2008 Round-Up and Festive Cheer

I’m pleased to report that (in stark contrast to 2007) this year was filled with achievements and a reaffirmed sense that our ideas on knowledge sharing and community building have even more relevance than ever before. This year also saw some big changes on the political landscape and darkening clouds of recession wrought by the purveyors of greed who suddenly found the debt taps had been turned off.

On a more positive note, with the mainstream embracing cloud computing and social media, there was mounting evidence of a paradigmatic shift towards conceptualising the Internet as an all encompassing virtual operating system. The hope is that creative digital enterprises that generate real value will survive beyond the nuclear winter.

Teaming up with some talented guys to form domain industry technology services provider ideegeo was certainly the highlight of the year and the fulfilment of a personal ambition of mine. The new company is an umbrella for a number of interesting spinoff projects, the first of which is iWantMyName our global domain registrar site. Strategising how we use this venture to leverage the aforementioned paradigm shift will occupy much of my time in 2009.

I was also invited to join the Unlimited Potential committee and was consequently able to put my organisational skills to good use helping another talented team to bring several key projects to fruition. UP is Wellington’s leading provider of live networking events to the technology community. I obtained a huge amount of satisfaction from project managing our wonderfully successful final event for the year – Wellington to the World and establishing a template for future advances.

But despite being rich with all this enthusiastic talent, New Zealand continues to suffer from being somewhat removed from the global epicentres of technology investment. Sometimes we are so busy even that we forget to chat to our neighbours and colleagues across the fence. We hope UP events in 2009 will continue to build a sense of community in the technology sector and catalyse new connections and creativity. We hope too that the change in government will result in the development of a truly inspirational national blueprint for innovation that retains incentives for research and development.

Most importantly, 2008 has been a year for many new friendships as a result of participating in the business and being actively engaged in community events and even social media channels like Twitter. Best wishes to all readers and their families. Keep safe and be well over the festive season.

Merry Twitt-Mass

I’ve been resisting this for some time, but finally succumbed and opened an account at Twitter. And since Twitter now appear to have identified how they will make money, it’s clear that the increasingly popular micro-blogging service is here to stay.

Described alternately as “narcissistic and self indulgent” or (predictably) “the next killer app”, Twitter is like most things in life, there are pros and cons. If used judiciously it can be beneficial. It delivers me links to useful news and articles and it opens up another channel for me to share ideas. According to this explanatory webcast by O’Reilly Media, it’s also a “mood meter” for whatever is going in your sphere of interest. On the other hand, I don’t have any control over what I receive, once I subscribe to another user. So there are the vexing questions of truth and relevance. Do I really need all that additional information about somebody elses lifestream and how much of it is real anyway?!

But the really interesting part about Twitter is that it has the power to aggregate a huge global community. At present Twitterdom is largely confined to geeks, technophiles and early adopters. But that’s exactly what you’d expect at this point in its evolution. I think that will change. What will make the difference is when other communities realise that Twitter can work for them too. For example, there are lots of third world countries where Internet access is poor but mobile phone access is ubiquitous. So what better way to keep in touch with friends and family, when back-packing, than by micro-blogging via your mobile. Maybe even criminal dictators like Mugabe will be unseated by Twitter campaigns in the future?

But what really sold me on joining up was two things. Firstly a friend introduced me to TwitterEarth where you can spot tweets from all over the globe. OK so it’s a wee bit gimmicky, but it demonstrates how interesting new opportunities will spring up from the paradigm shift towards micro-blogging. Secondly I read a great article about how to use Twitter as a marketing tool. Suddenly I could see some value in it for me. It also occurred to me that Twitter is a great case study for the kind of mental transition our business will need to think about engendering as we push our own technology projects out into the global marketplace, such as our recently released site iWantMyName.

Looking forward to some “tasty Tweets” from you all over the Festive Season. And by the way, I promise not to squawk more than once or twice a day.


iWantMyName Alive and Kicking

I’m grinning from ear to ear right now. We flipped the switch on ideegeo’s first online venture today. Not only that, we satisfied our first online customer and began earning export dollars for New Zealand. It’s a good feeling after many long hours of hard work.

iWantMyName is an international domain registrar site offering a wide range of domains for sale to the public. It’s a highly competitive industry to enter, hence we are differentiating ourselves from day one. Helpful functionality and friendly usability are hard to find amongst existing registrars, so we’ve gone the extra mile to make the site as clean, sharp and easy to navigate as possible.

We will also be progressively adding functionality that assists users to “personalise their experience of the Web”. So for example if you want to hang all your cloud hosted email, documents, work spaces and social networks under your own domain, we think you should be able to do exactly that without any fuss. Now iWantMyName can help you make that transition. With all the buzz around hosted solutions and portable universal IDs lately, we think this is where the digital world is headed already.

Check out the site and please do feel free to give us feedback.

The Final Countdown

Pretty boy rockers from the band Europe released a cult classic over twenty years ago with a triumphant keyboard riff that still thrills listeners today. Glam rock may now be confined to musical history, but we sure hope ideegeo’s new domain registrar site will roar up the sales charts and still be a number one hit in a couple of decades too.

It’s now only a few days to until we launch and I must say, it’s been most gratifying to see all the hard work evolve into something tangible. The smooth lines and easy functionality of the site belies the many hours of hard work that have gone into the project. Offering an iPhone interface for the site from day one has also proven to be a winning decision, as consumer recognition of the Apple platform grows by the day.

Our tech guys may not be as good looking as the band members from Europe, but they sure as hell work just as hard to satisfy their audience. We’ve had to overcome a few hurdles along the way, like banks who don’t want to know about start-up companies in the current economic climate and bureaucrats who don’t understand the pace of life in a fast moving new company and take two weeks to return your calls and emails. But with dogged determination we’ve pressed on.

Things move fast on the Web and online enterprises must continually reinvent themselves and reinvigorate their business model – especially when economies are faltering. That’s why we don’t want to be just another “me too” web venture. Differentiating our product is important, very much so. That’s why we are planning semantic search functionality and a whole host of value added services that other registrars do not offer.

ideegeo has a vision for the future that is both user-centric and grounded in the realities of cloud computing and hosted service offerings which are now coming of age and launching daily on a desktop or mobile platform near you. Web users of the near future will demand mobility and portability. Owning and managing your own personal domain will become as ubiquitous as owning a car or a refrigerator. In fact your car and fridge will probably soon be delivered complete with their own IP addresses! As our lives become increasingly web-centric and the domain industry opens up, individuals will want to personalise their web experiences. That’s when you will hear the people demand – “I want my name!”.

We’ll release more very soon, once we’ve signed off on our final testing phase. Stay tuned.

Almost Free Software – Have Your Cake and Eat It Too

The debate over whether or not software should be made freely available has been around for a long time. Can we afford such idealism? Perhaps there is a middle ground.

There are two different threads when we talk about “free software”. The first involves releasing actual code for public use; the second discussion is about providing free access to an application but without giving away the code. The latter is obviously a lot more manageable these days because of the SaaS model. But why would you bother? If you have to pay for employees, premises and some hosting, you better make sure there is some revenue coming in.

On the other hand, the fact that I can even publish this article here today is a direct result of the “crowd sourcing” approach that has spilled over from the open source community into the development of social media. Also, I’m sure we can all think of plenty of businesses which gave away their software and then built a lucrative consulting revenue stream around it. So there are clearly some tangible benefits to encouraging the open source philosophical movement to flourish and grow.

There was a great discussion thread about the (non)monetisation of Web 2.0 over on Diversity recently. Giving your product away, before you can figure out how to make money out of it, is the quickest way to destroy value in any business argues Ben. I agree. Using venture capital to prop up an ultimately unsustainable business model with over-inflated valuations is an abomination only one step removed from pyramid selling. But, maybe it’s how you go about giving away your software that matters.

We have a couple of products in the pipeline at ideegeo but with two completely different marketing and monetisation strategies planned. The first is a mobile application targetted at a niche audience which we will sell for quite a low margin through an online store. I will be overjoyed if we break even on the time spent developing it. However, it will raise our profile and demonstrate capability. The second product will be given away completely for free through our own website. The hook is that we get paid a small amount every time someone actually uses it (which is often). The clients will happily pay because the application demonstrably drives more business their way. If the application needs improvement, we will also get very rapid feedback.

My point is that the Internet has completely revolutionalised both software development and marketing. If you develop “almost free” software and then make it available to a very large number of users at only a very modest cost, everybody wins.

Next month Unlimited Potential are proudly hosting Richard Stallman as special guest speaker in the lead up to the Geeks, Games and Gadgets ’08 event.

Stallman founded the GNU Project an open source software development project that contributed substantively to the genesis of the Linux operating system. At times controversial, the title of “open source guru” seems quite aptly applied in the context of Stallman’s thought leadership. Social media and especially Wikipedia had not even been conceived of at the time of this 1996 interview, but it illustrates his visionary abilities.

Whatever your position on open source or the debate around competing public licensing systems, this seminar is likely to be a thought provoking one. Registration is highly recommended for what will no doubt be a popular session.

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?!

500 Pound Gorilla with a Long Tail

Logan McMillan’s cheekily named Gorilla Pictures has scored a publicity coup by posting a YouTube clip taken from their latest project, a splatter movie about zombies taking over the world.

What is remarkable about this episode is that McMillan received an offer to fund the movie whilst he was already part way through shooting it. It also demonstrates the disintermediating power of the Internet and supports Chris Anderson’s long tail hypothesis – if you can focus enough eyeballs on your product niche, eventually somebody will buy it.

McMillan’s extraordinary success does have a negative corollary however. Because the Internet aggregates vast numbers of users, it also enables other less noble business models. Nobody really believes that Google ads will make them rich and spammers continue to plague us because they know that 5 guys out of every million actually will respond to their viagara sales promotion.

Zombie movies are not really my thing, but I applaud Logan McMillan’s initiative and I hope the screening at Cannes and subsequent release goes well.


Epilogue – The New Start-Up

I’m particularly interested in the success story mentioned above because a bunch of us are currently in the throes of launching ourselves into the unknown with a new and rather exciting venture. Our project is also very much about leveraging creativity and knowledge and having some fun along the way. Web-based marketing will certainly form part of the mix because, apart from a diversity of other skills, we all share an interest in blogging.

I’m very realistic about the hard work that lies ahead, in fact it feels a little bit like we’ve grabbed a 500 pound gorilla of our own! But I’m also enjoying immensely the collegial atmosphere and the opportunity to develop my leadership skills and business knowledge. Keep those eyeballs tuned for progress reports.

Why Email Must Die

Talk about the death of email may still be a little premature. But the fact that some very high profile web entrepreneurs are even having this discussion is portentious.

When we think about the loss of productivity and the damage that has been wrought by bogus email and embedded nasties over the first fifteen or so years of existence of the Internet, it is surprising that nobody has entirely solved the problem of wayward emails. Even more surprising is that desktop software providers have retained email client applications within their offerings, because the writing is on the wall – email must die.

As long as email remains free of any cost, and networks are largely unfettered, there will always be some idiot quite happy to steal your address and use it as a proxy to send out a million ads for pharmaceuticals. The Internet has always been a double-edged sword in this respect. It offers huge potential to scale a business for both good and bad purposes.

So what are the alternatives to email and are they safe? When I set up my consulting business in 2002 I found an ISP that could both host my website and offer me a webmail service – great. I’ve never used Outlook since. What was not so great was that during 2007 my ISP had a major server meltdown and somehow managed to lose 5 years worth of my email. Had they not heard of system back-ups? Fortunately I have heard of backing up and had long sent all my active mail and a list of email addresses to a separate account. So the loss was minimal, but the nuisance factor was considerable.

That episode got me thinking about how trustworthy all sorts of hosted applications and automated services really are. Banking, sharemarket, any e-commerce or eftpos transaction, even this blogsite…we trust that the provider has sufficient resource in place to deal with our precious data. But how can we really be sure? When we consider where email is likely to go in the future, there is still some cause for concern.

Some young people don’t even use regular email any more. Why would you do so when you can create your own social network online and be specific about who you choose to invite aboard? It is surely only a matter of time before someone builds a really useful networking site targetted at enterprise. Gmail is great and I have to admit I have yet to see a single piece of spam through my Gmail account. So why can’t I have a secure, low cost Gmail style hosted email system that only lets in only those who I invite but which can be personalised to fit my business brand?

 Bookhabit Authors Competition – Last Orders Please

Speaking of leveraging the Internet for good purposes, we are entering the last weeks of the Bookhabit.com authors competition. Know any budding authors out there? Have them upload their unpublished work onto the site in time for a crack at $5,000 in prize money. Popular selections from each week go forward to the final panel. For readers there are now over two hundred e-books to choose from, selling for as little as $2.50. Bookhabit is further evidence of how the Internet is continuing to change the way we live our lives and that a sensible idea well executed is worth a great deal indeed. Enjoy!

Silicon Welly to Host Technology Mentor Glitterati

In an outstanding acknowledgement of Wellington’s status as the centre of New Zealand’s digital innovation universe the city has secured a global X|Media|Lab event to be held at Te Papa May 30th to June 1st. The theme is “Commercialising Ideas” and comprises a one day conference followed by an intensive weekend workshop involving technology venture mentors and successful entrepreneurs. You heard it here first!

The event is geared to helping technology firms develop their ideas to a point where they can increase the chances of receiving funding and getting to market successfully. Online gaming, mobile content, animation and anything Web 2.0 are focus areas for this event. The mentors include Chris Deering (former president Sony Entertainment), Marcelino Ford-Livene (GM Interactive Content – Intel Digital), Tom Duterme (Google) plus local heroes Sam Morgan and Rod Drury. The conference day alone will bring a wealth of knowledge – but imagine having a team like that on your advisory board!

The first X|Media|Lab event was held in Sydney in 2003. Aimed at spanning digital media and bring digital creatives and entrepreneurs together XML has grown to encompass multiple locations around the globe. The event has some serious backing from global partners and is supported by NZ Trade & Enterprise, so the entry cost is minimal (only $99 for individuals). Our research at GeniusNet showed that the most creative ideas spring from where different communities overlap and we have long felt that Wellington needed such an event.

Everything you need to know is on the X|Media|Lab website. But note that although the conference day is open to the public, the weekend workshop is only by invitation from the selection panel. If you require assistance preparing for the selection process and to be introduced to the organiser directly, please contact GeniusNet as early as possible.