Always New Mistakes

January 30, 2008

Because every word counts: Twitter experiences

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , , — Alex Barrera @ 3:47 pm

Recently I started using Twitter. I must confess I wasn’t very fond of it. I just didn’t understand what use I couldtwitter.png get out of it. Even though I’m still not a great fan of the service, I have to admit that it gives me some value. Many people try to describe Twitter, and most of them end up saying that it’s like a chat (irc, icq, etc.). My own definition would be that “Twitter is a slow motion chat where you get to decide who talks in it“. The key and really interesting part is the decision of who talks in the chat. For me that’s a huge difference between irc and Twitter.

From a business perspective I use Facebook to see what key people in my industry are doing. I can monitor which events they are going to, with whom they are talking, what posted items they are sharing. Again, the good thing about Facebook is that I choose who I want to be friends with. Nevertheless, one of the differences between Facebook and Twitter is that, for Facebook I always need the friendship to be approved, while on Twitter (except for protected accounts which are rare) I can follow whoever I want.

As for the quality of the information I must say that it’s just different. If you want to write about something and it’s long enough (be it more than 2 phrases) you’ll probably write it down in your blog. But if it’s just a link you want to share or an idea about something, you don’t have a tool to share it to a wide audience. Granted that you could write it as a blog post, but you risk burning your readers with a high frequency of posts with very few content. So, that’s where Twitter gets into action. It allows you to post your short musings to a different kind of audience. Getting back to the quality of the information, the good part of it is that you get to choose high profile twitters that you think might say or share interesting things. For example, Martin Varsarsky, Jeremiha Owyang or Mike Butcher are good examples of that. Again, if you don’t like someones content you can always “unfollow” them with no repercussion.

Finally, while reading a book from Ricardo Semler (Angel, thank you so much for the recommendation), I read a very good quote from Mark Twain: “I’m sorry I wrote a long letter, I didn’t have time to write a shorter one“. It holds an awful big truth, it’s harder to write small but meaningful texts than big cluttered ones. So that got me thinking about Twitter and its repercussions on heavy users. How will a 140 character restriction will transform there way of writing and even thinking? I suppose this is something we won’t see at first, but in the long row. I know that I’ve changed the way I listen to people. I’m so used to crawl hundreds of blog posts a day that I look for the essence of things and only if I like the essence, then I’ll read the whole post. This way of working is transcending into my offline life. Now I always find myself telling people to cut the crap and to get to the bottom line (I must say that people in general and in Spain specifically talk, way too much and say way too little).

I also think that, in the same way bloggers evolve and the way they write posts change with time (for better I hope), the same principle applies for Twitter. At first users just write about there life, and then they start to shift away from that and into a more information rich environment (this doesn’t applies to everybody though).

In conclusion, Twitter covers a different niche than blogs or Facebook dies and it targets a different audience. That being said, I recommend people that consider themselves information junkies to give it a try if you haven’t. You can follow me on my Twitter account and hopefully I’ll start changing what I write there. Twitter should read: “What are you thinking?” instead of “What are you doing?”.

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January 28, 2008

Synergies do matter

Filed under: Business — Tags: , , , , , , — Alex Barrera @ 10:55 am

imag0274.jpgDuring Christmas I took a trip to Venice with my family. One of the days we decided to go to a classical music concert in one of Venice’s churches. Being a big music fan, as I am, it was pretty exciting. The concert was the 4 seasons from Antonio Vivaldi (If you haven’t listened to it I highly recommend it) and it was gorgeous. On our way home I thought about the concert and I was amazed at the musical complexity of the composition (the last time I listened to it was a long time ago). I thought about how music now our days isn’t half as complex, in musical terms, as it used to be. Not that I don’t like current music, I do very much, it’s just that it’s not as technically brilliant. And what has this to do with synergies? A lot actually, composers like Vivaldi, Wagner or Mozart came to Venice during a period where the arts and music were flourishing there. If you were a composer or a painter you had to be there, at least for some months. Venice, and Italy in general, became the center of the Renaissance and the most important place to be if you wanted to be someone. Many famous painters and composers had their studies in Venice and students traveled all they way around the globe, just to study with them.

Now, taking about the present, we are experiencing something similar in Silicon Valley. Some people argue that if you have a tech startup you need to be in Silicon Valley. Some others argue that it’s not necessary, that you can find similar tech hubs in Europe. There has been a lot of buzz about this, specially between Paul Graham and Ryan Carson (organizer of the FOWA conferences). Some argue that you need to be there because it’s where the VC money is, because it’s where all the big tech companies are, because it’s a place where you can find good engineers.

The reasoning behind these affirmations is, somehow flawed. In my opinion there is only one reason why it’s desirable to be there: synergies. It’s not about the money, there is plenty of money a startup can use (business angels, banks, loans, corporations, etc.). It’s not about the big companies (kind of. I’ll explain this later), you won’t succeed with a bad idea even if your office is across Google’s campus. It’s not about good engineers, you can find them elsewhere. Granted it’s harder, not because they don’t exist, but because they are scattered. So, if it’s not about all the reasons I underlined before, then what is it?

The single reason for being at the Valley are synergies. Due to its importance, Silicon Valley attracts very smart people. It works as a huge talent magnet. And it’s not only Silicon Valley, it’s Stanford and UC Berkeley as well. What I’ve seen while I was over there (yes, I’ve there for some months), is that people aren’t geniuses (some are synergy_ball.jpgindeed, but there are very few), it’s all about the environment. Having dinner over there typically involves at least 3 or 4 top persons of a given field, be it computer science, biology, literature, chemistry, mathematics, etc. Your ideas are evaluated by top notch scientists every single day and at every single conversation. That means that if you idea is bad, you’ll know about it pretty soon. On the other side, you’ll get incredible feedback and ideas from around you. That’s something you don’t find easily. I mean, you might get ideas from your buddies in your local town, but you won’t get feedback from the guy that invented Internet. Trust me when I tell you that there is a great difference in the quality of the conversations. And that’s what happens, you eventually start getting “smarter” by being around smart people. You adjust your line of thought to theirs and you boost your personal limits. That’s a synergy. It’s not about the sum of the ideas, it’s about boosting the collective ideas to levels well beyond the sum of each individual one. Obviously, Silicon Valley won’t transform you into a smart guy if you don’t have the brains.

sk-c-1367z.jpegAs I said before, it’s not about working next to Google, it’s about talking with the guys at Google and an infinite exchange of knowledge. Another good thing about synergies is that they generates feedback. Once you taste it, you get more and more and more. The more you get, the more you want. That means that you try to contact more and more people and your social network grows and grows. People at the Valley are always open to new ideas and newcomers and they try to foster healthy discussions. I talk about this because in many countries, specially in Europe, people don’t discuss, they don’t ask questions or worst, they can’t find people to discuss ideas with. And even though you might find a small group of persons you like to chat and argue with, it’s just at such a small scale.

If you read the first paragraph again, you’ll hopefully see the parallelism between the Renaissance and Silicon Valley. Why were there a huge number of awesome Italian painters during those centuries? It wasn’t a local dna anomaly. It’s because the brain is incredible plastic and can work at different rates depending on the outside stimulus. If these are smart stimulus, your brain can set into its higher gear, if the frequency of the stimulus is sparse, it won’t adapt to such high processing levels.

There is a problem with this environment though. It’s well described with this phrase: “can’t see the forest for the trees“. When you are surrounded by the same people and work on the same things, you can’t see the big picture and that can be very dangerous. That’s probably one of the worst characteristics of Silicon Valley. You always need to stay in touch with people from different places to avoid loosing the “big picture eye”.

I don’t want to make this post about how Silicon Valley is the greatest place in the world because it’s not. I just wanted to analyze the power of synergies and how the moment something gets democratized it diminishes the power of synergies. And that’s another problem with synergies. They withhold an incredible power, but at the same time they are very hard to obtain. You need just the right environment and that’s not always possible. For example, some centuries ago, University was something exclusive. It gather the best of the best. It was the center of all enlightenment and so it promoted synergies. Everyone that went to University (generally speaking) was there because they wanted to learn (and because they where wealthy also).

At some point, University was democratized (in Europe) and many people that couldn’t afford it where suddenly able media_20543_en.jpgto study and obtain a higher education. This was something incredible, as it promoted literacy in many places, but strikingly it had some secondary effects. This democratization rendered the high intellects apart, diminishing the power of previous synergies. The more mainstream something becomes, the more difficult is to build synergies. This is because in a big group of people, the norm is that most of them don’t care about learning. I say this last phrase with great grief as I would wish it could be the other way round. Nevertheless, when most of your environment thinks like that, it’s much harder to find brilliant people as they are scattered all over the place. Again, don’t get me wrong about this issue, I’m not defending the elite schools or Universities either.

In conclusion, getting the right balance between elitism and mainstream and being able to maintain a reasonable number of synergies can be a very tough quest. So, have you ever been part of a synergy with someone? What are your experiences?

Image credits: pburch.net, rijksmuseum.nl, gla.ac.uk

January 9, 2008

America’s downfall: Hey teachers, leave us laptops alone!

Filed under: Business, Security — Tags: , , , , — Alex Barrera @ 12:58 am

Today I read this article via Slashdot: U.S. courts consider legality of laptop inspections. I’m shocked! Sinceprivacy-is-not-a-crimel.gif 9/11 we’ve seen many changes on border policies, but this one is, in my opinion one of the worst. It’s become increasingly difficult to do business in America. Believe me when I say this with great grief. I love America and coming from a Montessori school, my way of thinking and acting is much more American than European. Nevertheless, making business with or in America has become a nightmare, not only for foreigners, but also for locals.

It’s already close to impossible to get a working visa (H1-B), and even with an academic visa (like myself) you get questioned, fingerprinted and eye scanned. International conferences that used to have Las Vegas or other American cities as residences are beginning to shift their locations to avoid problems with their foreign speakers. Even speakers that come all the way from Europe to help and train the guys from NSA are being deported because of problems at the American border.

And now what? Well, it seems that now you can’t even bring your laptop with you! Don’t get me wrong, I understand that under some circumstances, it’s paramount to confiscate and analyze a hard disk in search of vigilancia.gifevidence. What I don’t get is why I have to give away all my personal information WITHOUT any warrant. I’m not a law expert, but from what I understand, if you want to confiscate a computer in someone’s house you need to seek a warrant first. That means that you’ll have to hand some evidence to a judge first and then you’ll be able to take the hard disk. What this court proposes is that while you have your laptop at home you are protected by the law, but the moment you try to travel with your computer they can bypass the law and search your hard disk. Well, I think that’s just wrong, very wrong. Not only because I don’t have a right for privacy, but because if I’m on a business trip I’ll loose my laptop and all my business data! So again, this attitude just keeps non American business people from traveling to the US. Considering that America is heading to a major recession and that the dollar is so weak against the Euro, I don’t think that’s the best strategy.

Anyhow, I do understand the reasons behind many of the new bills being approved, but I truly think there are better ways to deal with this. Again, this is just my humble opinion. I would love to hear what Americans thinks about these issues. Any takers?

UPDATE: I just read this post from TechCrunch which shows the dramatic trend US tech companies are taking due to the working visa cap and other problems with foreign workers. It’s clear that even US companies are looking outside US for new places in which they might continue growing. And I wonder, isn’t the working visa cap suppose to create more jobs for US citizens? Sadly, numbers tell a different story.

UPDATE2: New indicators of current state of matters in the US: “From 1994 to 2004, U.S. firms increased the number of people they employed in R&D jobs outside the United States by 76 % and employment within the United States by 31 %, while U.S. subsidiaries of foreign firms increased their U.S. R&D employment by 18 %.

January 7, 2008

Valuation snowball

Filed under: Business — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Alex Barrera @ 7:17 pm

Even though investors, entrepreneurs and industry leaders say the current technological bubble is different from the one in 1999, things are starting to get out of hand:

  • SugarCRM: Raises $14.5 Million
  • Ice.com: Raises $47 Milliondollars.jpg
  • Pudding Media: Raises $8 Million
  • Meraki Networks: Raises $20 Million
  • Affinity Labs: Acquired for $61 Million
  • Moniker: Acquired for $65 Million
  • Onaro: Acquired for $120 Million
  • Apertio: Acquired for $206.5 Million
  • XIV: Acquired for $350 Million

All those deals come from last week’s Techcrunch posts. I just did a quick search at TechCrunch’s archive from 2006 and I found some interesting statistics. Lets compare the ratio of deadpooled startups in 2006 versus deadpooled startups in 2007:

Deadepooled companies in 2006:

http://www.techcrunch.com/2006/01/10/searchfox-to-shut-down/ http://www.techcrunch.com/2006/05/04/want-to-buy-a-search-engine-2/ http://www.techcrunch.com/2006/06/15/myspace-nukes-singlestatus/
http://www.techcrunch.com/2006/06/20/myspace-feeds-the-deadpool-nukes-another-startup/ http://www.techcrunch.com/2006/06/29/couchsurfing-deletes-itself-shuts-down/ http://www.techcrunch.com/2006/08/16/ajax-calendar-kikocom-goes-on-ebay-offers-to-delete-accounts/
http://www.talkcrunch.com/2006/09/06/episode-11-elliot-noss-talks-about-kiko-acquisition/ http://www.techcrunch.com/2006/09/21/exclusive-zookoda-auction/ http://www.techcrunch.com/2006/10/04/audioblogger-joins-deadpool/
http://www.techcrunch.com/2006/10/16/livelocker-calls-it-quits-enters-deadpool/ http://www.techcrunch.com/2006/12/30/rawsugar-in-deadpool/

Total: 11

Deadepooled companies in 2007: See TechCrunch post.

Total:55

Granted that counting TechCrunch posts isn’t rocket science and that might not be the most accurate data source. Nevertheless, it’s quite interesting to see that the number of companies that went out of business this year is 4 times higher than in 2006. I haven’t counted the number of launches in 2006, but I guess the number is quite smaller than in 2007 (34 of them reported by TechCrunch).

The number of millions invested in tech companies also suffered an acute increment. In 2006 the investment ranged from $3 to $15 Millions with an average investment of $12.94 Million (all data taken from TechCrunch’s archive of 2006, and don’t reflect exact numbers at all but just a quick, probably biased, approximation).

A comparison with the investments I showed at the top (an average of $22.37 Million) makes my mind blow. In 2007 the number of investments, and the total amount of money per investment grew considerably (these approximated values don’t account for Facebook’s recent investments which would only rise the average).

What is the problem with this you might think? Well, not much at first. It’s great that so many companies are getting investments. It’s a good indicator of strong economical growth in the tech industry. The problem arises when companies start getting valued higher than they really are. It’s true that it’s very hard to valuate a company, specially a dot com company with millions of users but no revenues, but some of the acquisitions and investments are just crazy.

social-bubble.png

On one side it’s great news for all entrepreneurs like myself. It’s getting easier to get investment and it’s also easy to reach a good exit deal thanks to all the acquisitions we are seeing. On the other side, it’s a dangerous situation. I reckon we won’t experience a bubble burst as big as the one in 1999, but when this trend stops we’ll have to face hundreds of deadpooled companies and many VCs will lost big amounts of cash. As a side effect, hundreds or even thousands of engineers will be laid off. I don’t like apocalyptic visions, but I’m afraid there is way too much expectation and we will suffer this. As many economist know, the market will self regulate itself. Just watch and see!

Image credit: bigmouthmedia.com

December 31, 2007

The big problem of advertisement: Us

Filed under: Business — Alex Barrera @ 6:36 pm

Online advertisement is the economical engine of many current startups. Nevertheless, according to Dave Morgan, only 1% of the Internet population click on those ads. I’m not talking about context search ads like the ones displayed by Google, but about the ads and banners displayed in web sites and social networks. The problem with them is that, despite yielding a very low efficiency in terms of Clicks Per Ads vs. Website Users, most sites keep cluttering their space with them. Some time ago I was watching a video clip at Reuter’s site and I had to watch some seconds of ads before I could watch the real content. That got me asking myself, why is everything full of ads? Why is it increasingly rare to find a site with no ads? The answer I got was that the problem was US. Yes, you heard right, the problem is that there is such a big competition in many Internet market sectors, that user loyalty is attached to which services are free AND better (in that order), “Excuse me Mr. CEO, do you want me to pay for your service when I can do the same on this site for free? Hell no!

Internet tech savvy users are so used to surf the web that are reluctant to pay for most web applications. This is specially true if the service a website is offering can be found elsewhere. One example of this are online email readers. If you ask if someone would pay to use Yahoo Mail, I’m sure they’ll say they wont. Why? Because there are other “free” alternatives such as Hotmail or Gmail. Now, if you try to start a website that operates in a market niche where others are giving a similar service for free, you won’t have any option apart from giving yours also for free. This behavior produces a funny paradox. Most startups don’t have a viable business model yet, but they still offer free content so they can compete with other companies in their market. The problem is that, as more companies enter the same niche, competition grows and all services become free of charge. Once the market reaches that point, most startups take one of these two paths: ads driven business model or premium accounts driven model. The first one clutters the website with ads, needing an increasingly high volume of users to transform that 1% click rate into something valuable. The problem is that most of them just alienate their users, risking loosing some of them. That’s because most users just don’t look at the ads. This is what Jakob Nielsen calls, banner blindness. On the other side, premium accounts imply a higher risk. If you don’t offer a service that’s unique, most users won’t bother to pay for it. That means that the startup won’t get any revenue at all.

banner-blindness-examples.jpg

Finally, because we are so used to finding several options for the same service, we force startups to take the ad driven business model as a way to cash in their product. The problem is that, very few of them really make real money with it. Why is that? Paraphrasing Dave Morgan: “ […] while clickers may be valuable audiences, they are by no means representative of the Web at large. Focusing campaigns to optimize on clicks means skewing campaigns to optimize on middle-aged women from the Midwest.“. So if your product doesn’t targets middle-aged women from the Midwest (or enough of them), your chances of survival are skim.

The question then remains, shall we, as Internet consumers, pay for our favorite services, even though we can find similar products elsewhere? I’m afraid that most of you won’t, and it’s natural, it’s one of the consequences of the freedom of markets. So, remember, every time you get bugged by an ad or a banner, it’s ultimately your fault! We shouldn’t pay for free of ads services, but because the service is worth it.

Merry Christmas to everybody and happy New Year 2008!

UPDATE: Seems like the guys at Read/WriteWeb were thinking above the same lines I was.

Image credit: Jakob Nielsen (useit.com)

December 13, 2007

Twittories and the art of writing

Filed under: Business — Tags: , , , , — Alex Barrera @ 3:03 pm

Some days ago, our good friend Duncan Riley wrote about Twittories. It’s a website where many people collaborate to write a short story. The catch is that they have to do it with a twitter message. This means, each user can only submit one message with a maximum length of 140 characters. While reading the story I was reminded of a game we used to play when we were little, I know it has another name in English but can’t remember now. In Spanish it was called the broken phone. Anyway, although it’s a fun idea and a cool experiment, there is no way you can read a story written in that fashion. The central plot is so broken it’s impossible to follow. But I must say it got me thinking about the quality of most articles. Before creating my current startup, I developed a prototype for what was going to be my first try in the entrepreneur world. I designed a semantic algorithm that was able to detect and highlight structural problems in texts. In other words, a style corrector. While I was testing it, I realized how badly written where most news articles. One of the most common problem was the use of overly large phrases in terms of words. And when I talk about large phrases I’m talking about 50 or more words per phrase without a full stop. So, back to the twittories, I realized that, even though the plot might be messed up, the 140 characters restriction could be a great thumb rule for many writers (including myself of course). Maybe we could enforce some rules like that on our blog platforms. Now that TypePad is also open source, there is no excuse 😉

What are your thoughts about this?

December 7, 2007

Life after the 2.0 bubble

Filed under: Blogs, Business — Tags: , , , , — Alex Barrera @ 4:23 pm

Many people are talking about the current technology bubble we are experiencing. It’s something that has been written about in many places. It has even been depicted in the following video (if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a must):

I don’t want to argue about it, as there has been quite some fuzz around it. What it’s clear to me is that it will eventually burst. When that happens many startups will have to close and many people will lost their jobs. Will it be worst than in 1999? I can’t know, although I personally think it won’t be as dreadful. Anyway, I was wondering what will be the future of the blogosphere when this bubble crashes?. It’s easy to predict that many startups will have to close due to poor or inexistent users, but what will happen to all the tech blogs out there? Brian Oberkirch has an interesting post about the value of most of the current tech blogs. Many of them just reproduce the latest news but with different words. I think we need those kind of blogs, but right now we have way too much like them. We are needing valuable bloggers that, as Brian points, should create hidden relationships between things, and that make us think and analyze current trends. So I wonder, if the bubble bursts, what will happen with all those new-shinny-startup-review-copycats? Will many of us will still be there? If there are no more tech companies, will people stop blogging or they’ll just blog about the bubble’s crash?

Take the example of TechCrunch, if there are no more startups, will they have to blog about other stories? Will the readers continue to read those new stories or will they move on? I guess my point is, should we expect a huge drop in our blog audiences after the bubble bursts? Or even better, will the overall number of posts per day decrease?

Personally I would expect the same level of blog posts, but instead of talking about new companies, they could post detailed analysis about why the startup X or company Y failed. Or for example, about how the companies that did manage to stay alive made it through the crash, what strategies they adopted and lessons learned. Nevertheless, some tech blogs will inevitably disappear or at least lower (a lot) their post rates speeds.

As a blogger or a blog reader, do you think we might be heading to a blog crisis? If not, do you foresee any situation that would eventually lead to a blog crisis?

PS: Sorry about the delay in posting. I’ve had some really stressful weeks, but I’m back with some new posts.

UPDATE: I had to change the url of the video as it had changed. It’s working again 🙂

November 21, 2007

Powerlabs: An insight into Powerset’s technology

Filed under: Business, Natural Language Processing — Tags: , , , — Alex Barrera @ 7:42 pm

Finally I received my invitation for the Powerset’s Powerlabs website. I’ve been playing with it for a couple of weeks now and I’m quite impress with some of the things they’ve accomplished. Powerlabs is an invitation only community for beta testers, built around five demos (they just added a new one yesterday). Their main goal is to show Powerset’s technology (via the demos), and to discuss problems, questions or ideas related to either the technology or the web interface.

The web site has five main sections: Dashboard (like you home page), Demos, Discussions, Queries (wished-for queries by other members) and People (list and ranking of current members). You can basically break the website in two big sections, the demos and the discussion area (more on this later).

Dashboard
This section is the user’s homepage for Powerlabs. As you can see on the screenshot, here you can monitor your stats within the community (nº of discussions, nº of comments, global rank based on karma points, etc.), Powerlabs latest news (“New Sports Demo” right now), a list of recently implemented ideas (with a link to the post where the idea was made and the author) and your news feed. The news feed is probably one of the best parts of Powerlabs. It’s quite similar to the one you find in Facebook and it basically keeps you updated with the latest activities related to your user and you summited ideas.

Dashboard

Demos
This is one of the most important areas of the website. Here you can play with five demos that show you Powerset’s technology at work. I stress the word technology, because you won’t find a Natural Language Search demo here. So it’s not a demo of the product, it’s a demo of the algorithms they are using to build the product. The demos have two big restrictions, they use predefined queries (you are just able to fill some words of a longer phrase) and they only work with the Wikipedia corpus (hopefully it seems they are trying to expand the corpus in a very near future). The demos are divided in several categories: sports, the arts, business, quotes and PowerMouse. The first four are the same demo, the only difference is on the queries you can ask.

sport demo1

For example, for the sports demo you can ask some of the following questions:

  • What did X win?
  • What did X draft?
  • Who X (defeated or beat) X?

For the business demo, you can ask things like:

  • What does X own?
  • Who did X acquire?

sports demo 2

The PowerMouse demo is probably the most fun to play with, it lets “you examine how structured information is extracted from open text“. As they say, it’s not a search application per se, but it’s a window into how the results are obtained. When you start the demo you are asked to fill the following structure: Something (subject) – Connection (verb) – Something (object). There are no restrictions on what three words to use. This demo will give you all the possible combinations of your query. When it can’t find the exact query it will use broader words to try and get what you where looking for. Take a look at the screenshot for more insights.

PowerMouse Demo

Discussions
This is the heart of the website. The discussion area is like a forum but on steroids. It’s divided in various categories (wikipedia, query examples, labs, the arts, …). You also have a category where you’ll see all the posts either order by date or by relevancy. Each post has it’s title, author, nº of views, votes and comments. It works in a similar way as Digg does. Members read a post and vote if the like the idea. The more number of votes an idea gets, the higher it gets on the relevancy list. For each post you can also set a flag that will allow you to follow the activity (you’ll get updates on your news feed). Each time a comment or an idea you’ve posted gets a vote, you’ll get a new entry on your news feed. Every time someone comments on either a comment you made or an idea you sent, you’ll get an entry on your news feed. There is even a RSS feed for the discussions, albeit the url is hidden in one of the posts. One of the coolest features is that, before post something, the system suggest similar already summited ideas. If by any chance someone has already posted a similar question or idea, you’ll know before you actually send yours, avoiding sending duplicated post.

Discussions

Idea 1

Idea 2

Queries
This section lets you browse some of the member’s wished-for queries. It lets you create new queries and comment on the ones that are stored already.

People
The site spins around the idea of karma points. That’s similar to many other ranking/voting systems around like Slashdot, Digg or ycnews. You earn points for commenting, for using the demos, for posting an idea and for every vote your ideas or comments get. The People‘s area lets you monitor what members are on the system. You can order them by karma rank, recent activity, number of ideas, etc. In the future some demos will require a certain level of karma, so it’s always important to reach a good karma level.

People

My opinions? Well, I think Powerset has achieved a great goal, get lots of testers involved. It’s true that the demos disappoint, I think most people expect a less rigid demo, but hey, at least they are showing that the technology isn’t vaporware. I love the approach of letting people participate at all stages of the product development. Few companies do that and it’s a breath of fresh air. The interface and user experience of Powerlabs is awesome. One of the best I’ve seen so far. It’s easy, straightforward and useful. Importing the voting scheme from places like Digg is a very smart move, they’ve managed to engage a lot of users and that’s great. The downside, after playing for some weeks and due to the lack of more comprehensive questions and corpuses, you end up not knowing what more to do. In my opinion, it lacks three important things, an RSS feed for the news feed, that way you can keep updated instead of having to refresh the browser, a way to ask much more open questions and a bigger and updated corpus (I think this might be on its way). Nevertheless, they are moving fast and each week they are adding new features, so I’ll keep checking and I’ll update when necessary.

Any Powerseters willing to add some comments?

Image credits: Powerset

November 19, 2007

Breaking the Internet barrier

Filed under: Business — Tags: , , , — Alex Barrera @ 12:12 am

Some days ago I read this post and realized how much the media has changed in the last years. Not that I hadn’t noticed, but it suddenly struck me that we are changing our entertainment habits at an astonishing rate. How many of you still watch TV? I knHollywoodow for sure I don’t, and it’s been a while. It seems as if “offline” businesses are crumbling and letting space for the online businesses. What got me thinking was the idea of having online TV shows script writers displacing “offline” script writers. Is it a good idea? Will Hollywood bring unknown script writers from the Internet to fill in the writers on strike? On one side, this is a great idea. I’ve always thought that some worlds are way too endogamous, Hollywood is one of these. What is great about the Internet is that you don’t have to do expensive studies to see if something works, you just put it online and wait and see how users react to it. So now you don’t have to do castings, you just search the Internet and bring on board the writers of the best shows on the Internet, period. But, is this going to work? Even though the format is the same, the medium is quite different. That means that the audience is also different. So, if you bring good script writers to the TV, will they grab the same user share as on the Internet? I don’t think so.

Take a look at Fake Steve Jobs blog. I’m a great fan, I enjoy reading it. I think Daniel is an excellent writer, one of the best I’vefakestevejobs.jpg read in quite some time. His blog is followed by millions of readers. Recently he wrote a book titled Options: The Secret Life of Steve Jobs, a Parody (Haven’t read it yet but it’s on my Christmas list). I was amused by one of his latest posts: “Have you seen his book? It’s awful. I mean I’m a big fan of Colbert’s TV show and I know he hired a huge team of writers to work on the book for him but honestly, no kidding, this thing sucks ass. Nevertheless it’s a huge best-seller, while my own brilliant memoir … um, isn’t“. Let’s get some numbers, don’t we? Ok, FSJ’s book ranking in Amazon is, as of today, #1,894. Colbert’s book is #8. If we get back to our online world, according to Techmeme’s leaderboard, FSJ holds a quite nice #64 position on the world’s blog list (#53 if you look at Technorati). So, how can that be? If people follow FSJ’s blog on a daily basis, why don’t they all buy his book? Some might argue that if you read him online, you are going to read him offline, but in my opinion, we are quite different on our online/offline states. The same thing doesn’t *has* to work on both sides of the line. It might, but as we see, the numbers tell another story. In my case, I haven’t bought the book yet because I have few time. It’s faster to just read his blog (and many others). Might this be a common reason for other people?

Now, back to Hollywood and the Internet, it might work, some might work, but ultimately I do think the future is the other way round. That is, Hollywood script writers leaving the big studios to set their own Internet productions. Lets face it, currently it’s ridiculously cheap to produce an Internet show, just take a look at Scoble Show or Diggnation. I love them, but hey, they cost an infimun part of a TV show. So I wonder, why don’t the writers just make the leap and start writing their own shows? Why not take the path that their cousins at the music industry are taking? They could control their creative work and could make a hell lot more money. Times are changing, people like to watch their favorite shows on demand, not at a predefined hour like in the TV, so why don’t just produce shows exclusively for the Internet? Maybe I’m too futuristic about this, but looking back, I’m amazed at the speed things are changing (or it might be I’m getting old). If you don’t follow the people, you’ll be left behind.

As always, constructive critics, opinions and similar are welcome. What do people think about all this? Just for the record, I think the strike is something writers should have done much earlier. Keep up with it guys, and just make the final leap to the Internet, even though I’ll miss some shows! (this is the list of our favorite TV shows that are affected by the strike).

UPDATE: Seems like the Hollywood writers are really jumping to the startup arena.

Image credits: Craig Aurness/Corbis

November 7, 2007

Some numbers on the Radiohead album

Filed under: Business — Tags: , , — Alex Barrera @ 3:01 pm

Yesterday, Comscore made a press release with some numbers on the Radiohead album experiment. The data is from the first 29 days of the experiment and is based on a sample of 2 million people. The percentage of people that payed for the album was 38% (worldwide), while the percentage of free downloads rose to 62%. This numbers leave behind the ones I posted on the bagels experiment, 62% of free downloads versus a 87% of free bagels. As I’ve said before, could this be due to Internet’s anonymous nature? I am beginning to think it has to do with a feeling of pre-visualization. People download the album for free, they play it for some days and if they like it, they buy it. So, it’s more of a quality-reward scheme. For me it’s like the shopping experience. You take several t-shirts, you first put them on, see how cute you are in them, and only if you look good, you’ll buy them.

Nevertheless I think Comscore’s numbers might be a little flawed. Most people I know have downloaded the album first, and after a while they’ve bought it. Because the sample only registers the first 29 days, it’s quite probable that some of the people’s downloads that are eventually counted in as free, would later become payed ones. This is specially true for the first period of any experiment, specially if there has been a great deal of fuzz around it. Right now I think the current rate of free downloads might be a little lower.

By the way, if you like the blog you can subscribe to it here.

UPDATE: As Mathew notes, Radiohead made a press release stating that comScore’s numbers are way innacuarate. Although they haven’t said what the real numbers are. I expect higher percentages of payed albums.
Image credit: wikipedia.org

UPDATE2: As I suspected,  Thom Yorke said very recently: “In terms of digital income, we’ve made more money out of this record than out of all the other Radiohead albums put together, forever.

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