The white heat of technology

Newsbiscuit excels itself with this one.

Isle of Wight to get Ceefax

Residents of the Isle of Wight are excited that the information revolution is about to hit the island with the arrival of the BBC’s up to the minute information service Ceefax. By pressing different coloured buttons on their television remote controls local residents will be able to get instant weather and travel information, recipes, horoscopes and more.

‘I can’t believe that the information revolution can go any further than this,’ said Arnold Harrison, 76.

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

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Move over Sonny & lets Gramps get on the PC

You can't teach an old dog new tricks goes the phrase.

Well, Silver Surfers in the UK are about to disprove that with their very over social networking site courtesy of the UK largest over 50's focussed business, Saga.

Entitled SagaZone (should have been zimmerzone surely), the over 50's will be able to make friends and discuss important issues of the day online - gardening was cited as one example!

Saga is an amazing business. Starting out as a holiday company in Folkestone, it has become something of a financial services powerhouse. I did some advisory work for them many years ago, when the now CEO was Head of Strategy & Biz Devt. Very switched on to their community with a trusted brand. They drive a hard bargain with suppliers to get cheap deals, whilst the Saga Magazine has a huge circulation in the over 50s demographic.

They will almost certainly do well with this new service, because of the ability to promote successfully to their audience.


posted by John Wilson @ 8:47 AM Permanent Link ,

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A victim of the credit crunch

You had to smile when BBC News reported the latest "victim" of the credit crunch - Stan O'Neil.

Having lost his job as CEO of Merrill, all Stan has to fall back on is the $200m compensation package he is to be given. At his age, there is concern he may not find another job and, without work, will he ever be able to get another repackage and trade?

Guess it may mean a little belt tightening to see him through the bleak times ahead.

posted by John Wilson @ 10:58 PM Permanent Link ,

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Spinvox in a tailspin

According to my reliable sources in the company, Spinvox is struggling to service its UK customers due to staff retention/coverage issues in one of the outsourced overseas transcription centres operated by Valldata Services Ltd, where low staff morale has been reported. It has resulted in some messages not being processed in the queues for over 90 minutes - not ideal message turnaround times for time critical messages.

This is causing considerable concern in Spinvox HQ, in part because they operate at arms length with the overseas centre and hence can't just quickly walk in and fix it - for starters, more staff have to be hired and trained. Where are those mechanical turks when you need them?


posted by John Wilson @ 1:59 PM Permanent Link ,

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Speed date with a web cam!

Ok. I guess efficiency is important when you have biological clock ticking, but my first reaction to the Mashable report on Speeddate was I should simply set up, an upsell business enabling the users of Speeddate to also exchange bodily fluids remotely after finding their perfect match.

The idea is that people can conduct their speed dates online via webcam, without having to go to the effort of reporting to a venue and trawling through a bunch of people in short sequential encounters.

SpeedDate is a community where you can hold speed dates via webcam during scheduled events through its service. You can also have a speed date any time you’re online with a person you’ve marked as someone you’re interested in.

SpeedDate will enable an online, webcam speed date when you’re both online. Additionally, if you decide to simply start speed dating on the fly, you’ll be matched for a date with another user that’s available, so you’d better be ready with your webcam when you click on “Start.” You can also chat during a speed date, in addition to talking on the webcam.

Apparently, users vote on their "dates" and you get a mutual attraction score, as well as being able to see how "hot" the other person is.

I guess for those people who prefer sitting on their webcams rather than going out and socialising with people in person, this is an ideal service. Moreover, it presumably avoids the embarrassing moment when you want to run away from the other person.

Better yet, you can actually carrying on watching episodes of Star Trek and Blake 7 from your sofa whilst "dating" - a reflection of what life after the wedding might be like.

Of course, a similar approach could be applied to the University Milk Round process - it would be a really quick way to screen a huge volume of candidates and from the comfort of your office, rather having to trawl round the country visiting Universities.

posted by John Wilson @ 12:45 PM Permanent Link ,

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Will buy-to-let drag the property market down

Radio 4's Today programme reported that there are over 1 million buy-to-let mortgages in the UK, representing nearly 9% of the mortgage market.

In most cases, net rental yields are below the actual borrowing costs with the result that these "investors" are incurring a cost of carrying these assets. Ordinarily they might rely upon house prices gains, but with increasing signs that the boom is slowing or stopping, many of these investors may well bale out, driving down prices.

How large might this fall be? Hard to guess but once the herd starts moving to offload properties, many of which are homogenous 2/3 bed flats it may create a vicious spiral. Of course, the Bank of England may step in and reduce interest rates and "save the Government's blushes", on top of the recent reductions in capital gains tax. But at a time, when the Government is also aiming to increase "affordable housing stock", it may look perverse to stop prices falling back to levels that people can afford.

posted by John Wilson @ 12:21 PM Permanent Link ,

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Ever been trapped on a car journey with kids?

There is something about being a kid that makes games like Rock-Paper-Scissors and I Spy still interesting. In the case of my youngest daughter, its her evil competitive streak (that my wife claims I've bred into her) which prompts her to demand I play such games. And boy, is she evil at I Spy. We were travelling on the continent last year and she stumped me with "beginning with E". At every wrong guess she taunted me with "Give up yet?" until I finally had to surrender to learn it was "Earth" which of course was all around us.

Anyway, if you're in the same boat/car/plane/train, here are 27 games you can play to break the monotony (or put your kids back in the box with by beating them into submission - Mwoah ha ha ha) courtesy of Travelhacker.

  1. The Grocery Game: Whether you want to challenge your memory or just whet your appetite for lunch, the grocery game is a great way to pass the time on your drive. One person starts with naming something that can be bought at the grocery store that starts with the letter ‘A’, such as “apples”. The next player would have to repeat the first person’s answer as well as add on a food that begins with the letter ‘B’. If you mess up, you’re out, and the game continues until only one memory-gifted player remains. If you get bored with groceries, try using another topic.
  2. The Geography Game: Help your kids refresh their geography lessons while on the road with the geography game. The game begins with a person naming any place in the world, London for example. The next person then has to come up with a place name that begins with the last letter of the first location. So in this case, the next place would have to start with an ‘N’, like Nepal for instance. The game continues on until someone gets stumped, and no place can be used more than once. The game can be played with any topic, so give celebrity names, movies, animals or anything else you can think of a try.
  3. License Plate Bingo: To play this game you’ll need to bring along a few writing utensils and have paper to use for game cards. If you’d like, you can print out game cards ahead of time here. There are a few variations of this game, so you can either write down the names of states as your bingo squares or random letters and numbers. As players see the states or letters and numbers on passing license plates they cross them off. First player to get 5 in a row wins, and it might be a good idea to keep a few prizes on hand for the lucky winner.
  4. Card Games: Never underestimate the power of card games to keep your kids entertained. Bring along a set of cards from home and challenge kids to play their old favorites like old maid, go fish, and rummy. If you want to find new games, check out a book on card games at your local library or print out instructions for kids games here.
  5. Family Spelling Bee: See who is the best speller in the family by having an in-car spelling bee. Make sure words are appropriate for the age level of the kids in your car so no one gets discouraged. If spelling isn’t your thing, there are a number of other contests you can have as well. Try challenging your family to trivia or singing competitions as well.
  6. 20 Questions: An old favorite, 20 questions is a great game for inquisitive little ones. The game begins with one person choosing pretty much anything they can think of. The first question for the guessers is usually “animal, vegetable, or mineral?” though it doesn’t have to be. Players then go through a litany of questions trying to determine the nature of the mystery object and answers must be yes or no. The winner is whomever guesses the object first or can stump the other players with their object.
  7. I Spy: Similar to 20 Questions, I Spy is another classic travel game. One person in the car looks around and chooses an object. The guessers are given one clue: “I spy with my little eye something that is (insert first letter of objects name, objects color, or other clue of your choice)”. Players can’t choose something that is whizzing by too fast; objects must be within the car or far enough in the distance to be within sight for a few minutes. Guessers attempt to figure out the nature of the object and the winner gets to create their own mystery object.
  8. Team Storytelling: Inspire your family’s creative side by creating a group story. Someone begins by creating one line to a story (for example, “There once was a prince under a curse…”) and each person must add one line to the story as you go. If simple storytelling is too dull for you, spice it up by making the lines have to rhyme, or by pointing at players out of order to come up with a line on the spot. You can extend the game by writing down the story and having your children create illustrations for it.
  9. Word Play: Have your kids write down words they see as they’re traveling from billboards, bumper stickers, restaurants, etc. Once they get a certain amount, have them write a story, poem or song that includes all of the words they have found. When they’re done, have them read or sing their creation out loud for the rest of the family.
  10. Counting Cows: Rural countrysides can make for pretty dull window viewing, so make it more interesting by turning it into a game. Create a set distance within which players have to find as many cows on their side of the road as possible. If you have the misfortune of passing a cemetery on your side of the road, then you have to start over. If you’re not in cow country, try counting something else, like phone booths, mailboxes, or houses of a certain color.
  11. Rock, Paper, Scissors: This classic game makes it easy to keep kids occupied. Players put their hands behind their backs and pull one out to reveal either rock (closed fist), paper (flat hand) or scissors (first and middle fingers in a “v”). Scissors beats paper, paper beats rock and rock beats scissors. Kids can get creative and think up three other competing things (cowboy, ninja, and bear for instance).
  12. License Plate Lingo: You can use the license plates of the cars around you to provide entertainment for your kids. The goal of this game is to come up with a phrase using the letters on passing license plates. For example, if you see a plate with the letters “EIC,” your phrase could be “eat ice cream.”. You can make this game as silly or as serious as you’d like.
  13. Travel Scavenger Hunt: Keep children occupied with a travel scavenger hunt. Compile a list of objects for each child to find along the road. For example, you could have things like “brown cow” or “water tower”. Anything that comes to mind that you might be passing will work, or you can use prepared lists like this. You can also turn this game into a form of bingo with a game card like this. The winner is the first one to find everything on his or her list.
  14. The Banana Game: Single out yellow vehicles with the banana game. Players get points for each yellow car they point out passing. Double points are awarded for buses and larger yellow vehicles. Be prepared, this could get competitive!
  15. String Figures: You wouldn’t think a simple piece of string could keep a kid entertained for hours, but in some cases it can. Pack a piece of string or yarn tied into a circle for your child and challenge them to learn to make string shapes like Jacob’s Ladder, Kitty Whiskers or to play Cat’s Cradle. If you don’t know much about string games, you can check out a book from the library or print out some instructions from a string game website.
  16. Fortune Teller: Keep your kids giggling with a fortune teller. Fold up your own using these instructions or use a preprinted version. Once folded, you can write colors and numbers and various fortunes on the flaps or turn them into cute animal puppets.
  17. Find the Vehicle: Challenge your kids to find a list of different types and models of cars. Children interested in cars will find this game particularly enjoyable. You can make it more challenging by specifying a color for more common models of cars or types of cargo for semis.
  18. Slug Bug: While the name implies a certain amount of violence, it can also be played much more peacefully. Have your kids count on their fingers or gently tap their seatmate every time they spot a Volkswagen Bug. The specifics of the rules are up to you, but you can make old bugs worth more than new, or certain colors worth more than others.
  19. Map Monitors: One easy way to keep children entertained on the road is to engage them in the process of travel. Give each child a map of your trip and allow them to keep track of your progress using stickers, coloring or something else your child enjoys.
  20. Mad Libs: Mad Libs are a fun and silly way to keep your reading-age kids entertained on a long trip. You can make up your own or use free versions from the Web. Give your kids the worksheets, have them come up with nouns, verbs and adjectives to fill them in, and then have them read their new stories aloud to one another.
  21. Road Trip Math: Have a budding math lover in your car? Entertain them by having them figure out math problems based on your travel. For instance if you pass a sign telling you the next rest stop is 20 miles away, have your child figure out how long it will take you to get there based on your current speed. It might not sound like the most fun, but it will keep your child engaged and learning. Rewards for work well done won’t hurt either.
  22. Fortunately-Unfortunately: Help your children learn to think positively with the game Fortunately-Unfortunately. One player begins with an unfortunate statement like, “Unfortunately, there is a bat in the car.” The next player has to counter with something more fortunate like, “Fortunately, I brought along bat repellant.” Players continue to alternate between unfortunate and fortunate things until you’ve exhausted a particular topic.
  23. Treasure Bottle: You’ll need a little preparation ahead of time, but a treasure bottle can be a great way to keep younger children entertained and engaged. Use a 2 liter bottle or large plastic container with a lid. Fill it 2/3s full with rice or birdseed, then add small “treasures” from around your house like paper clips, bolts, pennies, Legos and any other small things you might have lying around in your junk drawer. Keep count of how many items you put in and write the number on the outside of the bottle. Have kids roll around the bottle until they find everything hidden inside. Just make sure the lid is extra secure so there aren’t any mid-trip messes to clean up.
  24. Who Am I?: Keep your kids guessing with this easy and fun game. Think of someone you and your children know: a family member, neighbor, or friend, and give clues to the person’s identity like their hair color, sex, or whether or not they wear glasses. Let each person guess and if no one gets it, continue giving clues until your kids figure it out.
  25. Find 100: Occupy your kids with counting using Find 100. Choose a color or object and keep counting until you reach 100. Try counting flags, statues, churches, red cars or anything else you can think of. Mix it up by giving each player a different object to find 100 of and race to see who can finish first.
  26. Official Count: Change up the usual counting games by taking an official count. Pick out objects to keep a tally of like motorcycles or vans. Keep a tally of what you see, including the color. At the start of the trip, have your kids make their own predictions about what they think will be the most popular colors or styles of these kinds of vehicles and compare the predictions to the results at the end of your trip.
  27. That’s My Car!: Compete with your fellow passengers to see who can get the sweetest ride. Have each kid choose a car from the next 5 that you pass or that pass by you to be his or her “own” car. All players mutually decide who has the best car of those that are “owned” and that person is the winner.
Bonus game called Ghost;Number of Players: Multiple; Object of game: Don’t be the person to finish the spelling the word.

How to Play: The game is to build a word one letter at a time. But you don’t want to be the person who ends the word. For example: Player 1 says “L”, player 2 says “A” player 3 says “S”. Player 4 says “T”. Since player 4 finished a word (last) he would be out.

It builds spelling a vocab. Some rules we have are: words must be longer than 3 letters to count. A player can also try and bluff if he can’t think of a way to continue but if he is called on his bluff he is out.

Play till only one person remains

posted by John Wilson @ 1:15 AM Permanent Link ,

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Market distortions - ticketing

Sorry for the avalanche of post on the ticketing industry - as you'll guess, I am immersed in the space at present with one of our ventures.

Some things you may not know

- When you whinge about the "high" booking fees charged by agencies, some promoters actually charge the agents a booking fee on top of the face value e.g. of the £5 you pay, £2 could be an enforced kickback to the promoter levied aside from the ticket price. This isn't made public for a myriad of reasons.

- Most venues oblige artists/promoters to share 40-60% of the allocation of tickets with them to distribute via channels they have got arrangements with. e.g. Ticketmaster has deals in place with many venues to take a majority of the tickets to events they host. So even if the artist wants to make all the tickets available to their fan club, they may not be able to.

- Credit card companies take a sizeable chunk in merchant fees from ticket agents, judging them to be highly risky. 3%+ is not uncommon out of booking fee norms of 10-12%.

For two great posts on ticketing markets have a look at part one and two of a piece by Sean Park. With similar backgrounds, perhaps it's unsurprising that Sean and I think alike on such matters.


posted by John Wilson @ 12:36 AM Permanent Link ,

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Getting a young audience onto your mobile network

Mobile companies spend considerable effort luring younger folk onto their networks - bundled minutes and texts to deal with their insatiable demand to remain in context with the friend standing across the playground or whatever.

So, mobile service provider Orange looks to have pulled off a smart move with the announcement that Orange customers can now get unlimited Bebo access for £3 (6.1 US dollars) per month, given its' popularity with this target demographic. This plan, called “Bebo Extra”, will enable users to comment on their friends’ profiles, send Bebo Mails and receive profile notifications via SMS, all at a single price.

posted by John Wilson @ 12:30 AM Permanent Link ,

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Court takes the scalp of Stubhub

According to Read/Write web

The now-EBay property StubHub has lost a battle in court and handing over the names of 13,000 of its users to the New England Patriots American football team. The suit was filed last November - two months before the acquisition of the site was announced, so it probably didn't go down like some of the YouTube suits.

It's never a good day when almost any website is forced to disclose the names of its users.

The Patriots alleged, and the court agreed, that all participants in auctions for game tickets between 2003 and 2007 violated company policy and state law. StubHub says that the majority of the names belonged to buyers, not sellers. Season ticket holders on the list of names may have their tickets cancelled and the team may hand the list over "to the authorities," the team told the Boston Globe, whose in-depth coverage is also worth a read.

Well, that should scare off some customers from online secondary markets - far safer to buy in cash from a tout standing outside the ground, where you can't be traced!


posted by John Wilson @ 12:26 AM Permanent Link ,

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When you're in the sh*t, use paper

This is not a toilet story.

I traipsed across London this afternoon for a meeting with some executives at a big record label (it's interesting how they are all congregated around Hammersmith). And no, they weren't looking to launch my music career.

When I got there, I was greeted by reception puzzled stares as they rang round trying to locate my host. Someone would be down for me shortly they advise and asked me to wait on the comfy sofas in the company of big screen playing music videos.

5 minutes later a harried PA appears to say that IT problems had caused the Outlook calendar entries of her boss and some other execs to be wiped at the end of last week with the result that she had been trying to recreate the calendar from email trails, whilst having spent most of the day apologising to people that were turning up for meetings that they were now unaware of, including mine.

Due to a busy day, I hadn't followed my normal practice of sending a confirming email in the morning to check all was proceeding as scheduled. But I had also been unlucky that my correspondence with her to arrange the meeting was tucked away in her blackberry which she hadn't checked and which didn't synch with their corporate email, with the result she hadn't spotted it.

Sadly, my host had now been dragged off into a session with the CEO and so now wasn't available to see me. Some guests had evidently been less calm about this screw-up than I was, including some from a "Mickey Mouse" organisation.

Her response to the "crisis" - she was going to revert to operating a paper diary in parallel, rather than face this again!

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posted by John Wilson @ 11:56 PM Permanent Link ,

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Business Models - We're trying them all simultaneously

Looks like I'm not the only one to be commenting on the breakout of experimentation going on in the music industry - TechDirt has a good piece here

No longer can the labels be accused of not trying new things - just hope they can make sense of the results though as one size is unlikely to fit all.

posted by John Wilson @ 11:54 PM Permanent Link ,

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Jango is Jumpin

Having just received a private beta invite to Jango, the social internet radio, that appears similar to Pandora at first glance, I have to say it's very good.

It has a familiar feel to it - it has a Pandora style simple interface, playlists controls, social network profiles, community all mashed together. Hence you can leave shoutouts, see other fans of bands you like, get recommendations and see artist histories/commentaries.

I intend to try it for a few days - I feel incredibly spoilt for choice these days given the abundance of excellent services around.

posted by John Wilson @ 11:50 PM Permanent Link ,

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Oysters at London 2012

During a chat today with a senior executive of a global ticketing business, he mused that the tickets for London 2012 Olympics would actually be embedded within the expanding capabilities of Oyster cards.

Having recently gone from being a mobile wallet for travel fares, Oyster cards can now incorporate a debit cards from Barclaycard and Barclays Connect Visa cards following an exclusive contract between Barclaycard and TranSys, the consortium which runs Oyster card in partnership with Transport for London (TfL).

Adding ticketing entries onto the card seem an obvious evolution - money, travel and tickets in one personal card. It would screw the secondary market since your entry would be embedded into the card, in an even more effective manner than email tickets.

We also chatted about the opportunities email ticketing creates for an upsell - still want a souvenir ticket? No problem sir! For an extra £3.99 we will be happy to send you one separate from your email ticket.

More cunning though is the opportunity to actually create a proper secondary market that can be monitored and regulated easily if you have immobilised the record of ticket ownership via Oyster cards or email tickets, since by the same process as operates with share registration, you can easily transfer ownership centrally and enable the operator to collect fees in the process!


posted by John Wilson @ 11:39 PM Permanent Link ,

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The True Story behind Merrill's result and the markets explained

This excellent analysis (yet to be shown on Bloomberg for some reason) is mandatory viewing for anyone trying to understand the fundamentals behind the turbulence in the credit markets over the Summer.

It unpicks the "apparent" mystery of SIVs in the sub-prime market for the layman who may be worried by the impact of the financial meltdown on their pension and analyses the rationale for government intervention in the market liquidity crisis.

Some of the insights were apparently shared with the Merrill's Board over the weekend, which was the firm that had called in the collateral on the Bear Stearn's Hedge Funds in July, precipitating their collapse.

Job done John.

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

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Et Tu Brutus?

Whilst on holiday I've read the first two books in Conn Iggulden's Emperor series. Merging fact and story telling, it has Julius Caesar as the main character from boyhood through his journey to the most famous Roman Emperor. Easy yet entertaining reading.

As most people know, Caesar was murdered by Senators in the Senate who stabbed him to death. His last words were reportedly aimed at his friend from boyhood, Brutus, who also wielded a knife against him.

I mention this in the context of the news from Merrill's covered by Bloomberg here.

Stan O'Neal found out this month after the embattled chief executive officer delivered the worst news in the firm's 93-year history.

The third-quarter loss of $2.24 billion, or $2.82 a share, was about six times more than O'Neal acknowledged on Oct. 5 and derived from $8.4 billion of writedowns for the subprime mortgages, asset-backed bonds and loans gone bad under his watch.

Merrill's result, coming during a credit market shakeout that triggered a run on a British bank and caused Switzerland's largest financial institution to fire its CEO, was the biggest quarterly debacle in the history of the securities industry. That was enough for the board of 11, nine of whom were handpicked by O'Neal during his five years as CEO, to make it clear the 56- year-old grandson of a former slave is leaving, possibly as early as today, according to a person with knowledge of the directors' discussions.

As Gordon Gekko said in the film Wall Street, "If you want a friend, get a dog". Loyalty goes so far, but in capital markets results go farther.

posted by John Wilson @ 9:32 PM Permanent Link ,

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Cliff Richard's new buying group

Welcome to the Cliff Richards download lottery - or should that be buying group?

Today's news that Sir Cliff is embracing the new world of disruptive economics is fascinating on so many levels. In case you missed it check the story here, but in essence Cliff and his record company EMI are embracing the notion of buying groups and bulk discounts.

Here's how - Cliff is setting a maximum price of £7.99 to download his new album, but depending on how many people pre-register for the album, the price could drop to £3.99. And of course, fans can help drive the price down by encouraging others to download it too! Cliff maximises his revenues, gets good PR, and of course drives up album sales so that he may get to top the album charts.

The music industry is suddenly trying out every economic model in an attempt to find one that works!

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posted by John Wilson @ 8:43 PM Permanent Link ,

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Gmail IMAP - I mope

Gmail gets IMAP. Fantastic I thought. Given that I consolidate several accounts inside Gmail as an additional backup service and presently have to manually synch them , this would make life much easier.

And then you read the small print courtesy of Webware

it's worth noting that the IMAP support is one-way: You can use IMAP clients to read and send your Gmail. You cannot use the Gmail interface to access e-mail from non-Google IMAP servers or from Exchange. The only non-Google e-mail servers that Gmail can access are POP machines, and you don't get any mailbox synchronization with that method.

Oh well.

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posted by John Wilson @ 10:42 PM Permanent Link ,

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Mind the Gap

Returning from a week's hols with the family I look with dread at the 1000+ total in Google Reader. Lots to catch up on.

One story breaking today I heard on the radio was about a BBC undercover report into sub-contractors of GAP who were caught using child labour. Presented with the findings GAP announced they would destroy the stock.

A close friend of mine sent this excellent email to GAP on hearing the news.


In the news today in the UK there is a story about clothing being made by
child labour - the story says that GAP are going to destroy the clothes made
- this seems to be a waste and a bit of an over-reaction.

I appreciate you have a brand image to maintain and protect so your initial
reaction is to destroy the clothes rather than put them on the market. This
looks to people like me to be environmentally irresponsible as it is a waste
of resources and time the children have spent making them. That response
sends a funny message back to people like me who I believe are in the target
group of consumers - GAP looks to be a bit over-reactionary and does not
think through its actions before issuing statements with a faint whiff of
environmental unfriendliness..

My suggestion is that you should clearly mark the clothes as being produced
this way so people do not confuse them with your normally produced items and
then maybe make the commitment to channel 100% of the selling price to a
either a Charity whose aim is to reduce Child Labour or, by working back
through your suppliers, giving to the factory that made the goods so the
workers there receive 100% of the benefit..... Another route maybe would be
to auction them on eBay and channel the money to a charity or the factory.
I believe this would mean you look to have done the best you can have done
in a socially and environmentally responsible way.

The other thing is people like me assume that, as a matter of course, you
will go right back through all your supply chains thoroughly to the people
doing the work ensure this does not happen again and put processes and
controls in place to ensure people are paid a fair price for their work and
the GAP name is no longer associated with any whiff of exploitation. The
action I propose above would also show that where you do find any cases now
or in the future, you take the right sort of action.

The other aspect which you may not want to have is that these items may have a rarity value which you may not want to have.

Many thanks for your time if you read this far,

Neil Good"

Great points which are well made.

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Mastercard Europe Fraud Conference

I was amused by the title of the conference being staged at the resort where we have an apartment over half term - the idea of fraudsters meeting to defraud mastercard seemed somewhat brazen!

I always remember hearing a senior "security" director from Visa presenting at a conference a few years ago. He stood out initially because he was using transparencies rather than a laptop for his slides.

He described key issues in general terms before revealing that hed first used the slides 10yrs before. The issues hadn't changed regardless of the internet - he suggested that the internet helped him because it often left a trail and online authorisation provided the means to instantly stop a card from being used.

Yet internet fraud continues to be cited as one of the biggest source of card fraud.

In online banking, Barclays are introducing a hardware device to its UK service that has to be connected to the PC as an additional security measure (an annoyance if you used online banking whilst travelling!).

Yet who bears much of the fraud cost? Usually the retailers who find purchases reclaimed against by the bank. This despite merchant charges of up to 9% according to a recent UK Govt report. An outrageous price.

Having been through a process with one of our ventures of securing a merchant id, I found
- Barclaycard were by far the most awful to deal with and I recommend strongly against them. Inept, bureaucratic and sloppy are my kind words about them
- Lloyds were plain unhelpful
- RBS Streamline were good with a personal touch
- Bank of Scotland were most impressive in pre-sales, with lots of follow-up.

Easiest and best price for online business though - Google Checkout. Much cheaper than Paypal for merchant charges. They are also sitting on the Streamline infrastructure, or so it appears from their T&Cs in the UK.

Whilst customers seem to be required to get a google account in the process, depending on your market, this may be no issue.

Google's pricing may well win it large online market share - how it handles fraud issues remains unknown, but the fraudsters are certain to test it.

posted by John Wilson @ 11:27 AM Permanent Link ,

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Phone a friend to pay a debt

The anticipated launch of GSMA Mobile Money Transfer in Q208 could have a major economic impact.

Powered by Western Union, which already processed 17% of world remittance volume in 2006 according to the Financial Times, the scheme is involve 35 mobile operators in 100 countries covering 800m customers.

Your phone will act as a mobile wallet, capable of making payments of up to $100. Domestic and cross border payments will be catered for.

This has been a target for the mobile industry for many years and represents a real threat to traditional banks but more significantly to services like paypal, depending on tariffs. After all, why bother finding a computer when all you need is a ubiquitous phone, now possessed by 3bn people.

This could also have a dramatic impact in physical and online retailing, as firms gear up to accept another payment device.

The worry is that operators will be too greedy with charges - one hopes they will have learnt from their experience overcharging for data plans and the huge use of sms because its cheap.

posted by John Wilson @ 7:06 PM Permanent Link ,

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Vista looks poor for PC World

DSG, owner of currys and pc world has been left with lots of unsold pcs which it stocked in anticipation of a rush for Vista loaded/capable hardware.

Sadly the rush hasn't materialised leaving DSG blaming Microsoft for a weak ad campaign.

Perhaps most people with a PC have decided the one they have works well enough, and not badly enough to warrant shelling out £500ish for a new one. Or perhaps their dosh is better spent on a Wii, PS/3 or the like.

Either way, new operating systems used to promise a bonanza all round for software & hardware firms. What will they do now - have to offer better features perhaps? Or could web apps eg web mail actually be sufficient for many people's basic needs?

posted by John Wilson @ 6:39 PM Permanent Link ,

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How a kiwi felled the Amazon

Matthew Ingram has the background here on Amazon's patent on "one-click" being struck down.

Turns out that a lone New Zealander, with a qualification as a patent lawyer made a cause of it. Peter Calveley is that man and his blog is here.

posted by John Wilson @ 6:18 PM Permanent Link ,

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Shift happens

The thought provoking You Tube video called Shift Happens and sub-text "Did you know" has been watched 5 million times but has been recently been updated by its creator Karl Fisch. Many of the themes will be familiar but some new material has been added. Worth watching!

posted by John Wilson @ 6:00 PM Permanent Link ,

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Because they are worth so little!

Nate Westheimer has posted about the "value" attributed to Facebook app users by recent acquisitions and concludes that a user value trades at a TENTH of an www. users.

Hence, the swagger of getting 10k in users isn't matched in value terms by the quieter 2k user web site.

It certainly makes an excellent riposte to the question "have you got a facebook app?", especially when even successful Facebook apps like iLike have found it tough to migrate their Facebook users onto their main web site.

posted by John Wilson @ 8:22 AM Permanent Link ,

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Jobs for the boys or girls

One of our portfolio companies is actively recruiting developers. If you have any of the following skills/experience or know of someone that might be interested, please drop me a note to john [dot] wilson at foliopartners dot com or drop me a note via the meebo widget on the blog page.

- php
- MySQL/Postgres
- Drupal
- css and front-end devt
- Ajax
- Apache web server config

You'd be joining a small team with the possibility of some equity on offer. Ability to turn your hand to most jobs with an enthusiastic outlook is essential. You do need to be London based ideally but some home working may be possible. They will consider people on a permanent or interim basis, with a preference for the former.

Finally, having an interest in the live entertainment space (gig, music, shows) will make the job all the more interesting, as you may end up rubbing shoulders with your idols.


posted by John Wilson @ 3:07 PM Permanent Link ,

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Was God an IT Contractor in disguise

You'll recall that God made the World in 7 days [definitely on a fixed price contract, rather than daily rate]. Well he evidently was an IT contractor or very similar in nature, as it turns out he/she/it knocked another one out 20 light years away according to recent reports.

Few modifications between the two versions, but looks like the same handiwork. What points to God being an IT contractor is that there is far enough space between the two for the copying code trick not to be easily detected and legal action started relating to IP ownerships issues until the coast [should that be universe] was clear.

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

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Why are you gambling with my money

I still don't understand how Moneygram get away with being an unregulated business given that they are a money transmission system.

In case you don't know them, they operate a worldwide payment agent network via a series of national distribution partnerships (Post Office Counters in the UK), which allow individuals to send money between their agents anywhere in the world. Their money flows run into billions of dollars every day.

According to reports, they have a constant float of approximately $6bn, $4.4bn of which it invested in mortgage backed bonds, CDOs etc to generate additional returns. Unfortunately, the downturn in credit markets has resulted in anticipated losses of $200m in their second quarter results.

Now, if you are an individual sending money to far-off relatives etc, you hope that the service will deliver the money in "minutes", but sometime its takes longer. If this unregulated business has liquidity issues or goes bust whilst your money is in transit, you will have little or no comeback.

posted by John Wilson @ 12:51 PM Permanent Link ,

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Football's coming home

Was talking to a friend prior to the England v Estonia game, who had been involved many years ago in the debate about whether the FA should rebuild Wembley or move the national football stadium elsewhere.

It appears that whilst Birmingham had the best infrastucture/travel facilities, only London offered the certainty of the corporate market.

Money talks, sport walks.

posted by John Wilson @ 2:32 PM Permanent Link ,

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Entrepreneurs hit in the budget

Entrepreneurs will usually place making lots of cash high on their list of reasons for venturing out. Others include flexibility and freedoms.

So in "Enterprise Britain", the removal in 6 months time of taper relief on capital gains has received condemnation from expected (CBI) and unexpected (GMB Union) quarters.

The main target of the change were said to be the "fat cats" of private equity who have been able to take advantage of a regime which meant they, along with everyone else, paid 10% of their gains provided qualifying assets were held long enough. But entrepreneurs are similarly hit.

Ok, you might argue that 8% extra still means you get a lower tax rate than from earned income (40% on higher salaries). But then, the introduction of a flat rate of 18% capital gains tax now means that you are rewarded equally for gains made from listed company shares which gives no recognition to people building businesses rather than simply investing in shares.

As with any tax change, the law of unintended consequences arises. In penalising "fat cats" whose tax advisers will find other loopholes (levy higher interest rates on the loans they make to companies they also own to extract more money to offshore companies), they also hit the very people they claim to be seeking to encourage.

The change will be introduced in 6 months time. So if you are thinking of selling, you may want to do it before then!

posted by John Wilson @ 9:38 AM Permanent Link ,

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Is it dead good?

The planned increase of the IHT allowance by the Chancellor has been damned by many on two fronts - firstly, the cloning of the policy proposals from the Opposition, albeit at a lower threshold; secondly, that married couples can already achieve a tax free estate of £600k since each individual gets £300k allowance.

Yet I think the change has one major benefit - assets need not be distributed on the death of one spouse as is currently the case to benefit from the nil IHT band, nor do many more couples need to make special arrangements.

For example, suppose a couple had an estate of £500k of which a house represented 250k. To benefit from the IHT allowance, either the house had to be given away (sold) or else other assets did, neither of which is palatable scenario since it deprives the surviving spouse of either a home or assets on which to live.

Now, all of the assets can be retained by the surviving spouse if that is the wish of the deceased and transferred at their death.

This may seem an odd topic for this blog - but many of my friends and colleagues all have ageing parents and this is a real topic of discussion for many with their parents.

posted by John Wilson @ 9:24 AM Permanent Link ,

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Snocap is melting

Following on from its' breakup with CD:Baby, more news here on the apparent demise of Snocap. It seems they are laying off 60% of their staff. Of course, this may be due to huge productivity or automation improvements.

posted by John Wilson @ 8:42 AM Permanent Link ,

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Beazer Homes fall down

I hadn't seen this story about Beazer Homes previously, which I spotted here.

Beazer reported that 68% of its prospective home buyers canceled their orders in the company's fiscal fourth quarter, which ended Sept. 30. The cancellation rate was almost double the 36% of customers who canceled orders and gave up deposits in the prior quarter.

Wow - I call that a cross over from turbulence in the City to Main Street.

posted by John Wilson @ 8:25 AM Permanent Link ,

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5 alternative business models for the music industry

Last 100 has an interesting commentary on business models that might be applied to the music industry, which usefully summarises some of the most well known models being rolled out.

Will this lot below listen? Hmmmm.


posted by John Wilson @ 8:45 PM Permanent Link ,

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Virgin Mobile USA floats aloft

A close friend of ours is enjoying a big celebration today - he was Virgin Group Director responsible for the float of Virgin Mobile USA and for the last few weeks has been calling in nightly for the update on the book build.

At last weekend, they'd done 20 milllion shares, with a targeted 27.5m to shift. Today, the float went ahead and shares were recently changing hands for $16, up 6.7 percent, from initial price of $15 each, raising about $412.5 million.

It's a business model the Virgin Group is repeating around the world, focusing on the younger demographic. In the USA, the company built up 4.83 million customers over 6 years in its' joint venture with Sprint.

posted by John Wilson @ 8:24 PM Permanent Link ,

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Live music reaches new heights

A gig is being held at 18,100ft on Mount Everest for a cancer charity, Love Hope Strength Foundation. It will feature members of Squeeze and the Alarm.

posted by John Wilson @ 10:27 AM Permanent Link ,

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Windfall for property tycoons

Got a second home (or more) or have a portfolio of buy-to-let properties? If you did, you'd probably be aware any gains you made on selling the property would be taxed at 40% - only your main residence escapes tax.

But in the pre-budget statement on Tuesday, the tax rate was dropped to 18%, effective 6 April 2008. There are conditions, but you could reach odd conclusions about this
- the Govt is rewarding the "landed rich" : doesn't play well with natural supporters
- the Govt is rewarding landlords: This encourages turnover of property, not provision of rented accomodation
- the Govt is trying to avoid a downturn in property prices by propping up the groups that have lifted prices by offsetting higher interest rates

Its an odd one to be reducing the tax take on, especially when others quarters are screaming much louder.

posted by John Wilson @ 10:22 AM Permanent Link ,

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Money or Principle

Techcrunch has a report that Madonna has signed a $120million deal with L.A. based concert promotion firm Live Nation to distribute three studio albums, promote concert tours, sell merchandise and license Madonna’s name.

Hmmm. Do you think that the $120m may have swayed her more than the politics of the music industry? As for Live Nation, it seems an obvious steps to hire the performers directly to go on tours for them, with the albums simply being the promotion device. I suspect it won't be the last deal of this sort, albeit the sums involved may differ.

Total revenue (called "360 degree) deals aren't unusual - remember Robbie Williams did this a few years back. Likewise, Elton John has been doing a live nightly show in Las Vegas for years.


posted by John Wilson @ 9:09 AM Permanent Link ,

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Tentative steps with Twitter

Andrew Dubber encouraged me to overcome my scepticism and try Twitter ("everyone's doing it").

So I've enrolled and subscribed to a few people I know - Twitter lets you scour users by manual search or comparing your gmail address book. I also found a few more because they use the Facebook twitter application.

So I am signed up as John Wilson. Doubt I'll go as far as some with this, such as Steve Clayton who looks like he is going to have it integrated into his version of outlook with this


posted by John Wilson @ 9:01 AM Permanent Link ,

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Head of Ticketing at London Olympics 2012 announced

I was delighted to get a call yesterday from Paul Williamson to tell me has been appointed as Head of Ticketing for London 2012. Currently, Sales Director at Ticketmaster in Europe, I've gotten to know Paul over the last 6 months and respect his insight into the ticketing industry.

Despite being a Man Utd fan, he's actually a nice guy and has tons of knowledge and experience in sporting events. This is a great hire for London Olympics - pity he disagrees with me about e-tickets.

He tells me he is aiming to sell 99% of the Olympic tickets online, up on the 90% that Beijing have managed in their first round of ticket sales.

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

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Music inside gmail

Perhaps these things were always there, but I keep discovering new features in gmail. Today someone sent me an mp3 file attachment (legit as it was free distribution by the artist, before you ask) and gmail had a link to "play". I clicked on it and a new dialogue box opened and it played.

I've seen the feature to open a word doc and pdfs as html or google docs in the former case, but this was a new one on me.


posted by John Wilson @ 10:36 PM Permanent Link ,

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Your facebook friends pics in Outlook

If you live most of your life in Facebook (I don't, but know an increasing number that seem to), then you might like to try this windows freeware app that imports your facebook friends pics into Outlook and related devices, such that they will "pop up" whenever they communicate with you. I've yet to get it working on my blackberry 8800 or even in Outlook 2003 which it reportedly supports, but maybe soon :-(


posted by John Wilson @ 10:29 PM Permanent Link ,

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The minimalist approach

In response to a "design" comment left the other day, I've changed the design of the blog. No more pink!

I'll try it and see how I feel about it in a few days.

posted by John Wilson @ 2:56 PM Permanent Link ,

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Breaking up is never easy I know - Abba

You may have read that Snocap and CD:Baby have parted company. In case you are unaware, CD:Baby is effectively one of the world's largest music wholesalers, and even supplies about a third of iTunes catalogue. They have relationships with hundreds of thousands of artists, for whom they provide a wholesale distribution and retail CD shipping service.

I met their CEO a few weeks ago in London, with whom I've remained in touch. When I enquired about the Snocap breakup, he sent me a copy of a text he'd supplied to a music magazine about the news. Clearly, this is one-side of the story, but worth taking note of nonetheless

I learned a hard lesson this year:

Sometimes the best deal for everyone is no deal at all.

In December 2004 Snocap contacted CD Baby about being a part of our digital distribution program. They were a P2P fingerprinting service to help P2P services track and charge for music.

Since CD Baby has over 2.5 million songs directly from the artists, in full WAV format with all metadata, they wanted to import our catalog into their tracking system.

After almost two years in ongoing contract negotiations, in August 2006 Snocap completely changed their business plan to what you see today. Now they still wanted our entire digital distribution catalog, but it was to create Flash widget stores on MySpace, which sounded
like a great idea, so we said OK.

But there was one crucial hitch with this plan: our two options from Snocap were:
(1) - After delivering our entire catalog, step aside for the artists to deal with Snocap directly
(2) - After delivering our entire catalog, administer all activity through our site

The downside to #1 was the obvious "tell your 200,000 clients about us, then make them our clients for free, and get out of the way." The downside to #2 was that artists would have crippled accounts, unable to upload new material, change their pricing, or anything else.

But there's an important lesson learned, in hindsight: At this point we should have walked away, and chosen "neither". We felt screwed either way. But because of two years and thousands of dollars invested into these negotations, we chose option #2. We were assured
that #2 wouldn't be so bad, that any audio we sent them would be activated within hours, that we could send through pricing changes, and many other things.

Unfortunately, everything went about as wrong as could be. Artists had to go through a 21-step process to activate their accounts, which left us with thousands of daily confused emails from artists.

Furious artists trying to upload their songs into Snocap were wrongly told they can't because CD Baby "owns" their rights.

We had to hire 6 new full-time customer service people just to deal with the thousands of problems. We couldn't fix problems ourselves, because all the fixes had to be done by Snocap. So a thousand times a day we had to just helplessly apologize to our clients.

Every company meeting revolved around Snocap. Every employee had to be trained in the endless FAQ about Snocap. For the last 8 months, the CD Baby office has felt like a Snocap office. All we were doing, all day long, was dealing with Snocap issues.

Then the sales reports came in. $12,000 total sales for the 8 months they'd been active. Since we keep a 9% cut, that's $1080 for us, total. Ouch.

As a curiosity, I quietly enabled MP3 sales on, without telling anyone. A "buy MP3" button showing up next to the "buy CD" button. In 3 weeks, with no announcements, we sold over $110,000 in downloads. Hm.

We decided to do what we should have done in the first place: to choose "no deal" as the best deal for our artists. We told Snocap we needed completely out of the contract, at any cost. Luckily, they agreed. By breaking all ties with Snocap, our artists can go directly to Snocap with no conflicts at all, and we can free-up our 24 full-time customer service people to help our clients with other things besides Snocap issues.

We're happy with it, for obvious reasons. Snocap is happy to have the direct relationships with the artists. The artists are happy to have full control and one less middle-man.

And I share this tale with no hard feelings, for the few who have asked, "What happened?", and the many more that might recognize themselves in a similar situation, and remember that sometimes the best deal for everyone is no deal at all.

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posted by John Wilson @ 1:53 PM Permanent Link ,

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ReviewBasics - give me feedback

ReviewBasics is a feedback gathering platform which allows you to comment and review many types of creative, motion, and written content. The site looks slick, and I can imagine web-designers and designers might use this service to get feedback from their clients on their work. I'm less inclined to believe it will be a hit for written docs as there are many other collaboration tools that are more suitable for gathering feedback.

I've seen similar offerings before, but think ReviewBasics is definitely worth a try. Its in open beta, so is free to use presently - no idea what it will cost thereafter.

posted by John Wilson @ 8:58 AM Permanent Link ,

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I need more chips

It may be too early in the day, but if you are any good at maths or gambling try this quiz that is on Bloomberg.

Proposition bets (unique wagers on a specific outcome):
How many people do you need to have in a room for there to be a 50 percent chance that two of them have the same birthday?
a) 23 b) 37 c) 52

Thanks to Paul Kedrosky for the spot.

posted by John Wilson @ 7:44 AM Permanent Link ,

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Halo and Goodbye - Are you sure you want to be bought by a big company?

Roger Ehrenberg offers some thoughts about Microsoft's unbundling of Bungie Studios, the developers of Halo 3, who they bought several years back, likening it to the situation inside Investment Banks.

The headline is that Bungie have regained their independence with Microsoft retaining a small stake. But it is also the message that this sends about working inside Microsoft. No matter how "cool" the 5th column's "Blue Monster" may be, their exit says a few things including:

- it is a stiffling experience working inside Microsoft
- we weren't getting paid commensurate with our contribution

Now, I suspect Microsoft execs may not see it that way. But then they don't have to deal with the HR, Legal, PR.......teams that put procedural overload ahead of nimbleness.

Roger's Translation: it sucked for Bungie working inside Microsoft. Sure, it was great to get the money back in 2000, I mean, $20-$40 million is a lot of money for a bunch of developer nerdos. They made a rational economic decision - at the time. But creative types tend not to like rigid, overbearing, highly opinionated bureaucracies, and this dynamic caused the mutual benefits wear thin, pretty fast. Further, it was clear that Bungie was developing valuable IP for which they were likely not getting paid what they should, because every big company's argument is: "The success is largely due to our brand and PR might. Yeah, the game is good but without our backing it wouldn't have been nearly as successful." This is akin to the annual bonus confab that takes place at every bulge bracket firm which goes something like: "Yes, you generated a lot of revenues this year. But lets face it, our brand and franchise value got you a lot of those deals. So really, much of the revenues is attributable to the firm, not your skill." This is a fight that has been going on since time immemorial. But as it is with top teams, be they trading teams or development teams, they ultimately have the hammer. Because they can simply walk and say "No more (games/money) for you."

So be careful what you wish for in hoping to be snapped up by a big company - you became an entrepreneur to get away from the shackles of employment, and whilst you may get a big payday, you may also have to buckle down to big company hell for a few years to see it materialise.


posted by John Wilson @ 5:48 PM Permanent Link ,

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Make that a Big Meeting with fries

Wow - say Goodbye Starbucks and Hello MacDonalds.

Well not quite, but McDonalds is going to put free wifi in most of its 1,200 UK outlets by the end of the year, making it the biggest UK wifi provider according to the Guardian

Could this mean that "hoodies" get pushed out from loitering in the restaurants by geeks & suits weilding laptops. (or will this be a more convenient location for muggings).

I'm not sure they know what they are letting themselves in for:

Faced with the prospect of young people spending hours surfing the net after buying just a single cup of coffee, a spokesman for McDonald's said: "We would be comfortable with that. There will be no restrictions."

I do hope they will be installing more power outlets for customers!

Funnily enough, on the way home from Future of Web Apps last week, I popped in for a pint at the Fox. It didn't have wifi, which prompted my colleague and I to chat about how easy it would have been for the owners to put free wifi in there, the cost of which we believed would be quickly recouped from incremental sales from conference attendees. Why more places don't do it beats me - gets my custom over non-wifi establishments every time.


posted by John Wilson @ 5:34 PM Permanent Link ,

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Ending the secondary market for tickets

During a discussion I was recently involved in, a promoter was ranting about secondary market operators and touts. As far as he was concerned, firms like Seatwave and Viagogo were parasites that were ripping off customers and should be outlawed through legislation. Leaving aside that they just provide the platform for the trade and don't set the prices, I'd heard this argument many times before, so responded that secondary markets were an important part of making the primary market, in my "City" world.

He responded that firms such as Ticketmaster were providing mechanisms for customers to trade in their tickets but had to concede that such services meant the customer always lost money once initial and trade-in charges had been taken account of.

I enquired why the promoters didn't offer their own exchange policy, but knew that they don't want to take the added risk of being unable to resell them. I also mentioned that selling tickets above face value often meant simply trying to recoup booking charges, and as an aside, why didn't promoters simply charge a high face value and pay the ticket fulfilment firms out of this?

Anyway, I asked him if I could provide the industry with a sure-fire way to kill-off the secondary market that didn't require legislation, what would the industry pay for this miracle cure? And no, I wasn't suggesting that bands auction off their tickets and scalp the public themselves.

I felt the solution was simple : e-ticketing.

The reason is simple - most people wouldn't have confidence to part with money for a hard-copy of an email; when there is no barrier to many copies being made on a cheap printer, who could be sure that the ticket was a valid one, except for the original purchaser from the primary issuer. For someone buying a second-hand ticket, you would only know it was valid when you got to the venue to have your e-ticket scanned. Would you take the risk?

Of course, if you had bought the ticket from a friend, you might trust them. But from a stranger or on a secondary market? No chance.

Whilst there is an one-off cost of setting up venues with hand-held scanners (relative cheap) etc, this would be a pittance for an industry determined to be rid of touts. Moreover, e-ticketing is cheaper than printed tickets (security paper, postage). And the larger venues are normally the most affected by touts.

E-tickets are in use but aren't widespread yet, partly because customers like the "feel of a ticket" - if the industry is serious, perhaps it should act to make them so and kill off its' "enemy".

posted by John Wilson @ 3:52 PM Permanent Link ,

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Hey, where's my car?

Having posted about Mint, and the notion of giving your financial details and passwords to a new web start-up, I was reminded of the concerns I had regarding the airport meet and greet service I used earlier this year, and which I posted about here.

In short, I was very apprehensive about handing over my credit card information to a web site and my car keys +car to a stranger.

GULP - that company is no longer operating and evidently failed to pay their web designer.

Heaven knows what happened to the people that had already left their cars with the service when it stopped operating. After all, if you left your car with them the day before they ceased trading, then what happened when you returned 2 weeks later?


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Some people clearly like the smell of Mint

Financial aggregation services that consolidate your financial data from multiple banks and brokers in one place e.g. First Direct in the UK, have been around for sometime.

For such services to operate, you have to provide them with your log-in details to those other institutions and rely on them using them appropriately, not to mention holding them securely. Typically, institutions offering this facility provide "indemnities" against misuse to re-assure you, since in most instances you've almost certainly invalidated any security warranties offered by the banks they are accessing ("Have you shared your details with anyone else?").

But in most cases, people are happy to trust bank with their details. Ok, so how about a new web start-up that wants all the same details? Are you crazy, who'd be that gullible? Surely to provide such info to an "unknown" website would outdo the stupidity of people that send money to email scams. Well, according to Techcrunch,

" just the past three weeks, Mint has already helped "organise" more than $2 billion worth of people’s personal financial accounts, and identified more than $40 million in potential savings for those members. (Mint helps you find better interest rates on bank accounts, credit cards, and other financial products). At one point, Mint was signing up a new member every five seconds. Not bad for a service from a previously-unknown startup that asks for access to all of your private financial data, including your bank and credit-card accounts.

—That $2 billion is spread across 50,000 registered users.
—About 70 percent (or 35,000) have come back more than once.
—Those who have been in the system at least a week (including beta testers), visit 2-3 times a week.
—About 10 percent (or 5,000) come to the site every day.
—And 10 percent have signed up for mobile alerts."

Perhaps I shouldn't be astonished. People can be very trusting and I've no grounds to question the honesty of Mint etc, nor am I doing so. Moreover, perhaps some of the data supplied by users is possibly fictitious, but any information that has been sourced ("scrapped") from bank accounts can't be.

Consequently, realising my error of judgement, I am pleased to announce that if anyone would like to share their bank details and related security info with me, I shall be pleased to review your accounts etc. Of course, there will be a nominal fee for such a service but that will be automatically collected from your account and you need not worry your pretty little head with such details, because I shall probably save you lots of cash, with which you can get even more counselling.

Joking aside, the underlying value from gathering such info is immense, since the aggregator can begin to build "buying groups" for financial products e.g. bulk buy financial products on behalf of users. This should generate cheaper prices for users, whilst still allowing the aggregator to take a fee in the middle.

Unrelated point, Mint is a clever name - easy to remember; sounds financial (royal mint); clean and fresh.

posted by John Wilson @ 8:48 AM Permanent Link ,

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Eclipse in Southern Hemisphere

At the start of Saturday, the obvious Rugby World Cup quarter final winners were going to be Australia and New Zealand, the latter being the tournament favourites, who would overcome lesser opposition in the form of England and France respectively.

Southern hemisphere dominance has almost been taken for granted since the last World Cup in 2003, when England beat Australia.

What a great pity that the Aussies and Kiwis got stage fright and forgot the script, leaving us with an England v France semi-final. And, South Africa almost completed the down-under misery by coming close to losing to a heroic Fijian team, now meeting Argentina in the other semi-final.

It has been a thrilling tournament, with some fantastic rugby. Could the fairy tale continue with England v Argentina in the final?

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DimDim - YumYum

I have to take back my mocking words about DimDim, the Open Source web conferencing company. Having just received my invite to the beta, I was blown away with the breadth of facilities tucked inside this stylish yet FREE web conference service.

It's felt like I'd encountered the next evolutionary cycle of web conference tools - the offspring of vyew and zoho meeting. It's got some great features including
As a Presenter only a browser plugin is needed while Attendees do not need to install anything, as they can watch via flash, which puts Yugma at a disadvantage as it requires an install. Similarly, Yuuguu is not as functionally rich at this time. Whilst vyew does offer most of the above features with the notable exception of video/audio, I always found the desktop sharing to be flaky.

It certainly looks good enough to give DimDim a try as my primary web conference tool, with zoho as a back-up.

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The idiocy of M&S Insurance Services [Low Marks & Stupid]

If there is one thing that irks me it is the smokescreen used by companies under the heading of the "Data Protection Act".

I rang M&S (along with many other companies) to get a travel insurance quote for my elderly mother-in-law who has a pre-existing medical condition. After taking some details they declare that because of the Data Protection Act, they can only discuss "medical conditions" with her.

What rubbish - I was the person providing them with the medical details, so there was no issue re disclosure on their part. Moreover, I have had no issue with the other 10 companies I have called for a quote (you have to ring through if it is a pre-existing medical condition).

So I ask them to humour me and continue running through the quote so that if it is price competitive she can "speak to them in person". Guess what - absolutely not Sir as I could lose my job. Perhaps I was dealing with an idiot, so I called again and spoke to a different person. Same response.

So, there you go, institutionalised idiocy. I was calling for a quotation, but evidently M&S don't factor in helping little old ladies!

posted by John Wilson @ 11:01 AM Permanent Link ,

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Can you see envy in my Face(book)

Dave Morin who is the "Platform Manager" at Facebook made reference to the following Facebook stats during his Future of Web Apps speech:


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He may be a Charlatan, but he's smart

In case you didn't look at the link I posted re The Charlatans making their next album a free download, I thought the rationale from their manager was interesting:

McGee said the band "could not lose" from the revolutionary approach. "We looked at the deal we were being offered by Sanctuary and said, 'Let's just do it ourselves'. We increase our fan base, we sell more merchandise, more fans talk about the band and we get more advertising and more films (soundtracks). More people will get into the the Charlatans and will probably pay the money to see the show. I presume it will double the gig traffic, maybe even treble it." He put the suggestion to the band's singer, Tim Burgess, who immediately agreed, and the rest of the band were subsequently persuaded to go along with the plan. Burgess said: "CD sales are on the decline and for any one copy sold there are nine copied from that. The future is in playing live." The Charlatans have a November tour lined up to coincide with the release.

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Paying for London's Crossrail

The City of London (as opposed to wider London) is to contribute £350m to the Crossrail development according to press reports today.

Leaving aside ability to pay, its interesting that only 2 stations will actually lie inside the City boundaries out of 36 in the £16bn scheme. But if you do the maths, looks like the City got a cheap share of the bill.

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Mashup Demo cont

Meecard allows you to leave personalised calling cards around the web that exposes your online residences to anyone interested.

Rollsense provides relevant links to related content to the readers of your blog based on a) your blogroll b) recommendations from rollsense based on traffic flows. Ad funded, they offer revenue share to the blog owner. aggregates blogs and provides content themed channels. Amongst its features one stood out which was the ability to reply within the rss reader without having to navigate to the blog page.

Kwiqq provides a social network platform to third parties on a white label basis. Example clients include First Choice holiday's brands 20wenties. It provides a "MySpace" like experience/facility for a brand looking to hang onto their customers.

Tipped is a local search directory that relies on trust network recommendations. Optimised for the mobile, its only 3 weeks old. Users can post comments, ratings and reviews on listings, as well as friending others.

Edocr won my award for "most confusing" presentation. As far as I can tell, Edocr offers document collaboration on web pages using flash. But who knows! claims you can watch tv for free on the internet. Like Tioti, they scour the internet for material but differ in that they allow you to watch it within their site on their own flash player. Programmes are supplemented with info about programmes inc reviews, bios. Users can create profiles and maintain details and links to favourite programmes. The site also has 720 live streams fed through the site. This was the most visually impressive demo, albeit I wonder how much legal content is actually out there you can watch.

Blognation Japan launches today, with Russia and Spain next week.

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Mashup demo companies

Serena kicked off proceeding with a canned 1min video and I'm not sure what they do!

Mobestar, from Bristol, focusses on mobile social networking. Providing an environment that can bolt onto existing web communities, on top of the usual tools they offer p2p anonymous calling between members. All without the need to install software on the phone.

15secondTV places you in a video! They superimpose your face on a person in a film clip - can't believe there's no copyright infringement issues here.

BabelTV is launching a PVR that also connects to the internet and a host of other devices. Its "an appliance" not a computer apparently with files stored on a central server that are uploaded in the background. Their devices are £295 but acknowledge they need a) to hit £200 mark and b) get big distribution partners.

Welovelocal focusses on local searches that use friend recommendations to priorities/filter results. Nothing new here, move along please.

Rummble provides customised search to mobile phones that is location aware with an embedded trust network.

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Mashup demo

Just popped into Mashup Demo which is giving 15 companies three minutes each to pitch their venture.

The venue is an sub-surface nightclub in Picadilly, more used to throbbing beats than geeking treats.

The audience is surprisingly few in number and easily surpassed by the volume of exhibitors. It's especially surprising given that the event is on the eve of future of web apps and precedes the Blognation Official Launch party which is being held at the same venue.

There's a few familiar companies on stage but many new ones for me too. I hope interesting revelations will burst through the venue's dark setting and bring more animation from the laptop illuminated faces around the room.

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"Hot" Spice

Tickets for the Spice Girls' comeback concert in London sold out in just 38 seconds, the show's organisers announced on Monday.

Demand was so overwhelming -- more than one million people in Britain registered for the sole London show -- that organisers added three more London dates to the tour.

It's a shame Promoters are unable/unwilling to satisfy this sort of demand - did they simply under-estimate likely demand; were they unwilling to take the necessary financial bet on the demand; is the hype of being so over-subscribed more valuable?

Perhaps the demand could be uncovered first and then the supply arranged - that's what we're hoping one of our recent investments will help with. It will launch soon and when it does you'll be one of the first to know all the juicy details.

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Skype - a massive write-off

The success story of Skype - it's free, it has over 200m registered users and in 2005 the owners walked away with a cool $2.6bn for their trouble and have been feted as heroes ever since.

But the question that has been doing the rounds in the markets for a while is "was it fools gold"?

“It has seemed relatively clear that Skype has underperformed even modest expectations for the last two years,” said Derek Brown, an analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald.

And based on today's write down of $1.48bn and the "elevation" of Niklas Zennstrom, a co-founder of Skype, and chief executive of the division to non-exec Chairman, ebay seems to have formed its' own view on the question.

Adotas has the story here

Still, the former investors will care even less thanks to eBay paying a onetime $530 million fee to to settle the revenue incentives, which increases Skype’s total acquisition price to $3.1 billion.


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TuneSquare - defintely not square

Ad-funded download service are bursting out all over. TuneSquare has a new take-on the matter though.

Unsigned acts supply content that you can play and rate on the site, as well as download. The smart thing is that whilst you listen, the site plays video ads in a stylish player. Of course, you can be listening whilst viewing a different browser tab, but that's no different from ignoring commercials on the TV etc.

As they report on the site "Our business model works by showing a flash-advertisement during the time a song is played. 50 percent of the total monthly ad revenues, from both flash and static advertisements on the site, is divided by the total number of downloads all songs receive during the same period."

What's interesting about that element is that is you only qualify for a share of revenue if your track is downloaded, not if it is listened to on the site, even though the revenue is generated when the tracks are played on the site.

It might be fairer to also add in time spent on an artist's page as well, which is obviously measurable.

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Donations to Radiohead's latest project invited

Techdirt has some intriguing news here about Radiohead inviting fans to name their price for the new album - you pay what you think it's worth.

With a marginal cost of zero, anything "donated" is a positive contribution. But the smart move is in offering an "upsell", to a whole boxed set of additional goodies.

This trickle is starting to swell - The Charlatans are planning to let the public download their latest album too for free according to this report.

In disintermediating the record companies, I've had it suggested to me that bands may struggle to get the same radio airtime that the pluggers employed by labels work to get for artists. Yet a well known act is probably going to get airtime regardless, provided the music is good - ultimately, radio programme controllers are judged by audience figures and not who they kept sweet at a label.


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The Millenium Stadium in Wales is to be renamed

Thanks to Hal for pointing me towards this first news item, which I'm sure wasn't prompted by my comments on the capabilities of the Welsh Rugby Defence.

Meanwhile, in other news from Wales, the new choral champions have just released their latest track

"And Finally", it's good to see a winning team originating in Wales

If only Dewi read this blog. Hawkeye, perhaps you can spread the word.

Thanks to the Penderyn Distillery and the agency for these!


posted by John Wilson @ 2:06 PM Permanent Link ,

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Wow - Mashable has a report that, the Internet version of the Financial Times, is instituting a new model for free and paid content on its website. Starting tomorrow, users will be able to access content on for free up to a total of 30 views per month. After 30 days, they will need to purchase a subscription in order to access more content.

This is a incredibly quick response to the move by the Wall Street Journal, following the acquisition by Murdoch, to make its content available for free.

FT had been one of the few content sites to successfully charge for its' content in an online environment.

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US based Netbank becomes "Nyet"Bank

Netbank was one of the earliest internet only banks, launched in the 1990s in the US, but soon found itself with lots of competitors as bricks and mortar banks launched their own services.

Well, it has become the latest casualty of the credit crunch and the FDIC in the US has closed the bank, after it was hit with high mortgage default rates.

In the USA, the FDIC insures bank accounts up to $100,000. Unfortunately, depositors had no warning that the bank was to close or even that it was in trouble, as was the case with Northern Rock where depositors took no chances. The consequence was that more than a few people had more than $100,000 in their accounts. Apparently the total excess was $109 million in accounts and these depositors now rank as unsecured creditors who will have to get in line with everyone else.

All of the insured accounts are going to be transferred to ING.

Similar to Northern Rock, the internet service is the first and fastest service to have the shutters drawn when the bank hits trouble, leaving customers with no where to turn to.

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AideRSS - not aiding my RSS reading

Hmmmm. I so wanted AideRSS to work well for me and it looked promising so perhaps I've failed to configure it correctly but using the generated personalised feed it provides within Google Reader and
- the posts served up don't tell me who the author is, without looking at the links
- there's no mechanism to report which feeds/posts you like and dislike from within the RSS reader
- feeds that would appear in full are only providing headings in some instances
- within AideRSS site itself, I only seem to be able to rank feeds, rather than provide feedback on the posts

Am I missing something here? Welcome any guidance or suggestions

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