulty is introduced if they do a sales role, namely it compromises their ability to provide an external & more abstract/disciplined view at board level.



- everyone gains if the company is successful, which sadly includes non-execs who may choose to freeride and actually sit back. You can't take shares off them, albeit you might be able to dilute them down the line. Freeriders include non execs who fail to show up for meetings.



So the guidance is

- don't rely on your non-execs for your sales pipeline; if they bring some its a bonus

- don't allot shares up front unless the non exec is simply a financial investor. If its to be as a reward for performance, then agree they be allotted at a future date provided agreed criterion are met or sell them options based on an uplift of the curent price.

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Screwing up a startup

Rik Segal has a fascinating post about how poor forethought on the part of the founders killed a deal - note, this is my interpretation of his post rather than what he necessarily wanted to convey.

The true story described how a startup had issued equity to a series of people during its early stages as a "barter" for services with the result that they had 42 shareholders that owned 22% of the company. A VC likes the company, but asks that the shareholders all agree to the deal proposed. Ooops. Many of the shareholders are scattered across the globe and can't be traced. So the deal withers and the company runs out of cash. Rik highlights the importance of the provisions such as a voting trust that allows small shareholdings to voted as a block so as not to bog a company down.

Two deals we recently looked at hit exactly these issues but with different outcomes.

In the first, the founder had distributed shares to customers via a loyalty programme and as a consequence, there were over 10,000 shareholders who owned almost nothing individually. Aside from being a costly overhead, it was just plain messy. No problem for the founder though, he was happy for us to do an asset transfer in exchange for shares in a new company, thereby leaving the existing shareholders behind in a company holding an investment in a new "slim" company.

In the second, the founder had allocated a total of 20% out to several people that had given early advice but contributed nothing for some time. Being his first venture, the founder was very loyal to these shareholders and had somehow agreed that these shareholders both had a "veto" over future deals, so as not to be diluted, and had to be consulted on major commercial arrangements. Guess what? It was just to hard to make any progress on the deal since the other stakeholders didn't fancy being diluted on principle, regardless of owning 20% of something approaching zip rather than a smaller percentage of a growing business. Even worse though was that the company couldn't progress commercial arrangements since the decision making process was simply too slow - setting aside the timidity of the founder in approaching them and dealing with possible conflict, these people had jobs etc and this business didn't rank high on their priorities any longer.

Whatever you do as a startup founder, make sure that you get a shareholders agreement in place and that it is ensure the company is not hamstrung by small minority shareholders, especially if you're "free" with your favours in the early days.

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How equity dilution works

Gaebler Ventures have a simple explanation here of how dilution works which is highly relevant for startups.

However, the two elements that are omitted are
a) provision can be included such that the equity allocated is maintained. Hence, in the example, the VC could be allocated a percentage of the shares not owned by the COO

b) if the COO is a key executive who will be a key factor in the creation of value, most VCs would want to ensure that they are appropriately incentivised and remunerated for their efforts. If they become disillusioned or demotivated, the VC's investment will be affected.

Sadly, they don't allow comments on their site (so Web 1.0) otherwise I would have posted these comments on their directly.

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New features announced for iPhone

Ah, now I see why the iPhone (the apple one, rather than the cisco one, albeit I know that the agreement provides for them both to use the same name) is a must have phone.



Thanks again Dennis.

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The answer to the question is staring you in the face

When I first saw the image below on Dennis Howlett's blog, you felt the inference was "duh, fancy giving an answer like that, it's clear that x=5". But then I paused and thought that perhaps the respondent was actually spot on and it was just that I'd been conditioned by my education to answer the question in a certain way.



When someone challenges convention or gives an answer that we don't expect, perhaps we should pause and consider why; they may be right in ways we've never even considered - in this case, I was blinded to the obvious.

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Want to send 1.7 million spam emails?

When I spoke to Matthew Somerville of MySociety.org at Barcamp over the weekend he was readying himself for having to send out 1.7 million emails from Tony Blair, British Prime Minister to all of the signatories to the road tax petition on the No 10 website.

MySociety were the people responsible for installing the facility for the PM & have to provide admin to it. As you'll imagine, sending out this volume of emails would normally be considered as spam by ISPs. Clearly some spam controls were likely to ensnare some of the emails & yet everyone had been promised a response.

Would Tony be understanding if some emails didn't get through; would he understand that spam software might not understand how genuine he is or realise that he's not making bogus promises or false claims.......oh, wait a minute.

So, in case you're worried by not having received a response from Tony to your online petition signature, then check your junk mail folder in the first instance - it may have been something about the response contents.

Meantime, I wonder if mysociety's IP address or Tony Blair's email address have been blackisted?

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Gordon Brown offers gamblers protection from the US

According to today's business section of The Telegraph, Gordon Brown looks set to encourage online gambling businesses to register in the UK and bring them under UK regulatory oversight.

He will entice firms with a change in the taxation of such concerns.

Now this may mean the US authorities reclassify the UK as a country harbouring "racketeers", given their attitude to online gambling.

If Gordon Brown does make this change, then perhaps he will honour one of the earliest reasons for people paying tax/tribute, namely to receive protection & begin his premiership by tackling the present US hostage-taking of UK businessmen.

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My scheme to increase road capacity for free

Having spent a few hours driving up the M1 yesterday, it was blatantly obvious how the Government could quickly add capacity to roads.

Most of the congestion was caused by middle lane & outside lane idiots who refuse to move across when the lane is clear. Consequently two thirds of the traffic is queuing in the outside lane.

So perhaps undertaking should be allowed (wait for the puns about this suggestion being aptly named because of the increase in deaths likely).

It would be easy and free to introduce, with no administration required.

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London becomes the centre of web 2.0

Well for a few days at least, London seemed to be the focus of those interested in the future of web apps.

After a weekend of barcamp london, the aptly named "Future of Web Apps" conference lured into London many of the "poster folks" of the current tech wave.

This prompted a flurry of social events with some of those folks as headliners. Last night there were 3 of the popular regular events.

I managed to get to two of them - Geek Dinner, which was headlined by Tara Hunt, & London Geek Girl Dinner. The third was Wiki Wednesday, where I'd hoped to catch up with Dennis Howlett, but there simply wasn't enough time.

I'd expected the numbers would be reduced because of the clash. Instead there were even bigger attendances, swelled by the conference attendees and new faces.

I caught up with lots of folks at Geek Dinner who'd been at Barcamp including the organiser of both Ian Forrestor, Tom Morris, Andy Mitchell, Carlo Nicora and Sheila. The venue was packed to hear a very disappointing talk from Tara Hunt & her partner Chris. Much of it centred on how great barcamp is & how they'd travelled to lots of them. Thereafter they gushed about how empower we all are thanks to the web and the power of online communities. Oh yes, and how entrepreneurs don't need VCs anymore. Note to all VCs: if Tara Hunt walks in your office asking for cash or is aiding a venture you fund, maybe you should ask her about "selling out"!

Bored by her drivel, I grabbed a cab over to London Geek Girl Dinner (LGGD)in the company of Sokratis Papafloratos, co-founder of TrustedPlaces.com.

Sokratis reminded me that one of their recent initiatives has been to provide users of their site with a discount card for venues (bars, restaurants), which is designed to both reward users as well as recruit them.

So LGGD had suffered from a few speaker substitutions but still played to a full house. I'd been invited along by Shivaun Raff of Foundem.com, specialist search site. Unfortunately the last speaker was just finishing up when we arrived. However the fun was just beginning.

I enjoyed a bottle of claret with a good mate, Hugh Macloud of gapingvoid.com, fresh back from his nationwide promotional tour of Stormhoek wine in Tesco stores. It provided a massive sales boost to Stormhoek & drew great praise from tesco. The tour was filmed by some of the participants from the Hallum Foe movie and the daily journal is on Hugh's site.

Also joining in with a glass was Steve Clayton of Microsoft (a fellow alumni of Loughborough Uni), Katie Ledger (bbc click) and some bloke called Mike Arrington of Techcrunch.

I also had some great chats with
- Sarah Blow (LGGD organiser)
- Nicole Simon, who recently featured on Podtech with Robert Scoble, and who is a well known blogger from Germany as well as a barcamper from the weekend
- Dr Bernhard Berger and his colleague from Excite, Amanda Lorenzani, both barcampers
- Nicole, who is working with me on launching Webdash (online social meetup to have a wander round cool stuff in a web conference setting)

There were many others I spoke to during the evening and it ranked as an excellent night out. It proved London is a great place to be if you've an interest in developments on the web and in meeting the people making it happen.

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Kindly pay tax on your ebay profits

Apparently some people actually make a living buying & selling on ebay, but don't seem to regard this as taxable income!

Hence the US and UK authorities are taking a keen interest in the commerce being conducted via auction sites and are contemplating requiring these business to report customers that carry out many transactions (say 100) and to a reasonable value (say $5k) i.e. indicative of being a "trader".

"Unfair" cries ebay. It claims it isnt a broker/ middleman/ auctioneer/ auction house, but is simply a web site that operates like a shopping mall, which happens to have an auction-style feature. Moreover, they claim it would be very unfair to target them and not plain classified sites like Craigslist.

Hmmm. Call me simple minded but isn't there a fundamental difference operating here - Craigslist is an ad site where no transaction may actually result from the listing, whereas ebay is intended to be a place to transact and their fees are intrinsically linked to transaction value.

I can appreciate that there will be some additional overhead for ebay in providing the data, but most of this transactional data is already collected by ebay. Is their protest actually more to do with the fact that some customers will be deterred from using ebay if their activities were notified to the tax authorities, and hence ebay's revenues will be affected?

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EU declares hedge funds and private equity are good

Charlie McCreevy, the EU internal market commissioner, has dismissed recent attacks on private equity firms and hedge funds, insisting there was no reason to tighten the rules governing their activities.

In an interview with the FT he said "They are good for the market. They have given greater liquidity, have added shareholder value and have helped the rationalisation and innovation of companies."

He did add that the sector is woeful at PR and only gets bad press, in part because of the massive fortunes reportedly made by a select few.

Politicians in France and Germany have been particular vocal in their attacks, but even Labour MPs in the UK who are jostling for position in the Deputy PM contest have attacked them in an attempt to play to their trade union constituencies.

Private Equity firms are especially targeted for being the bogey men at present, given that their involvement often involves restructuring firms and shedding unprofitable components that can't be turned around; or more commonly as a consequence of envy in simply appearing to get massive windfalls from holding investment for a short period, which implies that the seller was somehow defrauded, despite them being a willing seller.

The GMB union this week even went so far as to suggest taxing profits after interest has been deducted gives private equity firms an unfair advantage. Duh? This tax break is available to everybody, and the only unfairness is that it discriminates between debt and equity (dividends not being tax deductable).

Interesting then that US academics have identified that when hedge funds agitate for change, it is usually beneficial for investors - company managers obviously get a rougher time. And who are these horrid investors? Why, they are the pension funds of millions of employees (and union members) who presently face massively underfunded pensions and could do with something to generate investment performance to make up the gap!

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posted by John Wilson @ 5:16 PM Permanent Link ,

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Who owns the idea/innovation you came up with at work?

There's an interesting story in the FT today about a former marketing employee of Euronext-Liffe who is being challenged in court over who owns the patent right to electronic trading inventions he devised whilst working at the Exchange.

Ordinarily things that you invent in the course of your employment belong to your employer. Yet the judge in this case has already ruled that the innovations were not created in the course of the employees normal duties. So this puts a boundary round what the company owns.

However the judge has already rule that the creativity occurred because the employee was specifically asked to look at a specific topic - "It was in solving this problem that Dr Pinkava made his inventions. They were, thus, made in the course of his specially assigned duties".

The inventions were a system and related functions that facilitated the trading of a variety of derivatives.

And guess what - the Exchange hadn't been particularly interested when he first approached them with the ideas to get them to engage/participate in developing it. It was only when the patents were being filed and the system got interest from potential customer that the Exchange woke up and decided to exert its ownership claims.

I mention this for several reasons

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posted by John Wilson @ 4:26 PM Permanent Link ,

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Wow, I made it onto Slideshare's front page

Heck, I rarely achieve fame, so making it onto Slideshare's front page with my Barcamp slide deck as a featured presentation came as a pleasant surprise. I suspect the viewing figures of 228 views after 2 days may have something to do with hitting the buttons of money & sex in the title.


Towards the end of the slide deck, I've included some sites I think are cool from a personal use point of view.

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posted by John Wilson @ 12:53 AM Permanent Link ,

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Trusted Opinion? - Well, mine of course

I am keenly interested in the development of online trust networks, because I genuinely believe that people will derive greater use from the recommendations of those that they trust than from the wider world. Whilst we can learn from popularity rankings of "things" as judged by the mass market, the problem with this is that our tastes and preferences don't necessarily overlap with the participants of open networks.

For instances, I wouldn't consider myself to have much in common with MySpace users and there's no reason why I should. But that is not simply an age distinction, there are many other factors that would probably divide us. Likewise, the restaurant of top 10 as judged by Sun readers probably wouldn't provide me with a useful guide, not simply because a nationwide poll wouldn't be useful to me.

In the offline world, we seek recommendations from those we know and trust. We do it because they provide a valuable source of information from people with whom we have some shared views/tastes and an opinion we can generally trust - in offering an opinion they have their reputation with us to consider.

Consequently, I was interested by the launch of "Trusted Opinion", which is a new social network but which focuses on building groups of people you actually know and trust, rather than being a race to add the most "friends" that you actually don't know.

Whilst it presently focusses on movie recommendations it is clear that this can easily be expanded to cover other subjects/topics.

Stupidly, step 2 after registering is to invite friends to also join the service - I haven't event tried it out at this stage, so why on earth would I invite friends to trust it? You think this would be obvious to the designers of a service that is intended to be a trust network! However, you do have the option to skip this stage.

However the scariest thing about this service is that it's identical to the notion I advanced in my Barcamp London session back in September even down to the physical representation of how to display relationships in a "Bullseye" fashion. Bearing in mind that this service only just launched and I had no pre-knowledge of it (or they of me in all likelihood), it probably demonstrates that ideas are rarely unique..


The user interface is most impressive, with a revolving circle of friends, whose profiles you can easily see by hovering over the picture

Whilst you might know the first circle of people you trust, the inclusion of friend of friends (people that your friends trust) is also included in outer circles, to increase the body of knowledge. However, you can filter the body of friends down

Inviting friends is made remarkably easy either via importing their details directly from a list of popular services (gmail, outlook, plaxo, msn, yahoo) or by simply typing in email addresses.

When you first join and have no friends you are able to use the "hosts" profile and access all users. Evidently Saul Klein of Index Ventures is already a user, as his profile popped up when I
selected UK users aged between 30 and 40 years old that had a photo.



As you can see from Saul's profile, the idea is that you add movies that you've seen and then rate them. Alongside this, you can see how many other people have rated the same movie and are invited to also rate the movie. In this manner you build a body of knowledge, with the notable difference that you can quickly see what the people you trust think of the movie as distinct from the masses. Again the visual is superb, quickly highlighting the important data and allowing you to easily see the individuals behind the ratings.

I am genuinely excited by this service exactly because its meets my hopes for "In the loop" and I hope that they will soon widen it out to the many other areas such a facility is relevant to.

PS Just to prove a point, a copy of my Sept 06 Barcamp presentation is below and the details are in the second portion of the deck. At the time of writing this has had 238 views on slideshare, so maybe somebody took notice!

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Teqlo - a mashup platform for the masses?

Dennis Howlett has blogged on several occasion about Teqlo but its' only recently that they have opened the beta to the general public. I confess that in the absence of trying the service it was hard to understand what the fuss was about, particularly since the site home page gave almost no info away.

So having finally been able to sign up, I confess that I can see why Dennis was getting excited, albeit there is clearly some way for the service to go.



Their intro video is here, which follows the style of the increasingly infamous web2.0 video.



Teqlo provides a platform within which non-programmers can join "widgets" together to create personalised applications. Whilst this initially appears daunting, Teqlo has provided a couple of pre-configured apps to start you off. One is a simple "lead & call" app which allows you to record to-do's that are automatically added into your google calendar; the second returns results from a search of your LinkedIn account with a google map of the contacts that you select from those results.

It took some "fiddling" to get the hang of modifying the examples, but it was quickly evident how immensely powerful this environment is, far more so than the current incarnation of Yahoo Pipes. I'm intending to continue to play with Teqlo because I've hardly scratched the service of what seems possible. As ever, it's always easier to develop an application if you have a real need rather than just dabbling with no purpose. Also the environment is presently constrained by the range of widgets that may be usefully "mashed-up" - some of the google widgets are clearly designed to simply be viewed and no "do'ed". But this inventory will continue grow and I can see Teqlo being an important pioneer in "crossing the chasm" to the mainstream.

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posted by John Wilson @ 10:39 PM Permanent Link ,

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Its' delicious salted - a fun party game for geeks!

Pecha Kucha is a fabulous style of presenting involving 20 slides, each of which is shown for 20 seconds. Presentation content and delivery therefore has to be well co-ordinated so as to neither run out of time on a slide or have an embarrassingly long silence.

However, a fun thing created by Matthew Brindley and Paul Farnell for the first Barcamp London is an on the fly run through of your last 20 delicious bookmarks. Most people won't necessarily specifically remember what they last bookmarked, nor can they selectively show them. Consequently, the webpage appears regardless of how embarrassing it happens to be and you simply have to talk about why you bookmarked it and found it interesting.

This was one of the late night sessions at Barcamplondon2 last night and people were simply called up to the stage to do impromptu sessions.

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posted by John Wilson @ 10:05 AM Permanent Link ,

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Other interesting folk at Barcamp London

In no particular order here are some of the interesting people I've been chatting to (more will be added as I located their blogs, links etc).

Niqui Merret: a flash developer, she was kind enough to come and see me do my presentation. She is speaking at the next Brighton Geek Girl Dinner (in March). Details on her blog here.

Tom Reynolds: The first person I got chatting to when I arrived. A London Ambulanceman, who been working all of the previous night and had come straight to the event. His "adventures" as an Ambulanceman which he records on his blog, have been published under a creative commons licence in a book deal.

Neil Ford: A photographer, who I confess looked as though the camera was surgically attached to his face because everytime I looked across, he was taking pictures.

Andy Mitchell: I last met Andy at the Xmas Backstage Party and we had a great chat last night about his new venture Webcards. I intend to blog about these separately.

Caroline Mockett: Who is a talented photographer and a passionate rugby fan (Saracens fan).

Julian Harris who is presently at Conchango and his wife

Simon Liu who is the founder of Bitcartel Software, which focusses on softwarefor macs. Has done some interesting stuff with digitising comics and rip music.

Tom Hughes-Croucher, who works at Yahoo, who I met at the first Barcamp.

More to be added as I wade through the business cards.

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Neighbourhood Fix It - Telling the council where to fix it!

Matthew Somerville of Mysociety.org. always delivers great stage presentations - the style and the content is always compelling.

His Barcamp London 2 presentation was on Neighbourhood fix-it, an incredibly simple way of letting your local council know of problems such as potholes, litter, street furniture that needs fixing, graffiti, or fly tipping. Initially developed as a pilot involving two London councils, Newham and Lewisham, Matthew realised that by changing one line of the code it would work for the entire country.

The website uses Ordinance Survey maps using the Yahoo! javascript library to scroll around. As the work was done for the Dept. of Constitutional Affairs, MySociety avoided having to pay the extortionate licence fees to Ordinance Survey which are a min of £20k pa.

It's amazingly simple to you - you specify a place, then click on a point within the map and a form appears that you fill in which is routed off to the relevant council via email. If that Authority is not by the service, it suggests that you contact the Council and propose that they include themselves.

Tom Reynolds is similarly impressed.

Matthew also mentioned about some of the other projects they've done including Travel time maps - heat maps identifying journey times.

As for Matthew himself, he has done some amazing stuff which you can peruse on his website, Dracos. My favourite is the BBC News Front Page Archive which you can search for old stories. An excellent feature is the timeline to watch how a story has changed, which has an impressive interface, and which allows you to navigate directly to the original story.


Entertainingly, the BBC got in touch with Matthew to ask him for copies of his archive for days in July 2005 of the London bombings, because they apparently don't archive them but had been asked for copies by the Police. Seemingly, content management systems are not a feature of the BBC.

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posted by John Wilson @ 8:29 AM Permanent Link ,

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Barcamplondon2 programme

In case you are interested, this is/was the schedule of events at Barcamp London 2 kindly created by Jeremy Keith on his blog Adactio.

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My presentation at Barcamp

As you may be aware, every attendee at Barcamp must contribute usually in the form of a talk/presentation on a topic of their choosing.

So, here's the slide deck of mine, which I gave on Sat 17th Feb at Barcamp London 2 entitled "Sex & the Investor"



My presentation from Barcamp London 1 is below, on the subject of "trust" networks

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posted by John Wilson @ 7:25 AM Permanent Link ,

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Analysis of Social Communities by Tom Coates

Tom, who works for Yahoo and writes a blog called plasticbag, did an excellent and passionately delivered presentation on social communities/networks. Its available here online. He covered lots of interesting material in the slot including:

Why people contribute to communities?

He cited the work done by Peter Kollack in his work "Economies of Online Cooperation" who advance the following reasons why people contribute

He advanced that social communities break the traditional expectations of what motivates people, namely
His tips for successfully Social Community sites were
Tom believes that the "Show us the money" element of communities comes from
Good session

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Second Life to introduce virtual RFID tags

One of the presentations at Barcamplondon2 today was given by Jim Purbeck of Linden Labs who are the company behind Second Life ("SL"). He outlined plans that would overlay meta-data onto all the objects that existed within SL. This notion was described in the context of virtual RFID tags.

As such SL objects henceforth could be individually
and these objects would accumulate properties and data. This information would be publicly available both within SL and could be queried via APIs from outside. The notion about this was that ideas could be easily tried out, with feedback gathered by their developers and views also shared by a wider community.

More significantly, it was advanced that SL would provide an excellent testbed for examining whether RFIDs might add value in the real-world. For example, were they to be embedded into music CD jewel cases, then consumers might be able to both access extra data e.g. reviews, music samples. In addition, consumers might be able to contribute, albeit it was acknowledge that it doesn't work well in the example since leaving a comment on a CD in a single physical store didn't really make sense, since their comment was more widely targeted. But it might be a physical store RFID tag. Obviously it was hard to predict what the popular outcomes might be but that was the point.

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posted by John Wilson @ 6:45 PM Permanent Link ,

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Wireless is a scarce resource

Or at least it is if you are attending BarcampLondon2.

BT who are hosting the event have allocated each attendee 24 hours of BT Openzone wireless access, for a two day event. Sadly the 24hr period is continuous from the first time you log in.

So, once you've used your 24hrs, you'll be off air at Barcamp - unreal yet so BT.

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BarcampLondon2 has started

Hosted by BT in the City, the event has drawn over 150 people for the weekend. Organised by Ian Forrestor (bbc backstage), the event has been sponsored by Backstage, O'Reilly, BT & Torchbox.

The auditorium is littered with people with a) apple macs b) cameras. As I have neither, I am in a small minority.

There's a few familiar faces including Jay from Snipperoo & Tom Morris, but there look to be many new faces at the event.

I am also the only VC investor here! Guess the rest must be recouperating from being in Barcelona at the mobile telecom industry event.

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Performancing has finally found a buyer

New York,NY — February 14th,2007 — SplashPress Media, owner of numerous sites including The Blog Herald, one of the oldest sites on the internet covering blogging news and new media, has announced it is acquiring the core assets of Performancing.com including the bloggers' community and Performancing Metrics.

SplashPress Media operates and owns 30 blogs, and a variety of other online web properties. SplashPress Media has been online as a hosting company and a support agency for publishers for a few years before launching several blogs and acquiring others.


At the end of 2006 Performancing made the big mistake of announcing they'd been sold prior to the buyer actually signing up. They even restructured the company and hived off assets in advance of the sale. Then they got publicly jilted. Oooops. So this deal seems a little like love on the rebound.

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Finetune - needs refining/tuning

In the week since I started listening to music via finetune I've been generally very impressed and have recommended it to lots of people.

However, I've found myself repeatedly comparing it to the pandora service that I've regularly used.

Two things stood out for me in comparison - how easy Pandora makes it to give a track a thumbs up/down, and to skip past tracks you don't like.

Adding tracks that you hear on the finetune player to your own playlist is a multi-stage process, rather than a simple "one-click" affair. Whilst Pandora doesn't have the concept of builfing playlists because it builds randomised station, it is easy to say you like/dislike things.

With regard to skipping tracks, it was only today whilst searching for the feature that I found it by chance by hovering over the music player in the top left corner. When your cursor is within the music player to the right of the album cover image a "next track" arrow appears, whilst a "previous track" arrow appear when you hover on the left side. Ok, perhaps I should have found it sooner, but guess what - I've been "conditioned" to think that the controls would be along the bottom of the player and oddly the arrows don't appear when you hover below the album image.

I appreciate that there are other control located there, but it did throw me. Duh. Hence this timely Kathy Sierra article resonated with me.

If only last.fm would bring out a means of me importing the tracks I'd listened to on finetune.

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Google Loses Copyright Case, Drops Belgian Links

Feb. 13 (Bloomberg) -- A Brussels court said Google Inc. violated copyright laws by publishing links to Belgian newspapers without permission and ordered the company to remove them, setting a precedent for future cases in Europe.

Google, the owner of the world's most-used search engine, must pay 25,000 euros ($32,500) a day until it removes all Belgian news content, the Brussels Court of First Instance ruled today. There's ``no exception'' for Google in copyright law, the court said. The Mountain View, California-based company said it has already removed the content and will appeal the ruling.

The contention of the Belgium publishers is that Google's reproduction of snippets of their content denies them visitors to their sites, or when people do visit they go directly to relevant content bypassing the front page, and hence denies their advertisers an audience.

Other aggregation and search sites are also affected by the precedent that this sets.

My initial reaction to this is one of astonishment. Whilst I can understand that the publishers are concerned that Google disintermediates them from their customers, I wonder if these "readers" are actually incremental readers brought by Google. In my case, I check out my regular news(paper) sites such as Times, Telegraph, Reuters and Bloomberg and then check headlines on Google news. The latter provides me incremental/breaking news but also secondary sources for stories I've seen covered in the first group. Hence, my route to ever looking at the Belgian publications is via Google and I represent incremental eyeballs for their advertisers. Moreover, I may discover new publications that I become attached to, which would have otherwise remained hidden.

If the habits I exhibit were to generally be the case, the only way that Google would have done the Belgian publishers a disservice is if their customer base migrated to Google News and discontinued their "loyalty" to a particular news brand. But such hollowing out of the users base is likely to occur irrespective of google coverage, assuming the publications failed to meet readers needs/wants.

As for advertisers, smart inventory placement should mean that advertisers are positioned with relevant sections and stories that closely align them with the demographic of interest to them.

So, I wonder whether the Belgians have actually done themselves and their advertisers a huge disservice. Funnily enough, I believe by them offering RSS feeds of their publications far fewer subscribers are ever likely visit the main site - certainly I never visit many of the actual sites that I subscribe to.

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For the stupid amongst us - how to order coffee


Just in case ordering coffee was getting too complicated for you, thanks to Seth Godlin for spotting this Dunkin Donuts manual for customers in America.

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BitWine - the marketplace for advice

I chatted with Alon Cohen today, who is the co-founder of BitWine, which is a marketplace for finding advice on a whole range of subjects from "experts".

In essence you can offer your services in any field - ("long tail" notion) and provided that a) you correctly describe yourself b) people are searching for such expertise AND using the same terminology; then you will be gainfully employed to some extent.



BitWine itself acts as
Piggybacking on skype (it is a skype extra), "experts" can quote a per minute fee to provide advice via a video call, albeit this is negotiable with the expert

At the outset of the call, the customer and expert will normally have a few free minutes conducting a brief interview to understand needs and capabilities. The BitWine application operates a "time meter" which is activated when both parties on the call agree it should start. A customer can stipulate a maximum amount they wish to spend on a call to protect against incurring a large bill without realising.

At the conclusion of a call, experts are rated online by customers and hence other users can get see how good or otherwise the experts are - similar to an ebay rating scheme; to be treasured by the expert both for the rating they receive and the volume of customers they have assisted.

To address the problem of unsatisfied customers, BitWine does have a feature whereby the customer can ask for a refund from the expert, who needs to consent.

BitWine has over 10,000 registered users and over 3,000 "experts" already, after launching only 8 weeks ago. Presently, BitWine doesn't take a fee whilst it builds up its' user base but will eventually introduce a fee on sellers.

BitWine has an affiliate scheme but which operates on an on-going revenue share basis rather than a CPA one-off payment.

This is an example of a "crowd-dependent" venture, with a few twists on it.
I discussed with Alon the fact they are likely to miss out on some billable hours that might otherwise bring them revenues, since not all advice/service will involve interview face time. For instance, someone may go away to write up their findings or provide me with research offline. This is a scenario that ODesk has dealt with on their marketplace. BitWine experts and customers can still agree to settle via BitWine for this.

Alon presented recently at the NY Tech Meetup and the video is below. Also their illustration of what BitWine is about is here

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Last.fm have been busy

Some interesting new features are available on last.fm

User radio stations
You can now tune into the tunes recommended by other last.fm users, including radio stations they've created and their "loved tracks". So you can now tune into selections made by your friends or complete strangers with whom you seem to have a music affinity ("neighbours" in last.fm parlance) . You can also embed a radio player widget in your website so that others can tune in easily.

Playlists
In common with a few other sites I've recently referred to like sonicswap and finetune, last.fm have added playlists which can be easily built up whilst using last.fm



Quilts
Flickr style, you can now build a visual mashup of your music and get an animated quilt of your top artists or albums that you can put on any website.



Personal charts
They've added new interactive charts, complete with inline track previews. It's quite interesting to see one's listening habits shown in this way.


Friends
To enable you to build up your friends list faster than keying lots of address in and hoping for the best, there is a new contacts importer that looks up other users of the site based on your web address book.


All of these are great improvements. I've found last.fm to be a great service and you can understand why they've been so successful in attracting so many users (15m reportedly).

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Saas firms will simply love Firefox 3 for its offline feature

I wrote the other day about Adobe's Apollo which will enable online applications to run offline. Read/Write web have a report that emerged from FooCamp New Zealand that Firefox v3 will deliver support for offline applications.

If they weren't doing so already, this will galvanise Saas providers into pushing Firefox as the browser of choice, since it will hugely advance their cause by tackling one of the issues surrounding Saas apps, namely loss of connection to the service. Whilst some may be concerned about offending Microsoft, the benefits to the customer that it promises surely outweigh the upside of neutrality.

Given that both Adobe and Mozilla are addressing this issue, I imagine some resources are being marshalled over at Microsoft HQ to figure out how to do the same.

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Kool IM takes on Meebo

Albeit still in Alpha, Kool IM is almost a replica of Meebo in that it provides an aggregation service across multiple IM networks.

They already have more IM networks than Meebo as you can see from the list below.


Whilst the application is reasonably intuitive, there's no help or FAQ sections to assist in steering round the application. That said, it's a very minimalist site.

The application can be run "embedded" within a browser tab or as a "popup" on the desktop similar in appearance to most desktop based IM applications.

As yet there doesn't appear to be a meebome equivalent, which is the reason why I'll be staying with meebo for now - it's amazingly useful to be able to converse with people visiting the blog. If that's not relevant for you but you are hooked into many IM services, this may suit you.

Kool IM definitely look like a group to watch as they seem to be an innovative crew.

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The pitfalls of sporting arrogance - Aussie style

A couple of weeks ago, this was what greeted the English cricket team.

Australian cricket coach John Buchanan has poured scorn on England and New Zealand, saying their lack of opposition in the one-day tri-series is undermining Australia's World Cup bid.

"In essence, the batting efforts of our opposition are not assisting the development of our bowlers' one-day skills, and the decision making that accompanies being placed under the microscope of competition."

So after England's 2-0 victory over the Aussies in the Commerweath Bank Cup, these headlines made for a pleasant change. Guess it proves Buchanan's point.

England romps to tri-series victory

AUSTRALIA's World Cup campaign is unravelling in embarrassing fashion after England romped to victory in the tri-series finals following a commanding win at the SCG last night.



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U2 can be a rich capitalist and pay little tax

Bloomberg have done a report suggesting that Bono and his U2 colleagues are incredibly astute businessmen whose affairs have been successfully managed to minimise their tax bills. They suggest that this has been achieved with devices/techniques including the use of offshore trust and exploiting international tax arbitrage.

The thrust of their article is that whilst Bono bullies governments around the developed world to donate tax receipts to address world poverty, he contributes very little of those tax revenue thanks to sophisticated tax planning.

While Bono was making his [ONE] appeal, U2 was racking up $389 million in gross ticket receipts, making Vertigo the second-most lucrative tour of all time, according to Billboard magazine. No. 1 is the Rolling Stones’ current tour, which by the end of 2006 had received $425 million. Revenue from the Vertigo tour is funneled through companies that are mostly registered in Ireland and structured to minimize taxes. “U2 are arch-capitalists - but it looks as if they’re not,” says Jim Aiken, a music promoter who helped stage U2 concerts in Ireland during the 1980s and ’90s.

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If Hedge Funds Kept Cows, Your Milk Would Go Sour

This is a bit of an "insiders" series of jokes for folks in capital markets by Mark Gilbert of Bloomberg. Thanks to Paul Kedrosky for spotting it.

Feb. 9 (Bloomberg) -- A famous series of jokes attempts to define political systems. In communism, for example, you have two cows, your commune seizes them and charges you for milk. In a democracy, you have two cows, the cows outvote you 2-1 to ban all meat and dairy products, and you go bankrupt and starve to death.

Similar thinking can be applied to financial markets. Here, then, is the world of money recast in bovine terms.

Leveraged Buyouts

You have two cows. You come home from the fields one day to find Henry Kravis chatting to your spouse at the dining-room table. Two days later, you have no spouse, no farm, and no table. Two guys the size of sumo wrestlers have saddled up the cows and are riding them around the farmyard.

Currency Market

You have two cows. China has 1 trillion cows. Guess who sets the price of milk?

Bond Market

You have two cows. One is Brazilian, one is Australian. They yield 25 quarts of milk per day. That's half as much as three years ago, when you traded your less-lactiferous German and U.S. cows for them. You are thinking of swapping for a pair of Namibian cows. They only have three legs but, hey, they produce 26 quarts per day.

Derivatives

You have two cows. You repackage five of them into a Collateralized Lactating Obligation, pay for a AAA credit rating, slice the CLO into 10 pieces and sell it to investors, skimming the cream from the milk for yourself. Three of the cows fall ill, and the credit rating plummets. You get to keep the cream.

Hedge Funds

You have two cows. A guy in an open-necked shirt drives up in his Bentley and offers to take care of them for you in return for a year's supply of steak and 50 percent of their milk. They won't be allowed to leave his compound for two years.

Six months later, you have half a cow, producing sour milk. ``You have to be willing to lose rump today to get rib-eye tomorrow,'' the hedge-fund guy mumbles through a mouthful of sirloin and champagne.

Economics

Assume two cows.

Carbon-Emissions Trading

You have two cows. They produce 1.2 tons of methane gas per day. After a hefty donation to the re-election campaign of your local representative, the government gives you enough emission permits for six cows. You sell three permits, buy another cow, and apply for a European Commission grant to build a methane-gas power station.

Microsoft Corp.

You have one old, tired cow. A recent heart transplant may have come too late to save the beast.

Google Inc.

You have no cows. You slap advertisements on everyone else's cows. The milk floods in. You use the proceeds to reinvent the cow.

Apple Inc.

Nobody wants your cows. You design the cutest little milk bottle. Now, everybody wants your cows.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

You have 26,467 cows. They are strapped into the milking machines 24/7. Some of them have more hay than they could ever hope to eat. Others aspire to one day having more hay than they could ever hope to eat. The cows with the most hay end up with big government jobs.

Pension-Fund Management

You have two cows. How boring is that? You pay a month's supply of milk to a consultant, who advises you to sell one cow and buy two aardvarks instead. The aardvarks die. The consultant charges you four months of your (now reduced) milk supply and advises you to sell half of your remaining cow and buy a wombat. The wombat dies. The consultant charges eight months of milk for a copy of his new report, ``Two-Cow Strategies for Alleviating the Impending Pensions Crisis.''

Russian Energy

You have two cows. Comrade, those cows are an environmental hazard. We suggest you hand one of them over to us.

Credit-Default Swaps

You have two cows. You buy insurance against them dying, and tuck the contracts into the middle of that tottering pile of documentation on your desk. One dark night, Henry Kravis sneaks off with your cows. By the time you track down the paperwork, your now worthless contracts have expired.

Interest-Rate Swaps

You have two cows. You pledge one of them to me as collateral in a swap for some of my pigs. I pledge the cow to my neighbor as collateral in a swap for some of his sheep. He pledges the cow to his cousin as collateral in a swap for some of his cousin's goats. Better pray the livestock market doesn't crash and we have to try and round up that cow.

Commodities

You have lots of stocks and bonds, but no cows. Are you crazy? Cows are the hot new market. Here, buy this exchange- traded cow futures contract. It can't lose. It gained 40 percent in the past six months.

Gold

You have two cows. You wear a cap you made out of tin foil so that the tiny black helicopters can't read your thoughts. You spend your days blogging about how the government's decision to abandon the cattle standard in 1933 was part of a global conspiracy by the world's central banks to destroy the value of your herd.


posted by John Wilson @ 12:02 PM Permanent Link ,

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BusyTonight?

I've mentioned that I use upcoming.org as well as meetup.com to keep an eye on what various chums are planning on getting up to in future as a prompt/tipoff so that I too can wander along to interesting/fun events. Of course, the trouble with this is having to rely upon them to be socially conscious/responsible enough to post their future plans for "my benefit".

BusyTonight is a service that is trying to overcome this problem as well as trying to deal with the fact that the market for event listings is hopelessly fragmented

Presently only operating in the US, it is a search engine for events. It is algorithmically driven via a Web crawl. The index of event listings is generated "automatically" - the software aims to identify pages with events and extract the event listings accurately.

Hence it seeks to eliminate the need for good natured folks to post their plans to a service and the same service! As such Busytonight is not dependent on having a critical mass of motivated users to type in event data - the content only needs to published on the Web.

They claim to be closing in on one million unique, future events with plans to expand to the rest of the English speaking world in Q1 of next year, and begin including non-English content in Q2.

They intend to generate revenues from a combination of pay-per click advertising and commissions on ticket sales. There's also the potential to sell the harvested data to a variety of other sites that offer tangential businesses.

Only founded in April 2005, there are only five people working full-time on BusyTonight including Joshua C Lerner (CEO), Richard Mintz (COO) and Matt Kangas (CTO).

Clearly there are a number of challenges here



I very much like the concept though, representing a very useful vertical search - most of us go out and not just to eat/drink.

For future enhancements it would be great if they could add to it
The unfortunately named Minger blog also covered busytonight here (UK readers will know what I'm referring to and if you don't try this site for a clue, which my friend Matt pointed me in the direction of this evening for some evil reason).

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

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