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MindTouch Upgrades Collaborative Platform With Video And Developer-Friendly Tools

July 22nd, 2009 admin No comments

Opensource wiki developer Mindtouch today has launched several new features in its opensource, wiki-like collaboration platform for enterprises. This includes the ability to add video to MindTouch wikis, package applications built in MindTouch for distribution, and stage content on wikis.

MindTouch’s platform connects teams, enterprise systems, web services and Web 2.0 applications with IT governance enabling users to access, publish and organize data and systems. Customers include Mozilla, Microsoft, Intel, Intuit, The Washington Post, US Army, EMC, Harvard, Timberland, and The United Nations.

MindTouch has partnered with open source video platform Kaltura, to let MindTouch users collaborate, edit, publish and syndicate video within a MindTouch wiki. End users can record video and have multiple parties edit within a MindTouch page.

The company’s new application packaging feature allows developers to create a compressed file for import into other MindTouch instances, letting enterprise users install add-on applications easily. This addition represents MindTouch’s ambitions to become an application platform where installing applications are as easy as adding Firefox addon.

MindTouch is clearly trying to make it as simple as possible for developers to build applications on top of the MindTouch platform. MindTouch has steadily been adding features to its platform aimed towards developers, including the ability to build rich applications off of Mindtouch’s platform. MindTouch’s wiki-like platform is appealing to businesses both big and small, and the open source ideation seems to provide for an innovative product that simplifies complex interactions, especially for developers. Competitors to MindTouch include Socialtext and pbworks.

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Buddy Media Unveils The Ultimate Twitter Client For Brand Management

July 22nd, 2009 admin No comments

As Twitter becomes a valuable marketing tools for companies, there has been a proliferation of sites and startups that help manage a brand’s presence on the microblogging site. Buddy Media, a startup that develops of applications for social networks, including Facebook and MySpace, is throwing its hat in the ring by launching a Twitter Management System for brand advertisers to manage marketing efforts and analytics on Twitter.

Buddy Media’s Twitter Management System will let marketers measure and identify Twitter trending topics around a particular brand, related topics and competitors. You can also track performance and trends for a brand and entire industry across Twitter with easy to view data on followers, mentions, and re-Tweets.

Similar to URL shortening sites like Bit.ly, the tool will let you track volume and frequency of click-through rates in Twitter as well as monitor and analyze the sentiment of Tweets about a particular brand compared to competitors. Within the system you can create various profiles to manage several brands and different Twitter account and schedule Tweets to be published in advance of campaigns.

And the system acts as a Twitter client itself, so you can have a centralized place to both Tweet and monitor and graph brands. The system reminds me of PeopleBrowsr, which also offers a comprehensive and useful Twitter management system for brands and companies, except that Buddy Media’s application is web-based which in my opinion, has its advantages over Adobe AIR powered clients. And like PeopleBrowsr, Buddy Media’s system offers real-time search capability, which can be especially useful to companies wanting to gain insight into the conversations about their businesses taking place on the social graph.

Buddy Media is fast becoming a digital branding powerhouse. In addition to its Twitter Management tool, the startup also has a Social Page Management System that to help brands engage their audiences by managing their Facebook pages.

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The Media Consortium: Weekly Audit: Bigger Than ‘Too Big to Fail’

July 21st, 2009 admin No comments

by Zach Carter, TMC MediaWire Blogger

Now that trillions of taxpayer dollars have been pumped through the financial system, Wall Street giants JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs are reporting record profits–and giving out record bonuses. Goldman is planning to pay out $11.4 billion in compensation “earned” with our money. Even worse, attempts to regulate reckless financiers or empower ordinary workers are still being stymied by influential corporate lobbyists.

How did Goldman score the biggest quarterly profit in its history? Matt Taibbi explains in an interview with GritTV’s Laura Flanders. The $10 billion in direct capital that Goldman received from taxpayers under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) is actually one of the minor offenses. The company also converted corporate charters to become eligible for guarantees, and issued a whopping $28 billion in debt guaranteed by the government.

Banks were foundering last Fall, and very few investors were willing to supply them with emergency capital. So the FDIC guaranteed their debt, which allowed banks to raise funds at extremely low interest rates. The FDIC guarantee means that taxpayers will get stuck with the bill if the company defaults. If you can raise money at absurdly low rates, its very easy to turn over huge profits, as both Goldman and JPMorgan did.

There are other outrages: We still don’t know how much money the Federal Reserve loaned Goldman through its emergency lending facilities. The government’s bailout of AIG served as a huge windfall for the company, funneling at least $12.9 billion in taxpayer largesse directly to Goldman Sachs.

“AIG owed Goldman about $20 billion, and if AIG had gone through a normal bankruptcy, Goldman probably would have gone out of business. Instead, they got paid 100 cents on the dollar for every dollar that AIG owed them,” says Taibbi, author of a blistering take-down of the investment banking giant in the most recent issue of Rolling Stone.

In Salon, former Clinton Secretary of Labor Robert Reich says that this year’s big bank failures have resulted in a heavier concentration of financial influence in the few surviving firms, namely Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan. We have taken the “too big to fail” problem and made it bigger. JPMorgan acquired rival Bear Stearns for a pittance last March with billions of dollars in government guarantees. The company also picked up national banking giant Washington Mutual last fall. That means more risk in our economy and a greater concentration of lobbying power in our political system.

“We’ve ended up with two giants that now have most of the casino to themselves, are playing with poker chips backed by taxpayers, and have a big say in what the rules of the game are to be,” Reich writes.

Adam Schlesinger of Air America took to Wall Street to compile a hodgepodge of one-on-one interviews with bailout critics and condescending financiers. Schlesinger underscores the absurdity of Goldman’s pending bonuses by posting his own checking account balance ($13.75). The point of this massive bailout was to make the economy function for ordinary people. Instead, we’ve made sure that it benefits extremely wealthy bankers.

The government so completely resists doing anything about this staggering inequality, as Eyal Press writes for The Nation. There are two ways to approach the inequality problem. We can rein in the recklessness at the top by imposing serious regulations, and empower those at the bottom by giving them greater negotiating leverage with their employers (i.e., promoting unionization). While the bonus money flows on Wall Street, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), a key bill to empowering unions, was just stripped of a crucial provision that would have made it easier for workers to organize, as David Moberg reports for In These Times.

As EFCA is gutted, bills proposing regulations for the financial sector are moving at a snail’s pace–even after two years of economic turmoil. Last week, Congressional leaders from both parties nominated members for a new panel, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, to investigate the causes of the financial crisis. The investigation seems doomed to failure by its very design. Zachary Roth details the committee’s various shortcomings for Talking Points Memo. Of the panelists, six were nominated by the Democratic leadership, while four were nominated by the Republican leadership. If all four Republican nominees vote to block a subpoena, the committee cannot issue it, and without broad subpoena power, the entire exercise is futile.

Roth also emphasizes the excessively political nature of the appointees, particularly on the Republican side, which named former Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., as Vice Chair. The Democratic picks are generally uninspiring, except for Brooksley Born, who fought to regulate derivatives in the 1990s as head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. But the Democrats have nobody anywhere near as frightening as Rep. Thomas, a vicious partisan who specialized in ushering money to special interests during his tenure as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Mary Kane of The Washington Independent explains the troubling record of another Republican commission appointee, Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think tank. The various conspiracy theories Wallison peddled include a robustly debunked belief that a decades-old anti-discrimination law is responsible for the mortgage meltdown. The law in question, known as the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), dates back to 1977, and Wallison’s conspiracy theory has been rejected by nearly everyone in the financial commentariat, including regulators appointed by George W. Bush.

The Community Reinvestment Act requires banks to make loans to communities where they collect deposits. If you accept deposits at a branch in a poor neighborhood, you have to offer responsible loans in the same community. The idea is to expand access to affordable credit in the inner cities, while the subprime crisis is heavily concentrated in the suburbs. CRA loans have to be affordable, which means high-interest subprime loans do not count. CRA does not require banks to lower their lending standards, because any recipients have to be credit-worthy. Only 6% of high-interest mortgages were made by companies subject to CRA regulations, and lest we forget, this law was passed in 1977, while financial crisis erupted in 2007.

Instead of appointing toothless commissions, we should be making sure the financial oligarchs do things that are good for the rest of us. Congress should be writing regulations to curb risk in the financial system as fast as bankers are paying themselves bonuses. They’re our representatives, after all, and it’s our money.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy. Visit StimulusPlan.NewsLadder.net and Economy.NewsLadder.net for complete lists of articles on the economy, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical health and immigration issues, check out Healthcare.NewsLadder.net and Immigration.NewsLadder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and was created by NewsLadder.

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Acquia Finds $8 Million For Development Of Publishing System Drupal

July 21st, 2009 admin No comments

Acquia, a startup that commercially develops and distributes open source content management system Drupal, has raised a whopping $8 million in series B funding led by North Bridge Venture Partners with Sigma Partners participating. This bring Acquia’s total funding to $15 million.

Acquia, whose co-founder and CTO Dries Buytaert created the Drupal platform in 2001, tells techCrunch that the company will use the funding to help create and expand the market for Drupal in the enterprise world. Drupal hopes to expand its existing base of 200 subscription customers.

Acquia will also use the funding to develop new products and services. Over the past year, Acquia rolled out various products connected to its publishing platform, including Acquia Hosting, Acquia Gardens (think Wordpress.com for Drupal) and Acquia Training.

The Drupal platform is built on PHP and MySQL, with the purpose of giving those with minimal programming skills the ability to create interactive websites. Acquia, which aims to be the Red Hat of the Drupal community, was one of the first commercial entities to centralize open source development efforts.

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Wonga: How the Net Should Kill the Finance Industry

July 21st, 2009 admin No comments

wonga_203x150What’s awesome about the Internet is how it breaks up monopolistic markets where middlemen unfairly gobble up outsized fees, leaving us little choice but to keep paying them. It happened with software, it happened with music, and it’s happening now with media. But there are a few sectors of our economy that have stayed mostly undisrupted—one of them is banking.

Sure there are companies like eTrade that opened up the market for buying and selling stocks. But it didn’t fundamentally change the market that much, it just moved part of it online. The thought for a long time was that banks needed to be too controlled, too regulated to be turned over to the Wild West of the Net. Then the credit meltdown hit and we saw just how reckless these so-called safe and regulated institutions were.

The time is right for the Web to unleash its full market-destroying power on the finance world and while I was in the UK I found a company making a promising start: Wonga.

Now, Wonga would hardly say its role is to upend the world’s financial institutions. But it’s one of the most dramatic examples I’ve seen of a Web company using what the Web does well to remake lending.

Wonga gives people a way to borrow small amounts of money quickly, between £50 and £200 for first time borrowers to be repaid between five days and 30 days. (Returning customers with a good repayment record can borrow up to £750.) A would be borrower gives Wonga just eight pieces of personal data online, and its algorithms find 1800 data points based on that within 2 seconds, making a rapid decision about whether that person is a good or bad short term credit risk. If approved, the money is wired into the borrower’s account within the hour. And, the borrower gets to decide when to repay the money, with no penalty for early repayment. One of the most notable things about the UI is a sliding scale, which shows exactly what fees someone would owe Wonga for every dollar borrowed and extra day before its repaid. No fine print and formulas to calculate; the cost of every dollar you borrow is calculated for you.

Wonga was founded by Errol Damelin, a serial entrepreneur who previously started a supply chain software company named Supply Chain Connect. He sold that company in 2005 and decided he didn’t want to build another enterprise software business. (Smart move.) So he traveled around the world looking for ideas. In the U.S. he became captivated with payday lending companies—an industry of strip mall storefronts that generates a whopping $12 billion in fees.

There was a clear demand for short-term loans to tide people over or take care of emergencies. But it was a polarizing industry, seen as predatory and exploitative. Damelin spent more than a year digging into it, and brainstorming with well-known UK angel investor Robin Klein on how to rethink it and make it better.

Two things excite me most about Wonga. The first is that it isn’t peer-to-peer lending. Peer-to-peer lending in a social sense, like Kiva, is one thing, but I’m not convinced peer-to-peer lending for profit works or scales. It feels a bit like trying to apply Web 2.0 ethos of wisdom of the crowds and social networking somewhere that it just doesn’t fit. Instead, Wonga has raised $28 million from Balderton Capital, Greylock Ventures, Accel Partners and Dawn Capital and is loaning out its own cash. In its first year of business it did more than 100,000 loans, for an average of £250 each, and it’s already profitable. “This is the best business I’ve ever been in,” Damelin says.

Second, it’s the first time I’m aware of that a bank that has actually aligned its incentives with what’s right for the customer. Put another way: Wonga makes its money when you repay the loan, not by keeping you in debt longer. Think about it: Credit card companies make the most of their money from people just able to make their minimum payments every month. And payday advance chains make most of their money by rolling over your debt to the next payday.

Critics have said that Wonga is usurious by charging a 1% interest fee per day. But that’s a knee-jerk response. Wonga is simply charging a premium because it allows borrowers quicker access to cash than any other service, the same way a town car is going to charge you more than a cab off the street. And because it only makes money when a borrower repays the amount, there are no tricks to keep you in debt longer. Wonga’s ideal customer is someone who uses the service two to three times a year and always repays on time, Damelin says. If more financial institutions had this basic orientation to doing business, we wouldn’t have had the credit meltdown because people would have known exactly the risks of agreeing to ARMs and zero-down mortgages.

Sure, you can say Wonga is dangerous because it’s giving people an easier way to live outside their means. But that’s a bit like arguing giving kids condoms encourages teenage sex. You can’t change human behavior, but you can help make people safer.

Now here’s the downside on Wonga: It’s only available in the UK, and it will likely stay that way thanks to a bevy of licenses and regulations entailed in getting near the finance sector. It’s even worse in the US, where each state has its own laws. Even a copy cat business might be cost-prohibitive in the U.S. because of all the state-by-state regulations and red-tape.

As our taxpayer dollars continue to bail out the same lousy institutions, it’ll take innovators like Wonga to force real change in the finance world. But in this country, it’ll need an assist from the government as well.

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William Bradley: Why The Big Fade for Bruno?

July 20th, 2009 admin No comments

After a smash opening day, Bruno is fading fast.

Bruno, the follow-up to ace comedy star Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2006 smash hit Borat, is one of the most hyped movies of the year. It’s gotten so much publicity it feels like it’s about to come out on DVD. But after a fast start on Friday, July 10th, the mockumentary about a gay Austrian fashionista has been fading badly ever since. This past weekend, it’s down 73% from the opening weekend.

Why the big fade? It’s actually not much of a mystery.

Once you see the movie, the only mystery is why it wasn’t predicted in the first place.

It was striking how quickly Bruno’s big fade began. Last weekend, Hollywood columnist/blogger Nikki Finke’s headlines proclaimed “Bruno Ist Big!” The predicted opening weekend box office gross in the headline was $50 million domestic. Then it was $40 million. Then, finally, the actual $30 million. But nearly half that opening weekend box office came on the first day.

As Ali G, Sacha Baron Cohen interviews Posh Spice and David Beckham for a BBC comedy special. Obviously, they know who he is, and it doesn’t hurt the show a bit.

Word of mouth was bad, spreading fast over its opening weekend and continuing. Why?

Bruno is a very crude movie, much more so than most reviewers suggested. It’s also not all that funny, which is a bit of problem for a comedy. And there is an air of desperation about the enterprise.

The movie plays like the cable version of one of those porn flicks with a plot. A lot funnier, mind you, I laughed a few dozen times, but on that level. It’s not all focused on gay sex, either. There’s an extended sequence in which Bruno goes to a heterosexual swingers party, in which several couples apparently have sex while Bruno touches the men, trying to get one guy to look in his eyes while having sex with his female partner. This part of the movie ends with Bruno in a bedroom with a female dominatrix — a real-life porn starlet, as it turns out — who whips him when he’s slow to strip down and have sex with her.

Borat discusses his life and potential improvements to the United States of America.

A lot’s been made of Bruno supposedly being offensive to the gay and lesbian community. Which, of course, it is.

Bruno, now absent the fashionista journalist part of his persona — more about that in a moment — is the most stereotypically swishy gay guy imaginable. He gives narcissism a bad name, and is so sexually obsessed that he goes through life apparently seeking every day to recreate the ’70s San Francisco bathhouse scene.

But of course much humor plays off of stereotypes. Cohen, a Cambridge graduate in history who is an expert on civil rights movements, can be defended with the argument that he is forcing people to confront the contradictions of their conditioning. Or something like that. Which may be true as far as it goes.

Borat responds to criticism of his views.

Borat was also offensive. To the nation of Kazakhstan, which is nothing like how it was portrayed in the movie. To Russians (the Borat character is actually based on a Russian doctor Cohen met). And I’m sure to other people.

But Bruno is much more crude, and arguable more offensive, than Borat because Cohen has to try a lot harder for effect now. Too many people see him coming now.

On the TV show, a much cleverer Bruno discusses awards show fashion.

I’ve been a fan of his since he did Da Ali G Show on British television. Then the show came to America on HBO, earning a number of Emmy nominations. Along with Borat, I have the complete TV show on DVD. There are the three core characters: Ali G, a young Brit on the dole who fancies himself a hip hop character, and ends up doing some hysterical interviews with VIPs. Borat, the fictional Kazakh TV journalist. And Bruno, the Austrian fashion journalist.

The Bruno of the movie not only looks different from the TV character, he is a significantly different character. On the TV show, he’s pretty smart and clued in to the culture. In the movie, he’s a self-obsessed dolt with no talent whatsoever.

That’s because he’s no longer a fashion journalist.

The fashion folks are all on to Cohen now, so Bruno can no longer do his Funkyzeit TV show. There’s one sequence in the movie in which Cohen crashes a fashion show, makes an ass of himself, and is thrown out. After which he is “fired” by his network.

It’s too bad. While, it may be true that as my old friend Patricia Duff said many years ago — “Fashion is Hollywood without the substance” — it’s also true that it’s an interesting scene. Are the designs brilliant or nonsense? Or brilliant nonsense?

The TV version of Bruno conducts an interview on cardboard fashion.

In any event, stripped, as it were, of his fashionista side, the Bruno character is reduced to a pathetically talent-free, unremittingly crude, flamingly gay exhibitionist.

And the people he does manage to fool into participating in his interviews and skits — and much of it seems staged to me — are easy targets. If you are a white redneck American — thus unlikely to follow British TV and movies with funny foreign names, or remember what was on HBO (assuming you could afford it) at the beginning of the decade — you are now the target of Sacha Baron Cohen’s pranks.

Opposite the Queen of England, Ali G delivers his Christmas message.

This is why, from Ali G to Borat to Bruno, we see an evolution from the relatively sly and quite clever to the increasingly hyperbolic.

Where previous characters conducted amusingly surrealistic interviews with celebrities and figures of state, Bruno comes off as a stalker or comedic drive-by shooter. With some pretense or another, he does manage to get Republican Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul into a hotel room for an interview. And then starts coming on to him. Paul is kindly at first, you can see the wheels turning for him that he is a room with some poor unfortunate, until Bruno starts stripping down and dancing. Then he storms out.

Bruno has less success with other, bigger names.

When Bruno supposedly gets CBS to conduct a focus group on the pilot for his celebrity show (and let’s just say that can’t have been real), he keeps hyping an exclusive interview with Harrison Ford. Which in the event turns out to be Ford explosively telling Bruno to “Fuck off!” as he brushes past him leaving a bar or restaurant.

Was Ford acting? Or was he just pissed off at some weirdo stalking him with a camera crew?

An encounter with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was also apparently not amused, though not as angry as Ford appeared to be, didn’t make it into the movie. Though Bruno makes a point early on, having lost his fashion TV gig, of saying early on that he is coming to Hollywood to be “the biggest gay Austrian movie star since Schwarzenegger.”

The well has clearly run dry for these characters, and probably this concept. Which is why this movie turned out to be so crude and seemingly desperate.

But Sacha Baron Cohen is enormously talented. He can easily be this generation’s Peter Sellers. He was hysterical as a gay French Formula One driver come to take over NASCAR in Talladega Nights. He can use Ali G, Borat, and Bruno in other ways, and obviously invent other characters.

In a hopefully funnier movie next time out.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes … www.newwestnotes.com.

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Carol Hoenig: Cronkite and McCourt: True to Their Craft

July 20th, 2009 admin No comments

We’ve lost a few icons over the last few weeks; most recently Walter Cronkite and now Frank McCourt. I dare say that the world was a better place because of these men and what they accomplished. Mr. Cronkite set the standards in that a correspondent should report the news without being the story itself. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case any longer where the pundits proffer opinions, actual news be damned. Yet, these pundits all praise Cronkite for his journalistic accomplishments, as though they are unattainable today. And maybe they are, thanks to the corporate-owned media.

I was very fortunate to have hosted an event for Mr. Cronkite in support of his book A Reporter’s Life. It was truly an honor. And, just yesterday, I pulled my autographed copy from my bookshelf and gently opened the cover to see what he had inscribed. It was a simple “For Carol” followed by his signature, but tucked inside was a copy of an editorial page from the New York Times dated November 1, 2000. At first it didn’t make sense why I had slipped this in the book until I saw that Mr. Cronkite had written a letter in response to an article titled “Chicago News Experiment is Calling It Quits,” which was about WBBM TV’s format, one that was going to offer “serious and informative news broadcasts.” Apparently, Mr. Cronkite was upset that this program was not going to remain on the air. In part, he wrote,

“Television, in news and entertainment, has suffered a huge dumbing down because that is where the audience is.”

Further in his letter, Cronkite wrote,

“Television, which is primarily a for-profit enterprise, can only realize this objective by appealing to the lowest common denominator.”

Without a doubt, he saw the dangers and didn’t compromise his beliefs.

So, too, Frank McCourt, who succumbed to cancer, did not compromise his beliefs for the sake of popularity. How difficult it must have been to write Angela’s Ashes. He once described his upbringing as a “miserable Irish-Catholic childhood.” Miserable, indeed; I remember feeling very angry toward his parents while reading McCourt’s memoir. Both mother and father seemed to be unable to be accountable for their brood and the children suffered greatly. I can only imagine the difficulty Frank McCourt had when writing it, but in the end it was an honest, heartbreaking account, one that went on to win a Pulitzer.

For what it’s worth, I think what made both Cronkite and McCourt special is that they didn’t pander, but respected their craft, which makes their loss all the more sad in light of the fact that they were a rare breed.


Why Zynga Is Worried about Playfish

July 20th, 2009 admin No comments

playfish_blue1When I wrote my BusinessWeek column on Zynga a while back, every venture capitalist in the Valley told me that Playdom was the company’s biggest competitor.

After all, it competes game-to-game, with similar mob-style and poker games, and was said to be doing the same revenues as Zynga with much higher profitability. (As my column pointed out, Zynga’s revenues are more like double Playdom’s—and since I’ve heard the discrepancy is even greater.)

As you’d expect Zynga’s CEO Mark Pincus pooh-poohed Playdom as any sort of threat. But tellingly, he said the company he was worried about was UK-based Playfish. So, while I was across the pond, I decided to see what the fuss was about and sat down with Playfish’s founder and CEO Kristian Segerstrale. I came away convinced this was one of the hottest companies to watch in the UK. Here are five reasons why.

1. Not “The UK Zynga.” Playfish is very much running its own race in this market, and this may be a case where distance from the Valley is actually healthy. It doesn’t try to compete on specific games with Playdom, SGN, and Zynga. For instance, it doesn’t have a mob game, the most popular genre right now, and it doesn’t have a poker game, Zynga’s top earner. “That’s such short term thinking,” Segerstrale said. “Something is wrong if your route to success is copying competitors’ games.”

2. Platform Development Doesn’t Have to Mean Half-Ass Development. Playfish is not about building a game in a week or so and throwing it up on Facebook. Playfish spends six months to a year designing a game, and they’ve only produced seven of them. While everyone else talks up how quickly and cheaply you can build a game on social networks, Playfish still employs the same artistic discipline of a console game with a Wii-like look and feel. The plus with platforms like Facebook and the Apple’s Iphone isn’t speed to market for Playfish, it’s easier distribution and greater social engagement.

3. Traction. The painstaking design process appears to be a hit. Every one of Playfish’s games has been a top ten hit on Facebook. Across all platforms, those seven games have yielded 100 million installs and 30 million monthly uniques, says Segerstrale. Playfish pays “practically nothing” for customer acquisition and makes money through virtual goods, ads and premium versions of games.

Playfish is profitable and hasn’t spent a dime of its recent $17 million funding round. That’s gotta be some top line given Playfish has 200 employees across several offices. In fact, techCrunch Europe’s Mike Butcher speculated that Playfish could be the $1 million-dollar-a-month Facebook app maker, back in September 2008. It certainly puts the company in an enviable position given the paucity of venture funds in the UK.

4. Proximity to the Valley Insiders via Investors. While Playfish enjoys distance from the one-ups-man-ship or developer poaching of SGN, Playdom and Zynga, it’s connected into the Valley where it counts. One of its main investors is Accel—also one of the main backers of Facebook. Yes, that matters. (See Sequoia Capital-backed Google’s purchase of Sequoia Capital-backed YouTube.)

5. Segerstrale Knows Games. This is the fuzziest one, but also probably the most important. As a CEO, Segerstrale comes to this industry from a different point of view than Pincus. Pincus has said he was never really much of a gamer—Segerstrale on the other hand has loved games since he was three years old playing Pong with his older brother. He always got a visceral rush from playing, especially with other people. So he’s spent much of his career working towards two goals: Decoding what makes a game “fun” and deconstructing the concept of a “gamer” so games are just something everyone plays.

His first attempt was at mobile, thinking that with phones in every pocket, everyone would essentially have a game console. Indeed, the company he cofounded, Glu Mobile, went on to a successful IPO. But gaming was still a niche activity on phones.  There were too many barriers set up by the telcos and it wasn’t as easy for people to find and download games. Facebook turned out to be a much greater platform for this kind of democratization of gaming because users could market games to one another.

Segerstrale’s macro theory is that we’re in the first shift of a move from physical games and goods to digital ones, and from games as a product to games as a service. It’s a theory that seems right-on to me. For one thing, we already saw it with the transition from enterprise software to software as a service. For another, sales of console games are down 20% year-over-year according to NPD, while comScore says social gaming is up 20% year-over-year. It’s nice to see a CEO who can articulate not only a product vision, but a clear industry vision.

All the positives above aside, I’m still not convinced that Segerstrale will succeed in his mission to democratize games. I still mainly use Facebook as a way to connect with friends, not to build virtual restaurants and I don’t necessarily see that changing. In fact, Facebook has so de-emphasized apps in its new all-feed iteration, I spent nearly an hour trying to find a listing of games, before someone finally told me it was on the throw-away bottom bar of the profile page. And by emphasizing the social stickiness of a game, there’s a chicken-and-egg risk that the games are boring for people who don’t have enough friends already playing.

But these are execution risks and every promising startup has them. When it comes to business model, financing, vision and product, Playfish is certainly a formidable competitor to Zynga. With hundreds of millions in real dollars already swarming around social gaming, this will be fun space to watch.

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Jeff Jarvis: Charity or collaboration for The Times?

July 19th, 2009 admin No comments

The New York Times has accepted free stories from ProPublica. It has endorsed a journalist getting help from the public via Spot.US to underwrite a story that might appear at NYTimes.com. And Poynter’s Bill Mitchell says the paper is even wondering about foundation support for its work (but for perspective, I suspect one could safely say The Times is wondering about any possible economic model of support).

All this is being viewed as charity: giving The Times gifts directly or indirectly to produce journalism in its pages, physical or digital.

I think that’s looking at it – and at The Times – the wrong way. I prefer to think of it as a few of many possible forms of collaboration to create journalism that may or may not appear in the paper (and to which it may or may not link). I prefer to think of the paper as the organizer of networks of journalism.

Thinking that way, then when The Local, the hyperlocal blog at The Times, asked for a volunteer to cover a meeting it wasn’t planning to cover, you could say that it was asking for a charitable act. I’d rather say The Times was opening up to collaboration.

And let’s say that a local blogger covers the meeting and reports on it on her own blog and The Local takes advantage of that by aggregating, curating, quoting, and/or linking to that report. The net result is the same but that’s not charity. It’s cooperation.

Go one step farther: Say that The Times lends a video or sound recorder to that blogger so she can better report on the meeting and provide more coverage to her and The Local’s readers. Is that support an act of charity to the blogger? No, it’s collaboration. (By the way, this will be happening when CUNY provides equipment and training to members of the communities in The Local’s footprint as part of a Carnegie Corporation grant we just received.)

When we define The Times solely as a commercial institution that produces and controls an asset – the news – then any provision of money or effort to it appears to be charity.

But when we define the news as the creation of a larger ecosystem and The Times as just one member of it, then help – money, effort, equipment, training – instead appears to be collaboration.

And once one looks at the ecosystem through the lens of collaboration, then many other things are possible: then The Times (or any other member) could organize many members to work together to produce journalism no one of them could do alone. Then we start to account for the value of the work of the entire news ecosystem not based solely on the size of the staff of the last newsroom standing in the community; we open up to volunteer and entrepreneurial effort that can expand the scope of journalism far, far past what that one newsroom could do.

So I say that The Times and other papers opening up to the work of others supported by others is not an act of begging and charity if it is one bit of evidence of opening up to collaboration.

Now having said all that, I’m aware of the issues that are raised by giving of any sort and Clark Hoyt’s and Bill Mitchell’s columns address many of them: the potential for influence from the donor leading the list. There can also be tax questions (only a gift to a 501c3 is a charitable deducation and when is value received by a for-profit company taxable income?). There are labor delicacies when volunteer take on the work formerly done by staffers (there’s one of the reasons that professional journalists sneer at citizen journalism; it’s not always about high standards but instead about self-interest).

Still, I say it’s important to open up journalism and its institutions and players to many kinds of collaboration in a new ecosystem. That cooperation should extend to the commercial – revenue – side of the equation as well, as advertising and ecommerce networks enable each member of the ecosystem to gain more value together than they could alone. This is a key assumption of our work at the CUNY New Business Models for News Project.

One more caution: As we debate and explore the opportunities for charitable and volunteer support of journalism, it is important – critical – that we not declare surrender against the hope that journalism can be sustained in profitable enterprises. This is the keystone of our NewBizNews work at CUNY. We will estimate how much charitable support is possible in a market and what it can buy. We will also emphasize the importance of including volunteer effort in viewing the value of the ecosystem. But we also stipulate that none of that – not foundations, not the goodwill work of bloggers and neighbors – will support the level of reporting and journalism a community needs. And we believe that the market will support journalism – even the growth of journalism – commercially. We are working on models to examine how both the revenue and efficiency of enterprises in the ecosystem – news organizations to bloggers – can be optimized (we’ll be putting out models as we get closer to our first August deadline).

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Nelson Davis: A Capitalist Fundamentalist

July 18th, 2009 admin No comments

Since early in this century (using 9/11 as the time mark), fundamentalism of various types has been rising, and our media seem to be having fun fueling the fires. I’m tired of hearing reports only about fundamentalist Muslims, Christians or Jews and the bad raps they are getting. Fundamentalism as a belief system doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with religion and can be applied across the spectrum of human endeavor.

I’ve often declared myself as a major believer in capitalism and today I proudly slip on the tee-shirt labeling me as a fundamentalist capitalist! One important difference between me and the religious folks is that I have no interest in killing or harming those who don’t believe in the same way. However, I do carry the missionary zeal necessary to be a good fundamentalist and feel that if more people understood and embraced my capitalist beliefs, the world would be a better place. Certainly at least, the faceless and sometimes mindless bureaucracies that affect so much of our lives would be better places.

I keep a “capitalist” house and pray several times per day for the people, resources and determination to help realize my business dreams. Several personal development “bibles” are frequently read and quoted from at my house including “Think and Grow Rich” and “The Greatest Salesman in the World.” I gather with like minded entrepreneurial thinkers on a regular basis and we sometimes speak the short-hand of quotations from revered and mostly dead capitalists. Now this is not my religion, but if I want to be a good fundamentalist, I must learn from the ways they apply core principles to all aspects of life.

Here is the simple foundation of my belief. Capitalism generally refers to an economic system built on private ownership of the means of production which are operated for profit. The market aspects such as investment, pricing, distribution, and production are determined through the operation of a market economy. Since I live in California, let’s use this state as an example of a multi-billion dollar enterprise that could use some capitalist thinking. Since we have the most heavily populated state with over 36 million people, fundamental capitalist principles would mean that we’d also have the largest budget surplus among the states, and not be teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Because we’d create the most products and services of value and receive the most in my fantasy scenario, our education, transportation and communications systems would all be as world class today as they were 45 years ago. Ideas, capital, goals, creation, revenue and results are all tightly linked in my fundamentalist view.

My form of “fundamentalist capitalism” begins with teaching basic economics in every school grade from 2 through 12. Even your favorite post office clerk should know as much about commerce as they do about postal work rules and coffee breaks. Everybody has customers to serve and yes that includes your spouse family. The principle that nothing gets made until something is sold means that your ability to articulate concepts, plans and expected results will determine much about how whether your dreams are realized in this life. Because true capitalism must give as much as it gets, it has nothing to do with the selfish greed that seems to have Wall Street in its grip these days. The creation of opportunity and wealth always feeds more than one person and can elevate entire communities. Fundamental capitalism is a mutual benefit game. Remember that when you write a check you get privileges and accepting a check means that you take on obligations!

Unlike a religious form of fundamentalism, my branch says that great and wonderful rewards come in this life. You’ll have to talk with your clergy about what happens in the life you have after the body wear out. I believe there is such a thing as heaven on earth—and it is well capitalized.

Be sure to check out www.MakingItTV.com for entrepreneurial and small business resources.

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