Friday, July 17, 2009

Moving on up

Greetings. This is to say that I've finally got tech savvy and got my own domain, called surprisingly,
Please go there for the latest.
Thanks for the good times, Mr. Blogger.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Mobiles in the classroom

Nokia has kicked off an initiative to start thinking about how mobiles can be used to improve the classroom learning experience. Together with the Pearson Foundation they are sponsoring the "Mobile Learning Institute, which delivers engaging, personalized, project-based learning right to classrooms and community centers across the United States." It goes on to talk about the need to help teachers and students develop the "21st-century skills they need to design, develop, and complete the collaborative digital arts projects that will shape their future."

Not much more detail yet, but definitely a step in the right direction. There hasn't been nearly enough fresh thinking in this area. A novel idea I heard recently was the Million progamme - a radical idea championed by Harvard's uberkid Roland Fryer and carried out by the funky NYC ad house Droga5, the folk responsible for The Great Schlepp and Unicef's Tap project. The hypothesis is that you can give phones to kids in schools that help them during the school day, as a learning-centric communication platform (quizes, prizes, research etc) which then double as their personal devices at night. All sorts of knee jerk reactions to the idea of giving more techno toys to kids, bribing them with rewards for good grades, and some relevant questions about whether a device given by the school could ever be cool enough to use at home.

However, the reality is that i) kids are watching 4 hours of TV a day, and ii) US pre-university education standards are as Greenspan puts it, awful and slipping further. Kids today are so hard to reach through normal channels, so getting into a conversation with them where they are already today (the phone), rather than where they're not (the classroom) has some merit. Looking forward to seeing these ideas evolve.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The ice cream cart brings us from advertising to subscriptions

Loic points to what seems to be an increasing trend as Twitter fundamentally improves the efficiency of communications -- companies using broadcast publish and subscribe models as ways to interact with their customers and provide service updates. 

This is very much in early alpha stage today - tech savvy, barbeque, ice-cream & crème brûlée cart-wielding chef-geeks send off tweets in a fairly curt shorthand to their followers, who then turn up salivating, with wallets open. 

This turns the hoary advertising adage of "I'm wasting half my advertising money, but I don't know which half" on its head. These guys aren't spending any money on advertisting, and they know exactly what is being wasted - none of it. It all goes to existing customers. 

I think that next steps in this evolution will be particularly interesting in three areas: First,  semantic data, such as machine readable location info for the trucks, or - and probably not done today - a markup to describe food that's on offer. Second, integrating to mobile, so you can more easily publish (e.g. upload content) and subscribe (integration of your favourite twitterers into your core mobile apps). And third, perhaps the toughest - a business model that extracts some of the value accruing from the vendors and amplifies it, to make a professional service, rather than the tasty, but hacked and ugly mashup it is becoming today.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Tommaso's Risotto

One of the many benefits of marrying an Italian (ok Italian American) is the fantastic food. Now, my mum's a great cook, but inevitably growing up in a country like England anesthetizes one to the finer arts of the palate. This was compounded by a stint in Finland; a number of my colleagues said they learnt from their days of military service that "food is fuel" and no more.

To me Italian food has always been pizza and pasta - from a box at Tescos. Now enter Uncle Joe, Anna, Mum Rodin and my fair wife, and I realize I've been missing a trick. We're learning a lot from the ancien Italians such as how to make fresh pasta with Uncle Joe, but the latest excitement came when our friends Tommaso and Francesca visited last week, and showed us how to cook risotto. We made it ourselves last night for my colleague Ed
Here's the recipe - in the Italian tradition, amounts are approximate. 

Heat about 1.5pints stock (water + stock cube) with half a glass of white wine and a crumbled pinch of saffron. In another saucepan, saute onions, then garlic in olive oil for a few minutes, then add a cup of arborio rice (don't use normal rice). Saute this for about 5mins, then add the stock, half a cupful at a time, stirring well at medium heat. Then let it simmer for about 15mins, and add portobello mushrooms (we use dried ones that you have to soak for a few mins beforehand). When it's done stir in a bunch of fine grated parmesan, and throw some italian parsley on as garnish.

We served it with grilled John Dory and asparagus, and a couple of bottles of Ed's fine vino - and it came out a treat. Now I just have to work on the air of insouciance that Tommaso has perfected to make it look easy.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Slightly surreal email marketing

Had to do a double take on this email i just received:

"Dear Mr Johnston,

Apologies for the intrusion. According to our records we don't have permission to contact you by email. If you're happy with this arrangement, you need not do anything. To encourage you to reconsider, please take a look at Your Preferences (based on past purchases) - a new service designed to help us look after you better."

And signed off:
"Contact us if you want to contact us!" by the MD of the London based wine store that was sending this note.

While it certainly has chutzpah, its brazen flouting of my earlier stated preferences just looks dumbass. Bin.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Backslashing - the upcoming tests for Google and Facebook

One of the quaintest garbled Finglishisms from my time in Helsinki, and there were many, was when my colleagues would warn of the dangers of a backlash, and call it a backslash. Don't know why, and maybe it was a localized phenomenon, but it conjured up in my mind some kind of fevered robed, masked assassins scything at a cowering hoard of alphanumeric symbols. Anyway, this is the season of the backslash.

At the macro level of backslashery, Obama is shooting fish in a barrel, with his $500k top rate salary for officers of companies taking public funds. Though an admirably attractive idea for mass market politicos seemingly frustrated that stocks are no longer a valid punishment for errant execs, this is unlikely to be effective, since the most capable executives will presumably head elsewhere, leaving a second division in charge of doing the right things.

More to the point though, are the upcoming backslashes in the worlds I inhabit - social networking and mobile. Within hours of it being launched, colleagues and friends were inviting me to share my location with them courtesy of Latitude, Google's considerably important foray into mobile social networking. Hundreds of other startups have been trying to be The Network for mobile social networking, not realizing that there's very little point in having a separate network for mobile social networking that involves other people than in your other networks.

Unsurprisingly, privacy advocates have been jumping up and down. Google has done some elegant things to make it easier for people to not be too obvious about their location, enabling people to lie about it (something that my friend Janne has always maintained was a crucial essence of humanity that social networks would avoid at their peril). The problem however, is that people are inherently lazy, and the middle ground of people like me are most at risk. The youth have time on their hands and care not a jot about privacy - happy to bare all to any who stumble across their myspace page. The old fogies will be appalled and won't use it. Those in the middle such as me will fancy playing with the technology, then forget they left it on (it asks you if you want to keep it on when you leave the app, but out of sight, out of mind). We'll then be embarrassed by it - not necessarily today, but at some later point. This level of discomfort willbe magnified the first time there's an abduction or murder linked directly to it. Google up to now has been a B2B play, with their only customer interface a plain white box. Let's hope they ramp up their service with a smile.

The other backslash coming our way was something i just glimpsed on CNN. The case shown was a family guy whose Facebook account was compromised and a hacker changed his status updates to say he urgently needed help. This hacker than contacted the victim's friends saying he was held captive in London, and one friend obligingly wired over $1200 to get him out of trouble. The same kind of thing can happen on any network. However, as Facebook becomes the most relied upon identity layer for many people, they'll need to rapidly scale their capabilities to deal with the aftermath of the life-wrecking that happens when something so intimate goes wrong.

The massed ranks of users and their backlslashes will probably prove to be a force more humbling and educational to these pillars of the new Internet economy, than even Obama's majesty is to the pillars of the old.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Event ad, NYC: The Hatchery goes Mobile

I met David Blumenstein recently at a schmooze-fest in New York. He's one of the founders of The Hatchery - a mashup of Dragons Den and a traditional tech meetup. He circulated this flyer- thought I'd post.

Am planning to attend, so ping me if you are too.



Please alert startups in the mobile space to The Hatchery and please pass on the information below:

The Hatchery is calling for submissions to the next mobile technology event on March 25. Submissions are due February 11. If selected, you must be available for event preparation and advisory the 4 weeks prior to the event. Please read and submit here.

Hatchery is a New York based venture collaboration group focused on creating opportunities for the technology community.

The Gauntlet is a forum in which start-ups, investors and corporate America converge, and has been likened to American Idol meets Venture Capital. It is an interactive platform at which emerging start-ups and developing companies present their ideas and themselves to a high-caliber audience and expert panel. A team of Hatchery experts review submissions and applications from the pool of emerging start-ups and early-stage companies, months prior to the events. Three presenters are chosen in line with the respective Gauntlet theme to appear before the panel of experts and general audience. The expert panel participants are chosen for their level of experience and skill in each Gauntlet’s respective theme/category. General audience attendance is strictly invitation-only to ensure that the chosen theme is of relevance to the audience and maximizes deal-making opportunities. Each presenter is given 7 minutes to make their case, and is followed up by 15-20 minutes of interrogation by the expert panel. Finally, the panelists are given 1 minute to sum up and analyze what they have seen and heard. For those who have prepared, it is uplifting, for those presenters who have not, it can be a train wreck. Either way the audience is engaged and entertained and come away with a clear sense of the presenters’ mission, objectives and market viability. It is a mutually beneficial ecosystem for all, and one we refer to as Venture Collaboration.

To learn more about The Hatchery and see previous presenters please visit The Hatchery website -

Thanks in advance.