Archive for the 'wizardsofoz' Category

Aussie startup Stalqer helps you find your friends when about

Over the last few weeks I’ve been alpha testing an innovative new iPhone app by an Aussie team led by Mick Johnson, innovating in an exciting space. Leena Rao at TechCrunch has written a brilliant post about the product, with another high quality article on CNET by Rafe Needleman. Both those posts cover more than enough so I won’t rehash, but I will share an interesting concept this product has that’s got me thinking about.

Stalqer has an unique viral dynamic at play. Your friends are on a map, and the technology behind it automatically tracks their whereabouts. The cool thing though, is that the technology can be overcome – for example, if I see one of my friends in a location that I know they aren’t, I can physically drag them to where I think they should be (like where I am now at a bar, as they are sitting next to me). This means that even if you shut off Stalqer, you are forced to have to deal with it if you care about your privacy.

This may sound evil, but it’s all relatively safe and you can control which friends see you. However, the fact other people can determine your location, forces you to interact with the app and at least be active with it.

All too common with web and phone applications, people sign up to them and then move on – often forgetting they had signed up in the first place. But Stalqer’s innovation is that it focuses on something people (claim) matters to them – their privacy – and requires them to stay at least alert of what’s happening if they care to protect it in any way.

It’s a simple concept, but it’s also sheer brilliance in my eyes. Admittedly, I haven’t been too phased by this feature and I still think it needs more work for it to truly be viral (like incorporating game mechanics to give people an incentive to move their friends frequently). But it certainly gives an interesting perspective and highlights a smart approach in creating engagement in this saturated market. That being, aligning peoples incentives to participate even when they get bored of it.

Silicon Beach Australia – the movie!

Last year in June, I said on this blog:

…David Bolliger coined the term “Sillicon Beach” to refer to a bunch of Sydney based start-ups – continuing an international trend of regionalising hotspots of tech innovation that aspire to be like Sillicon Valley (my other favourite is New York as Sillicon Alley). Although it‚Äôs not the first time the term has been used, everyone from Perth, Melbourne, Newscastle, Brisbane, and the rest are claiming they are the real silicon beach.

So seeing as our population is only 20 million, and we are one big island continent anyway – I think I am going to settle with calling Australia’s tech industry as a whole as “Silicon Beach”.

After having separate discussions with Bronwen Clune and Mick Liubinskas, I’ve been thinking over the last few months about how to actively build a strong Internet community here in Australia. With Bronwen, I was investigating the possibility of my firm hosting a conference; with Mick, I’ve been doing weekly Friday drinks as a way for people to get to know each other. And so the other week, I registered the domain name SiliconBeachAustralia.org with no real plan on what to do with it. To me, it’s just seemed like the natural name to brand such attempts.

Although the site’s been up for a few weeks, I’ve been busy. But it was only last night that I created a google group, and announced it by inviting people I knew. It hasn’t even been 24 hours, and already some great discussions have been had with individuals I consider to be pillars of the Australian community…as well as people I didn’t even know existed!

Many thanks to Kim for his coverage as well as Renai for raising awareness. It’s satisfying to see such an open embrace by so many good people.

So join the conversation! As I said on the discussion forum: “Now what? Plan – what plan?”. Last time I used that slogan, it was as the title of this blog when I went backpacking around Europe for nine months – and that was one of the most amazing experiences ever. Here’s hoping for another roller coaster ride.

Service Seeking – new aussie eBay for services

I came across news that a new Aussie start-up, called Service Seeking, are launching today. Below is a summary:

The business is called Service Seeking (www.serviceseeking.com.au ). It’s an online market where people bid to do work for other people.

If you’ve got anything that needs to be done at home or around the office (eg a new website, some brochures or hire your next contractor), don’t waste time with the Yellow Pages. Post your project with Service Seeking.

It’ll cost you nothing, there’s no obligation to hire, providers chase you and bid against each other. Could be worth a try?

If you provide a service, then register. It will give you free access to new job leads. You only pay 5% for work which you win!

I’ve had a quick look of their site, and the interface seems pretty intuitive. They obviously haven’t got any activity yet, but their sample listings give an indication of the type of people they expect to use it: “I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m moving: I need a cleaner“, “Business Cards & Stationary Print” (sic), “Furniture Removal“, “I want to get fit for Summer“, and “Legals for Property Sale“. The fact they are advertising on the domain.com.au network is a good indication that?Ç? they are targeting the housing market.
Similar to eBay’s reputation system there is also a mechanism to rate providors of services. Uniquely, it’s a score out of 100 and it is derived by people assessing them on quality of work, ability to keep to budget, ability to keep to schedule, communication style, and overall professionalism. This scoring system seems to be an important part of their business model, as they repeatedly make the case that its a way of getting business “without wasting time & money on marketing”.

The revenue model appears to be commission: service providers pay a 5% success fee on payments made.

It seems like a good idea. The Australian economy is 80% services, and the marketplace concept seemed to work for thousands of years as a way of commerce – I could certainly see myself using this service. However as a business model based on the network effect, they will thrive or flop depending on how they engage with the masses.

Making it free for the ‘demand side’ (the buyers) – you just place a request and someone approaches you for work – could be extended in a variety of ways and will be a key thing for it to take off. For example, partnership deals with major websites where people can post a request easily. Like any market, the demand side is is crucial – not enough people using it will make this a ghost town.

On the supply side, only charging when a payment is made means this is an outlet for free advertising, and should alone be a good incentive. However as I mention above, the key is engaging with the demand side – which they obvioualy are trying to do with their advertising campaign launching today.

The fact they are targetting the Australian market with a .au domain is both smart and stupid: smart because it plays on a competitive advantage that nationals of a country will use a business that is homegrown; stupid because it limits their business to the small Australian market. Nevertheless, for a small startup struggling for success, focusing on a niche market first is more important than playing for world domination. (And its not like service marketplaces is a totally new thing). But hey, with an Aussie economy worth?Ç? in exceed of?Ç? US$700 billion – if they can capture even only one percent of that, then that’s going to be happy days for them.

Australia as Silicon Beach

In January, David Bolliger coined the term “Sillicon Beach” to refer to a bunch of Sydney based start-ups – continuing an international trend of regionalising hotspots of tech innovation that aspire to be like Sillicon Valley (my other favourite is New York as Sillicon Alley). Although it’s not the first time the term has been used, everyone from Perth, Melbourne, Newscastle, Brisbane, and the rest are claiming they are the real silicon beach.

So seeing as our population is only 20 million, and we are one big island continent anyway – I think I am going to settle with calling Australia’s tech industry as a whole as “Silicon Beach”.

Tangler

This is the second post in a series – wizards of oz – which is to highlight the innovation we have down under, and how the business community needs to wake up and realise the opportunities. I review Tangler, a Sydney-based start-up that has recently released their application to the world as a public beta.

Tangler is a web-service that enables discussions over a network. Think of discussions with the immediacy of Instant Messaging (it’s easy), but with the persistency of a forum (messages are permanently stored). Discussions are arranged into communities of interest (groups), which are further broken down into topic areas. Click here to see a video overview.

Value

1) It’s a network application. Although it’s got a great design, and looks like a funky website, the real power of this web service is what it’s working towards: discussions over a network. Imagine a little widget with the topic “What do you think of Elias Bizannes?” placed on my (external) personal blog, my internal work blog, my myspace/facebook/social networking page, as well as it’s own dedicated forum on the Tangler site. A centralised discussion, in a decentralised manner. That’s big.

2) It’s community has great DNA. Communities are not easy things to build – my own experience on a getting-bigger-by-the-day internal project has shown that it is a complex science, touching everything from understand motivational theory to encouraging the right kind of behaviours (policing without policing). My usage on the site has shown to me that the active community building currently occuring, is on the right track. Anyone can hire a code monkey, wack on some flashy front-end, and say they have a great product. But not anyone can build a strong community – even Google struggles on this (the acquisition of YouTube happened largely because of community, because the YouTube community beat Google’s own service). Tangler’s community is already turning into a powerful asset – the DNA is there – now it just needs exposure, and the law of cumulative advantage will kick in.

3) The founder and staff are responsive to its community. I posted a question on the feedback forum, to prove this point: I got a response in an hour, on a Saturday. The staff at Tangler are super responsive – which in part, is due to the real-time discussion ability of the software – but also because of their commitment. As I state above – the value of Tangler is the community of users it builds – this type of responsiveness is crucial to keep its users satisfied to come back, because it makes them feel valued. Additionally, the community is driving the evolution of the application, and that’s the most powerful way to create something (adapting to where there is a need by the people that use it)

4) It’s a platform. What makes Tangler powerful, is that it encourages discussions around niche content areas. Make that niche content, being created for free. Low cost to produce + highly targeted content = an advertisers dream. Link it with a distributed network across the entire Internet (see 1 above), and you’ve got something special.

Conclusion

Social networks, which is what Tangler is, are characterised by:
1) the existence of a repository of user-generated content and
2) the need of members to communicate.

Tangler’s user-generated content and communications web make them an interesting fit for both media conglomerates and telecommunication companies (but for different reasons). I see a Tangler acquisition as a no-brainer for the big Telco’s. Integrating a social network like Tangler into Telstra, builds on the synergy between the communication needs of social network users and the communications expertise and service infrastructure of the communication companies. Unlike voice calls that are a commodity now, the Telco’s need to take advantage of their network infrastructure and accommodate for text-based discussions, which can be monetised for as long as the content exists (with advertising).

The challenge for Tangler however – as with any other Internet property – is that the scale of the audience of social networks determines the nature of the relationship with a communications company. Micro-sized social networks are not interesting to communication companies. Massive social networks are, but history has shown they would rather be partners than be acquired. To be attractive to the big end of town, Tangler needs to show to have a scale large enough to grow as a business but not too large to dictate the terms of the business.

My observations conclude me to think that they will be a hit once they open up their application to external developers, which will relieve the development bottleneck faced by their resource and time constrained team. However they shouldn’t rush this, as I still think their performance issues are not completely ironed out yet. An open API would be taken up by its enthusiastic community who are technologically orientated. Not too mention the strong relationships the CEO and CMO have forged with the local web entrepreneurial and development community in Australia.

My boss is currently doing a secondment as acting Finance Director at Sensis, Telstra’s media arm. Maybe I need to organise a catch-up with him, before these guys get snatched up by some US conglomerate!

Faraday Media – Particls

This series of blog posts – wizards of oz – is to highlight the innovation we have down under. So I begin with Faraday media, a Brisbane based start-up that launched their keynote product today,

Particls is an engine that learns what you are interested in, and alerts you when content on the internet becomes available – through a desktop ‘ticker’ or pop-up alerts.

Value
1) It’s targeted. Particls is an attention engine – it learns what you want to read, and then goes and finds relevant information. That’s a powerful tool, for those of us drowning in information overload, and who don’t have time to read.

2) It catches your attention. Particls is based on the concept of ‘alerts’ – information trickles across your screen seemlesly as you do your work, like a news ticker. For the things that matter, an alert will pop-up. The way you deal with information overload is not by shutting yourself out – it’s by adjusting the volume on things that you value more than other things.

3) The founders understand privacy. They started the APML standard – a workgroup I joined because it’s the best attempt I have seen yet that tackles the issue of privacy on the internet. For example, I can see what the Particls attention engine uses to determine my preferences – lists of people and subjects with “relevance scores”. And better yet – it’s stored on my hard-disk.

4) It’s simple. RSS is a huge innovation on the web, that only a minority of users on the internet understand. The problem with RSS (Real Simple Syndication), is that it’s not simple. Particles makes it dead simple to add RSS and track that content.

Conclusion

Why the hell doesn’t Fairfax acquire the start-up, rather than wasting time creating yet another publication (incidently in the same city) that we don’t have time to read. In my usage of the product, I have been introduced to content that I am interested in, that I never would have realised had existed on the web. In my trials, I have mainly used it to keep track of my research interests, and despite my skepticism about how ‘good’ the the attention engine is, it has absolutely blown me away.

And it’s not just in the consumer space – a colleague (who happens to hold a lot of influence in enterprise architecture of our 140,000 person firm) was blasting RSS one day on an internal blog – saying how we don’t yet have the technology to ‘filter’ information. I told him about Particls – he’s now in love. If a guy like him, who shapes IT strategy for a $20 billion consulting firm, can get that excited – that’s got to tell you something.

The Wizards of Oz

The Internet has enabled a new world-order, causing people from the CEO down in almost every industry, an amazing amount of grief. The music industry, the newspaper industry, the telecommunications industry – heck, even tangible non-digital products like books – have been challenged at the core. However what these CEO’s have begun to realise, is that the Digital Age is no longer a threat, but a vehicle for growth.

Innovation is a key source of competitive advantage. And if you are an established company, innovation is hard. What takes six months of trying to convince the right people, jumping through hoops to keep internal stakeholders happy, and then finally releasing a half-baked product that is dramatically cut down from your vision – could be done by a bunch of college students in a garage over a weekend. Economies of scale is no longer an advantage in the Information Age – small, agile teams are.

In America – Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, News Corp, IAC and the rest – rely on acquisitions to fuel their innovation. An amazing amount of innovation is occurring on the web at the moment – not just new products but new business models. And the above mentioned companies have realised that acquiring a start-up early on, is a cheap way to innovate – as well as a great way to recruit.
But what about Australia?

Like America, we have a strong Internet industry with some clever entrepreneurs. But unlike America – no one is acquiring them. Could it be executives of this country’s leading companies just don’t know how much talent is available onshore? Well working in a professional services company that advises these companies, I am sure of it. Even a tech-savvy person like me is still discovering the amazing amount of talent and potential in my city, let alone country.

So here is to educating – both you and me – as I begin to start profiling innovation in Australia To make a suggestion for me to review on my blog, post it here