Saturday, September 29, 2007

That's what I'm talking about!

One, an Austrian mobile operator launches mobile code scanning with BeetaggOne, an Austrian mobile operator had launched BeeTagg's code scanning solution. Here it is from the operator's site.
Why do I mention this? Because the mobile code scanning market is in need for energy now. More announcements like this to see more operators take on the technology, more innovation happening, more trials, more ENERGY.

One appears to be an early adopter operator that has innovation and services high on the value list. One of the service they seem to launch with Beetagg is 'tag your city', connecting physical locations to digital media. Probably not too dissimilar from Nextcode's Freedom Trail project here in Boston, using ConnexTo technology.

An interesting point, Heike Schultz, a leading mobile and code scanning blogger, seems to think that the service might be offered in German, getting closer to large crowds in EU.

Is Beetagg's solution better? is it good? does it serve the overall MC2 initiative? what's One (the operator) going to actually do with it? I don't know. and I don't care. The market needs this energy, and this is the kind of energy it needs.
Good stuff Beetagg, congrats. Keep it coming.

Friday, September 28, 2007

That's right, let's use the stick

Apple to make unlocked iPhones permanently inoperableOh hoh hoh...that's gonna be a hot potato Apple, hope you're ready for some backlash.
Punishing your audience, those willing to take the next step to use your product, that's useful.

Saul Hansell in his NY Times article writes: "There is something futile about the way Apple appears to be fighting some of its most ardent fans, those who want to use the full capabilities of the iPhone."

In the series of recent iPhone related fumbles and weird acts, starting from going operator-exclusive (which I thought Apple could have and should have avoided), recently with the introduction of the next-gen iPhone and $100 exercise and now this...You guys are making headlines.

So people went ahead and hacked your phones to make them available on other networks. Wow. Unlocking phones has been around for ages, and it means only one thing: PEOPLE LIKE THIS PHONE AND WANT TO GET IT AND USE IT MORE!!!

As I read BBC News article on Apple crippling hacked iPhones, every line, every word amazes me:
"Earlier this week Apple said a planned update would leave the device "permanently inoperable...That warning has now proved correct as many owners are reporting their phones no longer work following installation of the update.": Oh right...let's have all those $500 paying people with a brick in their hands. They're not going to be able to complain 'cause they did the hack, so we'll probably not hear from them again

"There are also reports of the update causing issues with unaltered iPhones...Some owners are reporting on technology blogs and Apple's own forums that the update is deleting contacts information, as well as photos and music, on iPhones that have not been modified in any way. ": Oh right, and by the way, even if you didn't unlock your iPhone, our update will nevertheless delete your stuff.

Did hackers anticipate this and have a cure? I hope so.

Regardless, Apple, people may whisper that all of this has been planned, it does not look like it to me at all.

Google, I hope you're watching (I'm actually sure you are). GPhone can and should change the rules of the game, you can make it happen!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Boston VC Blogging

Boston VC Blogging SceneScott Kirsner had a nice article in the Boston Globe (and here in his blog) on the VC blogging phenomenon with a Boston lens. The point he's making, I think, is that those VCs that use new methods to source entrepreneurial deals and ideas will benefit in the long term. His post got some positive comments from lead VC bloggers: IDG, Spark and others.

Boston is a great place to totally catch the entrepreneurship bug: there's huge energy in terms of experienced entrepreneurs, VCs, technology, talent etc. In the past years its completely got to me and now I can say I am totally contained by it. What impact did it have on me, in reality? Okay, I'm with a startup that provides innovative solution in an emerging market, I'm trying to learn, read, watch, follow, attend events and essentially just be close to that warming energy. But, in my eyes, I'm still a fly hovering above the cake: I've yet to substantially contribute anything to this energy, sadly. As many of us, I would guess, I'm having this endless stream of (probably useless) ideas that I'm considering publishing on this blog. I guess it's also down to having my garage buddy ~11k miles away and not finding a local one (anyone interested?).

My initial introduction to VC was on a Harvard event where Jeff Bussgang told the crowd about 1) his way to the top and 2) his thoughts on location based services. I walked out of the event enchanted, because:
  • Here's a guy who made it, and made it big
  • He's willing to share his experience how he got there, not in a vain way, but in a 'you too can make it happen' (he was probably thinking of HBS peeps :-))
  • He has a lot of interest in mobile (cool!)
  • He had offered an invaluable lesson on how VCs look at a market/solution/technology, and specifically at LBS
  • He's a great guy (eventually he actually invited me to meet with him, which I really appreciated)
And I'm using Jeff as an example only. I'm lucky to know a couple of VC guys that are very friendly, open and just great guys to consult with and share thoughts.

So it doesn't come as a surprise that Jeff and other VC blokes are writing blogs. Beyond the commercial purposes of doing so, it's just about getting closer to the entrepreneurs, teaching them 'how we see things' and the lingo VCs use. It's about the mutual plane.

Also Jeff's comment on Scott's article is not a surprise ("Why do I blog"):
- Definitely less about deal flow and more about transparency and providing accessibility, humanizing the VC process
- Open dialog helps me keep in touch with entrepreneur’s latest issues and hot buttons
- Provides sense of accountability to the entrepreneur community
- Helps me understand social networking, community, blogging, and many other Web 2.0 phenomenon from a practical standpoint as a practitioner, not theoretical

I'm reading Jeff's, Bijan's and David's blogs, yet to use any of it in practice but I know, if ever get there, those would be invaluable. Guys: thank you for writing, it's more useful than any text book.

Simplicity vs. Awareness

Simplicity vs. Awareness: read the small printA while back I was facing a dilemma how to make users aware of an issue we found on our application on specific phones. The issue made it look pretty bad: it made the phone stall (if I recall correctly) if people ran the application immediately after download.

You know people aren't reading stuff, presenting them with extra text screens (especially on mobile web) will make you loose some. But if you don't make them aware, those people will become real unhappy. In today's blogsphere, an unhappy user can have a lot of "signal strength".

you're damned if you do, you're damned if you don't. Pick your poison.

(going techy now, bus peeps please skip:) on some high-resolution, low-memory phones, imagine you have just downloaded the application, so presumably the browser is still open (hence memory implications), some temporary memory allocated to the downloaded app, and installer may still be running. you are being prompted: "do you want to run the application?" (that's kind of a given, ain't it?). if you go yes, the code scanning application will attempt to show a viewfinder, and then if you try to take a scan, the phone will attempt to allocate memory for the image. Well that brought the phone to its knees.

(non-techys safe to read from here). So I had two options: when people try to download with this phone, force them through an extra "don't say I didn't tell you" page (and loose people on the way) or let them find it out. I chose the first because I felt people at least need to know and would be bitter if they didn't.

why am I telling you this?

Because a couple days ago I got an invitation to a new service through from someone I know and respect (explanation later but important to say: HE PROBABLY DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT THIS INVITE).

It was for a service that allows you to call your Skype friends from your mobile for a local call (isn't this market saturated enough?) and no, it wasn't iSkoot's client. I knew this friend was an expert in the space and looking at technologies and solutions, so I thought why not, try it out myself. So I sign up and the things works nicely. I can see my Skype contacts in there so nice integration into Skype....typical web 2.0 expected convenience. You could even argue that inviting your friends to the service would be an obvious service.
Obvious, but not automatic.
It's just that I don't recall any prompt or any authorization asking me to go ahead and do so! before I know it, invitations were sent from my Skype account to all my contacts to join the service. Or maybe some of them, I don't know!

Anyways, I'm a bit upset about this and wanted to apologize to whoever got this invitation from me...I'm definitely not going to use the service anymore.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ad-based UK Mobile Operator Blyk launch service

I am very excited about this. In my scale of innovation, leadership and entrepreneurship, this is as good as it gets.

Blyk first to launch ad-driven free wireless service in the UK to 16-24 age groupFor a while now I've been telling stories about a mobile operator who is basing their business model on advertising, Blyk. Well these guys have announced the launch of their service in the UK.

The reason this is very exciting is because (A)- it puts to test the notion that mobile advertising can energize a mobile operator to have a compelling service and take away a lot of the monthly subscriber fees and (B)- you know Google is watching this very closely. Blyk are a virtual operator, based on Orange UK, targeting a specific age group, 16-24 (does this sound similar to T-Mobile USA's sidekick target crowd, who just announced the deal with MySpace?). They have interesting concepts and learnings they've accumulated during their pre-launch research:

(Blyk's About Page:) "Blyk has built a service around what young people want and need – free communication, ease of use and relevant messages from brands. Blyk has developed its offer by finding out what its members consider most valuable – this will evolve over time as their needs do."

(from the press release:)
“We found that what is 90% familiar and 10% new leads to the best user experience. So, the Blyk communications formats are based on the most dominant and most familiar pattern among 16-24s: Getting a message and responding to it. Both picture and text.”

"Our free offer is 217 texts and 43 minutes every month and this could mean no more phone bills for up to 4.5 million young people in the UK - with no contract. We have the brands that want to speak to them too, with more than 40 already signed up for the launch. This group represents almost every industry sector there is.” "

"For brands, Blyk is an innovative, new media channel, providing direct access to the 16-24 year old market; enabling them to create awareness, build relationships and drive sales to this hard to reach audience. "

This can truly change the way we think of the operator-vendor-subscriber game. it would introduce new forces into the game, with a lot of energy. this is all very exciting.

GOOD LUCK folks!!!

10 things I like about Facebook (9 really)

Connect with me on FacebookRoughly 2 weeks into Facebook (FB for short), I have to say that I enjoy every minute playing with it (honeymoon effect?). As part of a little research I'm doing, I've joined several social networks, and some I already was a member of: LinkedIn, Plaxo, Upcoming, twitter etc. even Last.FM.
And one of the things that attract me to FB is that its so much more than I expected it to be, so here's my 7+2 surprises from FB:
  1. Sure, I'm 15-20 years older than the peak of the average FB user, but I'm totally not alone: found quite a few known faces there. It's not a network "for teens only".
  2. The integration to 3rd party applications is great. I can see my friends, my interests, my events and much more here. you can control everything from FB interface so no need to leave.
  3. Reviving and enjoying connections is not a mantra: here you can truly get in touch with old friends, see what they're up to and what's happening in their lives.
  4. There's a face to that name (kind of an emphasis to the last point): one of the things about networking is that it is so much more 'human' when there's a face attached to the name. It makes a huge difference, I think. Also, people can express themselves in yet another dimension, not to mention the date seekers :-)
  5. It's truly a "personal network", in that people are encouraged to express their own "profiles" to their taste and personality. It seems that FB's structure has not been as appealing to bands (as MySpace has), for example, and even their advertising is not so 'in your face'. It feels very comfortable and "clean" experience.
  6. There's enough to make you stay longer: The richness of applications and network features invites you to 'stay and play'. There's something for everyone because it's the people's network, with infinite dimensions to it.
  7. An iPhone-equipped friend let me see her FB profile on her iPhone. Awesome. No extra words needed.
  8. (Suggestion:) One thing Facebook could help me with is to consolidate all of my various address books into one place. Frankly I don't care if they are FB users or not, but it would just help me so much. And then be able to sync these with a mobile device or export to other APIs.
  9. (Weird:) FB doesn't allow (to my best knowledge) outsiders to have a peek (or test drive) at what's inside before signing up. Sure, signing up is free but still people may find it strange to sign up for something they know nothing of. In that, FB bets on the word-of-mouth to be powerful enough to make people sign nevertheless. I think FB would have done good for themselves if they had something more compelling on their front page for new users.

Here's a useful site that compares social sites features...looks like they have MySpace setting the tone. Anyway, they both are a lot of fun, and it will get better. I recommend giving FB a try it if you have the time.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A lesson on great market spin

Let me start by a confession: I'm a cheapo. I check out a certain deal site daily to find stuff in bargain prices. Maybe a behavior disorder, maybe the fact that no rich relative had landed a pack on me (yet).

ARC Wireless Freedom Antenna eliminates dropped calls and dead spots and enhances voice claritySo I'm looking through the site and it takes me to ARC Wireless Freedom Antenna:
"The ARC Freedom Antenna is a cell phone booster antenna that is designed to increase your cell phone reception 8X! Using its patented technology the Freedom Antenna eliminates dropped calls and dead spots and enhances voice clarity. The Freedom Antenna is essential for sales people & executives, remote workers, or anyone frustrated by dropped calls and poor reception. For use in home, office, hotel, car or truck. The patented Freedom Antenna really WORKS!"


Yes!!! for $31.99 I can get the quality of wireless service that I was hoping for when I bought my phone!
Wait a minute...

Don't get me wrong: I am totally for an industry that has identified a real gap and is set to provide solutions there. I'm actually a big supporter of these solutions like UMA (Kineto Wireless), Femtocell (from various vendors like LGCWireless) and other solutions like the one I mentioned. One reason, beyond pure entrepreneurship, is that my coverage at home is so poor!


So the next step is for wireless operators to offer the medicine: Sprint's femtocell AIRAVE (read more) service and T-Mobile's UMA Hotspot @ Home solution will make it all better. (Have you noticed the UMA buzz in the wireless community lately?). (Side comment: I wish some of the service offerings felt more confident in their phone selection, simple vs. complex charging model and simple vs. complex service story).
Take my advice: read all the details about what are the savings and the extra charges in the service. If you think you got it, let me know. Here's a self quiz: if you start the call outside home and then come home to your 'local' network, what's your bill going to look like?

It might be me, but it strikes me that, year 2007, a workaround for a coverage problem is promoted as a cool new service that you actually got to pay for, sounds to me like one great market spin.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Biometrics Go Mobile: An industry whose time has come?

Biometric Sensor enabled Pantech mobile phoneIn recent years there had been significant advances in the solutions and technologies that provide biometric sensing solutions. The technology is now offered from vendors to OEMs to embed into laptops, security systems, law enforcement agencies etc. It also offers different methods to authenticate the user based on finger-scan, iris-scan, facial-scan, voice-scan, signature-scan and more.

Introducing biometric readers into mobile phones isn't a new thing: back in 2004 Pantech's GI100 had a biometric fingerprint reader that used remote algorithms to authenticate the user. Further, there were 10 fingerprint 'stores' that would allow speed dialing to a number based on which finger was identified. Also, the phone saved no log of any phone call made from a registered signature, making it very confidential.

When it comes to mobile, it seems like this industry had suffered from what many early solutions see, which is not enough maturity to substantiate a 'pull' for a commercial solutions. In the past, for example, with voice calls and some messaging being at the core of the mobile experience, there was limited motivation for theft and fraud (and hence creating security applications).

Good news, the horizon of applications and services coming to mobile handsets have changed dramatically:
  • Protecting personal digital assets: increasingly people will be encouraged to use the phone's computational power, connectivity and storage to turn their phone into a truly 'PDA': from their complete address book, personalization of their phone, blogging about their personal life through to their credit card data, downloading (and sharing) content, and much more. They will want to protect that.
  • Protecting business digital assets: Whether a sales person on the road with all of his company's prospects in his phone's address book, an investor with sensitive financial data or planning on an excel sheet, a military or secret service agent carrying sensitive data on their PDA...(high end) phones can now carry documents, emails, and addresses that could all be extremely sensitive. Several companies identified the need to identify when the device is indeed lost, secure the data once the device is lost, and then how to retrieve the data. Once the device is lost, do you use the device connectivity to connect to the operator and locate it, do you lock down the device to guard it against remote or local hackers...A lost device is a pain
  • Protecting e-commerce transactions: this is perhaps the most energetic change that is coming to mobile these days. Mobile banking, payments, promotions, loyalty, coupons, name it. They all require an identity, security, tied into financial information and/or transaction. It is a promise of increased transactions of connected people on the move. BUT- it requires the audience faith in a secure system. This is a promise that has tsunami forces driving it, and will be very attractive to hackers
  • Multiple user accounts or 'speed actions': as phones get more capable and centralized to people's lives, people may want to set up separate 'home:work' profiles, set speed actions, separate accounts, all of which can be activated in one quick fingerprint scan
  • Device recovery: users can 'unlock' locked devices whether intentionally or if the device got lost. Biometric authentication is a perfect solution to help the right user to recover their phone and otherwise lock the phone from hackers
Passwords on mobile are clearly a problem: if it wasn't annoying enough to memorize your bank of passwords, now try typing it on that 12-key keypad. Good luck!.
From Authentec's motivation page: "Passwords, once perceived as a simple security solution, have become cumbersome, vulnerable, expensive and prone to misuse. On average, individuals have to remember 30 passwords and companies often spend $25 to $100 annually per employee to resolve password problems."

SecurePhone is one company that not only attempts to authenticate the user with biometric measures, but they look to provide authenticity 'signing' to the content of a voice call:
"The aim is to enable users to exchange information that can't be disputed afterward. That could be a voice recording that is authenticated to eliminate any doubt about who the speaker is, what they actually said and prove that it has not been manipulated,...To achieve that it is necessary to digitally sign the data and to ensure that only the legitimate user can perform the signing."

A description of SecurePhone's solution reveals 3-level authentication, that requires no hardware addition to the phone:
"The system, which is designed primarily for PDA-phones but could also be used in new generation smart phones and WiFi-enabled PDAs, offers three methods of biometric identification. One employs the (1) digital cameras that have become commonplace in mobile devices along with a face recognition application to identify the user based on their facial features. Another uses (2) voice recognition software – also detecting any asynchrony between speech and lip movements - and the third verifies the (3) handwritten signature of the user on the device's touch screen. The three methods are used in combination to enhance the overall levels of security and reliability, and most importantly they require no hardware additions to mobile devices"

The technology for biometric sensors has hugely matured and sophisticated in recent years. Handset vendors can now accomplish biometric user authentication by utilizing existing components or by adding dedicated hardware sensors from vendors like Authentec and others.
The market need for robust user authentication is mature, and biometric user authentication is an ideal solution to accomplish that.

I think a lot will happen in this space soon, I'm going to watch this space...


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Social Goes Mobile (And Vice-Versa)

Mobile Monday Boston Event on Mobile Social NetworkingYesterday's Mobile Monday Boston event titled "Mobile Social Networking" was a blast. Outstanding panel, hot subject, interesting venue (Orange lab in Cambridge), good discussion. In fact, the event sold out maybe a week before, so the place was packed. I also found it interesting to find many new faces in the crowd, which I contributed to local media and 'web' social players seeking forays into mobile (and there are lots of them in Boston: from younger plays like RPM, creators of utterz and foonz who just got some funding, to more established players like LinkedIn).

To begin with some coverage of the talk, I found the following comment made by the panel as very motivational. This was related to the case for mobile social networking. and the comment was:
"25% of cell phone users are talking to themselves on their phones". WOW.
More than the need for connectivity for the purpose of productivity or fun, more than watching videos, more than anything else, people have a need to connect and stay connected with the network of family, colleagues, friends etc.

With that highly personalized, intimately close mobile connected device, that's on us almost 24/7, it makes perfect sense. People can "broadcast" themselves as they "do stuff", they could broadcast their personality through the personalization of their phone, they can be alerted of their friend's doings and location in a very effective way. Further, if the phone could transmit the 'context' the user is experiencing (location, time, weather, activity,...) that would be really cool.
Getting in front of users: the approach of mobile-optimized WAP pages is preferred as a mechanism to get in front of users compared to the alternative of getting an application on the phone. And naturally so, the headache of creating a mobile application, optimizing to each phone, certification, distribution...headache. Instead, simple access to a WAP page is probably much easier, it serves the business model and distribution strategy well:

  • The business model, so it sounds, for all of the vendors, is ad-based revenue. Two comments on that:
    • First, if you are to base your business model on advertising, I think you want to have those ads appear on WAP pages that users will hit anyway. The reason being is that if this was a local application that would suddenly show rotating ads, users would quickly become aware that they are actually paying for those ads to come down on their data charges, and wouldn't be happy with that. On the web(/WAP), however, users are used to see ads and probably see them as a natural part of the experience
    • Second comment is somewhat pessimistic: sure, lots of web 2.0 cool sites gather eyeballs and get some advertising revenue based on that. They are relatively cheap to setup and what it really takes is the idea to differentiate. So minimal expense, and if advertising doesn't end up covering the cost, no biggie. Can one make the same assumptions in mobile? Is mobile as open, easy to penetrate (and easy to pull down) ecosystem as the web? How much advertising will the crowd accept? Isn't basing your revenue model on advertising somewhat adventurous?
  • The distribution strategy is also served well by serving WAP pages: the vendors can easily go off-deck globally, getting significant adoption (MoCo Space reported 1M users in 6 months) while, BTW, offering on-deck deals to the operators. This will appeal to both operators and vendors, I believe, as operator deals don't stand in the way of adoption, and vendors can have better understanding of their potential (based on real adoption) as they come to pitch operators
In terms of services, several different options were presented: PadPaw provides SMS-based alerts for predefined groups, so it's like Yahoo groups, only for mobile. MoCo Space and Social Light, I think, deliver a WAP-based social community with various features. Synthesis Studios deliver an interesting client application that, amongst other things, it searches nearby friends using bluetooth (Ah...How many people have BT turned on by default?).

Two other interesting figures were Mattias from Nokia and Jason from Orange, who moderated the panel. Mattias focused on the recent Nokia MOSH ("Mobile-Share") venture. It's really interesting that a vendor would take such an open and community oriented step, but on the other hand, looking at ~3M developers on forum Nokia (which, I think, is one of the best mobile communities), this was a natural step forward. So MOSH allows anyone to create applications and content, and distribute it to anyone else.

Jason did a great job moderating the panel, which lead me to "grill the operator" a bit on the operator's view on mobile social networks. See, if you you take any piece of technology, or game, that an operator needs to seriously consider, there are obvious technology, vendor selection and business decisions to be made. Now here, IMHO, the challenges are even more complex: Can an operator base their monetization on advertising (when the whole advertising game for mobile, in truth, has just began)? How can an operator make a reasonable vendor selection with hundreds of communities already alive? how does an operator leverage their existing resources (address book, multimedia resources, content)? Do operators create their own communities or integrate into existing ones?

These are all tough questions that Jason and his colleagues will need to answer as they build the case for mobile social networks one day. My sense is that these are still early days in the mobile social networking space, and the dust has to settle down a bit for operators to join the game.

In terms of existing forays into mobile social networking by the big players, there were limited announcements between MySpace and Cingular and MySpace & Rogers (in Canada). Facebook seems to optimize the mobile experience by rendering only mobile-appropriate content on the page.

I'd be interested to hear the conversation between Facebook and Orange, if it ever happens :-)

I want to thank mobile Monday organizers, the panel, Orange and the audience for a truly great evening.

BTW- congrats to the folks at Enpocket on the acquisition by Nokia announcement. Good job guys, hope you get something out of it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

On Personalization of Mobile Advertising

 Personalization of Mobile Advertising Image attribute: Fickr, phirschybarAccording to Sydney Morning Herald, The mobile advertising market is expected to be worth $11B by 2011. But its down to creating the right channels and formats, getting to the right consumer, the right way.

In recent years the efficiency and optimization of web assets has become a huge industry: from learning how to reach the desired audience, to maximizing the opportunity once you have that audience at your page. Efficient advertising makes a world of difference in the outcome of lead generation and sales.
From the eyes of a non-web guru, two key factors stand out when trying to optimize web content and advertising:
  • Awareness to the viewer's context: content can be made relevant to samples from the viewers context. for example, Location-aware advertising, based on the user's IP address can suggest local culinary options for the tourist. Geography and Time-aware advertising can display relevant entertainment events. These parameters and others are typically available in the HTTP header of every PC browser request.

  • Personalization: highly efficient advertising could be trying predict what might YOU want to buy next. Keeping track of ones web purchasing history, visited web content etc. could help in that. There are obvious "big brother" implications but when there's enough value presented, users may opt-in. Amazon, for example, tracks the user's recent interest and purchasing history to generate 'you may like this too' offerings, not to mention the one-click checkout
Take the leap back to the mobile world, where players today are trying to figure out today how to introduce mobile content, advertising, coupons, loyalty etc.
Quick comment: In a MIT conference perhaps two years ago, T-Mobile CTO, Hamid Akhavan commented that the initiatives that will succeed in mobile had better learn from their "non-mobile" parallels (where applicable) and get better. (He's not use that exact language, so excuse the interpretation).

Introducing relevant mobile web content is quite challenging: the physical dimensions, data plans, usability are all factors playing against this initiative. But keeping optimistic and hoping that all users one day will have data plans and usable web accessible devices, let's take another look at the two factors we mentioned:
  • Mobile context awareness: Interestingly enough, beyond just optimizing the ad to the content served, "mobile" encapsulates more interesting dimensions to the 'viewer context'. for the most part, since the user is on the move, they will be out of their familiar home and their search could become much more effective. For example, local culinary web advertising might be far more effective out of home than at home: you already know the restaurants you like close to home. On the other hand, getting the user's location (from their IP address) is not as trivial on mobile as it would be on the web. Here's an interesting snapshot of mobile search: (from MobHappy:) m-spatial provide white label local search for the likes of Orange, O2 and Vodafone, as well as personal navigation devices. They’ve just announced a list of the terms users are most frequently searching for on their mobiles.

  • Personalization: I believe that personalizing ads on mobile is far more important than on PC, because the users would be less tolerant of irrelevant spam. However, awareness of the mobile user's identity is more difficult. Identity tokens on PC browsing (For example, when you launch GMail, you get right into your inbox and not being asked to login again) is generally managed by cookies and Javascript. Technologies that are just being introduced to mobile browsers. Another ad-hoc way to identify the 'static' consumer is their IP address. You would be surprised how much information can be extracted and monitored over time by just using your IP address. That's all good, but when you think mobile, mobile IP addresses are dynamically allocated: every time you connect to the mobile web your phone is allocated a new IP address by the wireless service provider. So, assuming no cookies and Javascript, being unable to track activity by IP address...what can be done to identify mobile users and personalize content for them?

    • Add the user identity to the HTTP headers on the mobile browser: Phone vendors could have identifiers (IMEI, IMSI, ESN,...) added to the mobile browser, but they would risk a consumer "big brother" backlash. Mobile application developers (especially community builders) could have their subscribers pre-register and link their phone to their account, then transmit identifiers to the web. This approach would definitely require user opt-in

    • IPV6: I'm no expert on this one, but I understand that in the days of IPV6 there will be no shortage of IP addresses so mobile users could have 'static' IP addresses, which would make them similar to the non-mobile users: an IP address could identify a user over time. I also understand that deployment of IPV6 technology across wireless infrastructure and phones will take some time.

    • Looking at the Operators' WAP Gateway: when users launch their web browser they get through a series of components in the wireless operators' architecture that, amongst other things, authenticate the subscriber, make sure that are allowed to access the web (they have a data plan etc.) and monitor their activity (mainly for billing purposes. for convenience, let me call this set of components 'WAP Gateway'. The point is, when the subscriber hits the web on their phone, the operator knows exactly who they are and what are they looking at. Bang!. But- hold your horses: operators can't, and won't expose this information: there are privacy issues, and also, this database, used in the right hands, is worth piles of money. So what's the alternative? become the "inside man". Operators are well aware of this potential, but have different opinions on the effort they are willing to make to create sufficient infrastructure for advertising. Teaming up with the likes of Comverse, who provide the infrastructure and have a hand at all the components, would mean that operators can enable advertising, and advertisers can become mobile.

Optimizing mobile advertising to the context and identity is required. Not only would it increase its effectiveness on advertising, without it users would become very unhappy. Creating the alliances with the players in the ecosystem is critical to unleash a very profitable future for mobile.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

GoLoCo go Mobile?

Will GoLoCo go mobile?I've attended Web Innovators meeting last night, which was a great event (amazing turnout!). One of the presenters was Robin Chase from GoLoCo. A community ride-sharing Facebook application:

"Members fill out profiles that now seem very familiar. In the manner of sites like Facebook or Friendster, people list interests, languages, musical preferences and a network of friends or contacts.

After a trip, members are asked whether they would personally ride with their fellow passengers again, building a reliable first-hand database of feedback.

GoLoco not only helps members find a driver or more passengers but automatically divvies up the costs (and carbon-dioxide emissions) between the riders. Money is transferred via online accounts, to avoid awkwardness in the car."

It's all very timely: social networking, Facebook application (including payment solution), supporting ride sharing to stop global warming, all the right words. They've built a really cool rich application, including payment solution to compensate the driver. this is all very cool and you should check it out.

I then asked Robin about the potential in extending the ride sharing experience to mobile: Phones today have location capabilities, people can predefine their set of destinations, and so the whole experience can also be enabled on an ad-hoc basis: I'm here, I'd like a ride to there in the next 30 minutes, whose on my way?

I really think this could be a meaningful extension to the web experience that would maybe double the transactions by people on the move. I'm guessing GoLoCo are on top of it :-)

BTW, Robin previously founded Zipcar, a highly innovative and successful idea in itself: "Founded in June 2000, Zipcar has been doubling in size year by year, and now has more than 100,000 members in 10 cities across the country". It was very enjoyable hearing her speak. Do I sound like a fan?

Next week Mobile Monday Boston is having a very interesting event on Mobile Social Networking. check it out here.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Iceman vs. Batman: Who would you like next to you?

I'm having a blast time now with sports events (not that its helping my own fitness a whole lot): in the last week's evenings you could open the TV and flip between the US Open and Red Sox games (The Red Sox are having a great year, hopefully they'll win the title), and just a few weeks ago, the NE Patriots started blasting on the weekends...heaven.

Has anyone seen the (tennis) game between Roger Federer and Andy Roddic on Wednesday night? One of the most interesting matches in this tournament between #1 (Federer) and #5 (Roddic) in the world. Although Federer played better tennis, Roddic game him a good fight for the first two sets taking them to the tie breakers (BTW, Federer eventually won 6-7, 6-7, 6-2).
Image Attribute: WikipediaFederer reminded me of the comics 'Iceman': He was dominant in the game; he plays perfect tennis and some think that he might be the best player in the game ever. His movements are perfect and he (almost) has no weak points. But what's amazing about him, is that he is as cool as ice, almost inhuman: plays perfect, never gets mad (well, at least not in the games I've seen), some limited reaction when winning a point, and that's it. Hell, he almost didn't seem to sweat!


Image Attribute: WikipediaRoddic reminded me of Batman, in that he's truly one of the best players today. He's inferior (IMHO) to Federer in the after-serve game, but- he has the perfect serve, which landed him numerous aces during the game. (Let me take it back, his game closer to the net is also better than Federer's, but that's not the point). The point being, that Roddic knows he has an advantage there and he 'engages' that weapon well. But what is very different about Roddic, is that he is totally 'human': he expresses his emotions very clearly and one can easily see the correlation between the results and the emotional state, and vice versa. (A little like Batman: powerful, but human: see that human lower half of his face exposed?) Further, it seems that, perhaps because he's American, or because he is so emotionally human, or because he came to the match as an underdog, the crowd seemed to engage him more.

Sharp turn to professional life (and focus in on startups): You have two candidates for a role at your new venture, or you want to shape your own professional figure...what figure would you like to see as your next: self/employee/colleague/boss?
Perfect, almost inhuman, emotionless, utterly professional, 'it's all business' Iceman OR
Very strong, very dedicated, crosses boundaries, emotional and human (incl. it's flaws) Batman?

I find myself pondering that question, be interested in your thoughts.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Ego play in Startups


I've just read this new post on Guy Kawasaki's Blog titled: "Are You an Egomaniac? Ten Questions with Steven Smith". Steven had written a book he co-authored with David Marcum called egonomics: What Makes Ego Our Greatest Asset (or Most Expensive Liability). For those of you who have been reading my Blog you would know that I'm a big fan of Guy's work and blog.

To start, let's play a little with related definitions:
Confidence: "confidence that doesn’t have to exert itself to “prove” it’s confidence" (Steven Smith)
Humility: "modest opinion or estimate of one's own importance." (Dictionary.com)
Ambition: "an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment" (Dictionary.com)
Ego: "an inflated feeling of pride in your superiority to others" (WordNet)

Here's my thinking on this:

EGO IS STARTUPS KILLER

My definition of ego would be: "Overgrown self sense of one's superiority over others". In other words, regardless of whether true or not, helpful or not, you think you're better and thus you shouldn't care.

It begins at going into broadcast mode: one starts to broadcast their opinions on literally everything, whether they know something about it, vaguely, or none. This is the first killing: when one is broadcasting, they are not listening. Not listening to customers, not listening to the market, (and worse, IMHO), not listening to your staff.

By not listening to the outside world, the market data is non-existent, or irrelevant, so the product and technology might be irrelevant too. Existing customers and potential prospects will not be impressed by this relationship and you'll have a hard time selling. The good news, there may be other people in the organization that might actually be more receptive to the market and be able to provide that balance back.

By not listening to your staff you immediately invalidate any chance of correcting the flawed scheme of creating product in vacuum. But there's a far higher price tag on becoming oblivious the team's input: IT WILL DRIVE THE TEAM AWAY. What made them join a high risk, high toll exercise in the first place? exciting workplace, innovation, creativity, being able to participate and contribute to the decision making process. They did not join for the non-existent 401k!

Another way to look at it is that the true capital of startups comes from the synergies between members of the team. How come? imagine every team member would be raising their hands as their motivation is higher. The overall covered ground resembles the knowledge and innovation capital. Healthy startups have motivated employees whose synergies cover a lot of ground. The alternative is having de-motivated spearheads who cover almost no ground and the innovation is weak. in big organizations many spearheads may still cover a lot of ground but in a startup it is immediately visible that a lot of ground is uncovered.

(Quote from the post:)

Question: What should you do if you work for an egotist?

Answer: Run to the nearest exit and find somewhere else to work

Allow me a quick look at an interesting post made by Announce Mobile's CEO, Jeff Mould (the blog seems to be down but hopefully will come back): His post speaks about why should they consider a partnership request from this startup whose employees aren't productive (spending too much time on the web).
That post caught my eye: forget for a minute how would an outsider know that the other startup employees are being non-productive etc., but what's really happening here: why would employees become non-productive at a startup??? Did they join to become non-productive web addicts?
Here's my advice Jeff: this startup's management has frustrated their talented entrepreneurial people: go get them, get the talent that's been deprived and make it flourish. Go after the IP, too, if appropriate, but the main point here: there's human capital there waiting to be salvaged.

Another comment that's extremely important for me to make: "How-to become an entrepreneur" guides have the tendency of promoting the 'believe in yourself' theme, but sometimes I get the feel as I'm reading through these things that the authors are taking it a bit too far. Perhaps to the ego turf. I strongly agree that ambition is crucial in the game, humility, especially to those who you should be receptive to, is no less important.

To wrap up, here's a quote from one of the comments to Guy's post, by Michael Sporer:
"the ones that accomplish the most, are those who can keep ego at the door. Big egos lead to closed minds; closed minds hurt organizations."

Thanks for reading, interested in your thoughts