Current Events

Silicon Valley visits Helsinki

If you’re interested in the Social Web and are in Southern Finland at the end of September here are two events that are very much worth catching.

Chris Messina and Jyri Engeström will be in Helsinki first for an all day crash course on the social web which will run from the basics in the morning to more specifics around how to design for the social web with hands-on guidance. For anyone looking to get started, this is a great opportunity to get a jump start from two guys that are in the thick of it.

On October 1st and 2nd they will be giving talks as part of the Mindtrek conference in Tampere.

Current Events

Big Mess of Wires

A hand-built, 8-bit CPU
A hand-built, 8-bit CPU

I’ll be taking my son to the Maker Faire for the third year in a row this weekend. It’s a great Father & Son festival where you see what happens when you throw together technology, imagination, dedication, and passion into a big pot and mix it up together.

On display will be Steve Chamberlin’s hand-built CPU which he built in 18 months using $1000 worth of parts and 1,200 pieces of wire hand-wrapped around gold wrap posts mounted to a board that he bought off of eBay. In the end, he re-created a large version of something the equivalent of the Apple II CPU. He nicknamed it, Big Mess of Wires. Full details on Steve’s blog.

I look forward to seeing Steve’s homebrewed CPU along with many other pet projects that are sure to inspire.

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Web 2.0 Expo 2009

I knew this time would come. The talks about this thing called social media were great because they used to be in small groups, people passing around knowledge as if around a campfire. Now, in an attempt to codify this knowledge, package it for wider distribution, it’s become wooden – formulaic.

I like the fact that this year’s conference was themed, “The Power of Less” and at it least alluded to the fact that maybe it’s time to get back to simpler roots. Tara Hunt did a great job bringing that folksy delivery to the masses in her talk about Whuffie, her delivery is just as important as the message.  John Maeda’s talk riffed on that theme as well talking about the difference between MIT’s Media Lab and the hands-on artists at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Outside the conference there was a company passing out fliers on how to get 8,000 twitter followers without even trying, I’m not clear on the details but they sounded like Snake Oil salesmen. Just down the street was a guy sitting on a milk crate with an old typewriter on his knees. He was offering to type you up a personal poem on the spot. The Power of Less indeed.

“If your product ain’t real-time, you’re dead.” I think that was the gist of a sticker I saw last week. Basically long-form blogging and analysis are dead. Everyone is focused on the quick fix, easy access you get when you’re the first to hear about something and the first to react. Chartbeat is a real-time stats package that feeds right into the real-time web. I love the fact that you can set up parameters so you know when things are outside the norm but I don’t think I need to know exactly how many people are writing comments at any one time. Quitter has been around for a while but I wonder if I really want to know which tweets drove someone to stop following me.

Sometimes it’s better to have the fuzzy resolution of the non-realtime world. More letters, less tweets. A guy I know who runs a stationary store says that business is up.

It’s all about the pile on – jump onto a hot trend on Techmeme and ride the click-thru wave with the rest of them. There was no IRC backchannel this year – everyone was tweeting away their 140-character updates into the massive, public “in-crowd” of twitters. It’s not only about those in-the-know, there are now a subset of those that heard-it-first. Less about the original perspective, more about the twitch reaction. 

As pimping your product via Social Media goes mainstream, the kids that created this unique space are going to look for somewhre else to hang out. It’s looking like that place will be mobile but we’re going to have to wait a bit longer for all the pieces to fall into place. The iPhone taught everyone that it’s not so much the hardware but the application ecosystem that you build up around the device which drives utility. The Palm Pre will hopefully teach everyone that the phone can truely be a terminal to data stored in the cloud and that a small local cache of you cloud is all you need.

22994459I’m hopeful that the next couple of years will bring together that perfect storm of better/faster that tore down the walls between Compu Serve and AOL in the late-90s and got us the internet. Ubiquitous low-cost wireless bandwidth and app stores will do for us today what the 28.8 Supra modem and usenet did for us back then.

Until then, the image of everyone on BART either pecking away at their phone or turning it over and over again while they talk with someone will stick in my mind. I’ve never seen a technology so pervasive in someone’s life. Right now it’s drawing people away from the face-to-face conversation, the bluetooth headset indicates that anyone you’re talking to is secondary to the random caller on your cell. I’m hoping we can reverse that and make something that brings them back together.

The Startup Scene in Helsinki

Arctic Evening
Arctic Evening - March 2009

I was lucky my trip to Helsinki overlapped with a meeting of Arctic Startup, an occasional meeting of high-tech entreprenuers. The event was held in the Dubrovnik Lounge, a cozy event space in downtown Helsinki which had room for about 100.

It reminded me of other Web 2.0 events that I’ve been to outside of silicon valley in Tokyo and on the East Coast of the US. A gathering of the faithful who spend their days virtually tapped in to what is going on in the valley come together face-to-face to compare notes and talk about the latest news and gossip. Everyone wants to know how things are in the Valley and if it’s really like what they’ve read. The organizers do a great job of bringing everyone together and encouraging people to help each other out and share stories of what works connecting people.

The evening’s event centered around a panel discussion about the state of VC funding in Finland and I was suprised to learn how active the Finnish government is in helping get startups off the ground. It’s difficult for a nordic startup (there were visitors from Sweden and Estonia) to secure VC funding from overseas so their best bet is to use the University system to build a prototype and secure an grant from the “tekka” (I know I’m spelling this wrong) that has become more open to funding alternatives to the pure R&D projects they have traditionally funded.

I met with Indrek Vainu from Estonia who implored me to let people I know that there’s government grants available for businesses that establish themselves in Estonia. As long as you can bring $2M to the table, the Estonian government will match that amount as a grant, doubling your runway. The application process takes some time but it’s worth it. Indrek consults on helping with the application process so if you’re interested in getting in touch, let me know and I’ll put you in touch.

I also learned about the rather infamous case of Riot On, a mobile entertainment startup in early 2000 which famously swindled its investors and ended up giving startups a bad reputation that they’re still trying to overcome. There’s a great documentary about that crazy time and how it all went down. You can see the whole thing on Joost.

Current Events

Open ID Design Summit – Links to coverage

For various reasons I was unable to attend the Open ID Design Summit. Thankfully, the talks were very well covered so it’s possible for anyone see what happened and the current state of discussions around what’s being called the “open stack”

Live-blogging the openid design summit – John McCrea from Plaxo did a great job of live-blogging the event. This is the best place to start because his post also embeds all the presentations. Thanks John!

OpenID user experience tackled – by Carsten Pötter links to, an example of an OpenID pop-up form which uses remote authentication using a Google ID.

Chris Messina just posted a bunch of video clips:

OpenID Design Workshop Introductions from Chris Messina on Vimeo.

More below the fold:


Track Me Panel at Web 2.0 Summit

Sharing location has become much easier but it brings up a lot of new questions. Who owns the data, what can you do with this data? Brady Forrest of O’Reilly Media has been exploring these issues with the Where 2.0 conference and brought together four people at this year’s Web 2.0 Summit to discuss the state of the technology.

April Allderdice from MicroEnergy Credits – they connect micro-finance loan officers in the third word with first world companies that want to buy carbon offset credits. Using GPS with their mobile devices, these loan officers can monitor when someone switches from a coal stove to a solar panel and make available those credits in aggregate for bulk offset purchases.

Rich Minor from Google Android – G1 phone can report location via GPS, Cell Tower ID, and Wifi. The Wifi location services is provided via Skyhook. Unlike the iPhone, the G1 phone can run GPS tracking as a background process.

Ted Morgan from Skyhook Wireless – they have a map of wifi access points (70 million) around the world. This allows you to get maps of physical locations, even inside a building (i.e. 4th floor). Skyhook is the wifi locator on the iPhone – there are over 500 apps on the iphone that use location. They also offer an API for web apps (see Loki API documentation). Not covered in the presentation but I just noticed that BrightKite has a Guess My Location feature which uses Loki and Mozilla’s Geode service to determine location based on your IP address.

Greg Skibiski from Sense Networks – the same way Google analyzes links across the web, Sense Network looks at the way people move about in the geo-world to track past behavior to predict future behavior. (i.e. people that sleep in the Noe Valley neighborhood tend to go out to eat in the Union Street area).

Both Twitter and Facebook are missing integrated location information. People are just starting to realize the power of location. For example, on the Android app Cab4me, you can push one button to request a taxi – location is automatically forwarded to the taxi companies. Yahoo’s Fire Eagle platform broke a lot of ground when it launched but it hasn’t really baked itself into the developer ecosystem (yet).

Skyhook has My Loki but the gave over the storing of location to Fire Eagle. They don’t want to create the impression that they are tracking individual users because of the freak-out factor. Verizon delayed enabling location chips for two years while they were writing their privacy policy on location data. Governments can subpoena this information which gives most companies pause on storing this kind of information. Fire Eagle’s privacy policy is quite good with explicit controls over how your data is shared with third parties. Fire Eagle also, by default, send an email reminder indicating your privacy settings to remind you of your settings.

CitySense from Sense Networks – Featured at the top of this post, this app aggregates personal location information with anonymous location data from other members to show activity on a city map. Currently available on Blackberry (iPhone coming soon) and only for San Francisco. Similar in approach to Nokia’s Friend View application.

MacroSense from Sense Networks – they buy taxi cab location data and match it up with zip code (block level) info to get wealth indicators and try and draw correlations with other indicators to try and predict financial indicators. They sell this data to financial firms and do custom analysis for hedge funds.

Output from a MacroSense report such as the Nightlife Activity Index which shows that many people tended to stay out late right before the recent market crash. Other graphs include the SF Morning Arrival Index (concluding that people in the Financial District get to work early when the market is booming, and later when it’s down) and the SF Taxicab Demand Elasticity Index (indicating middle income people tend to order cabs just prior to market downturns).

For more on Location Based Services such as these, see LBS Zone newsletter and O’Reilly’s Where 2.0 conference in May.

Cognitive Surplus will free up time to

One of the best talks at this year’s Web 2.0 Expo was Clay Shirky on Cognitive Surplus. In it he suggests that modern television is a, “cognitive heat sink, dissipating thinking that might otherwise have built up and caused society to overheat.”

He concludes after describing how a child spent a few minutes looking for the mouse connected to her living room television;

Here’s something four-year-olds know: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken. Here’s something four-year-olds know: Media that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for. 

The ironic thing is that I was stuck in the hallway and missed this talk. I read Clay’s transcript and was moved. But watching him deliver his talk on video was even more impactful (for instance, listening to the collective, “Ahhh!” from the crowd when he delivers the lines quoted above).

As with many involved in the tech industry, I watch very little television but when I do, it’s mediated by timeshifting technology that lets me watch it on my own terms. It’s either on Tivo or filtered through social pointers such as Jeremy’s blog post which determine which videos I invest time to watch.

“The web is in its infancy,” says Tim Berners-Lee and looking at the tools available to manage information flow it’s easy to see why. We’re shifting from a time of channel surfing to web surfing but the evolution from web portals to something more dynamic and efficient has only just begun. The vast wealth of information is still intoxicating and we constantly jump around afraid we’re going to miss something. What’s going to happen when we wake up from this second, “collective bender” and use our spare time to improve the world around us.

Then we will have the capacity, as Tim O’Reilly challenges us, to “wrestle with angels.”


MyBlogLog and Web 2.0 Expo

Todd and I have been busy hanging out over at this week’s Web 2.0 Expo (save one short visit to the nearby Blue Bottle Coffee, thanks Sam!) but the team has been back at MyBlogLog HQ cranking out some cool stuff regardless.

HCard & VCard support – very cool to see these come to light. Todd has the scoop.

MBL Mobile – we brushed off this hack and updated it a bit. Steve wrote a java client (and Chris made a cool Mac installer) that you can download and run on your desktop. It runs in the background and a little bubble pops up when a fellow opted in MyBlogLogger is within Bluetooth range.

Wi-Fi enabled invitations – O’Reilly was kind enough to give us the IP Addresses of the wi-fi routers at the Expo. We now look for any traffice coming from this range and if we see a MyBlogLog member accessing it from this range, we leave them a message on their MyBlogLog profile inviting them to check out MBL Mobile and to stop by the Yahoo booth and say, “Hi”

Collective Intelligence – as we have done before, we use the wi-fi address range to collect a gallery of all the MyBlogLog members that have used the internet via the Web 2.0 Expo routers. We sometimes get around to showing a rank ordered list of the most popular links but didn’t get around to it this time.


Netsquared Mashup Challenge

The Netsquared Mashup Challenge applications are in and now it’s time to vote on your favorite of the 122 that have been submitted. It’s all for a good cause and the projects listed here are good inspiration for those attending Mashup University where I’ll be doing a brief presentation tomorrow morning on the MyBlogLog API.

For more on the Netsquared Mashup Challenge, see the video below:


Panel Discussion on Activity Streams

A panel discussion at GSP West with myself, Bret Taylor (FriendFeed), Kevin Marks (Google) and David Recordon (Six Apart) on the rollout of shared activity streams as part of the latest revolution in social network. Moderating was Sean Ammirati of ReadWriteWeb.