Maori Lexicon Spins Off Pod of Projects

orcaEnglish has prevailed as both the accepted language of commerce and as a dominant language on the Internet.  But vast numbers of non-English speaking web users are demanding that the Internet become truly internationalised. That presents an opportunity for innovators able to span cultural divides with enabling technologies.

 My mate Dave Moskowitz always has a few interesting web based projects on the boil whenever we chat. So I was pleased to hear that the online Maori dictionary  for speakers of Te Reo has finally come to fruition after much hard work. The project also complements the excellent English-Maori online dictionary and language resource kete provided by Te Whanake.

Significantly, the collaborative open source tool set used to develop the lexicography is now to be deployed in other settings globally. Apart from projects involving translation of Hawaiian and Burmese Karen into English there is an intriguing local project involving research and preservation of Maori legal documents dating from the 19th Century. No doubt there will be a steady stream of enquiries once word circulates about this unique platform. The timing could not have been better, with the recent launch of the Maori version of Google.

As the Internet becomes more and more pervasive, there is a risk of imposing a dull monoculture on its users, particularly on indigenous peoples. And with the increasing affluence of non-English speaking regions such as the Middle East and Asia, the demand for translation tools and non-English web content must surely grow exponentially. Platforms developed in multicultural New Zealand are well positioned to take advantage of this growth and to encourage diversity on the Web.

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Entrepreneur’s Epilogue

It was a defining moment last week when ideegeo took up residency and became a foundation member at Altspace in downtown Wellington. Not a moment too soon. There has been a surge of progress, with our European partner company suddenly in a position to provide a steady stream of consultancy work. More importantly my CTO and his long-suffering (but very understanding) lady were getting heartily sick of us running the business out of their spare bedroom.

Altspace is a shared workspace for start-up companies and independent contractors, providing a communal office site complete with power, Internet and furnishings plus access to a kitchenette and toilets. Being centrally located it is handy for both casual day trippers and long term users who need a base for business. Altspace director Steven Heath will be on hand at the Geeks, Games and Gadgets ’08 expo to talk about the venue which he also hopes to make available to local I.T. user groups.

I will miss the view out the bedroom window however. On our first day of working together there was a pod of Orca playing in the shallows of the South Coast right below us. I took that as a good omen.

Can Business Get Its Head Around Social Media?

Developer meeting held in SmallworldsFrom virtual worlds to dating sites to online gaming, there’s no denying that people are spending more time than ever before engaged in digital social media of some form or other. It comes as no surprise then to learn that, in the first half of 2008 alone, venture capital firms invested US $345 million in virtual worlds or related enterprises. As more sophisticated business models emerge around virtual economies, it has become clear that there is now real money to be made online.

In a world where travel costs are spiralling ever upwards, more and more people are opting to stay at home for entertainment. Does it mean that shopping malls, movie theatres and public bars are sunset industries, to be replaced by bits and bytes residing on a remote server? Perhaps not just yet, but rarely a day goes by that we don’t hear about the launch of a new web community, social mash-up or cool online game of some sort. 

Unfortunately research suggests that about 75% of these communities will never even achieve 1000 users. We set up ION almost six years ago and only recently celebrated our millenial sign-up. In any event there must be a limit to the proliferation of online social networks because once users become uber connected there is far less incentive to keep signing up to new networks. As network density increases, the advantage gained by the user decreases.

So when even Bill Gates gives up on his Facebook account, it really makes you question how much value large corporates see in social networks and virtual worlds. Some people continue to question whether or not virtual spaces will ever become meaningful in an enterprise setting. Although businesses have been using applications such as Sharepoint and Lotus Notes as knowledge management tools for years, corporates are still struggling to make the quantum leap into virtual communities and interactive game type environments as forms of collaborative business tools.

On the other hand corporate dinosaurs are belatedly waking up to the power of social media as a marketing tool. This videocast from the Harvard Business School offers advice to large companies about managing the change processes around implementing social media strategies. Now – I’m pretty sure I don’t need to belong to a web community for kitty litter or some other weird or random social network. I would however join a business network or film club that had an online community component for example. Whatever spins your wheels, I suppose.

New Zealand has a couple of promising virtual world ventures of its own. Smallworlds launched recently with a high quality browser based world for young adults that leverages advances in Flash based functionality and graphics. Socialise was an early entrant with a dating and friendship focus. Socialise is a regional community that has secured advertising sponsorship as a revenue stream, whilst Smallworlds is pitched at a global audience and intends to establish a virtual economy within the site.

Smallworlds users create and populate their own individual home spaces, which raises the question of identity portability. If players participate in several communities, plus own a Facebook or MySpace page, how can they manage their global identity? For dedicated social networkers with multiple sites to share and manage, aggregating all those links at one web address would seem to make sense. That’s a problem that we hope to address in a creative way very soon at ideegeo.

UPstarts Enliven Capital ICT Scene

Unlimited PotentialAfter a period of quiescence, Wellington’s technology and business networking event scene is now undergoing somewhat of a renaissance.

On Thursday evening this week Unlimited Potential are throwing a launch party for Start-Up magazine and Silicon Welly whilst throughout July and August 7X7 are offering a thought provoking weekly think-fest on “economic transformation”. But wait there’s more!

Also in the pipeline @UP is the annual Geeks, Games and Gadgets technology showcase in August, Software Freedom Day in September for Open Sourcers, and a possible Town and Gown collaboration with Victoria University ICT researchers. With UP taking over managing the ICT Capital membership base it brings this collective community to over 1500 ICT sector professionals, business owners and technology managers.

After the wild successes of XMediaLab and  Webstock it is clear that Wellington is now emerging as a “go to” destination for technology and innovation related events in New Zealand. People are talking more and more about the value of community. Sponsors, opinion-makers and governmental agencies are now realising there is tremendous value in leveraging the interest groups that grow up around such events and Unlimited Potential is rapidly positioning as the event manager of choice for this sector.

In 2002 when GeniusNet set up the first virtual community for innovators and entrepreneurs, we did not have the resources to run live events as well. Back then, people struggled with the concept and of course the term “social network” was not widely in use in a web context. But our research found that the best ideas arise from the creativity found where community boundaries overlap. You can’t build a collaborative community by email, webforum or teleconference alone however. Trust is the bandwidth for the exchange of knowledge and one generally needs to meet people face-to-face to build that trust.

Virtual communities and social networking platforms do facilitate engagement to a certain extent, but real live meetings build much deeper foundations of trust. Jobs are located, deals transacted and relationships forged ultimately because people met together in person, eyeballed each other and learned trust. I know  this for a fact, because right now I’m developing a very cool business with some smart guys I originally met online. How Web 2.0 is that?!

Why ICT Underpins Innovation

GITRA recent global report on information technology places New Zealand about the middle of the pack in terms of “network readiness”. But the index only accounts for part of the story about why the country is struggling to remain competitive through innovation.

The information technology report from INSEAD university and the World Economic Forum offers some very clear indications around what New Zealand has to achieve in order to boost innovation and raise competitiveness. The annual report ranks all countries in terms of ICT readiness by assessing a basket of factors that influence business, government and individuals. Quality of phone, broadband and server infrastructure, regulatory environment, quality of science education, R&D spend by firms and availability of venture capital are amongst the variables assessed to establish a “network readiness index” (NRI).

High network readiness alone does not guarantee success however. In fact highly competitive nations such as Finland, Israel and Taiwan rank slightly below New Zealand on the network readiness index. But if we consider a bunch of other factors that allude to innovative capacity, it paints a much different picture. Innovation factors (IF) include quality of scientific institutions, extent of university-industry collaboration, availability of scientists and engineers, number of patents issued per capita. These factors tell us whether or not a nation has the capacity to innovate through novel research, which is a far stronger value proposition than simple imitation. The fact that New Zealand ranks about the same as Zimbabwe is probably reason for some concern.

What we do know is that countries which rank highly on both counts, tend to be innovation powerhouses with rapidly improving GDP per capita. By this we mean nations such as Denmark, South Korea, India, Singapore and Malaysia. Unsurprisingly, all of these countries embarked some time ago on aggressive improvements to their ICT infrastructure. So exactly why does ICT appear to underpin innovation?

There are at least five good reasons why a sound ICT environment supports innovation processes:

  • Knowledge identification eg. market research, locating human resources, accessing science research, knowledge sharing platforms.
  • Developing creative capacity eg. computer aided design and 3D graphics.
  • Enhancing exploration eg. simulation and prototyping.
  • Shortening the design-test cycle eg. making failure inexpensive.
  • Improving capacity for commercialisation management eg. knowledge management, Web 2.0 e-marketing, virtual collaboration.
  • Empowering customer feedback into the design process.

The human genome project is a good example of a piece of innovation work that, a decade ago, could not have even been imagined anywhere in the world. Could such a project be done in New Zealand today? Although we now have a high speed research network and at least one homegrown firm offering suitable enabling software technology, it hasn’t happened because we are still struggling with a number of the innovation factors mentioned above. R&D spend is low, collaboration seems problematic rather the accepted norm and the education system is failing to inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers.

This shows that, as an enabler of innovation, we cannot consider ICT in isolation. There has been much debate over the need to rollout better broadband across New Zealand. But the economic case for substantial publicly funded investment in the project has yet to be properly made. Most people grasp that more and better ICT would be a good thing, but few are clear on exactly why. We need to benchmark ourselves more fully in order to better articulate the need.

X|Media|Lab Delivers Quality ConneXions

xmlHeld last month at Te Papa, X|Media|Lab proved that we can all be global influencers for digital innovation. Not only that, but by utilising knowledge networks, we can leverage the creativity that already exists in our own back yard to help build successful global businesses. Some quick notes from the conference day:

The speaker session opened by addressing the concept of “ideation” – finding good ideas. Former Sony Entertainment president Chris Deering focussed the audience’s attention with the observation that online entertainment services would likely overtake revenues from TV and cable in the very near future. With MySpace (reportedly) approaching already 100 million sign-ups and phone handset sales ballooning he also predicted a future market for mobile communities in the vicinity of 400 to 800 million users by 2012. With numbers like that it was easy to see where the smart money was headed he said.

sachinIn a room full of game developers and creators of virtual worlds, those remarks really set the tone for the day. Continuing the theme, Virgin Comics and Animation CEO, Bangalore based Suresh Seetharaman, noted that in India alone there were 550 million under 20 year olds and that the mobile phone has become far more ubiquitous than the computer. He explained that his business was developing new creative streams, starting with fantasy comics because many of the largest grossing feature films have sprung out of comic book stories. Virgin Comics are creating a new pop culture by drawing on both mythology and modern media. A curious example of this is their Sachin Tindulkar super cricket hero storyline.

Local lad made good Richard MacManus prophesised on technology trends, later posting the presentation on his  highly rated Read Write Web blog. Moves towards the “intelligent web” were to the fore in his discussion as was the ongoing battle of Google versus Facebook. Keynote speaker Noah Falstein then spoke about the essentials of brainstorming and how to promote ideas instead of egos. Afterwards he went on National Radio and took part in a panel discussion about the future of online gaming.

Tom Duterme enthused about new venture development and the importance of establishing a good team behind the product. As Google’s talent scout for purchasing new businesses, I noticed he was much sought after during the intervals. Gao Li lead a team from the controversial but now profitable Suzhou Science Park (near Shanghai) and shared with us the staggering scale of China’s investment in research, science and technology. In her home province alone there is a $US 2 billion VC fund and some 3.8% of regional GDP is reinvested back into RS&T, putting New Zealand thoroughly to shame.

AlvinAlvin Wang Graylin expanded on the China story by mentioning that there are already nearly 600 million mobile phone users but with SMS being the predominant use, he cautioned that revenue per user remains low. In an effort to grow this market his company sets up mobile phone marketing services. He suggested that whilst carriers were keen on securing new revenue streams, this was limited by network capability for the time being.

Perhaps the speaker I enjoyed most was Hugh Mason from the U.K., a politely spoken and knowledgeable investor and entrepreneur in the creative sector. He had a very simple mantra for creating value with a winning start-up business team. “You need a finder, a minder and a grinder” on your team he said and try to have your product solve a problem that makes the world a better place. I took some comfort in the fact that we have formed our latest venture around just such a model.

I also enjoyed the networking session kindly hosted by Park Road Post the evening before but I found myself asking, as a “veteran” of the Wellington technology business networking scene, why was it the first time I had set foot in those hallowed halls. X|Media|Lab stands for cross-media connection. Why then do we hear so infrequently from our friends in Miramar? How about we run a local XMedia event each year and challenge film, software and graphics entrepreneurs to bounce new ideas around together.

According to Tim Berners-Lee, the new imperative for the Web is now creative connectivity. But as one of the XMediaLab speakers mentioned, “I do business with people that I like – but I first need to get to know them in person to like them”. Creativity and good ideas arise from the interstices between communities and hence it is very important to overlap from time to time. I feel that lately we have not been achieving this often enough. New Zealand Trade & Enterprise are to be congratulated for supporting this event and let’s hope there will be others in the future. In the meantime local networks like Unlimited Potential and ION will continue to add value by building social capital and sharing knowledge amongst the technology sector community.

Grid Network to Support Trans-Tasman Research Collaboration

With digital storage needs and computational demands by research institutions growing exponentially, it makes sense to get together on sharing resources. So the New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) banged some heads together and offered to fund a $2.5 million project to set up BeSTGRID a grid computing “ecosystem” that includes additional storage resources hosted by a third party.

Three New Zealand universities are already hooked up, with the new arrangements which reduce duplication on software expenditure whilst encouraging collaboration and knowledge sharing through use of online tools such as video-conferencing, blogs and wikis. Other institutions are expected to join in the future. Research projects currently making use of BestGrid include linguistics, bio-informatics and earthquake engineering, but the possibilities are endless. BestGRID is part of KAREN the government owned high speed broadband network. The network provides interconnectivity between research and educational institutions in New Zealand, with the ability to deliver up to 10 gigabytes of data per second.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the venture is that there will be established a shared identity management protocol based on the Australian Access Federation standard. The Federation is not some inter-galactic peace force, but a technical standard that operates across Australian tertiary and research institutions and allows universal access via a single user identification. That opens up the possibility of including Aussie universities and research institutions in the New Zealand grid by linking to Australia’s own high speed research network AARNET at some point in the near future. AARNET already operates connections to the United States, Singapore and Europe. So the implications for New Zealand research institutions are obvious considering the constraints of the existing commercial service.

New Zealand will be hosting the 2008 APAN event 4-8 August, regarded as the leading Asia-Pacific symposium on advanced broadband networking and applications for research and education. The conference is to be hosted in beautiful Queenstown and themes include sustainability, earth science, medical and agricultural applications, high definition TV and seminars on network security. The event will be preceded by the High Performance Research Symposium looking at e-research projects and tool sets, being sponsored by Bluefern, the University of Canterbury supercomputing centre.

What if Google Ruled the World?

The debate over Google Knol vs Wikipedia continues to rage unabated before Knol has even been launched. But the real issue is the gradual spread of Google’s tentacles.

Google have clearly signalled their intent to drive new revenue streams from owning online content. And what better way to quickly build up a rich cache of material than to invade Wikipedia’s domain? But Knol differs from Wikipedia in that the focus is on authorship, so it’s more like a blog/wiki mashup.

Wikipedia is a wonderful project, but it has always suffered from a credibility gap. With crowd-sourced content we can never be certain where the boundary between truth and folklore lies. Knol addresses that to a certain extent through the use of accredited subject matter experts. How much editorial influence will be vested in individual users is not clear at this stage.

Some commentators have already predicted a disturbing dystopian future in which “content and advertising become indistinguishable”. But in the “co-production economy” I thought we were supposed to be able to subvert and avoid vested interests and traditional media?

But there is another important principle at stake here. If Google both owns the content and controls the search hierarchy, that seems like a great deal of power to concentrate in the hands of a single corporation. Will Google rise to be the most powerful media outlet in say another ten years? In war, the victor gets to rewrite history. That’s a concern here too.

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft is again making serious overtures to Yahoo. (Microsoft’s new CFO, ex-pat New Zealander Chris Lidell, is rumoured to be driving the purchase proposal.) MS clearly needs to shore up its offering in the face of Google’s incessant assault on its patch. We will probably end up with an online content and advertising duopoly. Either way, the dim flame of unfettered “citizen journalism” and freedom from vested corporate interests is likely to be snuffed out. Webstockers might like to chew over this possibility whilst they dine out at Google’s expense this week.

ION e-Letter – March 2007

dubai.jpgION is New Zealand’s leading innovation and entrepreneurship online community. ION provides an informative and interactive virtual knowledge sharing forum plus a private business matchmaking service for emerging technology enterprises.

www.ion.net.nz

We are hosting this newsletter on the GeniusNet blog to allow participants to opt in and engage in the conversation. GeniusNet is project manager for ION.

Auckland MBAs to Look at Dubai Marketplace

A group of MBA students from Auckland University are heading to Dubai shortly as part of their research practicum. The group are keen to make connections for Kiwi tech businesses and to dig up some inexpensive market research. Notwithstanding the troubles in other parts of the Middle East, the UAE is booming with huge investments in infrastructure planned and a rapidly increasing standard of living. Dubai itself is also a key trading post in the region and garners most of its revenues from trade, finance and tourism – rather than oil.

NZ technology firms interested in receiving research from Dubai should post a response to this thread prior to the end of March, 2007.

ION Connects Mobile Developers to India

We can report that ION has brokered a valuable relationship with one of India’s leading mobile content aggregators that has led to Christchurch company Zodal to break into the world’s second fastest growing mobile market. New connections are around the 5 million per month mark!

The company is capitalising on the Indian love of cricket by providing a nifty multi-player mobile game with the sport as its theme. The revenue-sharing partnership provides access to one of India’s most popular short code service portals.

We are currently in the process of introducing a Wellington company to the same provider, a subsidiary of one of the largest entertainment conglomerates in that market.

Forum Assists Skilled Migrants to Acclimatise

There has been a lot of discussion recently about concerns that skilled migrants are experiencing problems integrating themselves into NZ society. There is a good chance your immigrant taxi driver has a PhD, but cannot find other work. Some give up and return home frustrated. At a time of skilled labour shortages, it seems like a wasted opportunity.

Because of the importance of this issue to the economy, ION has been hosting an online forum aimed at skilled migrants and migrant entrepreneurs. The aim is to provide a collegial environment for knowledge sharing and to tap into migrants’ stories about both the obstacles and successes on their journey to New Zealand.

Danes Leverage Networks to Top EU Innovation Stakes

The European Commission reports that Germany and the Nordic states are leading the charge in terms of rapidly catching up to levels of innovation in the United States. Interestingly, around 40% of Europes business enterprises consider themselves as innovators, with suppliers and customers perceived as the main partners and collaborators, rather than research or educational institutions.

Well established business networks are critical to the task of innovation, hence networking is an area that Denmark has put a lot of effort into. Copenhagen (one of my favourite cities) has a well established ICT Cluster and pitches itself as an enabler for the nearby ‘Medicon Valley’ cluster of biopharmaceutical firms. Medicon Valley is regarded as the poster boy of cluster success in organisational research circles.

But around 91% of all businesses in Europe have less than 10 employees. ‘Mikronet’ is another Danish network established to link knowledge and arts based micro-enterprises. Similar to ION, it runs an online community forum and weblog. Encouraging collaboration amongst smaller firms is seen as an important part of driving innovation and business growth in the region.

Kiwi Steers Canadian Software Venture Towards Success

An ex-pat Kiwi is applying his knowledge of capital markets and technology commercialisation to guide a Canadian software firm to success. Darren Sissons already had a very solid track record as both a VC investor and tech startup guru when he was asked to step in and assist with a new project. Log in and read how he took a technology venture from zero to hero in the highly competitive North American market. This informative article is exclusive to ION. Post comments on the forum or reach Darren here by adding a comment to this blog thread.

Need more info? Lost your password? Want to profile your New Zealand based technology venture? Post a reply to this weblog thread and we will endeavour to help out or to connect you to someone who can.

Wired.com experiments with ‘crowd-sourcing’

Speaking of e-collaboration, Wired.com and some partners have created a project called Assignment Zero by which they can experiment with the concept of peer production of media content. Through a website, hundreds of global contributors will be assigned small parts of a very large topic, then professional editors will mash it all together.

For the first story they have chosen to explore (wait for it)  – the scope and nature of peer production of media content. Well I guess that’s a logical starting point, but wouldn’t it be great to eventually see a ‘crowd-sourced’ story on Iraq or corporate corruption emerge for example?

Anyway, it will be a bit like a self-validating journalistic Wiki. That’s the part I still worry about when I wonder where Web 2.0 is going. How much is truth, how much is useful knowledge and how much will be urban myth or just plain lies? Under the ‘crowd-sourcing’ model it seems like if enough people validate a claim then it becomes socially acceptable. But that in itself does not guarantee truth. Some critics have also complained that employing an editorial board will skew the outcome according to whatever agenda Wired wishes to promote.

A project like this tests traditional models of ownership and verifiability for sure. But on the other hand it’s a step towards far greater democratisation of the media. Creating a formal framework for a creative, collaborative endeavour is a vast improvement on having no guidelines at all. The Internet is still very much a ‘Wild West’ scenario, so any improvement has to be a step forward. Doesn’t it?
[tags]e-collaboration, crowd sourcing, culture, knowledge[/tags]