Tag Archive for 'Business'

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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.

Understand your content

I picked up a book my parents used on their recent trip to Greece, which was a guidebook of the Peloponnese. Flicking through this paper book reminded me of my thoughts of how the content business is so rife with piracy. Especially with an online world now, people can copy content – images, text, audio – and mash it up into their own creation. It seems crazy but why do people enter a business like that?

The Information Sector is not only a big money maker, but very unique as well. Yes, it can be copied and ripped off – unlike a barbie doll where its form can’t really be manipulated into a new product. However different from selling barbies, is that information products do things that are very unique in this world and extremely powerful. In my view there are four types of information product, which can be explained under the categories of data or culture.

Data

New data
A friend and aspiring politician, once said to me that “information is the currency of politics”. Reuters, the famed news organisation that supplies breaking news to media outfits across the world – derives 90% of its revenue from selling up-to-the-minute financial information to stockbrokers and the like who profit on getting information before others. New information, like what the weather will be tomorrow, loses value with time (no many care what the weather was eight days ago). But people are willing to pay a price, and a big one, to get access to this breaking news because it can help make decisions.

Old data
On the flip side, old information can be very valuable because of the ability to conduct research and analysis. Search engines effectively fit into this segment of the information economy, because they can query past news and knowledge to produce answers. Extending the weather example, being about to find out that data eight days ago along with the weather exactly one, five and ten years ago – can help you identify trends that, for example, validates the global warming theory.

Culture

Analysis
The third category of information products, I call them simply analysis because what they are is unique insight into things. We all have access to the same news for example, but it takes a smart thinker to create a prediction, by pulling the pieces together and creating new value from them. Analytical content usually gets plagiarised by students writing essays, but its also the stuff that shapes peoples perceptions in world-changing ways.

Entertainment
One of the most powerful uses of content is the way it can impact people – entertainment type content is the stuff that generates emotion in people. Emotions are a key human trait that you should keep in mind in any decision – no matter how logical someone is, the emotional self can overtake. A documentary that portrays an issue negatively, and that can generate an angry response in a person, is the stuff that can topple governments and corporations.

Not all information is equal
If you are a content creator, you need to accept that other people can copy your creation. The key is to understand what type of content you are creating, and develop a content strategy that exploits its unique characteristics.

Information products need different strategies in order to effectively monetise them. Below is a brief discussion which extends on the above to help you understand.
New data
With this type of content, the value is in the time; the quicker that information can be accessed, the more useful it is. News items (like current affairs) fit into this category. As a news consumer, I don’t care how I get my news, but I care about how quickly I can get it. It’s for this reason I no longer read newspapers, yet through various technologies like RSS and my mobile phone, that I probably consume more news than ever before.

You should sell this data based on access – the more you pay, the quicker the access. Likewise, the ability to enable multiple outputs is key – you need to be able to deliver your content to as many different places as possible: SMS, email, RSS etc. You should not discriminate on the output; the value is on the time.

If you create news breaks, why are you wasting your time on who can access that information, because of the threat that someone can copy it? If the value is in the time, who cares who copies it because by the time they republish it, its already lost value. A flash driven site like the Australian Financial Review is an example of a management that doesn’t realise this.

Old data
A recent example of action in this space is the New York Times who have recently removed their paid subscription wall, which was previously only available via subscription but now can be accessed by anyone for free. This is a smart business move, because if you are selling archived content, you will make more money by having more people know what exists. A paid wall limits people using it which decreases the opportunity for consumption: you a relying on a brand only to create demand. If you are website with a lot of historical content – restricting access is stupid because you are effectively asking people to pay for access to something that they have no idea what value it holds for them. It’s a bit like traveling – if you’ve never been overseas, you don’t know what you are missing out on. Give people a taste of the travel bug, and they will never be able to sit still.

Unlike new data where the value is based on time, old data finds value on accessibility. People will place value on things like search, and the ability to find relevant content through the mountains of content available. Here the multitude of outputs doesn’t matter, because researchers have all the time in the world. What matters is a good interface, and powerful tools to mine the data: the value is on being to find information. You shouldn’t charge people on access to the content; where you will make money is on the tools to mine the data.

Analysis
This type of content is difficult to create, but easily ripped off by other people – just think of how rife plagiarism is with schools and universities, where the latter treats plagiarism as a crime just short of murder. You can distinguish this type of content as it demonstrates the ability to offer content that is was produced from a common set on inputs that anyone could access, and creating a viewpoint that only a certain type of person could create. The value is on the unique insight.

Despite the higher intlellect to product, it unfortunately is content that is harder to capitalise on. A lot of technology blogs feel the pressure of moving into a more news style than analytical service because news is what gets eyeballs. If you are a blogger looking to make money – the new data approach above should be your strategy. But if you are a blogger trying to build your brand – do analysis. The consequence with analysis is that its harder to do, so you shouldn’t feel pressured to produce more content. I’ve noticed a trend for example, that if I post more blog postings, I will get more traffic. But on the same token, more postings puts more pressure on me, which means less quality content. Understand that the value of analysis isn’t dependent on time. Or better said, the value of analysis is not how quickly it gets pumped out and realised, but how thoroughly it gets incubated as an idea and later communicated.

The value for analysis is clarity and ability to offer new thoughts. To look at the relationship with advertising models, new data like news (discussed above) typically gets higher viewers – which works for the pageview model (the more people refreshing, the more CPMs). Analysis, on the other hand, works with the time spent model. Take advantage of the engagement you have with those types of readers, because you are cultivating a community of smart people – there can be a lot more loyalty with that type of readership.

Entertainment
My sister downloads the Chaser’s War on Everything as a podcast. She first came across them on the radio, but she now downloads the podcasts religiously. Even though I knew about the Chaser’s efforts for years in their various products, I didn’t realise they were still around. If the last few weeks, I have been noticing my friends bring up the shows they are doing. The value in this content was the ability to make people laugh, due to their unique stunts. Their brand is built because of word of mouth recommendations.

Like analysis, entertainment can be a very hard thing to generate because it relies on unique thinking. With a strong brand, people will pay for access to that content. Although it may seem that the viral spreading of funny content for free is a nightmare for a content producer trying to collect royalties, it’s actually a good thing because it entrenches the brand: more people will find out about it. The nature of entertainment, like analysis, is that it is difficult to do repeatedly. Sure people can copy your individual tricks – but they can only do so after the fact. They can’t pre-anticipate the next thing you will do; because unlike breaking news which is on how quickly you can pump out content, entertainment content requires a unique creative process to produce it.

The key with entertainment content, is to build a relationship with an audience and to sustain it. Create a predictable flow of content. Encourage people copying it, because all it does it get more people wanting to see what you come up with next. If it wasn’t for Stephen Colbert‘s clips on Youtube, I would never have realised his brilliance. Not knowing he existed, means a DVD set of his shows means nothing to me (but which holds a lot of value now). The value of entertainment is to generate emotions in people repeatedly. Emotions are a powerful influence on human behaviour – master that and you can be dangerous!

Concluding thoughts
This posting only touches on the issues, but what I suggest is that creators of content need to look at what type of content they are producing, for them to exploit its unique aspects. Content represents human ideas, and content isn’t distiguished by a physical form. The theft of your content should be a given and can actually help you. Depending on what that content is, there may be natural safeguards that make it irrelevant (ie, the time value of news).

Climate change: forget the science, it’s real for the market

I recently sat through a two hour presentation on climate change at work. My employer this year (a big four firm) has been mobilising to respond to the market with a climate change solution for our clients – and the things happening are amazing. They want to be first-movers in what is a huge business opportunity. Even through I have had dealings with people on the climate change team, it wasn’t until I sat through this presentation that a few things clicked for me: climate change is real. And I am not talking about the science – it’s real for the market economy.

I wouldn’t be doing any justice if I attempted to explain what I learned, however I will explain something that was a big realisation for me. This guy that spoke is a world expert, and he reckons more has happened in the last eight months of his career regarding climate change than it has in 25 years of his career. To understand why, is to understand the realisation of the markets.

Increasing shareholder value

If it’s one phrase that sums up corporations working within the framework of capitalism, it’s about “increasing shareholder value”. It’s a term that is mocked because we are sick of hearing it, but it essentially explains the market: investors make money by putting their money where they can generate more value for their buck. Value creation is the centre of everything – a start-up company generates value through innovative new products that people buy; a tax agent generates value by reducing your tax expense; a real estate agent generates value because they can sell your property at a higher valuation. In the context of corporations, people make money in companies through returns: a higher share price means a higher value of that share or piece of property. Companies are judged on their profits because more profits reflect a higher return an investor gets from that entity; just like a home being sold, it reflects the additional value they can generate from that piece of property they own.

Profits reflect shareholder returns, which come in two forms.

1) dividends, which are cash payouts from profit distributions to shareholders. An investor wants higher profits, because it means more cash for them on their existing shareholding – it reflects a better return on their investment.

2) retained earnings, which is when a company doesn’t pay the dividend but holds it so they can fund future growth. More profits, means extra cash to invest to generate more growth in the entity, which ultimately means more value. If you buy a share for $1, and the company grows and your share is now $2 – you are a happy chappy because you’ve effectively doubled your money.

How climate change now has a price

Lets say we generate x amount of carbon tons a year. The objective of climate change, is that we can reduce the amount of x with time, and then get to the stage where we can grow sustainably, which means for every x we generate, we can offset that bit of carbon so as to to generate a net of zero on the environment. That’s called sustainable economic growth.

Lets say y is the amount it costs to remove a ton of carbon dioxide. Meaning y represents the expense of generating carbon. So if you times x with y – that equals the amount it will costs to remove the carbon dioxide we generate so that we have a net impact of zero on the environment (or at least, the cost to reduce emissions). If the government forces you to reduce your emissions, like they force you to pay taxes, that expense has now become very real.

How much a ton of Carbon Dioxide will cost is a big issue yet to be settled, but as you can tell y is an important number because it determines how much it costs for you to reduce your carbon footprint. A very conservative estimate is that it costs 25 US dollars to remove 1,000 tonnes of carbon. The reason I say conservative is because more recent evidence suggests it is actually a lot more than that (I think he quoted 40 euros). Using the $25 figure, he said that it will cost us $15 trillion to remove carbon dioxide. There is so much pressure on governments from voters, lobby groups and the like, that governments (like here in Australia) are going to mandate that you offset your carbon emissions each year. The Kyoto agreement is saying a 60% reduction from 1990 levels by 2050 for example.

Now as an investor, I am thinking my investments have a share of the pie of a $15 trillion expense that they have to pay each year. That’s expensive. Expensive stuff reduces my profit. Reducing my profit means lower returns for my investments (ie, lower dividends, lower retained earnings to fund growth). Holy crap – this climate change thing is eroding shareholder value. Crap crap crap – I want to start knowing what my investments are doing to tackle this future expense. I want more accountability, alongside the financial reports that companies are mandated to provide (and which tells us about profit).

And that is exactly what the investors that control $41 trillion dollars – one third of the worlds money -are currently saying.

So much more to say, but I just want to share that point: climate is real economically and the environmental cost is being built into the market mechanism. There are a lot of issues that are yet to be resolved, but you’d be stupid to start ignoring the massive developments occuring, because its getting nearer to an agreement where it will affect every transaction we make in our economies.

Don’t get the Semantic Web? You will after this

Prior to 2006, I had sort of heard of the Semantic Web. To be honest, I didn’t know much – it was just another buzzword. I’ve been hearing about Microformats for years, and cool but useless initiatives like XFN. However to me it was simply just another web thing being thrown around.

Then in August 2006, I came across Adrian Holovaty’s article where he argues journalism needs to move from a story-centric world to a data-centric world. And that’s when it dawned on me: the Semantic web is some serious business.

I have since done a lot of reading, listening, and thinking. I don’t profess to be a Semantic Web expert – but I know more than the average person as I have (painfully) put myself through videos and audios of academic types who confuse the crap out of me. I’ve also read through a myriad of academic papers from the W3C, which are like the times when you read a novel and keep re-reading the same page and still can’t remember what you just read.

Hell – I still don’t get things. But I get the vision, so that’s what I am going to share with you now. Hopefully, my understanding will benefit the clueless and the skeptical alike, because it’s a powerful vision which is entirely possible

1) The current web is great for humans; useless for machines
When you search for ambiguous terms, at best, search engines can algorithmically predict some sort of answer that partially answers your query. Sometimes not. But the complexity of language, is not something engineers can engineer to deal with. After all, without ambiguity of natural languages, the existence of poetry is impossible.

Fine.

What did you think when you read that? As in: “I’ve had it – fine!” which is like another way of saying ok or agreeing with something. Perhaps you thought about that parking ticket I just got – illegal parking gets you fined. Maybe you thought I am applauding myself by saying that was one fine piece of wordcraftship I just wrote, or said in another context, like a fine wine.

Language is ambiguous, and depending on the context with other words, we can determine what the meaning of the word is. Search start-up company Powerset, which is hoping to kill Google and rule the world, is employing exactly this technique to improve search: intelligent processing of words depending on context. So by me putting in “it’s a fine”, it understands the context that it’s a parking ticket, because you wouldn’t say “it’s a” in front of ‘fine’ when you use it to agree with something (the ‘ok’ meaning above).

But let’s use another example: “Hilton Paris” in Google – the worlds most ‘advanced’ search engine. Obviously, as a human reading that sentence, you understand because of the context of those words I would like to find information about the Hilton in Paris. Well maybe.

Let’s see what Google comes up with: Of the ten search results (as of when I wrote this blog posting), one was a news item on the celebrity; six were on the celebrity describing her in some shape or form, and three results were on the actual Hotel. Google, at 30/70 – is a little unsure.

Why is Paris Hilton, that blonde haired thingy of a celebrity, coming up in the search results?

Technologies like Powerset apparently produce a better result because it understands the order of the words and context of the search query. But the problem with these searches, isn’t the interpretation of what the searcher wants – but also the ability to understand the actual search results. Powerset can only interpret so much of the gazilions of words out there. There is the whole problem of the source data, no just the query. Don’t get what I mean? Keep reading. But for now, learn this lesson

Computers have no idea about the data they are reading. In fact, Google pumping out those search results is based on people linking. Google is a machine, and reads 1s and 0s – machine language. It doesn’t get human language

2) The Semantic web is about making what human’s read, machine readable
Tim Berner’s Lee, the guy that invented the World Wide Web and the visionary behind the Semantic Web, prefers to call it the ‘data web’. The current web is a web of documents – by adding this extra data to content – machines will be able to understand it. Metadata, is data about data.

A practical outcome of having a semantic web, is that Google would know that when it pulls up a web page regardless of the context of the words – it will understand what the content is. Think of every word on the web, being linked to a master dictionary.

The benefit of the semantic web is not for humans – at least immediately. The Semantic Web is actually pretty boring with what it does – what is exciting, is what it will enable. Keep reading.

3) The Semantic web is for machines to interpret, not people
A lot of the skeptics of the semantic web, usually don’t see the value of it. Who cares about adding all this extra meta data? I mean heck – Google still was able to get the website I needed – the Hilton in Paris. Sure, the other 60% of the results on that page were irrelevant, but I’m happy.

I once came across a Google employee and he asked “what’s the point of a semantic web; don’t we already enough metadata?” To some extent, he’s right – there are some websites out there that have metadata. But the point of the semantic web is so that machines once they read the information, can start thinking like how a human would and connecting it to other information. There needs to be across the board metadata.

For example, my friend Michael was recently looking to buy a car. A painful process, because there are so many variables. So many different models, different makes, different dealers, different packages. We have websites, with cars for sale neatly categorised into profile pages saying what model it is, what colour it is, and how much. (Which may I add, are hosted on multiple car sites with different types of profiles). A human painfully reads through these profiles, and computes as fast as a human can. But a machine can’t read these profiles.

Instead of wasting his (and my) weekends driving around Sydney to find his car, a machine could find it for him. So, Mike would enter his profile in – what he requires in a car, what his credit limit is, what his prior history with cars are – everything that would affect his judgement of a car. And then, the computer can query every online website with cars to match the criteria. Because the computer can interpret these websites across the board, it can evaluate and it can go back to Michael and say “this is the car for you, at this dealer – click yes to buy”.

The semantic web is about giving computers the information to be able to interpret data, so that it can do what they do really well – compute.

4) A worldwide database
What essentially Berner’s Lee envisions, is turning the entire world wide web into a database that can be queried. Currently, the web looks like Microsoft Word – one swab of text. However, if that swab of text was neatly categorised in an Excel spreadsheet, you could manipulate that data and do what you please – create reports, reorder them, filter, and do whatever until your heart is content.

At university, I was forced to do an Information Systems subject which was essentially about the theory of databases. Damn painful. I learned only two things from that course. The first thing was that my lecturer, tutor, and classmates spoke less intelligible English than a caterpillar. But the second thing was that I learned what information is and how it differs from data. I am now going to share with you that lesson, and save you three months of your life.

You see, data is meaningless. For example, 23 degrees is data. On its own, it’s useless. Another piece of data in Sydney. Again, Рuseless. I mean, you can think all sorts of things when you think of Sydney, but it doesn’t have any meaning.

Now put together 23 degrees and Sydney, and you have just created information. Information is about creating relationships between data. By creating a relationship, an association, between these two different pieces of data – you can determine it’s going to be a warm day in Sydney. And that is what information is: Relationship building; connecting the dots; linking the islands of data together to generate something meaningful.

The semantic web is about allowing computers to be able to query the sum of human knowledge like one big database to generate information

Concluding thoughts
You are probably now starting to freak out and think “Terminator” images with computers suddenly erupting form under your computer desk, and smashing you against the wall as a battle between humans and computers begins. But I don’t see it like that.

I think about the thousands of hours humans spend trying to compute things. I think of the cancer research, whereby all this experimentation occurring in labs, is trying to connect new pieces of data with old data to create new information. I think about computers being about to query the entire taxation legislation to make sure I don’t pay any tax, because it knows how it all fits together (having studied tax, I can assure you – it takes a lifetime to only understand a portion of tax law). In short, I understand the vision of the Semantic web as a way of linking things together, to enable computers to compute – so that I can sit on my hammock drinking my beer, as I can delegate the duties of my life to the machines.

All the semantic web is trying to do, is making sure everything is structured in a consistent manner, with a consistent dictionary behind the content, so that a machine can draw connections. As Berner’s Lee said on one of the videos I saw: “it’s all about creating links”.

The process to a Semantic Web is boring. But once we have those links, we can then start talking about those hammocks. And that’s when the power of the internet – the global network – will really take off.

Facebook is doing what Google did: enabling

The hype surrounding the Facebook platform has created a frenzy of hype – on it being a closed wall, on privacy and the right to users having control of their data, and of course the monetisation opportunities of the applications themselves (which on the whole, appear futile but that will change).

We’ve heard of applications becoming targeted, with one (rumoured) for $3 million – and it has proved applications are an excellent way to acquire users and generate leads to your off-Facebook website & products. We’ve also seen applications desperately trying to monetise their products, by putting Google Ads on the homepage of the application, which are probably just as effective as giving a steak to a vegetarian. The other day however was the first instance where I have seen a monetisation strategy by an application that genuinely looked possible.

It’s this application called Compare Friends, where you essentially compare two friends on a question (who’s nicer, who has better hair, who would you rather sleep with…). The aggregate of responses from your friends who have compared you, can indicate how a person sits in a social network. For example, I am most dateable in my network, and one of the people with prettiest eyes (oh shucks guys!).

The other day, I was given an option to access the premium service – which essentially analyses your friends’ responses.

compare sub

It occurred to me that monetisation strategies for the Facebook platform are possible beyond whacking Google Adsense on the application homepage. Valuable data can be collected by an application, such as what your friends think of you, and that can be turned into a useful service. Like above, they offer to tell you who is most likely to give you a good reference – that could be a useful thing. In the applications current iteration, I have no plans to pay 10 bucks for that data – but it does make you wonder that with time, more sophisticated services can be offered.

Facebook as the bastion of consumer insight

On a similar theme, I did an experiment a few months ago whereby I purchased a facebook poll, asking a certain demographic a serious question. The poll itself revealed some valuable data, as it gave me some more insight into the type of users of Facebook (following up from my original posting). However what it also revealed was the power of tapping into the crowd for a response so quickly.
clustered yes
Seeing the data come in by the minute as up to 200 people took the poll, as a marketer you could quickly gauge how people think about something in a statistically valid sample, in literally hours. You should read this posting discussing what I learned from the poll if you are interested.

It’s difficult to predict the trends I am seeing, and what will become of Facebook because a lot could happen. However one thing is certain, is that right now, it is a highly effective vehicle for individuals to gain insight about themselves – and generating this information is something I think people will pay for if it proves useful. Furthermore, it is an excellent way for organisations to organise quick and effective market research to test a hypothesis.

The power of Facebook, for external entities, is that it gives access to controlled populations whereby valuable data can be gained. As the WSJ notes, the platform has now started to see some clever applications that realise this. Expect a lot more to come.

Facebook is doing what Google did for the industry

When Google listed, a commentator said this could launch a new golden age that would bring optimism not seen since the bubble days to this badly shaken industry. I reflected on that point he made to see if his prophesy would come true one day. In case you hadn’t noticed, he was spot on!

When Google came, it did two big things for the industry

1) AdSense. Companies now had a revenue model – put some Google ads on your website in minutes. It was a cheap, effective advertising network that created an ecosystem. As of 30 June 2007, Google makes about 36% of their revenue from members in the Google network – meaning, non-Google websites. That’s about $2.7 billion. Although we can’t quantify how much their partners received – which could be anything from 20% to 70% (the $2.7 billion of course is Google’s share) – it would be safe to say Google helped the web ecosystem generate an extra $1 billion. That’s a lot of money!

2) Acquisitions. Google’s cash meant that buyouts where an option, rather than IPO, as is what most start-ups aimed for in the bubble days. In fact, I would argue the whole web2.0 strategy for startups is to get acquired by Google. This has encouraged innovation, as all parties from entrepreneurs to VC’s can make money from simply building features rather than actual businesses that have a positive cashflow. This innovation has a cumulative effect, as somewhere along the line, someone discovers an easy way to make money in ways others hadn’t thought possible.

Google’s starting to get stale now – but here comes Facebook to further add to the ecosystem. Their acquisition of a ‘web-operating system‘ built by a guy considered to be the next Bill Gates shows that Facebook’s growth is beyond a one hit wonder. The potential for the company to shake the industry is huge – for example, in advertising alone, they could roll out an advertising network that takes it a step further than contextual advertising as they actually have a full profile of 40 million people. This would make it the most efficient advertising system in the world. They could become the default login and identity system for people – no longer will you need to create an account for that pesky new site asking you to create an account. And as we are seeing currently, they enable a platform the helps other businesses generate business.

I’ve often heard people say that history will repeat itself – usually pointing to how 12 months ago Myspace was all the rage: Facebook is a fad, they will be replaced one day. I don’t think so – Facebook is evolving, and more importantly is that it is improving the entire web ecosystem. Facebook, like Google, is a company that strengthens the web economy. I am probably going to hate them one day, just like how my once loved Google is starting to annoy me now. But thank God it exists – because it’s enabling another generation of commerce that sees the sophistication of the web.

John Hagel – What do you think is the single most important question after everything is connected?

I recently was pointed to a presentation of John Hagel who is a renowned strategy consultant and author on the impact the Internet has on business. He recently joined Deloitte and Touche, where he will head a new Silicon Valley research institute. At the conference (Supernova 2007), John outlined critical research questions regarding the future of digital business that remain unresolved, which revolved around the following:

What happens after everything is connected? What are the most important questions?

I had to watch the video a few times because its not possible to capture everything he says in one hit. So I started writing notes each time, which I have reproduced below to help guide your thoughts and give a summary as you are watching the presentation (which I highly recommend).

I also have discovered (after writing these notes – damn it!) that he has written his speech (slightly different however) and posted it on his blog. I’ll try and reference my future postings on these themes here, by pinging or adding links to this posting.
Continue reading ‘John Hagel – What do you think is the single most important question after everything is connected?’

Study finds people would not pay for privacy options

A 2007 study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon and the University of California at Berkeley found that most subjects were unwilling to spend even a quarter [25 cents] to keep someone from selling sensitive information about them — such as their weight or number of sex partners. “People prefer money over data, always,” says Alessandro Acquisti, assistant professor of information technology and public policy at CMU. Source: Wired

Is privacy really that big a deal? In short – yes – but paying for paid privacy options is not something I am sure of. Rather, I would expect the forces to swell up like a hurricane that will require political action to enforce privacy as a legal right. As a business, you shouldn’t think of privacy as a revenue stream, but rather, a branding tool to build trust. It’s users ignorance of the truth, not acceptance of the consequences, that has people giving away their data. Don’t abuse that trust if given the opportunity.

BarCampSydney2

Things I learned at this BarCamp

  • It was a very different crowd from the first one.
  • It’s so easy to network – it was as difficult as breathing in, breathing out! I gave a presentation, and as a consequence, I had people throughout the day approach me and introduce themselves.
  • In the morning, collaboration was a bit of a hot theme. John Rotenstein from Atlassian asked the question of how do people define collaboration: “when two or more people work together on a business purpose”, was my answer. We agreed. Everyone else, kind of didn’t.
  • How to raise money – was the afternoon’s theme. Great points were brought up by Marty Wells, Mike Canon-Brookes and Dean McEvoy who led the discussion.
  • Some things mentioned:
  1. Aussie VC’s lead you on. “Nice idea- let’s keep in touch” is their way of not burning bridges
  2. VC’s work in a cycle that are in five or so year cycles – raise money at the beginning of the cycle
  3. Rule of thumb: give 30% away on the first round, 30% on the second round
  4. Advisor’s that give out Comet grants work on a 2% commission of future venture capital that you raise.
  5. No one understands the advertising market – everyone in the room wanted something they could read to learn more (check back here soon – I promise!). For example, Google’s adwords programme is largely supported by the property market – the mortgage lending market that is affected by the current credit crisis, is going to affect start-ups relying on adsense as the money drops out of these ads.
  • I met Jan Devos, who randomly approached me and blew me away with what he has done in his life. Basically (and from the age of 17), he created an implementation of the MPEG4 compression technology (for non-tech readers – MP4 as opposed to the older MP3) and he licenses out the technology to major consumer appliance companies like Samsung, who incorporate the technology into their products.
  • I met Dave O’Flynn – self-described as a “tall Irish red-head” developer; Matt June – a former Major in the Australian military, and now pursuing a project based around social innovation; I discovered Rai of Tangler is a commitmentphobe; Mick thinks he can skip most of BarCamp because he thinks organising a wedding is so hard; Mike Canon-Brookes over beer revealed he is a Mark Zuckerberg wannabe; and Christy Dena one of the lead (un)organisers of the conference looks completely different from the person I thought she was!

I got a positive reaction to my half hour session on five lessons I have learned on successful intrapreneurship due to a large internal project I started at my employer, with people throughout the day getting into a chat with me about it. Richard Pendergast, who is starting a online parenting site, said he was going to write a blog on one the points with his own personal battle of creating credibility. Glad I helped! I said to him I was going to blog what I talked about it so we could turn it into a discussion, but I have decided, this exam I have to sit in 12 8 days might need to start getting my attention. Anyway, here were the five points I made, however given the discussion during the session by everyone, is a very rough framework as people brought up some great points when talking:

1) It is a lot easier to seek forgiveness, than permission when doing something in an organisation. Or in other words, just do it.

2) Be proactive, never reactive. By pushing the agenda, you are framing the agenda for something that works for your project. Once you start reacting to others, your idea will die.

3) The more you let go – the bigger your idea will get. Use other people to achieve your vision. Give other people a sense of ownership in it. Let them take credit.

4) It’s all about perception. It’s amazing how much credibility you can build by simply associating your idea to other things – and which in the process, builds your own personal brand to push through with more later on.

5) Hype build hype. Get people excited, and they will carry your idea forward. People get excited when you communicate the potential, and have them realise it.

Thank you to all those involved – both the organisers and the contributors – and I look forward to the next one.

You need to be persistently adaptable

Tim Bull has recently written an interesting discussion point on when is the right time to innovate. In a post titled “Steam engine time“, he asks:

If innovation is a process of the right idea, in the right place and at the right time, how do we judge what the right time is and measure what is going on around us to hit the right spot?

Some would say luck has something to do with it, although I believe that is the perception from an outsiders point of view. In my eyes, a core set of attributes are required for innovation.

Consider this quote from Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of USA:

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

I think Tim is wrong to ask when is the right time, because innovators understand their environment, adapt to it – and then push until they get there. Persistence and adaptability, in my eyes, are two crucial aspects needed in a person or even a country or company, for it to successfully move forward. However whilst persistence is key – you need determination to push forward despite the barriers you are going to encounter – adaptability is the real secret to successfully innovating.

A case-study: multiculturalism in a flat world
Although I was born and bred in Australia, I have been brought up under a very strong Greek influence. With an Australian-born father, and a fresh-off-the-boat Greek mother – I have lived a life straddled in two cultures. Going to an Anglo-Saxon school, yet at the same time doing Greek classes at 9am Saturday (but leaving early for my schools footy games) – I grew to resent Australia’s multiculturalism policy. Without going into too much detail because this will turn it into a political discussion and detract from the point I wish to make – I disliked the fact that Greeks in Australia refused to integrate into the local culture. The Australian government’s stance of officially supporting Multiculturalism, which does things like pay for that Saturday morning tuition, was to me a stupid policy.

Fast forward to 2005, when I visited the Balkans as part of my nine months traveling around Europe. Serbia’s story is one of the saddest stories in Europe. Walking around the city of Belgrade, interacting with its inhabitants, and just generally experiencing Serbia – you realise you have come across a hidden gem in Europe. Yet once you look at the statistics and talk to some of the educated, you understand otherwise: a basket case situation that has little hope.

Serbia, like a lot of other countries I discovered in my travels, have a cultural problem: they can’t let go of the past. Millions of people have died over differing interpretations of history. The Republic of Macedonia’s identity is entirely staked on the fact they are situated on the lands of Alexander the Great. Identity to the nation states of Europe, is in history. And challenges to that history, and their identity, has led to some stupid wars affecting millions of innocent lives.

So guess what? I now think multiculturalism is the best thing my country could ever do, for the simple fact we can never have a fixed identity – what it meant to be Australian 50 years ago looks very different from what it looks like now. In Europe, identity is based on ethnicity with a fixed identity tied to history, language and a religion. In Australia, our identity isn’t allowed to be based on a certain ethnicity, and forces us to find common ground on what really matters like our way of life. If it wasn’t for the policy of Multiculturalism, we would be turning into one of these static nation states within Europe who become fixed as a certain point of time. The Greeks are still mourning over the Turks capturing the Great City of Constantinople from them in 1453 (which is why Tuesday is the unlucky day of the week for them). Yet for the countries like Australia, who don’t have much of a history – they are not locked – and consequently look forward, rather than back. Multiculturalism is a crucial ingredient to our success, because with all that diversity, it means we are constantly evolving our culture to the times without any one group fixing it. And with a globalised word, Australia’s ability to adapt to circumstances will be a key competitive advantage we have over countries.

If you don’t agree with me, have a read of Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat – a book a entrepreneur/intrapreneur suggested I read. This guy who told me about the book was a German from Argentina, working for an Indian company to set up the company’s presence in Turkey! He told me that after he read that book, he quit his job and got himself into his current role. He faced the facts, and adapted his career.

Adaptability as success
You’re probably wondering what I am trying to get at, but to tie it back to my point about adaptability, successfully innovators need to constantly adapt to their environment. What happens with people once they get an idea, is that they spend all their time trying to fit it into a world that once existed, only for the world to be a entirely new place. Successful innovators need to constantly evolve their ideas, to the changing circumstances.

In October last year, I made a proposal at my firm to implement a new technology. For the months leading up to that point, people had to some extent talked down my idea and some even flat out rejected it. October however had me find the right person to hear my idea. And yet if I look at what I originally had thought, and what it is now – it is almost a completely different thing. Because when I pitched my idea, I was asked “why” it works and “how” is it different from anything else. It was that ‘why’ question that had me spend countless hours researching and understanding – adapting – my idea to the scenario being presented to me. I successfully made my business case, because I was given the opportunity to reframe my idea and adapt it to the circumstrances I was presented. Had I not adapted my original idea and vision, I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing now.

Of course, I could have summed up the above by mentioning Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Survival of the fittest, right? Adapt to the Green forest like that Green lizard that looks like a leaf, and you’ll find some food (rather than being the food yourself). Adaptability in life is a key critical success factor; and with innovation, it is the hidden factor that on the outside and in retrospect by others, gets attributed as luck.

Update 20/6/07: Catching up on some reading, I just came across a great posting by Marc Andreessen, an internet pioneer, who talks about the four types of luck and which nicely complements my thoughts above.

A casual chat with a media industry insider

Today I had the chance of picking the mind of Achilles from the International Herald Tribune, who last year was appointed Vice-President, circulation and development. Achilles is a family friend and I took the opportunity to talk to him about the world of media and the challenges being faced.

The IHT is one of the three daily financial newspapers of the world, along with the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. It is currently owned by the New York Times, and has a global circulation of 240,000 people. I had a great chat on a lot of different themes which could have me blog about for a week straight, but here are some of the facts I picked up from our discussion, which I will summarise below as future talking points:

  • On Murdoch’s acquisition of the Wall Street Journal: “very interested to see if he will remove the paid wall”.
  • The IHT experiemented with a paid wall for it’s opinion content, but they will be removing that later this year
  • He says the Bancroft family sold it because they are emotionally detached from the product. It was just an asset to them.
  • A lot of the content is simply reedited content from the NYT and internationalising it. For example, replacing sentences like “Kazakhstan in the size of New York state” doesn’t work well for an international reader who has no idea how big New York state is.
  • On the threat of citizen journalism with traditional media: “they are a competitive threat because we are competing for the same scarce resource: the attention of readers”
  • The problem with citizen journalism and bloggers is the validity of their information – behind a newspapers brand, is trust from readers of the large amounts of research and factchecking that occur. They have no credibility.
  • A blog may develop credibility with an audience greater than the New York Times. But this poses problems for advertising as advertisers might only advertise because of its niche audience. Blogs are spreading the advertising dollars, which is hurting everyone – it’s become decentralised and that has implications which are problematic.
  • The IHT’s circulation is spread thinly across the world. For example, it has 30,000 readers in France and six in Mauritius.
  • Their target market is largely the business traveller, which has its own unique benefits and problems. For example, a business traveler will read it for two days but when they get back home, they will revert to their normal daily newspaper. It’s not a very loyal reader.
  • Readership is a more important concept than circulation as it tells advertisers how big the actual audience of a publication is. For example, the average newspaper has 2.7 readers per copy. However due to the nature of the IHT’s readers, despite having high circulation, they have low readership.
  • IHT is in a unique position of relying on circulation revenue more than advertising. For example, a normal daily relies on circulation revenue as 20% of its total revenue; the IHT counts on it for 50%.
  • It’s hard to get advertising because a readership of university professors is less desirable than fund managers that might read the WSJ. Advertisers prefer to target key decision makers.
  • It doesn’t rely on classifieds as a revenue source – a key thing hurting the newspaper industry currently.
  • Although they place more reliance on circulation revenue, they still get some good advertising opportunities as a lot of readers are politicians and government decision makers.
  • They get a lot of advertising for fashion
  • Psychographic data is more important to advertisers than circulation and it shows what type of readership a publication has.