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November 2009

New Favourite Word: Jugaad

Monday, November 30, 2009 0

Ever since I was bitten by the Web 2.0 bug and the internet start-up scene, I’ve become really engrossed with 2 particular tech writers; Paul Carr and Sarah Lacy.

When I first started reading Paul Carr’s articles he was a writer for the Guardian newspaper and appeared to be ready to take on just about anyone in his quest to report the crazy surreal world of Web 2.0. It was due to these articles that made me purchase his book (“Bringing Nothing To The Party”), and read his blog - but even more of a bonus to reading these articles was my introduction to Sarah Lacy.

Sarah had just released her first book “The Rise of Web 2.0”, which I purchased and read with interest. After reading the book, I then just had to read Sarah’s own blog and some of her articles on Business Weekly.

Now both Paul and Sarah are going through the process of writing their second books – and their careers have brought them both to now be popular writers/contributors to the TechCrunch website. Paul brought his successful Guardian column “Not Suitable For Work” to the site whilst Sarah brought stories of her international travel and investigative journalism to site (which is all part of her new book on Internet start-ups based outside of the renowned Silicone Valley).

In Sarah’s most recently article, she tells us that Indian start-ups are missing Angel Funding and jugaad. As a result, “jugaad” just might be my new favourite word. It means “an innate creativity for problem solving”, which just might describe my day job perfectly.

Where's My Wallet?

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This very morning I drove my usual 30 miles to work and watched the dial that shows how much petrol I have in the tank slowly get lower and lower with each passing mile. Nothing strange there, especially on a Monday morning – a traditional time for me to fill up the car ready for the week ahead. After all, who wants to fill up on a Friday when all you really want to do is get home and start the weekend.

Thus this morning was the same as any other Monday morning, The Beatles blared from my stereo; my heaters were blowing warm air at a gentle breeze – in vast contrast to the cold, blustery, windy conditions outside of the car. Pulling off the duel carriageway, onto the forecourt of a well-known fuel supplier for the Ferrari Formula One team, I parked up alongside pump number 5 and pulled the lever to flip open the fuel hatch. As I got out of the car, my usual procedure then began, reaching to my back pocket……for…..my…..wallet – which wasn’t there!

For anyone more organised or sensible, the issue wouldn’t have been quite as big a problem – but I work 30 miles away from home, and the petrol station is only a mere 5 miles away from my place of work, leaving me no choice of being able to double back on myself and pick up my wallet. So it was sheepishly, I turned and got back in the car to continue my journey to work in the hope of getting someone to loan me a small amount of money so I can put enough petrol in to get me home and back to a petrol station to try again.

Which leads me nicely onto my question; where is the all of the technology that allows me to pay for things using my mobile phone? Where is my digital wallet? In my car this morning was my netbook computer and in my pocket was my Palm Pre smart phone – two digitally enabled items capable of being used to transfer digital currency from my bank account and into the virtual hands of those whose services I needed mostly this morning.

How come in some parts of the world, people can pay for a Big Mac using their mobile phone handset and others can’t? What is holding this technology back? My mobile phone – which I remind you were right there in my pocket – is linked directly to my bank account via my contract. Clever companies like Apple, Palm and Google have allowed you to purchase content and applications directly from their ‘App Stores’ using exactly this method, yet I can’t use my phone to pay for anything else outside of that digital content?

A few weeks ago I was reading with interest an article submitted to TechCrunch which made the bold claim that “Web 3.0” was upon us and that the third iteration of the World Wide Web as we know it would be based not around the social networking of Web 2.0, but the micro-payments for virtual and digital goods online.

That’s an interesting thought and one I hadn’t considered before – yet it seems to make sense, especially when you look at the evidence already out there. Since Facebook opened its platform for developers to host games directly on there – such as Farmville and others, these games which are made freely available have been selling virtual goods as a way to generate income. For example, 300,000 virtual tractors were sold to players who wished to progress in the game – that’s a lot of tractors!

Since Apple opened up its ‘App Store’ to allow developers the ability to take micro-payments inside of their apps, similar games have appeared on the mobile platform too. The initial game is given away for free, yet power-ups, new guns, additional levels, and other items that anyone who wants to take the game more seriously must have, are available at a cost. And that’s really quite clever and a model that may well transgress towards other software – imagine a free word processor or spreadsheet application – want to use a new font or insert a chart – a small cost would allow you purchase these add-ons and generate revenue. A pay for what you use style model.

The increased always-on connectivity to the internet and the need to find new financial models means these transactions are likely to become more and more popular; meaning that this could very well be the dawn of Web 3.0 where micro-payments are king.

Of course there’s still a lot to work out – how are these things regulated? How do you prevent fraud or credit card details from being stolen or falling into the wrong hands? Who are users going to trust with their financial details (Apple, Google, PayPal?) and will different websites require different payment methods (Google Checkout, eBay/Pay Pal, etc)?

In the online world, it seems inevitable that these things will just happen. In the real world it will undoubtedly take longer and require more agreement from all of the differing parties involved and the mobile manufacturers and telcos on how to deliver all of these different services and solutions – and lets face it, when can the telcos or manufacturers ever agreed on anything? That’s why Apple were able to slide in and break the industry for themselves when they first launched the iPhone (something that you have to give Apple credit for – no matter how much of a “fanboi” you may or may not be).

When am I likely to be able to pay for my goods using my digital wallet or mobile phone payment? Not within the next 3 years I’d say at least unfortunately. When can I likely be paying for my petrol in this way? Probably when they start allowing you to use your mobile phone on the petrol station forecourt! Do’h!

Ad Free Conversation

Tuesday, November 24, 2009 0

One of the best commentators on all things web is a guy called Paul Carr, former Guardian and Telegraph reporter, author and current TechCrunch writer. He’s an inspiration and one of the main reasons why I love to blog so much – if only I could get just a small percentage of his audience figures and actually get paid to write these things; but that’s not the point of this post (perhaps another day).

 

Mr Carr’s latest post on TechCrunch is about the inclusion of advertised tweets that are purposely included into the real-time Twitter stream and the potential of monetising the content within Twitter, much like Google do every day with their search results. Whilst I think that Twitter is almost destined to include advertising at some point or another, it seems the ways that these ads are delivered are subject to a lot of debate and careful thinking.

 

Including advertisements right there in the real-time stream are invasive and would no doubt be distracting within the conversation window/pane, because the stream is exactly that; a conversation. Sites such as Digg can get away with advertisements right there in the middle of the stream because, even though they are clearly defined, they are non-intrusive of what the user is trying to get out of the site – i.e., you only click on the links for the stories you want to read or vote up (for the uninitiated the ads on Digg are also voted up, ensuring the only popular ads that generate clicks are shown more prominently – a very clever system in my opinion).

 

Even if Twitter were to display these in-stream advertisements in a clear way, such as changing the background or text colour on paid-for tweets, they would be displayed right there in the middle of the conversation and distracting for users.

 

An idea suggested by Robert Scoble is that the advertisements appear within their own separate window outside of the real-time stream. Whilst I believe that if Twitter were to go down the advertising route this would be most ideal solution (keeping the ads out of the real-time stream at all costs), a separate column or pane much like Google dedicated to “Sponsored Links” aka advertisements.

 

The problem Twitter then faces is getting these ads noticed and generating revenues. The second problem is given the amount of Twitter clients out there that connects through the API’s, how would they be able to get these ads displayed on these clients? The only way would be to include them within the real-time stream – which as I’ve already alluded to, would disrupt the flow of the conversation.

 

This puts Twitter in a bit of a unique position. The only other similar company I can think of is Facebook but even they don’t have this particular advertisement problem because the majority of its users use the actual Facebook website and not a third party application that plugs into the site (though there are applications that exist that tap into Facebook’s real-time feed, especially as it tries to emulate Twitter’s real-time feed more and more). This means that ads can be placed on the actual website and be seen by the majority of its users, placing ads on the Twitter website means that they will only reach a percentage of the potential audience.

 

And this is exactly the problem that Twitter faces! They are dammed if they do and they dammed if they don’t. It would be foolish to think that the site can continue to operate at its current pace without some sort of revenue generating scheme behind it – and we all know that the internet works on advertisements.

 

But this is exactly the reason why I disagree with Paul Carr on this, there is no way that ad-free conversation is possible on the web, in a world where every word that is typed or spoken or monitored by some advanced, complex system generates an advertisement that is tailored uniquely to you.

 

In particular I’m reminded of Google’s Gmail service which uses complex algorithms to scan parts of your email construct to determine which advertisements are displayed in return for each users free allotment of mailbox space. Users were at first outraged that Google could possible be reading their mail and profiting from it – a violation of the content held within that private digital letter. Of course, Google were doing no such thing as reading personal, private email; but its systems were using algorithms that intelligently scanning the mail to determine which ads were displayed within the browser.

 

If Google are monetising the conversation (which they are presumably using the same algorithms for Google Wave too), then it seems unlikely that – at some point – Twitter won’t monetise their conversations too, presumably with a similar targeted advertisement campaign/system.

My advice to you is to enjoy the ad-free conversation whilst it lasts, eventually the apes will arrive with a change, and that change could quite easily make or break the Twitter service as we know it.

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