Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

I’m back, baby

So I’ve decided to re-birth my blog. After having my head down on my business and various interests of late, I’ve not had a lot of time for social networking or voicing my views on the world. However, I’ve found myself attracted to Google Plus and as my company hopefully shifts into an expansion phase, it’s probably a good idea for me to get myself out and about on the wider world web a bit.

 

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

Google Wave desperately needs integration

So, I’ve been trying to get my teeth stuck into Google Wave, but as most people I know have also discovered, it’s not altogether easy given its a collaboration platform and you need other people to collaborate with before you can start collaborating.

So maybe it’s just a matter of waiting till Google opens the release up beyond the limited preview stage and anyone can land themselves an invite. Except, I don’t think that’s the issue. After getting my account, I invited the rest of my team on and we all now have Google Wave accounts. Yet, it hasn’ t been used after the first day we set about testing it.

What Google Wave desperately needs is integration with the tools we’re already using. Now, given how much Google has targeted developers with this release, I think Google understand that, but I don’t think they should be relying on external developers to deliver this integration. Indeed, they really need to lead the way and show how all of their stable of products can integrate with Wave.

The problem is Google Wave isn’t really new – it’s really just a very cool mashup of tools we have already like email, IM, shared workspaces, etc. So the first reaction I got from my team was ‘I don’t see what’s wrong with just using Docs’ or ‘Why is this better than IM’.

So the first challenge Google has to meet with Wave is on a feature-by-feature basis it has to be better than the stand-along parts, which it’s  not. For example, as a writing platform it’s not as strong as Google Docs. So its a tough expectation for me to my writers to stop writing in Docs and start using Wave.

Likewise, you can’t send a wave to anyone, so it’s not like people are going to give up their email for Wave and even if there was an email bridge, it would take Google a long time to make Wave as email equivalent to GMail as email. Likewise, as an instant communication platform its not as strong as GTalk, MSN, or any of the other flavours of IM. There’s something missing when you send someone an instant message-style like question and you can’t be sure they’re ever going to see it.

I really love the concept of Wave. However, I can’t help but think that Google hasn’t done this the right way. It’s essentially been developed as a skunk works project, away from the rest of the company, when I’d argue it needed to be built as a company-wide architecture play.

So for instance, if every Google Doc created was also a wave, instantly all of those Docs users would instantly be waving. If Blogger’s editing engine also created a wave, you’d immediately empower a significant portion of the blogosphere to be publishing Waves. When I reply to someone in a Wave, it should also alert that person via GTalk/Jabber. And of course, I should be able to create and participate in Wave via GMail.

For Wave to work, it needs a certain level of adoption and it won’t get that as a stand-alone product. If however, every user of Google products were waving without even knowing it, I do think there would be a real possibility it could displace email over time. I’d assume the kind of strategy I’m talking about would probably require a fundamental re-writing of all of its applications, which is likely not going to happen at this stage of the game for Google. Imagine, however, if Google has this architecture in mind five years when it embarked on its apps strategy.

As it stands, I’m sure there will be hooks and integration at some level throughout its product suite and throughout the broader web application ecosystem. However, until it can get a level of adoption so that a developer can see value in adding support for Wave, it is going to struggle to be anything other than an island. At this stage, it’s looking a likely candidate to take over Friendfeed’s crown as the coolest web app that nobody uses. I hope not, because conceptually, it is brilliant. But just perhaps it’s such a big idea, that it really does requires an all or nothing bet that Google can’t really make given where its apps platform is at. Who’d have thought Google would be having legacy app issues at this stage of its life cycle?

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

Windows 7 rocks

About a year ago, I bought the missus a low-end Lenovo laptop so I could reclaim my own. However, from day one she hated it, complaining that it was slow and that she kept getting strange, annoying pop-ups.

There were two reasons for this. The first was that Lenovo likes to add value with a whole bunch of additional software that runs on top of the operating system. And the second was that the operating system was Vista. Put these two things together and the machine was just a dog. The better half struggled with it for a while, but basically gave up on it despite the fact that I switched off as much of the Lenovo software as I could.

However, with the onset of winter and the unwilligness to want to head down to the bottom level of our house where it’s much colder, the laptop was brought out again this week. Then we had all sorts of trouble getting it to connect to the network (which I finally solved by resetting the router and rebooting the computer). I’d had enough. So I decided I’d try Windows 7 on the basis that even if it destroyed the laptop, it would only be mildly more useless than it was at the present.

So did the upgrade last night and from the moment it booted up, Windows 7 has been a joy. The laptop is humming along nicely and the wife loves the new look OS and I think I’ve been able to clean up the desktop and simplify how she gets to her major apps. So well done, Microsoft. I’m now dying to get all on our machines on Windows 7 so I can finally get them all networked, which has been a problem forever in our household since I introduced Vista machines into the network mix.

Filed under: AJAX Challenge, ,

I’m claiming the scoop on TechCrunch

Back in February I wrote:

TechCrunch looks certain to dump Federated Media as its ad partner with the growing media organisation now investing in a direct sales force.

Michael Arrington has previously questioned their relationship with Federated Media, complaining about both the margins Federated were taking and also the fact that TechCrunch was effectively holding up other lesser blogs. Then today, I noticed that on the Crunch Board, TechCrunch is advertising for not one, but two sales directors.

Today, TechCrunch announced that their relationship with Federated Media was over.

Federated Media has been our advertising partner since December 2005. The first checks they sent us allowed TechCrunch to become something more than a guy sitting in a spare bedroom talking about startups to a small audience. Revenue from Federated Media let me hire our first few writers and helped accelerate our growth to the point where we are today.

We’ve had our very vocal dustups with Federated Media over the years, but the fact is that we owe FM a lot, and I’m somewhat sad to announce today that our relationship with them is coming to an end (see Federated’s announcement here). We’ll no longer be working with them on ad sales. We’ve long sold many of our ads directly, and as of now we’ll be taking control of 100% of TechCrunch network ad inventory.

While I’m on the subject of my older posts and subscriptions, I noted yesterday the success that Pandora was having selling music via iPhones

More than three yearsa ago I posted this:  “If I had to put my testicles on the chopping block and successfully pick one acquisition that’s going to take place in the next 12 months or lose my marbles, I’d without hesitation point Cupertino way and predict that Apple will buy Pandora.”

It still hasn’t happened obviously but I still think its just about the most perfect fit on any two tech companies on the globe. I think perhaps the fact that Pandora has had legal issues.

Finally, I was wrong that Google would launch its Web Drive in the first quarter. It’s coming folks, it’s just a matter of when.

 

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

Will Video kill the Internet?

If I tell you video is big, you’re going to be like ‘No shit, Sherlock?’, right?

Yeh, but the problem is video is getting TOO big. Let me give you an example, I’m on a 25Gb cap with my ISP.

For the benefit of my US readers, in Australia all of our Internet plans are capped. You choose your speed and your download limit and you pay accordingly. It’s been a constant source of frustration for Australians who look enviously at US customers on ‘all you can eat deals’. Australian ISPs aren’t really in a position to offer uncapped plans because in the end we have international carriage fees that all ISPs must pay for.

It wasn’t long ago that I was on a 3Gb plan. I would very ocasionally going over my download limits, but most months 3Gb was pretty good. I don’t torrent. When I moved to the 25Gb plan I’m on, I remember saying to my wife tha we didn’t have to worry about our Internet useage anymore, because 25Gb was effectively unlimited Internet anyway.

This month, I’ve cracked my cap just over half way through the month.

Why? Well, my five year old son is mostly to blame. He loves You Tube. On Sunday, he spent a decent portion of the day watching cartoons on YouTube. And in the process he sucked up 3Gb of bandwidth. In one day, he used as much bandwidth as what used to be my comfortable monthly cap three or four years ago.

So I got capped. So you know what I did tonight. With my family away, I stayed back at the office so I could watch a replay of the Parramatta Eels football match I didn’t get to watch on TV last weekend. (OK, OK, I’m busted. I watch a lot of video myself – mostly news and sport. And on top of the video I download a fair number of podcasts and such forth to my iPhone these days).

So today, I moved up to a 60Gb plan. 60GB! Surely, I’ll never get near that. Well, I don’t think it will take long.  I have 3 boys. I can’t imagine what kind of bandwidth I’d be knocking up if say my youngest was five! And this is really at a time when video is still at a relatively immature stage. The football match I watched tonight was grainy and only just passable to watch in full screen mode.

So maybe I take back what I was saying last week about Australia’s National Broadband Network. We need a lot more bandwidth. Still, a lot of the points I made in that article stand, particularly for non-US countries. International carriage will always be a bottleneck. Someone is always going to have to pay for those big submarine cable. But you get the feeling judging by the move by US ISPs wanting to introduce caps that for once, bandwidth advances have not kept pace with content production. We have all of the technology, we even have the necessary speeds but it seems those great big major Internet arteries are finally getting clogged.

It would seem likely we’re approaching a point where every household will be demanding not just tens of gigabytes but hundreds. Will today’s internet infrastructure and business models stand up? It’s not looking good. And if that is the case, are there the technological advances just waiting around the corner to come to our rescue. Let’s hope so, because you get the feeling that this Internet thingy is just getting cooking.

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

To stack my SaaS or not?

So, I’m finally biting the bullet and am going to get serious about CRM. I’ve trialled just about everything there is out there in the CRM SaaS realm and in the end nothing has ever quite worked out for me. I did give Highrise a shot, for a while, but struggled to get staff to adopt it and for me, it just didn’t have strong enough lead management or campaign capabilities to really assist us in automating our sales or marketing processes.

Our biggest issue is our own MediaConnect platform has strong contact management capabilities, tasks, etc. and all our contacts are already in that system. One day, I’ll get around to building my own dream, integrated sales module directly into our platform but we have many more pressing development projects right now. Still, I don’t particularly want to run yet another database of contacts as that would make three with MediaConnect, SaaSu (our accounting solution) and then our CRM database.

But it’s something I’ve decided we’re just going to have to bite the bullet and do. So I’ve been out reviewing and trialling CRM solutions and have basically come down to three – Salesforce, ZohoCRM and Pipeline Deals.

I really like Pipeline Deals and if I was making a decision in isolation, it would probably be my choice. Looks great, reasonable pricing and I like the workflow-focus.

However, as I said, I really don’t want to create another silo of information and processes.

So I come down to Zoho and Salesforce.

Really, I should choose Salesforce. Given we use Google Apps and SaaSu both of which have connectors to Salesforce, we’d start to have a bit of a SaaS stack with rudimentary integration between our productivity apps, accounting and CRM. With Salesforce and Google both having a bit of a SaaS ecosystem around them it does make it appealing to go that route. However, I look at the different versions of Salesforce and I find myself really wanting some of the functionality beyond the Team edition, which is where I want my spend to be right now.

ZohoCRM offers more functionality and importantly you can try out with 3 users for no cost. If I manage to get it adopted, I’m pretty sure I would need to upgrade to at least the Professional edition and probably the Enterprise Edition to make use of mass emails and automated responses, which brings Salesforce Team Edition back into the equation on a cost basis. But then I just don’t think the Team edition is going to give me everything I need from Salesforce and its pricing rises dramatically to beyond what I want to be spending beyond that entry-level edition.

Which takes me back to ZohoCRM. The issue I then have with Zoho is it’s not a part of my stack. If I was starting again, maybe I’d go all Zoho but I’m pretty locked into the Google suite and would probably have a riot on my hand trying to get my staff to shift environments again.

Such is my conundrum, and this is why I’ve always ended up saying – bugger its let’s use a spreadsheet. You know what at least with a Google Spreadsheet, I can embed a form or a sheet into my intranet or onto my MediaConnect desktop. All of the CRM systems I’ve seen operate as silos, they don’t provide widgets to allow you to operate out of their environment. And given they don’t allow variable user pricing; ie I’ll pay $50 per month for my sales person who will use all functionality but only $10 per month for my data entry operator who I just want to tie into the To Do system, it just gets too expensive to adopt it company-wide.

So I think I’ll give ZohoCRM a go. After all, its not going to cost us anything. Zoho seem to be pretty open about playing with other solutions so hopefully they’ll widget-ize it in the future and maybe I’ll dig into their API a bit and see how I can make it play with our core platform.

Google CRM

As an aside, I really wonder how long it will take Google to release their own CRM solution. There was of course some talk of Google buying Salesforce.com, but it was interesting when we had Steve Cakebread – ex-COO of Salesforce.com – at our Influence Forum last year, he wasn’t exactly gushing about the relationship between the two companies.

Really, if I was helping someone to set up a SaaS environment I’d tell them to pick their CRM solution and then work around that. And that would probably lead you towards one of the integrated solutions like Salesforce, Zoho, NetSuite or Worketc. As such, I don’t think Google can afford not to have a CRM play and the fact they’ve not bought anyone in this space, suggests to me its something the might be building in-house. After all, isn’t the golden rule to expect Google to build their own version of any application they would use heavily in-house. And basic CRM isn’t rocket science. Does anyone know what Google sales people use for CRM?

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

Google starts stalking

So we all heard about Google’s profiling and how Adsense would soon start serving up advertisements based on not just where you are, but also where you’ve been. Well I just got hit by it on my own hobby site and I got to say it’s a bit creepy.

As I’ve mentioned I run a Parramatta Eels rugby league site called 1Eyed Eel. The other sporting team I follow regularly is Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League.

So there I am on 1eyedeel.com and I get hit with an ad for Tottenham Hotspur bottle coolers! See below:

1eyed

Now there are no mention of Tottenham on the page or indeed anywhere on 1Eyed Eel. So the only way Google would know to serve up that ad is based on the fact that I regularly vistit tottenhamhotspur.com.

Getting back to the point I was making previously, this somewhat sucks for tottenhamhotspur.com who don’t get any financial benefit from my visiting their site because they don’t have adsense. If tottenhamhotspur.com had a Google ad unit on their page though, presumably I would have seen this ad already on their site and so wouldn’t have been so interested when I saw it on another site.

In this respect, Google is almost holding the web to ransom! If you don’t have an Adsense unit, we’ll just show your ads on somebody elses website and they’ll make the money you could have made. That’s pretty scary.

For my little 1Eyed Eel site I’m thinking it should result in pretty healthy increases in CPM. There’s not a big market for targetted content for Eels fans so my CPM is miniscule. It will be interested to see what difference this profiling makes!

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

Why doesn’t any one want to buy Skype?

It’s kind of hard to fathom that the only way for eBay to get rid of Skype is to go the IPO route. After all nobody is going IPO right now because the market is in such a hole, and while its not talking of doing anything until 2010, even then its unlikely that the market would be all that shapely for an IPO like Skype.

Surely you might think there would be a host of companies lining up to take Skype off eBay’s hands.

Skype is a clear leader in the VoIP stakes and thats going to be a key battleground for online dominance in the future. It seems clear that technologies like IM/VoiP/video conferencing and mobile will converge and whoever has Skype would have a dramatic advantage on this front.

I was one of the millions who downloaded the Skype iPhone application and I have no doubt its a game-changer. I now use Skype on the iPhone more than I use our landline. Indeed, I’m now seriously considering a move to naked DSL. Once the 3.0 version of iPhone comes out and Skype makes use of the push functionality to enable you to receive Skype calls on your mobile without having the app open, then thats going to increase its value measurably again.

eBay thinks Skype can make it as a stand-alone business but I’m sure its value could be increased dramatically if one of the big IM vendors had ownership of it and integrated it into their IM client. So what’s stopping them?

For me Google would be the natural fit – they haven’t had a huge amount of success getting GTalk to catch up with Yahoo and Microsoft’s messenger but if you combined their base with the Skype base you’d certainly have a much bigger number and one that would be pretty dominant in the business space. If you tied in the cool technology that Google acquired through Grandcentral then Google would pretty much overnight be a commanding leader in this consumer converged IP communications space.

But it appears Google thinks it can go it alone in this space. It probably thinks Grancentral, now Google Voice, is a home-run and that it doesn’t need to fork out a couple of billion for Skype. However, I think this is such an important space – and one that is generating immediate returns – that I’d certainly be tempted to get as much critical mass as quickly as I could if I was running Google. I’m guessing though the technology integration issues here would be massive and that might be the real killer on this potential deal.

Skype would be a great buy for Microsoft. Microsoft IM does much better with the youth market while Skype is more of a business tool so there wouldn’t be much overlap. And if you could turn even a small proportion of that Microsoft IM into paying Skype users, you’d very quickly increase Skypes revenues. But Microsoft probably can’t go down that path due to the very tight-knit relationships it has built with telcos all over the world. Here in Australia, for example, it has a very close relationship with our dominant telco, Telstra, who I’m sure would get very worried if Microsoft was to buy Skype.

Which leaves Yahoo! Again, I reckon its a good fit for many of the same reasons as I described with Microsoft and there’s no obvious conflict there. Indeed, it would be a good non-advertising revenue stream which Yahoo! could really do with to make it less susceptible to the ups and downs of the advertising market. There was a lot of talk about a Yahoo! and Skype merger prior to them ending up with eBay. But that was when Yahoo! was a lot stronger than it is today and Yahoo! has quite sensibly tried to get back to concentrating on its core business. Mind you, you might argue that Yahoo!IM is a key element of its core business. I somehow doubt Wall Street would appreciate the play and there is more news of Yahoo! cutbacks over at the New York Times.

Whatever the case, its clear that there are significant road blocks stopping Google, Yahoo! or Microsoft from making a play for Skype.

Which doesn’t leave a lot of buyers, does it? Outside of these three its hard to see where there are any obvious synergies and you’d think anyone else acquiring the company would just lead to the eBay situation all over again. The WSJ expressed some scepticism that Skype would make it to IPO and that this was just a cover for eBay to push up the price. But when you look at it, eBay just doesn’t have that many options.

Personally, I don’t think Skype will make it as a stand-alone in the same way that ICQ never made it despite being the dominant IM client at one time. In the end, the marketing might of those same companies that are shunning it right now will probably overwhelm it. Skype has competitors coming at it from all angles as well, with telcos and VoIP companies all battling for this same market share. These dangers are pretty obvious and I really can’t see the market coughing up the multi-million dollar valuations that have been splashed around in the past 24 hours.

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

Big fat pipe good. Same old international bottleneck bad.

For years, as a technology journalist I would bleat about Australia being a bandwidth backwater and how we needed fibre-to-the-home for our digital economy to stay competitive with the rest of the world.

Yet now it’s actually happening, I’m finding myself basically saying: “meh”.

Let’s face it ADSL+2 is pretty damn fast. Next G wireless is even pretty bloody good. I don’t feel myself wishing for faster broadband all that often.

I do, however, find myself wishing for more of it. I use ALOT more high bandwidth internet services. I don’t even use Bittorrent and I was shaped on my 25Gb plan last month. That’s the biggest problem we have in Australia. It’s not speed, its download limits. Because when you’re worried about being shaped or having to pay exhorbitant excess useage fees, you don’t use the Internet to its fullest. You don’t just automatically click that video link, you wonder if its worth sucking up another 50Mb of your cap. You start to freak out that your kids have been sitting at the computer for a worrying amount of time watching YouTube.

Will Fibre-to-the-home mean unlimited broadband finally in Australia? I’m not sure. Correct me if I’m wrong but the reason we’re stuck with download limits is primarily because of the high cost of international carriage, getting data from Australia and through the undersea cables to overseas destinations. The fibre-to-the-home plan isn’t going to solve that bottleneck. So what’s the point if I can stream video to my home at 100Mbps if I’m still counting bits because of download limits.

That aside, my other reason for the ‘meh’ attitude is I’m yet to be convinced that as a country we will really leverage all of this bandwidth. As some of the industry groups have promoted, the announcement needs to be accompanied by a broader strategy for generating a return on investment by what is enabled and how it is leveraged. Is a big fat network enough to kickstart a thriving digital industry capable of exporting services and products. No. Can a big fat network lead to its use to power far more effective e-government. Yes. Will it? Probably not.

Yes, the national broadband network will enable some pretty cool digital entertainment services – most of which we’ll simply repackage from the US. But I’m struggling to get excited because I can’t see how else my nation or my own lifestyle is really going to be enhanced. So like I said, meh.

BTW, was quite surprised at the amount of international coverage the announcement got including Australia Launches Broadband Network Plan,  Australia to build $31 billion fiberoptic broadband networkAustralia to build $30 bln broadband network and Australia to build $31 billion broadband network.

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

Back to Firefox and then back again

When it comes to browsers, I’m a performance junkie. So when I recently tested the new Firefox 3.1 beta (soon to be known as 3.5) and I found that on our MediaConnect platform it was performing even better than Chrome, I decided to make the switch. This was helped in some part by the fact that I also stumbled onto the ChromiFox extension, which meant I could keep the Chrome look and feel – including tabs on top – but still be able to make use of the Firefox extensions I’d been forced to give up.

Tonight,  I’ve tested out the new Beta version of Chrome and I’m back. I think I was gone for a full 48  hours. Admittedly, I may have come back anyway as I discovered Firefox 3.1 had a pretty major problem in not recognising Gears. But the beta Chrome is definitely faster than the stable version. And interestingly, I found there were a number of things I missed about Chrome while I was away lile the Home page and my Application Shortcuts.

What all this underline though is the tremendous level of competition and innovation we’re seeing at the browser level now. I’ve tried three new browser versions in the last couple of weeks – the new Safari and the Firefox and Chrome betas – and they’re all fabulous! You really can’t go wrong with any of them. All we need now is for Microsoft to catch up! With IE8 ready to come out of beta, I’m hoping once they have a stable platform they can really focus on performance and get back in the race with the other browsers out there.

We’re going to see some amazing apps built off the back of these new web platforms.

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

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