Tuesday, November 29, 2005

43 Folders on Group Scheduling

43 Folders reports on a funny lo-fi way to find the best date for an event based on several people’s schedules:

By passing around emails with an ASCII, monotype text representation of the possible dates and times, each person uses a symbol to indicate their preference and availability.

It's a clever idea, but of course a MUCH more convenient way is to set up a free group calendar at CalendarHub. (Full Disclosure: I'm affiliated with CalendarHub.)

Monday, November 28, 2005

Happy Birthday, Windows!

German computer magazine CHIP has a story on Windows' 20th anniversary. Windows 1.0 was scheduled to be released in June 1984 but didn't make it into the stores until November 1985. The story is available in German only, but if you feel like getting sentimental, here's a screenshot tour.

The funny thing is that many of the Web 2.0 folks won't get teary-eyed here because they're too young to remember things like 20 MB hard drives, acoustic couplers and monochrome monitors. Ian Sefferman of Openomy (about which I wrote a few days ago) is just 21, for example, and Omar Al Zabir, my ingenious partner at Pagefla...ooops, I almost revealed the name of my new startup!...is just 23 years old, too. ("Revealed" in a "Ray Ozzie memo leaked" kind of way.)

OK, folks of the generation Web 2.0, at least have a look at this:

Guess what these funny black squares are? No, no gramophone records. Your dad or elder brother used to call them "floppy disks". These 5 1/4 inch floppies here stored 360-1200 KB, but if that sounds a little small for your MP3 and DivX collection, remember that your dad and your elder brother were exceedingly proud when they finally got a floppy drive, as that allowed them to throw away their datasette recorder.

The PC revolution of the past 20 years never fails to excite me. And as many others, I keep wondering if Moore's Law will still work in the next 20 years to come.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

P2P WiFi

Via Roland Tanglao: FON allows users to share their WiFi networks with other users. They're launching in Spain, but according to Joi Ito they plan to push out worldwide.

The idea is interesting: If you have DSL, most of the time you're using only a tiny fraction of your available bandwidth. Why not give some of your extra bandwidth to that guy sitting in the café next door who is going online via an expensive UMTS connection? If you think of VoIP (read: Skype) via WLAN, it's getting even more interesting.

In Germany, sofanetworks is trying the same. They have a slightly different focus though, as they also target to neighbours who want to share their Internet connection using a WLAN. So they not only want to save you costs while you're on the road, they even want to let you save your home DSL connection.

Will FON and/or sofanetworks succeed? I'm still skeptical. One reason is security. What if the people who I share my Internet connection with will download illegal content from the Web? I'm sure both companies address this concern. But will users take on the hassle of learning more about the security situation or will they just stay away from the offer? The upside, after all, is rather limited: A share of the revenues generated with the user's WiFi (which I assume will be a few bucks per month in most cases), plus the promise of being part of a movement which kicks the big telcos in their pants.

Another reason why I'm not convinced yet is that they need a large critical mass of customers in order to successfully match connection sharers with connection users. At least, FON's founder Martin Varsavsky has experience with that: Before founding FON, he founded telephone company Jazztel and Internet portal Ya.com in Spain, both of which became large companies.

BTW, are you a "Bill" or a "Linus"? At FON, you can decide if you want to become a "Bill" or a "Linus". Bills get 50% of the revenues generated through their WiFis. Linuses, on the other hand, don't get the revenue share but in exchange they get free roaming among the FON network.

Friday, November 25, 2005

YubNub and the power of Google

YubNub is a command line interface for the Web that allows you to start all kinds of Web queries by typing a command, e.g. "g" for Google, followed by the parameter of your choice. Typing "g c# UML" (without the quotation marks), for example, will yield a Google search for the search term c# UML.

Other popular commands include "wp" for Wikipedia, "gnews" for Google News, "tec" for technorati and "weather" (followed by a ZIP code) for weather information from The Weather Channel. In the same way you can use hundreds of other commands that have been created by YubNub's user community. Yahoo has a similar feature called Yahoo Shortcuts and Google lets you do searches like 10+5 or $ 10 euro, but none of these offers you nearly as many different commands as YubNub.

Somehow I like the idea. Since I stumbled upon the site a few months ago, I've been visiting it every now and then. I didn't really "adopt" it yet though. Maybe many others feel similar. Are we spoilt by GUIs so that we don't want to remember any of those commands? Or is Google simply too good, not leaving any space for a service like this? I think the latter is a problem for many startups which try to do anything related to helping people find information on the Web. Google works so awfully well, it's hard to make people remember an additional URL. If you search any kind of information, chances are you'll find it quickly by starting your search at Google.

As Google quickly turned from David to Goliath and I always sympathize with the Davids, I still keep my fingers crossed for YubNub, of course.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Openomy - building the file system for Web 2.0

Openomy wants to become for the Web what FAT was for MS-DOS and NTFS is for Windows. No idea what I'm talking of? (I don't know the nerd ratio of my readership.) Then here's a better description, taken from Openomy's site:

Openomy is an online file system. You can store files on Openomy and access them from any computer. Openomy organizes files and users via tags (as opposed to folders). You can choose to keep your files guarded by Openomy, or allow certain outside applications (of your choice) to do new and interesting things with your data.

In case you're still not sure why this is a great idea, consider this: At the moment, your Writely files are stored on Writely's servers, your Num Sum files are stored on Num Sum's servers and your Basecamp files are stored on Basecamp's servers. (If you're not using any of these applications, please read this posting again in two years. Chances are you'll be using one of these services, or a similar one, by then. BTW, why not send yourself a reminder in two years to see if my fortune-telling is right?)

So, do you have a separate hard drive for Word, Excel and Powerpoint? No? Then I'm not sure if it makes sense to have a separate file system and storage server for each Web-based application.

I think Openomy is a really, really smart idea. I also think a viable business can be built around it. To enter the market I think they should build one really cool application that is closely tied with Openomy and give it away for free or for as little money as possible. The most obvious application, of course, is to address the terribly underserved market for online storage and remote backup. And while not offering a perfect solution for that need yet, they're already beginning to do just that.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Not just rounded corners and pastel colors

Adam Green says "Web 2.0 is just like Web 1.0 but with rounded corners and pastel colors". Hilarious.

Just in case it's not a joke: I disagree, of course. Although there's legitimate criticism around the term - and IMHO the definiton is still a work in progress - it's much more.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

10 Companies Michael Arrington would like to profile (but don't exist)

Michael Arrington from TechCrunch published a terrific list of 10 companies he'd like to profile but don't exist. Usually when you find a list of business ideas somewhere it's either "get rich quick" spam or a suggestion to start your own pizza delivery service. This one is different.

Every single one of these ideas is highly interesting. Some of them have the potential to become huge businesses (e.g. "Online File Storage" and "Open Source Yellow Pages"). Some of them are smaller but are easier to build and could still support a very viable and profitable business. "Blog/website Email Lists" is one of those.

This is one of the most insightful and valuable blog postings I read in a while - thanks, Michael.

Check it out. If you're building one of these businesses, feel free to drop me a line to see if I can help you in any way.

CalendarHub launches

CalendarHub went from invitation-only beta into public beta today. In my opinion, which admittedly is biased because I’m an angel investor at the company, CalendarHub is the best Ajax calendar on the Web. Let me give you a quick elevator pitch.

CalendarHub allows you to create a calendar that you can access from any PC with an Internet connection. If you like, you can share your calendar with others, or publish it on the Web. The site has a sleek Ajax-powered user interface which I’m sure you’ll like.

You can use CalendarHub in a number of ways:

As an individual
Build a calendar for your own private use. Create reminders for birthdays, bills, leisure activities....anything you want. If you like, get reminders by email or SMS. You can also search published calendars for events and add them to your own calendar. Creating a shared calendar for your family is a snap as well.

As a business
Create a team calendar which every team member can access. In addition, everyone from the team can have his or her personal calendar, of course. The cool thing is that you can subscribe to other calendars. So if an employee subscribes to the team calendar, all events from the team calendar are fed into his personal calendar.

As a group/organization
Create a calendar for your football team, your school grade, your community organization...whatever social activities you’re involved in. Everyone from the group can subscribe to an RSS feed of the group calendar, so they’re automatically notified of new events or changes.

As a theater, cinema, club
Publish a calendar on the Web to announce events. Build a subscriber base of clients who subscribe to the RSS feed and easily notify them of last-minute ticket opportunities simply by adding the respective event to your calendar.

This an incomplete listing of CalendarHub’s features (and much, much more is in the making). But I promised an elevator pitch and I guess we already reached the top floor. :-)

Please have a look at CalendarHub and let me know what you think. Feedback is greatly appreciated.

Congrats to Scott Mace and Barry Welch who created CalendarHub and did an awesome job. Keep up the good work!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

10 Over 100

James Hong and Josh Blumenstock, creators of the popular site HOTorNOT, started a terrific initiative:

At 10over100.org, people make a pledge to give 10% of whatever they make over $100,000 each year to charity.

I love that idea. If the governments of the rich countries aren't willing to cure the world of extreme poverty - although IMO it would be possible - then private persons must stand up and fill the gap. I would like something like "2 over 20" even more, as I think that almost everyone in the rich countries would be able to afford spending 2% to fight extreme poverty. But 10over100 might be more realistic.

The question of efficacy and efficiency of foreign aid pops up, of course. But for now let's work with the (admittedly simplistic) assumption that money from the rich countries can prevent people in the developing countries from starving or dying from easily preventable diseases. I know things are a bit more complicated in reality and I may get back to that discussion.

I, for one, pledged "10 over 0", i.e. 10% of my income. My money will go to Jeffrey Sachs' Millennium Promise project, which uses modern science to make poverty history, one village at a time. I encourage everyone to join me in this greatest challenge of our generation.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Anyone creating „The Blog Street Journal“?

More and more of what I read every day is delivered digitally (blogs, newspaper sites). I’m sure it’s the same for most of you. Heck, I even cancelled the subscription of my daily. It’s old news when I’m getting it anyway, and for in-depth stories I have my weeklies and monthlies. And of course for many topics I’m interested in, the blogosphere is where the action is anyway.

Still, reading a newspaper on paper is a more pleasurable experience than reading news on screen, at least for me. If an article is more than one page long, most of the times I’ll print it. That probably won’t change until screen resolutions come much closer to print resolutions. When screens become lighter and more flexible that will help to.

What I’d love to subscribe to is a daily, printed edition of the best posts from the blogs I read. A bit like a printed Findory, but even more tailored to my interests. A smart attention engine like TailRank would be required to find out the most interesting postings from thousands of postings from hundreds of feeds. Digital on-demand printing has become cheap enough, see NewspaperDirect or this new company there.

Even if this is perfectly executed, a big question remains. Is blog content suitable for the paper format?

  • Lack of hyperlinks. Blogs make particularly heavy use of hyperlinking to other blogs and other resources. Not being able to go to these links with one click would be a big downside.
  • Human intelligence. Attention engines will be great for pre-selecting postings (getting it down from thousands to hundreds) but I don’t know if they will work well enough to get the selection down to a number of postings that fits into a newspaper.
  • Time lag. Do the advantages of the paper format outweigh the delay of around 24 hours on average between publishing and reading?

If anyone builds The Blog Street Journal, it will never replace real-time blog reading. It could be a great addition though. Let me know what you think!

P.S.: Somewhere in between reading blogs the usual way and The Blog Street Journal would be a service that creates a nice-looking PDF out of your favourite blog content. If the user rates how well the postings were selected, the results could become constantly better over time. The whole job of getting the content, creating the PDF and sending it to the printer could be done automatically, of course. So you would find your latest Blog Street Hourly in your printer’s output tray every hour.

P.P.S.: Even if none of these ideas ever become reality, maybe this is at least the future of newspaper delivery? Printing a newspaper and shipping it hundreds of miles to the customer, only to have the customer throw away 90% of the newspaper (because I never read the sports section, for example) doesn’t seem very clever, does it?

Meetro - location-aware IM

Meetro is a location-aware social networking service with instant messenger integration. From their website:
Technically speaking, Meetro is radius and proximity based software. Untechnically speaking, it finds like-minded people around you instantly. Wherever you are. So whether you’re in-town or out of town, Meetro gets you on the town with old friends or new acquaintances.

Via Tipmonkies.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Found on Peter Brown's Ajax Blog:
immedi.at helps you to keep track of online information as it changes. It sends you an instant message whenever any RSS or Atom feed you want to monitor changes.

Don't use this for your whole OPML file, or an IM will pop up on your screen every few seconds. A good way to keep an eye on selected feeds that are most important to you though!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Two people challenging a $28 billion industry

eHub did a nice interview with Paul Youlten, the founder of a great project called Yellowikis. Yellowikis, as Paul put it, is "the 10 month old love-child of Yellow Pages and Wikipedia".

Putting the Yellow Pages online has been tried before but I don't know if any of those projects really took off. Yellowikis' new approach makes this new attempt really promising. I hope they will succeed, especially because of their care for developing countries and their wish to help facilitate trade in those countries.

It seems like Yellowikis is operated very leanly. Asked about traffic, Paul replied:
We don’t take advertising so I didn’t pay for the stats package provided by our hosting company.

He also said:
I got an email from a management consultant that said: “Unless you are in government development, why provide business information for free?” Clearly some people still don’t get that the rules have changed. It’s quite easy for two people with $75 dollars and a few hours hard work to challenge a $28bn industry (Yellow Pages) without any ambition to make a fast buck.

I can hear those industry's people mumble "asymmetrical warfare".

A lesson in arithmetics, the German way

Here's a quick test, taken from real-life here in Germany:

One political party wants to increase the VAT from 16% to 18%. Another party wants to keep it where it is. These two parties form a governing coalition.

Question: Where do they meet?

If you guessed 17%, you're wrong. Right answer: 19%.

Monday, November 14, 2005

GYM, the gorilla triplet formerly known as GMY

Om Malik just coined the acronym GYM for Google, Yahoo and Microsoft (at least I read it at his blog first) and asks if you manage to not mention the GYM for a week. I think it'll be difficult. Given the resources, distribution and yes, innovative power and speed of the Big 3, the key question for most Web 2.0 startups is how they manage to compete with the GYM.

BTW, someone called the GYM GMY a year ago already but it seems that acronym didn't catch on.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

My first posting

So I finally started a blog. I've been tempted to do this for a pretty long time but I wasn't sure if it's a good idea:

  1. I'm lazy about writing and I don't know if I'll feel like posting frequently.
  2. I have no idea if anyone is interested in what I have to say.

Why did I decide to give it a try despite this poor starting position?

  1. It's no big deal. If I don't feel like blogging any longer after five postings, that was it.
  2. Sometimes, I really want to shout out my opinion.
  3. Blogs are a great place for networking. I hope that the blog will help me get in touch with a lot of interesting people.
  4. It's a good way to improve my English, especially if you are so kind to let me know my mistakes.
  5. I'm involved with two Web 2.0 start-ups (one is here, the other one pre-launch). How can I dare to not have a blog?

OK, 'nuff disclaimer!