I’ve stopped publishing on this blog

…but I am keeping it like it is, like a kind of internet museum of the early 2000s.

You can find occasional articles I write (mostly on tech, startups & entrepreneurship):

BusinessDay (Paywalled)

Ventureburn

Medium

Contact or follow me on:

@matthewbuckland

The future of social networking – a concept investigation with Augmented Reality

Here are some concept designs that myself and ace designer Philip Langley put our heads together to create. It’s an investigation into how social networking may work in the future, focusing on mobile and augmented reality (AR).

Our investigations were inspired in particular by these brilliant (AR) concept drawings which I often use in presentations I give. There are some crude, but fascinating, implementations around too that inspired us.

After some brainstorming and quite a few mockups, we came up with the below. Admittedly AR is the new hype. But you can see how valuable (and scary) this could be when applied to a social networking paradigm. It assumes amazing resolutions, facial and object recognition, and more accurate GPS — none of these far off.

(NOTE: I’ve had quite a few requests regarding useage rights of these images. You’re welcome to use them in any form, so long as you credit and link back where feasible!)


[ Larger image (95k) | Hi Res image (8mb) ] Imagine holding up your phone or other digital device against a person you’ve just met or passing by. You’d instantly have information returned about that person within seconds, gleaned from an automatic web, public profile and social network search. You’d discover common friends, talking points — and then have the ability to add him/her to your network. Using a semantic scan, you’d discover negative or positive comments on Google or elsewhere relating to this individual. (Don’t mention that job at Microsoft or that time in Europe!) It would be instant insight into the guy standing right in front of you.


[ Larger image (86k) | Hi Res image (7mb)] Tapping into public databases and directories, discover who lives where and if and how you are connected — then call them, email them, add them to your network right then and there. Get other news about the suburb and other socio-economic information. If they’re part of your network — what are they saying about their suburb or the best pizza joint in the area?


[ Larger image (102k) | Hi Res image (6mb) ] You’d be able to hold up your phone in a crowded room and work out who is connected to who. You could instantly gauge your primary and secondary networks and work out instantly who you should chat to, what the conversation points are — and who you should avoid. Where are the cliques. Whose an outsider? What’s the buzz. We’ll never forget a name again.

Goodbye to privacy
Privacy is already an issue of concern now and for our digital future. We’re still working out the ethical and moral framework around this. We may even see a backlash from society angry at this intrusion.

It may however end up being ok because you will (mostly) be in control — you could refuse access to SN’s, don’t tweet, assume personas etc. But there will be information about you that you won’t be able to control too. There’ll be inevitable abuse and misuse of the information, which is probably manageable.

However more importantly — from a privacy perspective almost everyone will be mostly in the same boat. We may evolve into a society that’s highly transparent and accountable. Don’t know whether to laugh or cry.*

* UPDATE: @pluronymous in the comments below correctly pointed out that there’s more to this. I’m often (rightly) accused of neglecting the dystopian view. It may very well be too idealistic to suggest that a loss of privacy as a result of the web and the social networking revolution would be ok because it would mean we’d evolve into a “transparent” and “accountable” society. While persuasive, this may be idealistic. We could also in turn become a paranoid and distrustful society, always worrying about what our friends and neighbours will find out about us from a web or social network search.

I do think it’s comforting that: 1) to some extent you’re in control by limiting your profile information on most networks and failing that the “delete” button looms large; and 2) everyone will mostly be in the same boat. But then again there’s always going to be information outside our control…

New Jack Parow video

Afrikaner-Gangsta** rapper Jack Parow makes me laugh out loud… ie “Ek is America, jy’s Iraq”… I mean, where does he come up with this crap?

I wish I had a better handle of Afrikaans, but I manage to pick up most of it –the videos are hilarious. He should consider singing a few more in the international language… I reckon he could go viral like Die Antwoord if it hit the spot.

** Gangsta in the leafy suburban-Stellenbosch sense of the word.

Video below and linketjie here:

Save Cape Town City Ballet!

I’m from an artistic family — and I love the arts. My father is an actor, my mother runs a drama company in the Eastern Cape, my younger brother Daniel is a Joburg-based actor and my other younger brother a philosophy doctorate genius in the States.

So this cause in particular appeals to me. It’s with great sadness though that I have to write this post. I received a mail from Sue Rutherford appealing for help to save Cape Town City Ballet, a 75-year-old institution. It’s is in trouble. Unless it receives urgent and significant funding, the company is in very real danger of being forced to close its doors in the near future.

The site is appealing for donations. Donate now!

Introducing memeburn.com (Really this time)

It’s been an interesting couple of months. I started memeburn in December last year. Funnily enough I did the first install and the first lines of custom code while I was in the inspirational setting of Paris, at Le Web. In fact quite a bit of the critical work was also done at Charles De Gaulle airport (of all places).

I found the domain name around about January, I had spent three months looking at options and using various domain tools to come up with creative solutions. I eventually found “memeburn” lying inconspicuously in the text of a small New York-based marketing blog — the owner of which was moaning about the increasing “memeburn” he’s being seeing on Twitter. The other name I had ready was memecube.com, as well as five others that never made the grade.

It’s been a long time since I’ve put on my propeller cap to code, but I started hacking the PHP, HTML and CSS myself. This last month it’s been late night after late night trying to pull everything together. Tim Gane and Daniel Bailey of Creative Spark have been key guys on this project. Dan has been our PHP guru, diving in to do the complex stuff and doing amazing work with our adserver. Tim has held it together from a project and content point of view. My old friend Vincent Maher also helped me with the early design work, font choices and been a good counter-foil to bounce the odd idea around.

We haven’t had so much fun and stress in a long time. I didn’t care that we were working until 4am in the morning for many nights. We’re doing what we enjoy.

We’ve been blown away at the enthusiastic reception the site has received from the tech community. A good reception also translates into a good deal of pressure too. We love pressure. Bring it on.

We now have around 60 top quality analysis and insight articles on tech, social media and online media trends. We collected these over a two-month period from some very busy, and some very influential people in the technology and media industry and related fields. There are key people that we still need to talk to, and some that are in the process of coming onboard. It’s kudos to them and testament to their desires to grow the industry — people put their money where their mouths are. Call me naive, but I don’t see competitors — I see an ecosystem.

Some facts about memeburn:

  • We have more than 60 opinion pieces from emerging leaders, influencers and leaders in the tech and online sector;
  • Some names who have contributed include: Steve Newton (Head of Google SA); US ambassador to SA (Donald Gips); Basheera Khan (Techcrunch); Brendan Jack of Crazy Monkey; Rob Stokes of Quirk; Rob Van Vuuren aka Twakkie; More here
  • It will cater for the broader emerging market, but will have the obvious local bias to start off with;
  • It is not “another Thought Leader” but something entirely different: we’ll be carrying news too plus gadget reviews;
  • Memejobs: is a job resource for a particular kind of person and a particular kind of company — The kind of person who likes working in a startup, where work in this industry is passion and 9-5s have no meaning;
  • Initially we started serving the ads on OpenX, but at the last moment switched to Google ad manager, thanks to a conversation I had with Charl Norman;
  • We completed changed the header template just two days before the launch because we felt the site was too “bloggy”, whereas we want a hybrid blog-traditional publisher feel.
  • It’s on wordpress. I have a love affair with wordpress. We started off with a simple base template, which has now been hacked beyond recognition.
  • The site has a forum section. For me this is back to the future, but forums have incredible community value. I’m going to be interested to see how it works out…
  • We are not happy with our serving situation — and are watching keenly for performance and speed issues. Hope the site holds (watch this space);
  • It’s launching with advertising, Mweb (who have been fairly savvy in targeting bloggers with their latest Uncapped ADSL announcement), Thusa (Durban based startup), Cobii Interactive, Yola and iBurst
  • In between the hecticness of Memeburn, Shaun De Waal of the Mail & Guardian asked me to write a 1,000 word piece on my time running the Mail & Guardian Online for a book that is to be published. I ended up writing 4500 words. Then add to that setting up Creative Spark with Tim and Dan and finishing off at 24.com;
  • I’ve been speaking to Dan Gillmor and Dave Sifry — who have indicated they are keen — but I still need to receive their pieces (nudge, nudge) 🙂
  • I tried to get unusal writers in different fields, ie anthropologists writing about social networks. I tried to bring on emerging writers and I tried to ensure a diversity of backgrounds on the site — not just the usual faces;
  • My less personal blog posts have been moved from this blog to memeburn as an archive;
  • I released the beta url by mistake three weeks ago on a closed list of some of the top tech journalists in the country. Not everyone noticed, because it was hidden away — but we saw a rapid spike of 90 uninvited visitors the following day. No one has said anything. Very polite.
  • I’m not sure if I’ve got one child or two: I think their names are Isabel and Stella. I owe them big. I owe my wife Bridget big too;
  • This here blog will redirect to memeburn for a while at a later stage. My own name will carry more personal blogs in the future. Industry stuff will be written on Memeburn.
  • It launched lastnight.

#SpeakZA: In protest against the ANC Youth League

Last week, shocking revelations concerning the activities of the ANC Youth League spokesperson Nyiko Floyd Shivambu came to the fore. According to a letter published in various news outlets, a complaint was laid by 19 political journalists with the Secretary General of the ANC, against Shivambu. This complaint letter detailed attempts by Shivambu to leak a dossier to certain journalists, purporting to expose the money laundering practices of Dumisani Lubisi, a journalist at the City Press. The letter also detailed the intimidation that followed when these journalists refused to publish these revelations.

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the reprisals against journalists by Shivambu. His actions constitute a blatant attack on media freedom and a grave infringement on Constitutional rights. It is a disturbing step towards dictatorial rule in South Africa. We call on the ANC and the ANC Youth League to distance themselves from the actions of Shivambu. The media have, time and again, been a vital democratic
safeguard by exposing the actions of individuals who have abused their positions of power for personal and political gain.

The press have played a vital role in the liberation struggle, operating under difficult and often dangerous conditions to document some of the most crucial moments in the struggle against apartheid. It is therefore distressing to note that certain people within the ruling party are willing to maliciously target journalists by invading their privacy and threatening their colleagues in a bid to silence them in their legitimate work.

We also note the breathtaking hubris displayed by Shivambu and the ANC Youth League President Julius Malema in their response to the letter of complaint. Shivambu and Malema clearly have no respect for the media and the rights afforded to the media by the Constitution of South Africa. Such a response serves only to reinforce the position that the motive for leaking the so-called dossier was not a legitimate concern, but a insolent effort to intimidate and bully a journalist who had exposed embarrassing information about the Youth League President.

We urge the ANC as a whole to reaffirm its commitment to media freedom and other Constitutional rights we enjoy as a country.

Bloggers who are involved in the protest:

http://thoughtleader.co.za/siphohlongwane
http://rwrant.co.za
http://vocfm.co.za/blogs/munadia/
http://vocfm.co.za/blogs/shafiqmorton/
http://blogs.news24.com/needpoint
http://capetowngirl.co.za
http://thoughtleader.co.za/sentletsediakanyo
http://thoughtleader.co.za/davidjsmith
http://letterdash.com/one-eye-only
http://boyuninterrupted.blogspot.com
http://amandasevasti.com
http://blog.empyrean.co.za/
http://letterdash.com/brencro
http://6000.co.za
http://chrisroper.co.za
http://pieftw.com
http://hamishpillay.wordpress.com
http://memoirs4kimya.blogspot.com
http://thoughtleader.co.za/azadessa
http://watkykjy.co.za
http://fredhatman.co.za
http://thelifeanddeathchronicles.blogspot.com/
http://blogs.timeslive.co.za/common-dialogue/
http://www.clivesimpkins.blogs.com/
http://mashadutoit.wordpress.com
http://nicharalambous.com
http://sarocks.co.za
http://blogs.timeslive.co.za/stompies/
http://helenmoffett.book.co.za/blog/
http://01universe.blogspot.com
http://groundwork.worpress.com
http://iwrotethisforyou.me
http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za
http://attentiontodetail.wordpress.com
http://blogs.women24.com/editor
http://www.missmillib.blogspot.com
http://snowgoose.co.za
http://dreamfoundry.co.za
http://www.vanoodle.blogspot.com
http://www.exmi.co.za
http://cat-dubai.blogspot.com
http://alistairfairweather.com
http://www.zanedickens.com
http://www.nickhuntdavis.com
http://guysa.blogspot.com
http://book.co.za
http://baldy.co.za
http://skinnylaminx.com
http://blogs.african-writing.com/zukiswa
http://www.mielie.wordpress.com
http://blogs.timeslive.co.za/gatherer/
http://thoughtleader.co.za/sarahbritten
http://stii.co.za
http://blogs.news24.com/FSB_AP
http://twistedkoeksuster.blogspot.com
http://whensmokegetsinyoureyes.blogspot.com/
http://trinklebean.wordpress.com
http://commentry.wordpress.com/
http://matthewbuckland.com
http://blogs.news24.com/colour-me-fran
http://gormendizer.co.za

New pastures, new startup

I’ve resigned as Head of 20FourLabs to focus on building a new Cape Town and Joburg-based startup. I joined 24.com in 2008 from the Mail & Guardian Online, initially as the GM of Publishing and then went on to set up Labs.

I’m going to miss 24.com and the Labrats. My resignation is as a result of a long-standing need to go on my own and start my own thing. I’ve lost count how many times people have asked me “why aren’t you on your own?” — so I’ve decided to finally take the hint 🙂

20FourLabs has been a special experience. Probably the most recent highlight for all of us was scooping the continent-wide Nokia Innovators Competition for our Afridoctor app — one of those ideas sourced organically from within the division and then the sizable award money split amongst staff. There are now some plans afoot to take the app to the next level, but to top it all off — it’s a mobile app that potentially can make a real difference to millions of lives.

I feel I can write a book about starting and running what is essentially an entrepreneurally-minded division in a corporate setting. We got some things right, many things wrong too. This is not a particularly new phenomenon: These types of Labs’ initiatives are popping up all over the world in big corporates under various guises and names, but all have the same goal at heart: build quickly, build cheaply, cut the complication, cut the crap, go for simplicity. As companies get big, controls and processes are necessary to manage complexity. Although necessary, they often can work against innovation and add cost to innovation, which in turn reduces appetite for risk. So it’s question of working out: For which projects do you change these rules and at what stage in their lifecycle?

We also know the barrier to-entry, particularly when it comes to online business and online publishing, is plummeting. We just don’t have the distribution and production costs in an online environment that traditional businesses face. It means that garage start-ups have the potential to go big, quickly and on a shoestring. A low-cost startup can make it huge, and to some extent has the same opportunities as a resource-endowed giant. That’s the theory. Of course it doesn’t always work out like that. The benefit of being part of a multinational group is being part of a big, influential human and resource-rich product network. The entrepreneur-corporate partnerships are often the partnerships that flourish.

It’s been an amazing experience — and I thank JP Farinha, 24.com CEO, for continuing to give us the room to experiment and for showing faith in the division. I enjoyed working with the 24.com exco — notable for meetings filled with robust discussion and debate. I’ve also enjoyed the “hands on” approach and the several ops meetings we’ve had with the Naspers and Media24 executive, including Koos Bekker, Antonie Roux, and Francois Groepe and co. I’m pretty sure I did the first ever Prezi presentation for one of these meetings too 🙂

Silicon Cape
Being part of the Silicon Cape also played its part in pushing me to make this move and forge my own destiny. We don’t need to look far to see how many inspiring entrepreneurs there are here — and I get a real sense that it’s a sector that is starting to take off. We’ve been a bit behind. We’ve been shackled by poor broadband that underachieves when stacked up against the middle-income weight of the country’s economy and many world-leading industries here. But this is starting to change…

20FourLabs
Kevin Cupido, the Labs’ Ops Manager, now takes over as the acting head of a division of some of the most talented people I know. There are more than 30 product managers and developers that make up the division, which also includes the guys at Blueworld. Labs now has more than 20 projects on the go — probably a bit too many — but we just couldn’t help ourselves :-).

Imminent launches include a new Air-based desktop content-sharing app — championed by Blueworld — which has become a remarkable workshopped evolution in content-sharing, from what was initially conceived as a basic RSS reader. Other projects include Utterbuzz, a Twitter aggregator, the new 24.com, 24.mobi, 24.com mobile sites and Letterdash — and some more. The current products are being optimised and expanded, including Afridoctor, flirtaroo.mobi and the various mobile applications we built. I’m sad not to see the fruition of the Hub, which is coming along nicely, but it’s in extremely good hands and evolving in a unique direction.

Creative Spark and Memeburn.com
And so after 24.com, I’ll be dedicating my time to establishing a relatively new venture, Creative Spark — a new digital agency and consultancy based in Cape Town and Joburg. More will be revealed about the venture and the people involved when appropriate. I’ll also be taking some time to focus on the various companies and ventures I have interests in.

Also watch out for the launch of Memeburn, a new resource on tech trends, innovation and startup news covering the emerging market sector worldwide. It’s aimed unashamedly at the tech elite and those interested in innovation — think of it as a Mashable/Techcrunch for emerging market tech. It’s been the result of many nights and there are some industry leaders associated with it, including some big international names — again which will be revealed at an appropriate time.

Lastly, I want to say thank you to everyone at 24.com, Media24, MIH and Naspers for some great working relationships and times. It’s been an inspiring time and I’ve worked with some inspiring people. There is no doubt that our paths will cross again and again and again.

The Fowl Language ad, by Nandos

With reference to the “Fuck you” by Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Dianne Kohler-Barnard in Parliament last week, the sharp advertising minds at Nandos released this advertisement, which I thought was very clever:

Why Google Buzz will work, sort of

So we have another social/microblogging/lifestreaming service, called Google Buzz. It is, without doubt, Google’s boldest social play yet. Despite dominating pretty much all the key areas of the internet, it’s no secret that social is one area that has eluded the search giant so far.
Orkut, its social network, has largely failed to catch the world’s imagination (although apparently it’s big in Brazil). Google latitude came and went. Many, myself included, have yet to quite figure out a reason to care about Google Wave, where it fits, or rather: what it is exactly. Today, Wave still remains a highly-geeked out curiosity — and I predict it will probably stay that way.
There’s a feeling, one I agree with, that unlike Google’s other poor attempts at social — this latest will most likely work. And that’s largely down to the Gmail integration, the simple user interface, and the initial auto-following — removing the initial fatigue factor, getting you right into it.
But along with Buzz comes more noise, more distraction, less time. Less valuable time. Buzz’s most valuable feature, may also be its most irritating. Without a doubt it was a genius move to house Google Buzz in Gmail. It makes sense because this is where most of our communication happens, so why not see your “buzzes” there too? (Is that what we’ll call them?).
In fact, by making Buzz part of our email, Google may be taking micro-blogging/lifestreaming to more of a mainstream audience. Those who never found reason to tweet, may now find a reason to buzz.
On the other hand our email boxes are cluttered places these days, so we don’t need more distraction and more noise — no matter how pithy a buzz or a tweet. No of course we don’t, but the answer to this probably lies in personal discipline and improving algorithms that filter important conversations in a more sophisticated way. Look forward to that day.

What I like about Buzz:
  • Integration with email
  • Auto following
  • Public and private sharing
  • The mobile site
  • Relatively clean UI
  • Takes microblogging/lifestreaming more mainstream
  • That its a Google product
What I dislike about Buzz:
  • Integration with email.
  • The vanilla, non-descript name. Boring, UnGoogle.
  • It’s not easy to link Buzz to your Twitter and Facebook statuses.
  • The Buzz UI on your Google Profile account is hidden away, too low down the page.
  • The split functionality between your profile and Gmail — meaning you have Buzz settings in two areas (ie needing to link your other social media sites to your profile)
  • Twitter won because of its simplicity, Google Buzz could be simpler.

What I had for breakfast:
  • Thanks for asking: I ground some coffee beans for fresh coffee
  • Followed that up with some oats, with a dash of sugar, a dash of milk
  • Very tasty. Will keep me going nicely for the rest of the morning

How to add a Google Buzz share button to your wordpress blog

No doubt we’ll be graced with a plethora of plugins soon, but if you’re keen to add a Google Buzz button to your WordPress blog manually to share content (via Google Reader), here’s how I did it:

To get the buzz button image on your homepage posts you need to edit your theme’s Main Index Template (index.php). For it to appear on your posts you obviously need to edit Single Post (single.php)

Right after <h2><div class=”post”></h2> in both these files you need to paste the following code:

<div style=”float:right; margin-left:10px”><a href=”http://www.google.com/reader/link?url=<?php the_permalink(); ?>&title=<?php the_title(); ?>&srcURL=http://[YOURBLOGURLHERE]/” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow external”><img
src=”http://[YOURBLOGURLHERE]/google-buzz.png” width=”50″ height=”58″ alt=”” /></a></div>
Style as you need. I “borrowed” the image from Mashable (thanks Pete!). I suggest you do the same (take it from my blog here) and upload it to your own server. The article will be shared via your Google Reader account. It appears that this is the best way to do it at the moment. The “srcURL” part doesn’t work all that well. I’ll update this post as I get more time to check it out.
Make sure that you link your Google reader account with your Google profile, so that the share carries through to your Google buzz account too. Oh no! Not more noise!

Stopshop: A tale of exceptionally good service

It’s an unfortunate fact that bloggers/consumers/people rarely write about their good experiences when it comes to service. Maybe it’s because we expect it should be the norm. Maybe it’s because we don’t get good service that often. Maybe it’s just that bad service motivates us to write in that single moment of frustration in the hope we’ll cause corrective action?

I’m no consumer activist by any stretch, but I still chuckle about an old ABSA bank charges post of mine which still continues to be the third Google search result after the bank’s own official site. To this day, it sends my blog quite a bit of traffic and I’m sure it’s played a small part in its own way in influencing public perception. Interestingly, no response from the bank has been forthcoming either publicly or privately over it (I’m still a client there).

But this isn’t a post about bad service. It’s about a great experience I had with a local online shop, Stop Shop. I recently bought an LCD/DVD panel for my car because I noticed they had some pretty good deals (and pretty good SEO too) and I needed to replace my old car radio. Isabel decided to use it as a piggy bank, inserting coins in the CD slot that blew all the circuits.

I was suspicious at first of Stopshop because their prices weren’t bad, I hadn’t heard of them, or heard of anyone that had used them. But the professional appearance of the site and presence of telephone and email contact details persuaded me otherwise.

The first unit I bought arrived promptly. I installed it. But I was disappointed at the quality of unit — more a manufacturing issue than an issue with the retailer. Contacting Stopshop I expected the usual adversarial attitude because these units are not cheap and have to be shipped. Instead the online shop’s response was to help me search for a another unit, addressing the concerns I had raised with the first. They then offered to send me the second unit minus the cost of the first, saying I should hold on to both until I was satisfied.

When the newer unit arrived shortly after — believe it or not I now had new reservations about it, specifically around its size (I should have checked this before they sent it to me). I contacted StopShop and complained again, feeling things could now get really bad and they would lose patience with me (these units are not cheap to buy and ship). Again I got into defensive mode, but after a couple of polite calls and a few emails, they said I should take some time over the decision and offered to take back both units and give me my money back, no questions asked.

In the end the second unit did fit perfectly, and it looks great in my car. I feel like KIT has nothing on me. It’s a geek car. My car now talks to me when I’m over the speed limit (not sure that’s entirely a good thing), it charges and plays my iPhone, plays hundreds of MP3s via one DVD, allows me to plug in my harddrive via mini USB, has an SD card — and just looks awesome. It goes on: When I thanked them for their service and asked them how I go about returning the first unit I rejected, they then offered to sell it and refund me the extra installation costs I incurred.

You just don’t get this every day. And it inspired me to write about it. From my own limited dealings with them, if this is their general modus operandi with all consumers that use them — they deserve every success they get.

Information hierarchy: The news pyramid in the social media age

Credibility and trust are the key issues in today’s information(overload) age where news emanates from multiple sources, including sources other than journalists. More so than ever, news is also real-time and unrelenting: there’s lots of it.

Here, below, I created this pyramid which helps demonstrate news hierarchy and flow in the social media age. It proposes that journalists have an important role to play as interpreters, fact checkers and guardians of accuracy in this new paradigm of  fast, unrelenting, real-time information. It suggests that media’s value lies decreasingly in being first with a story, because for breaking news stories they’ll mostly be beaten every time by their own readers: the millions of users out there.* These are users plugged into social networks, blogs and social media sites. These are users armed with cellphone cameras, laptops or computers.

Journalists are increasingly relying on social networks, blogs and myriad other web-based user-generated content sites as sources.  While using these new real-time sources to enrich the reporting process, journalists should never forget their important role: the value of media, it seems, could lie in providing interpretation, context, analysis and understanding around a story — being that further stamp of credibility and mark of accuracy on raw, real-time news and information that often originates from untested or unknown sources.

Is this media’s role in the social media age?

[ Printable high-res image ]

With credit to: Mashable and Read Write Web.

Le Web 2009, Day 2: The good, the bad and the vacuous

For day two of Le Web, this Travelling Geek went to one of the side rooms for the “deep discussion” session. There was the word “future” in quite a few of the session titles, which caught my attention.

  • Analyst Jeremiah Owyang gave an interesting talk, making provocative, juicy statements like the real-time seems “so yesterday” and “real time is not fast enough — you have to be faster than that”. His argument was that people are now looking into the future (as opposed to the now) with tools like 43 things and plancast. He provided a useful matrix on the web evolution that has gone from static -> social -> real-time -> future tools or asynchronis –> real time –> intention. It was insightful, but I felt that instead of developing this argument further, Owyang lapsed into a description of current trends on the web such as “social personalisation, recruiting an unpaid army and investing in management systems to cope with real time web”.
  • Sean Percival of MySpace and MobileRoadie gave an interesting, well structured presentation, using Prezi, noting that the term “social media” has grown to have a negative connotation — almost that of snake-oil salesmen. I don’t disagree, but what else do we call it? He spoke of the next phase of the web being the synaptic web, which you can read more about here.
  • In the fascinating Twitter Apps Panel, Tweetdeck CEO Iain Dodsworth admitted that he’d initially been worried about the introduction of Twitter lists, feeling that it could cause his application to “lose some advantage”, but that they had adopted a policy not to be too reactive. He also lamented the fact that he often hears criticism around the “fragility of Tweetdeck basing itself on another company” or that it is “a company with no business model based on a company with no business model”. He countered that Twitter is reliant on its ecosystem and is all about that ecosystem — and in fact “it’s the company to base your company on”. He also noted “he couldn’t care less” about this type of criticism.
  • It was great to see sociologist Dana Boyd speaking at Le Web. She’s brings an intellectual, academic edge to these types of conferences. Boyd is well-known for her stirring, intelligent TED talks and her long, insightful reports on the social networking world. The “rock star speaker” spoke about how the real-time web shows both the “best and the worst” in society. Technological evangelists, like most of us, tend to emphasise the latter — so it’s important that we’re cogniscent of both the good and bad ramifications of the web services we create. We often don’t talk about — or even worse, plan for — the bad such as: racist tweets, bullying, sexting etc.
  • Timothy Ferriss, Author of The 4 Hour Workweek, spoke about how he promoted his best-seller book, saying that his strategy was not to target the big blogs or big media, but rather the thought leader bloggers — as influencers.
  • The Andrew Keen panel on “Content vs Conversation: The Debate over Realtime Search” delivered quite nicely. You can’t help but feel though that Keen, author of “Cult of the Amateur”, is being contrarian for the sake of contrarian. What this means is that you tend to not take him seriously most of the time. He just becomes an actor, a clown, rather than someone who asks critical, important questions that test us and lead to insight. It’s a pity because it’s important to ask the difficult, unpopular questions — but not at the expense of being frivolous.

    Things did heat up on the panel, with a bemused Keen questioning the point of real-time search, the very topic of Le Web. He also cheekily questioned if Tweetmeme was just a vehicle for spam, a quip which I thought TweetMeme CEO Nick Halstead took in good humour. Interestingly, there was broad criticism from everyone on the panel (Tweetmeme, Netvibes, Collecta, and OneRiot) of Google’s implementation of real-time search. (OneRiot CEO Tobias Peggs however sent me a friendly tweet after saying it wasn’t his intention to criticise the implementation).

  • Then it was the marketing/PR panel “How brands and marketing have to adapt to this new worldwide real time ‘word of mouth'” with Steve Rubel of Edelman Digital, Brian Solis, Founder & President, Future Works, Seth J. Sternberg, Co-Founder & CEO, Meebo and others. It was well moderated by the respected Chris Brogan, but ultimately disappointing. It was marked by vacuous buzzwords and statements, with little real argument, insight or practical examples. My feeling is that these types of talks were important five years ago when we needed evangelism for online marketing or social media (ie: to tell everyone its important and they must do it!). But we’ve passed that phase. We get it. Let’s delve deeper and have some original insights — at least for the savvy audience of Le Web. (To Chris’ credit he responded to the criticism here).

    It was rather Twitter-centric too (Surely this discussion goes deeper than Twitter? Surely there are other examples too?) At one stage Sternberg suggested to his fellow panelists that they stop talking about Twitter). I enjoyed Steve Rubel’s comment that social media marketing is not about the CEOs, but about the “footsoldiers” in companies: Traditional top-down lines of communication have been smashed to pieces by the web.

    I felt Matthias Luefkens of the World Economic Forum appeared a bit out of his depth. Richard Binhammer spoke about us going from the “static web” to the “interactive web” — a term that had resonance in the 90s. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to reactivate a retro term here. If that was the case, it didn’t really work.

  • Twitter investor and advisor Chris Sacca gave a brilliant, articulate and funny presentation where he reckons the “douchebags of the internet” will be on the decline in 2010. The douchebags are the spammers, the trolls, the types that don’t debate in a constructive way, causing conflict and getting in the way of real debate. He also spoke about the need to “lubricate the web”: making it easy for users to sign up (ie posterous) and transact (eg: iTunes).
  • Startups of Le Web 2009, Paris

    The winner of the Le Web Startup competition was announced as Stribe — it’s a plug & play application that turns your site into a social network (not too dissimilar from the Hub actually). The runners up were CloudSplit and Mendeley.

    The other startups that entered the competition included:

    CloudSplit
    FitnessKeeper
    FriendBinder
    Kukunu
    Mendeley
    Shutl
    Siteheart Inc
    Sokoz
    Sports Predictions
    Storific
    Stribe
    Superfeedr
    task.ly
    the hyper words company
    Wordy
    Yeasty Mobs

    Le Web: Chris Pirillo's pillars of community

    Chris Pirillo, founder of Lockergnome, is a philosophical and passionate person. He’s a humble guy and a funny, engaging speaker. He’s someone who loves technology, community and gadgets — and is a great speaker. At Le Web he gave us some original thoughts about “community”. It’s a bit fluffy (and if you’re a cynic, you may say “vacuous”), but if you think about every one of these points below carefully, there’s quite a bit of insight and deeper truth to them. It makes a difference from the many business-oriented slides we see that tend to be literal and practical.

    So, what is the essence of community? Community…

  • …lives inside us. Where I go, community goes. We create it based on our preferences, like dislikes and the people we link up with.
  • …is becoming increasingly distributed, as we distribute our ideas and thoughts across social networks.
  • …requires tools that can’t be built (so don’t try), ie if its us, we can’t scale ourselves.
  • …is a commodity, but people aren’t. It’s easy to set up a website or blog, but the people and voices behind it are what makes it unique, special.
  • …cannot be controlled, but can be “guided”.
  • …is no longer defined by physical boundaries. You probably have more in common with a geek living on another continent than your next door neighbour.
  • …grows its own leaders. the best leaders come organically out of a community, and is not an appointed one. It’s crucial that communities grow it’s own leaders for credibility and respect reasons.
  • …is the antithesis of ego. Community is myself and everyone else, not just me or my Twitter stream.
  • … is everywhere, inside you. It’s what you share, your passions — and it’s this that will spell success.
  • Day one @ LeWeb Paris09

    Le Web. Day one. It started off slowly, but then got better. There was nothing terribly controversial or any ground-breaking announcements. The Twitter and Facebook talks were fairly staid, marked with meaningless platitudes like “our success depends on your success” or there’s a “shift is happening from the static web to the social web”: too much PR and not enough heart… made me want to flee the main conference for the startup sessions.

    Later in the afternoon, it got better: Chris Pirillo of Lockergnome delivered a stirring, original and passionate presentation on “community” — and YouTube CEO and founder, Chad Hurley, gave the conference some down-to-earth and interesting insights.

    Here are some snippets from day one:

  • Sketch Nation: an iPhone app, yet to be launched, that allows you to create your own shooting games (or “shmups”) using your own graphics.
  • Cookmate: iPhone app that suggests meal options, based on what’s available on your fridge. Genius — I’ll use this.
  • Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey spoke about Square — his new mobile payment system. He had a Bill Gates’ moment though as the demo didn’t work. More here on RRW about Dorsey’s talk.
  • Facebook’s Ethan Beard talking about the fact that 70% of Facebook’s 300m users are now outside the US, as opposed to the other way round when they started. For facebook, it’s not just about connecting people, it’s about connecting people to objects, ideas, companies… everything… to create a “connected lifestyle”. He says “the web is about people”, and we experience it through the lens of our friends. Nice to see him speak… but nothing we haven’t heard of before… felt like PR, not from the heart.
  • Ryan Sarver from Twitter announced that there are now more than 50 000 3rd party registered applications that plug into Twitter. This has grown outrageously from a figure of exactly “1” two years ago. He spoke about Twitter’s philosophy of “radical openess” and about investing in the ecosystem built around it. The big news of course was Sarver announcing that Twitter is opening up its data stream of tweets/firehose to all developers (not just Bing and Google). This will apparently happen sometime in 2010: more here.
  • Michael Arrington, in his segment, immediately tried to stir it up, by (not unexpectedly) putting the boot into MySpace COO Mike Jones, noting that it’s really a two-horse race between Twitter and Facebook… where is Myspace? He also reckoned that Apple treats the development community “like shit” and this in contrast to Twitter, who really looks after the community. I think Apple can and do this because they’re holding all the cards at this stage. You wonder if it’s a good long term strategy though, and this obviously is an angle of attack for Apple competitors.
  • YouTube CEO Chad Hurley spoke tongue-and-cheek about the “downside” of being acquired by Google: he could not disclose his revenues (no matter how much Le Web host Loic Le Meur tried to fish it out of him). He says the big challenge for the future is “discovery”: how to assist users find relevant video content — a problem he says that “goes beyond search”.
  • Tweetmeme founder Nick Halstead then had a little cameo towards the end with an interesting analysis of the conference zeitgeist by pulling out some funny and clever tweets — which I thought was quite a clever conference innovation.
  • Travelling Geeks in Paris: The pictures

    tgs

    The Travelling Geeks are: Eliane Fiolet, Tom Foremski, Robin Wauters, Kim-Mai Cutler, Frederic Lardinois, Matt Buckland, Sky Schuyler, Jerome Tranie, Ewan Spence, Olivier Ezratty, Cyrille de Lasteyrie, Renee Blodgett, Amanda Coolong, Beth Blecherman, Robert Scoble, and Phil Jeudy.

    Traveling Geeks meet 11 Paris startups

    On day 2, we arrived at the Paris Developpement Incubateurs an incubator of French tech start-ups. The Travelling Geeks, now with one added Robert Scoble, saw a rapid-fire set of 11 presentations from some very interesting companies and people:

    Int13: is a French developer of next-generation games for Smartphones (iPhone, Windows Mobile, Symbian S60, Linux…). They are experimenting with mobile augmented reality games.

    CityZeum: provide travel guides for the web and mobile phones, mixing UGC, with expert content and content from journalists.

    Scan & Target is a 1-million-euro-funded startup, providing solutions around real-time text mining for web and mobile content (email, SMS, IM, blogs, forums, Twitter).

    Rue 89 is a pureplay news website, something between Slate.com and HuffingtonPost. They focus on creating news in a collaborative way via a mixture of journalists, experts and users.

    Gostai: Focuses on building a common software platform for Robots, almost like a universal Robot operating system. These guys are way ahead of most mortals.

    Zoomorama cares about the “art of information” and is focused on creating a new visual way of surfing the internet and creating presentations. Not too different from innovative Hungarian presentation company, Prezi. Check out more here

    Stribe A b2b, Techcrunch50 canditate that’s a plug and play service, allowing a site to instantly create a social network on any website. Sounds quite similar to something else I’m doing actually…

    Path Motion. A web 2.0 recruitment play that offers users “friendly questions” to identify their ideal career path, also providing jobs that match them.

    MLstate think that web development is “broken” and they want to “rethink web development for the 21th century”. They’re developing One Pot Applications (OPA), a common platform enabling easy development of SaaS web applications.

    Teacheo: Is an online tutoring community with virtual classrooms. They make money by linking tutors and students. Simple, but effective. They use 3D modelling to demo items between students and tutors and have good video chat.

    Stupeflix: A web service that turns your pictures, videos, and text into professional videos on the fly, just like that!

    Traveling geeks intro video (LOL)

    Visual social bookmarking: Innovative, but will it fly?

    Fresh off the plane, I’m on the road with the Travelling Geeks, and the first startup on our schedule is an innovative Paris-based social bookmarking operation, Pearl Trees. Their founder and CEO, Patrice Lamothe, says the site offers users a new way to “curate” or organise their lives on the web.

    They’ve secured about US$3,5m in funding for what is essentially a type of visual social bookmarking site, offering a relatively unique drag-and-drop interface. The site, which has been in development for about 7-months, relies heavily on Flash. As far as I can see, it’s essentially a del.icio.us, but with a visual twist, offering a tree-like structure in which to categorise and store your bookmarks. It also offers a nifty, generously-sized real-time preview of the sites you have bookmarked.

    The UI may appeal to some, but not to others. I’m in the camp of wanting simple UI and getting my bookmarks quickly (and del.icio.us and Google bookmarks does this very well for me). For me, social bookmarking sites are essentially utility sites, so its interesting that the creators of Pearl Trees went for this highly visual, more complex approach. In my opinion, simple interfaces and simple HTML sites may work better for utility sites such as these.

    Pearl Trees is still in Alpha (0.4.1) and by Lamothe’s own admission it’s still early days. What they have achieved is impressive, considering its only been in development for 7 months.

    I find it interesting that the site offers no way for a user to search through his or her bookmarks. Lamothe reckons users won’t need search as a result of the unique way they are categorising and storing information, although he later concedes its something they may look at. Search feels like a big omission: When my little Tree of Pearls gets busy, I’m going to need a way to access my bookmarks quickly via a search without excessive clicking. Also the heavy use of Flash seems like a barrier to entry to accessing the info quickly.

    Pearl Trees also takes us back to a “real-world” hierarchical approach of organising information, which we know tends not to work on the web where information is endless, and you can’t predict what that information will be. So there are questions over how scalable their model is. In the future, as my Pearl Tree grows large — I may find myself constantly revisiting the hierarchy, trying to manage it, change it and remould it as new information pours in. (I don’t have the time to do this.)

    Apart from Pearl Tree’s visual edge, which actually may be a inhibitor, I struggle to find how it differentiates itself from other social bookmarking sites? I guess it may boil down to what type of person you are: Someone who just wants the information or a visual person that enjoys bold UIs that may mirror a desktop experience of storing and filing data.

    The genius of Pearl Trees may actually lie in the fact that it appeal to a broader type of user, and not the early adopter crowd. In many ways social bookmarking sites like Digg, del.icio.us haven’t really ventured very far outside the tech-savvy, early adopter markets. However lyrical I wax about them, my mother is unlikely to ever use these sites. However she may use something like Pearl Trees, because the UI will make sense to her: It looks and works like her desktop.

    Pearl Trees is a good start, and I generally like their approach. I think they are on to something if their plan is to target a broader type of internet user, and I predict Pearl Trees will evolve quite radically (maybe into something else) as the founders continue to build, interrogate and innovate around their creation.