August 5, 2009

Final reflections on the Traveling Geeks trip

Craig & Karyn

JD LasicaIt has been one month since the Traveling Geeks kicked off our trip to London and Cambridge with a Tweetup at JuJu in Chelsea. (I was the chief organizer of trip.) From this distance and vantage point, here are a few random impressions:

• I think too much can be made of the differences between entrepreneurship in the UK and in the United States. While it’s true that Silicon Valley nurtures a spirit of innovation marked by the mantra “Fail often, but fail fast” — an axiom that permits experimentation without demanding an immediate return to investors — it’s even more true that the businessmen and entrepreneurs I met along the way have the same fire in the belly — a burning desire to build something of great value.

SeedCamp was a high point of the trip to many of us, and apart from the well-done, compact presentations, it was fascinating to watch tomorrow’s young business leaders mingle with each other and exchange ideas and contact information. Cross-pollination at its best. Spotify, Huddle, Skimlinks, Zemanta — these are names that may grow into notable consumer brands in the coming years, and Moo arguably already has. (Here’s my writeup; and here’s my video interview with Skimlinks founder Alicia Navarro.)

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July 18, 2009

Skimlinks: Make money from your blog

Skimlinks: Revenue through recommendations from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

JD LasicaDuring the Traveling Geeks‘ visit to Seedcamp in London last week, I sat down for a short interview with Alicia Navarro, founder and CEO of Skimlinks, an affiliate marketing service aimed at publishers that want to make money from their shopping recommendations. It’s an alternative to traditional affiliate marketing from sites like Amazon, where you get paid a commission for referrals but need to jump through a number of hoops when working with multiple sites.

With Skimlinks you add one line of code to your site and it takes care of updating your site with marketing links automatically. Sites where products and services are discussed — particularly those covering fashion, technology, gadgets, parenting, autos and home and lifestyle — are the ones that stand to benefit most from Skimlinks.

Some large sites are already pulling in $10,000 per month “without having to do anything — that’s the beauty of it,” Alicia says.

Naturally, inserting commercial links in the middle of your editorial content raises all kinds of issues, so Skimlinks has developed best practices and guidelines. “We believe very passionately in the importance of maintaining editorial integry,” Alicia says. Editors can stay completely focused on creating high-quality content without having to deal with integrating affiliate marketing links into their sites. “Skimlinks monetizes it after the fact, so editors can be agnostic and completely unaware of what is monetized and what isn’t.”

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July 15, 2009

Seedcamp winners meet the Geeks

Zemanta

JD LasicaOne of the real highlights of the Traveling Geeks trip to the United Kingdom last week came when we were treated to “speed dating” session with the top start-ups of Seedcamp.

seedcampThis, after all, is one of the chief goals of the Traveling Geeks: to suss out young or little-known start-ups hear their stories, and throw a spotlight on the ones that resonate with us.

So we were thrilled when Sherry Coutu and Reshma Sohoni of London-based Seedcamp (Twitter: @seedcamp) arranged for us to meet their top start-ups, both collectively and one on one. Every one had a compelling consumer-facing service. Here are the ones that particularly struck a chord:

Huddle.net

Twitter: @huddle
Email: [email protected]
Site: huddle.net

huddleHuddle.net offers a collaboration, sharing and project tools platform for getting stuff done. Specifically, Huddle provides secure online workspaces where users can share files, collaborate on ideas, manage projects and organize virtual meetings. P&G, Toshiba, Panasonic, Nokia and Unicef are among the customers using Huddle.

In February, Huddle partnered with InterCall, the world’s largest conferencing provider, to provide services to their 1 million-plus customers. And last month BusinessWeek named Huddle one of their “50 most promising startups” around the globe.

Heady stuff for founders Andy McLoughlin and Alistair Mitchell, who gave me a five-minute rundown of the site’s services. While I’ve been impressed by Basecamp‘s recent improvements, I saw enough in my session with Andy and Alistair that persuaded me to try out Huddle in an upcoming project with one of my clients or co-conspirators.

Zemanta

Twitter: @zemanta
Email: [email protected]
Site: zemanta.com

zemantaAndraz Tori (pictured at top), CTO of Slovenia-based Zemanta, sat down and gave the company’s six-word pitch: “Zemanta is an author’s best friend.” Turns out that it’s not just a marketing pitch.

zemanta siderI just started using Zemanta today and can see why it’s so addictive. As a blogger on WordPress who uses the Firefox browser, I’m perfectly suited for Zemanta’s services. I had previously come across Zemanta only on other bloggers’ posts and didn’t pay much attention to the link at the bottom of blog posts that would summon up related posts.

But Zemanta offers a slick and convenient way to spruce up your blog posts.It looks over your shoulder while you’re crafting a post (or even an email) and suggests images, related articles, links and tags to use. A simple click and the image or link now becomes part of your post. Zemanta draws from a large pool of available images, many of them carrying Creative Commons licenses. That’s one of the coolest features — mouse over the image and you’ll see its terms of use (generally free).

“I just love Zemanta,” said fellow Geek Meghan Asha. “It’s just cool to be able to have those images right there, all free and legal to use.”

Well put. I’m a believer now .

Spotify

Twitter: @spotify
Email: [email protected]
Site: spotify.com

spotifyIn my book “Darknet” I wrote about the ongoing clash between the music companies and music fans who just want easy access to digital music. Spotify is one of the first companies to come along with an answer.

Through its simple-to-use interface and licensing deals with the major music labels, Spotify offers music fans instant access to their favorite music. The service enables on-demand streaming of tons of audio content through a free, ad-supported model and a premium paid model. London-based Lastfm and US-based Pandora are two similar music listening services, and SoundCloud is a great way to share music and audio files (see Robert Scoble’s video interview with One of Europe’s brightest startups: SoundCloud).

Scoble has been a big fan of Spotify, and I can see why.

Moo

Twitter: @overheardatmoo
Email: [email protected]
Site: moo.com

mooI’ve been a fan of Moo cards for years — they’re a staple at Silicon Valley events — but didn’t realize, until founder-CEO Richard Moross laid it out for me, just how many kinds of business cards and stickers Moo offers.

A lot: the company prints of cards a month for customers in 180 countries. Their customer base consists of 40 percent North Americans, 30 percent from the UK and 30 percent from the rest of the world, chiefly Europe. The best part: The cards are completely personalized. In the past, I’ve uploaded 50 different images for a stack of 100 business cards at a cost of about $20. Crazy-cheap.

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July 14, 2009

The future of television: Social TV

JP Rangaswami
JP Rangaswami

JD LasicaBehind closed doors in offices from the media centers of New York to the entertainment capital of Hollywood, content programmers and code jockeys are no doubt trying to figure out how to marry traditional television with social networking.

Does the lean-forward experience, interactivity and backchannel chatter of social networks have a place in the tightly controlled, lean-back world of television? I’m among those who believe the two will wed in a satisfying way, though we’re likely five to 10 years from that happening. I blogged about Intel and Yahoo’s experiments with the Cinematic Internet (or Widget Channel TV) last year, and I’ve written over the years about the largely discredited experiments with “interactive television.”

But a week ago today, in the corporate offices of BT in London, the Traveling Geeks were treated to a 10-minute presentation by Tanya Goldhaber, a graduate student at MIT just finishing up an eight-week internship at BT, about “Social TV.” We were so intrigued that we kept tossing questions to her well after her allotted time.

Peer-influenced viewership

As audiences continue to fragment, as more of us multitask with laptops on our laps while we’re watching TV, as the major social networks continue to amass millions of more members each week, and as the Internet finally comes to our living rooms with a new generation of devices like Boxee, it’s only a matter of time before television becomes social.

Goldhaber showed some screenshots of what a prototype social TV screen might look like. (Prototypes I’ve seen at the Intel Developers Network and at LinkTV a few months ago take it in similar if somewhat different directions.)

I suspect most of us don’t want to see a CNN-like crawl of our friends’ comments at the bottom of our prime-time programming. But I certainly would like to know if my friends were enthralled by a one-time PBS special, or if DirecTV was televising the ninth inning of a no-hit game, or if one of my friends was interviewed by a news crew.

Goldhaber noted that today’s Electronic Program Guides are all but impossible to navigate, and she cited studies that people would rather get viewing recommendations from a friend than from a computer. In survey of TV viewers, 37% of respondents said they started watching their favorite TV show because of a friend’s recommendation or word of mouth.

I asked Goldhaber if, a few years out, social networks might lead to “swarming behavior” among TV viewers, causing quick spikes in viewership for little-known niche programs based on social influencers’ actions. Certainly possible, she said.

I’d be intrigued by a system that automatically feeds me information about what my friends are collectively watching, instead of having to wait for them to tell me through a kind of tweet burst. And I’d also be interested by a peer, or friend of friends, recommendation system that elevates obscure but high-quality independent Web programs.

Social TV could reshape the television landscape — which is why you’ll never see the major networks lead this transformation. Like Napster and Apple in the music industry, the innovation will come from the bottom up, well outside of the media and entertainment industries.

BT and open source

I’ll be honest: Before I visited the UK, I assumed that BT was Britain’s version of AT&T: monolithic, imposing, not terribly open to innovation. An evening of conversations and an afternoon of presentations at BT has disabused me of that notion.

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July 13, 2009

Meghan Asha on highlights of Traveling Geeks UK

Meghan Asha on technology & the Traveling Geeks from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

JD LasicaI‘m back from my trip to London and Cambridge with the Traveling Geeks — I was the chief organizer of this second annual event — and I’m still going through withdrawal pains after all the amazing encounters we had.

One of the people I most enjoyed spending time with was the amazing Meghan Asha, founder of NonSociety.com, whom I interviewed last fall at a very loud TechCrunch 50. If there’s not a Meghan Asha fan club out there, I just may form one.

On Saturday afternoon, at the conclusion of the trip, I chatted with Meghan for 8 minutes as she sat on a lion statue outside the Fitzwilliam Museum. Topics included technology and women, privacy issues and highlights of the Geeks’ trip.

Watch the video in Flash on Vimeo (embedded above)
Watch the video in H.264 QuickTime on Ourmedia
Download the video at Archive.org

Three of the Seedcamp winners we met with six days ago today resonated for both Meghan and me: Huddle.net, Zemanta and Skimlinks. I’ll write about them in more detail tomorrow.

I’m going to borrow an idea by fellow Geek Tom Foremski and blog about the trip a week after each event. On July 5 we had a Meet the Geeks Tweetup at JuJu in London’s Chelsea district; kudos to Ted Shelton of the Conversation Group for organizing the event and a hat tip to all our sponsors, especially Intel for donating a Netbook and MID as raffle prizes. Soon I’ll post two Flip video interviews I did at the Tweetup, with Anatolie Papas of Symbian and Kate Arkless Gray of the BBC’s Save Our Sounds.

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July 9, 2009

Time for innovative news models

Gang at Guardian

JD LasicaOne of the highlights of the Traveling Geeks trip to the United Kingdom this week came Tuesday night when the Guardian held its first-ever podcast in front of a live audience for its Media Live program.

The panel — tech blogger Robert Scoble, Sarah Lacy, blogger at TechCrunch, columnist at BusinessWeek and co-host of Tech Ticker on Yahoo!, myself, BBC tech correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones, Emily Bell, the Guardian’s director of digital content, and moderator Matt Wells — tackled a big question: the future of the news media, the rise of Twitter, and whether newspapers will survive. And members of the 110-member audience took part toward the end.

The podcast just went live. Stream or download (Time 51:13):

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

(You can also listen to it, naturally, on the Guardian site.)

A few highlights

The entire 51 minutes is well worth a listen — I think it’s one of the smartest podcasts I’ve been a part of. A few snippets:

• I returned to the problem of newspaper culture that punishes, rather than rewards, experimentation, innovation and failure (without which innovation is impossible). But harping on newspapers’ failures is like shooting dinosaurs in a barrel.

• Sarah Lacy suggested that we may see 10 metropolitan cities without a daily newspaper by the end of the year. (I think the time frame is more likely on the order of two to three years.)

• I was sorry we spent almost no time on emerging models for news, which will likely not involve a newspaper (but then again, the Guardian draws its revenue primarily from its print publication). I suggested that newspapers explore the idea of opening up their websites to become open-source community platforms.

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