Friday, August 31, 2007

That's really a blog!

The best page in the universe This is really a funny blog! Look at his post "9 things I learned about the world according to anonymous stock photo models" and laugh out loud! Yes, it is a bit... direct, but it's worth a read if you do not suffer for some swear words in the text.
On the left side you can see a simple multiple choice test regarding the choice of model images for helpdesk services.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Call me free, Call me free, Call me free...

In implicit reply to Imran Ali's article "Phone from HERE", Luca Filigheddu presents a practical use of Sitòfono in the two most active social networks: LinkedIn and Facebook.
I've posted a comment on Imran Ali's article, but it's still under approval, and it says something like this: I do not see anything new in the Corraleta move, since Sitòfono (and other web based click-to-call services, to be honest) can be embedded in every HTML page by following few, simple instructions. I mean, it's good that "Phone from Here" provides a link to be placed on LinkedIn, but to be honest I see that as a "me too" move, something like "jump on the social network hype".

Besides, Jaxtr, which just raised 10M$ of funds, is providing a call me free button that clearly aims at social networks and which targets people with low or zero knowledge of HTML. Indeed, Jaxtr provides a "wizard" to ease the publishing procedure for the most famous web sites and applications, like:
  • Facebook
  • Orkut
  • MySpace
  • Hi5
  • LinkedIn
  • Blogger
  • LiveJournal
  • Xanga
  • Flickr
  • Craigslist
  • eBay
  • AIM (away screen)
Moreover, it presents a simple step-by-step instruction to embed the "call me" code in your e-mail client. That is really a fantastic user experience!

What's different in the Jaxtr move? They are targeting the community users, the millions of users that cannot speak HTML, by providing an it-cannot-be-easier procedure that hides all the techie stuff.

I consider it a really good move, as far as the quality of user experience is concerned. However, I pose a question: what will be the "returning value" for such a nice feature? Will it be money (it actually captures paying customers), reputation (it strengthens the corporate identity), experience (it's the starting point for future, better services)?

Other thoughtful questions are hidden in Luca's comment on the Jaxtr funding in his article "Challenge: make pay for a valuable service"

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Do you look like mr Burns?

Among the tools that compare your image to something else, like the one I've talked about in my post Find the celebrity that looks like you, I've stumbled upon this nice flash application: Simpsonize Me

This time you're going to resemble a Springfield citizen, a creature of Matt Groening, a cousin of Homer...
Give it a try, as you can see my simpsonization worked well!

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Mashable 30+ VoIP services

Mashable posts a list of the 30 (and more) VoIP services that can be considered as an alternative or a complement to Skype.
I am very happy to see Sitòfono in the list of "Phone Connecting Services".

I think that the Skype outage last week created more disappointment and negative hype than real damage to users. I guess the real damage has be inflicted to Skype credibility.
However, do not forget that all the internet based services are subject to a lot of outages that are different in nature, duration, and entity to be blamed:
  • Consumer PC is behaving badly or is misconfigured => Blame the user ;-)
  • Consumer pipe is down => Blame the service provider or the cable provider
  • Some networks are reachable, others are not => Blame the interconnection operators or the backbone providers
  • All the networks are reachable, but not the one that provides the internet-based service => Blame the service provider for not monitoring its reachability from outside
  • (VoIP specific) The service seems working, but you cannot make a call => Blame the service provider for not checking periodically that the PSTN termination provider is up and running
Here in Abbeynet we have developed an automated testing toolkit that checks periodically the VoIP overall quality, by measuring the transmitted-received differences in a closed loop phone call.
The toolkit is based on the Abbeyphone VOW SDK, with some customization necessary to intercept the audio statistics.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Evaluating a software start-up

Following my previous post on "The Business of Software", I would like to introduce an interesting "checklist" that helps evaluate the potential of a software start-up, from a VC's point of view.
A good start up should be measured on these points
  1. Management Team: they should be competent and experienced professionals with sufficient background on the technology/product to be marketed
  2. Market Attractiveness: high entry barriers to keeps out competitors, negotiation power for suppliers/buyers, no good substitutes, could be a complement to dominant products
  3. Compelling offering: it has to be a "must have" product, service, or solution
  4. Customer interest: evidence of a large willing-to-pay user base
  5. Credibility: a case history, a reference client, a testimonial gives credibility to the product and the technology
  6. Business model: VCs want early growth, rapid break-even
  7. Flexibility: strategy and product offering must be adaptable to new inputs from competitors, new technologies, new user needs
  8. Payoff potential: the ROI must be high (>25%). It usually forces the start-up to develop a product, which could be risky but more profitable than providing solutions and software services.

The author, Michael A. Cusumano, explains the meaning of each point and applies them systematically on real-world companies like Numega, Cybergnostic, firstRain.
Even if it is an a posteriori analysis, it gives a clue on how to evaluate a potentially explosive startup.

Needless to say, I suggest a deep and reasoned reading of his book.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Windows Live ID opens up to developers

Following the efforts done by Yahoo! and OpenID to build a third party based authentication system, Microsoft releases the APIs to let people deploy their applications with Windows Live ID as the authentication method.

What is the advantage to the web application provider?
Any application provider need not build his/her own user base, design or implement a sign-up procedure, he/she needs just to glue the third party code to the web application.

What about the user?
Evidently, users can access a web application by using an already known user-password pair. Moreover, users need not worry about the management of their web identity as they should do when giving their passwords to services like meebo.

OK, it's a WIN-WIN strategy for users and web developers. But what about Microsoft, Yahoo, OpenID and the rest of them?
This is a more subtle value discovery. Community service providers discovered that they cannot confine their users into their walled gardens.
People churn as rapidly as a new sign-up is needed. But since users are lazy, if they don't need to signup again for a nice service, if only they can recycle a previous access key, they will.
It is a war strategy, well known to experienced warlords:
If you cannot control the ground, control the access gates.

By doing this, the value of the community (as the number of active users that sign in at least once in a month) is retained.

Now the point is: how Identity management systems can build up a profit?
Firstly, as they retain the user login, they can instill advertisement into the login process. Please note that each identity management system has user profiling, it should be evident what's worth.
Secondly, they can acquire important information about new web applications and the real user base dimensions and service usage. Companies like Microsoft and Yahoo! can work on real data before acquiring the innovative start-up.
Last, but not least, if you know how people herd across the web, and how information spread along the various identities, you can resell these figures to companies specialized in market surveys.

And what about the big G? Is Google planning to do anything like this?
Well... Google started all this, actually. When people access Google search engine, Google installs a "unique" temporary cookie that allows full profiling: instead of questioning "who and what are you?" and then infer "what you are interested into, and what you want to buy", Google has first-hand knowledge of what are our interests.
Unfortunately, Google cookies are anonymous and have no persistence, they can be removed, refused, etcetera. That's why Google provides free web services like Gmail, picasa, and so on, where an authentication step is needed. Google can then bind the anonymous data with the help of identity-persistent data, still keeping them as anonymous data.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The business of software, Harry Potter and the Iron Maiden

It's curious how certain terms are used in completely different context and topics.
The kiss of death is the dreadful spell cast by dementors in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

But the kiss of death is also the more dreadful action undertaken by VCs when financing a startup, as described by Michael A. Cusumano in The Business of Software: as the author explains during the book, the Kiss Of Death consists in the irresistible desire of VCs to maximize the investment, by pushing the company to build a product at any cost.
This usually means, to the average startup, to open new offices or refurbish the existing with luxury furniture, hire new people with different skills, spend into great marketing campaigns, target the broadest market ever (USA), put enormous efforts (both technical and financial) into risky and unpredictable paths.

All this usually translates into a Flight of Icarus:

His eyes seem so glazed
As he flies on the wings of a dream
Now he knows his father betrayed
Now his wings burn to ashes to ashes his grave

Cusumano has no quick-and-dirty recipe to build a successful company, but he gives the reader interesting thoughts and some rough checklists to evaluate the wealth of your company: if I were you, I'd buy a copy of his book.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

2007 Predictions: the crystal ball contains Sitofono

It seems that my hermit state has hit again.
I've just found this news about the top 10 voip predictions for 2007: well, I cannot conceal my happiness to see our product, Sitòfono, as one of the players in this forecast:

I definitely see voice features becoming an integral part of the way customer-service applications, enterprises, and publishers use the Web.
Voice-based communications through a Web trigger or hyperlink is becoming more common and will be even more so in 2007, thanks to aggressive moves by Adobe to add VoIP into Flash, and thanks to upstarts like Sitòfono.
Ted Wallingford, Signal to Noise

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Voicestar acquisition. A milestone for Click-to-Call

As already reported by Luca Filigheddu, TechCrunch reports the new deal between Marchex and VoiceStar.

This is good news, as it confirms and highlights, indirectly, the value proposition of our product Sitofono. Such an acquisition helps define the boundaries and the future road for competition in the Click-to-Call market, which is moving from niche to mass dimensions.

Luca explains the business model and the value of Click-to-Call when related to customer "capture":

If you are able to offer a way to “engage” those visitors and convert them into customers, you can set that value at a higher price. It’s a bargain for you (agency/adv company) and for the advertisers, which are leveraging the invested budget.

Advertisers can embed click-to-call into their banner ads, or put it right on the splash page of a banner campaign. It is easy to demonstrate that this will clearly increase the conversion rate of visitors into customers.

For more information on this matter, take a look at his post, it contains a list of his articles about Click-to-Call that are really worth reading.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

MOSH - MObilize and SHare

Nokia is a great company that really works out the ways for connecting people.

Its last big news it the beta release of MOSH, Mobilize and Share, a brand new sharing platform that allows the user to share his/her images, sounds, video, and even mobile apps.

Following the tradition of programs we’ve hosted before within Forum Nokia, MOSH is a grand experiment for us: a platform that puts unprecedented power in the hands of mobile users. Regardless of your mobile device’s manufacturer or make, MOSH enables you to create, collect and share your content and applications in a community setting.

Unfortunately, my current Vodafone Italy plan "Your Internet in Your mobile" does not allow to navigate freely... Indeed, any login information is mangled by their web gateway.
Too bad for me :(

Update: the MOSH access now works well, but unfortunately I cannot upload directly from my mobile... Let's see!

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

I've lived like an hermit

It's incredible. I don't know if it's happened due to too much information or too much focus on certain things. I've lived like a recluse for 1 year, to the least, if I could not spot this fantastic collaborative application: Upcoming.

If you, like me, don't know what Upcoming is, here are some tags for you

  • user contributed event calendar

  • people can say "I am attending/viewing the event"

  • rss feeds

  • georeferenced venue database

  • venue catalog is created by contributors

It's curious that I've been thinking of something similar (well, I was thinking about something specific for artists and talents) for some months without realizing that there already was one and it worked easily.

It's really a FANTASTIC job!

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Delivering quality or velocity?

Thorough my work experience I've been delivering value both on small and medium-sized projects. Most of the value is Software. But there are other kind of "values" that have quite a long-lasting effect:

  • Domain knowledge value

  • Process knowledge value

  • The value of freedom degree

The first two values are well known to us: when you find out how to solve a puzzle, you need less time to solve it again. This means that you learned something about the domain of the problem and the process you've applied to solve it.
Consider the Tangram, for instance: it is a visual puzzle and the domain is geometric, therefore you need to learn several geometrical properties (translation/rotation), memorize some geometrical patterns. Moreover (and this is process knowledge!) you experience different strategies to solve the puzzle.

Philip Armour talks about it in his book "The Laws of Software Process: A New Model for the Production and Management of Software" in terms of Orders of Ignorance.

All this works in a perfect world, anyway, where communication processes are error free and people, like computers, are never mistaken.

But in our World it is common to:

  • forget to mention

  • make implicit reference to

  • disguise

  • conceal

  • distort

  • misinterpret

  • under/over-value

features, concepts, in a more general way, THINGS.

When you're working in team, the presence of these communication errors can produce disastrous results. Let me tell you a story:
A rich shipowner orders a fantastic sailship to the best engineering team. In order to avoid any misunderstanding, he specifies everything in his request plans: materials, construction techniques, processes, etc.
At the launch, the ship sank in few seconds.
The shipowner furiously asks the project manager why it sank, and he calmly replied: "you did not specify the boat had to float".

The loss of feedback between the shipowner and the project manager produced the disaster. How can you prevent this? You need to deliver something earlier.

If you deliver earlier you are not going to produce a fully working (or real size) thing, anyway you can always produce something that's intermediate, incomplete, full of errors and somehow raw.
"The next delivery will be better", you've to think while collecting feedbacks from your client.

The equilibrium is delicate, anyway: if you deliver too early or too late, you can waste all the work:

  1. deliver too early: lots of continuous feedbacks, overheads, and loss of priority in change requests produce a bad product and out of time.

  2. deliver too late: projects took an erroneous path and there's no time to go back an restart

It's really worth noting that there is NO optimal point. Every project has its inertia, and, most important, every person has his/her rhythms.
The challenging part of project management is to adapt the project to the rhythms of the development team and the client.

Remember: "to err is human, to iterate is good" ;-)

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Measuring Innovation by patents

Browsing one of my favourite blogs I stumbled upon an interesting report: "Top 15 most innovative Countries".

What makes me think is the method used here: they measure the innovation rate of a country by counting the number of patents filed in a period, divided by the population .

First thought (and first comment on mentalfloss) is on average bias: 1 billion Indians have more urgent problems than filing patents or taking a degree in computer science, they are trying to survive the famine!

Second thought is more politic/polemic: are we sure that a patent is worth an innovation point? Is innovation just a score on a registry? Do you weigh the toilet seat deodorizer apparatus as worth as something that has never been filed but we use everyday?

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