Mitch is a great person to bounce stuff off, especially if it has some relevance to innovation. We had some great brainstorming about what is useful or necessary for a vibrant startup community. We really like the idea of collaboration spaces, and there are a number of places where you can rent a desk. What I dislike about such place is it’s still office space rental, even on a micro-economic scale. It’s good that freelancers can get out of their houses because you can go a little mad never seeing anyone during the day.
Mitch was telling me about his club the Institute of Directors which provides some desk space for its members. He pays a yearly fee to be a member and one of the perks is the space in central London to work from. I really like this idea, almost treating a collaboration space like a gym. It would be easy enough to have an online status of the amount of empty desks available at every location.
This idea in itself is pretty cool, but I still don’t think it’s enough to begin to provide that environment for collaboration where startups are citizen number one. As cliché as it is I still think that a cyber café is essential. Not everyone can base themselves in temporary desk space, and startups need to meet corporate shills (like me) as much as we need to meet them. Startups can learn a lot from the deep technology understand a lot of people working in corporations have, in return startups often have a firmer grasp of innovation and cultural hygiene.
Now I am of course just gassing right now, I have no idea if this is a viable business, but I think it certainly is something government should look at funding. The more collaboration space that encourage new and existing business to talk to each other the more vibrant our communities will become.
So TipJoy has been getting some press lately, which is good because I like it. While Clay Shirky apparently says Micropayments are dead I really like anything I can do immediately (in a very GTD). TipJoy makes it easy for me to share a small amount of love in a very instant gratification kind of a way.
I also like in a very startup style they are extremely responsive. I sent them a couple of points of feedback yesterday and by the time the sun started to rise over the America West Coast I had an answer and they had added something to the site. You can now look at who I’ve tipped and get it as a feed. They are also working on an API which hopefully I’ll get access to soon.
One thing I think would be interesting is to see if they can look at better granularity of claims against URLs. On some systems authors get ownership of a subdirectory rather than the whole domain. When I tip that URL do I want the tip to go to the author of the site or the owner of the domain? On a shared blog, if I tip a story I like am I tipping the blogger or the site? They shouldn’t have to resolve all these issues with some large unwieldily way of specifying who you were tipping. But, it is interesting to think about a URL or domain not necessarily not being an indicator of the creator of value but instead the identifier of the conduit of value.
The Arduino is an open source prototyping board. The system is powered by an ATMega128 processor and takes serial input over USB or bluetooth. It’s programmable in a subset of C and has an open source IDE for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. Essentially anything that has electrical input/output can be hooked up to one of these things. For example the Ambient Orb is just bright red, green and blue LEDs under a light diffuser in a glass dome. By using the processor to alter the brightness of each LED any colour can be produced.
What I find exciting is these prototyping boards cost relatively little money (roughly £18 for the USB version) but can be used to make all kinds of DIY electronics possible. To use the ambient orb example again, rather than the $150 plus shipping from the states that the ‘real’ one costs it can be made for as little as £30 by anyone who is bright enough to follow some instructions from the internet. Not only that but the homebrew version can be used display any data, because it has been built Open Source from the ground up.
Yahoo have their London office on South East tip of Soho. Sometimes I like to get a coffee in one of the better Soho coffee shops. While I can’t complain about the coffee (just the opposite actually) sometimes I’m a little disappointed about the lack of a startup hacker community that is available to me. It’s not like there is a shortage of internet companies in the area with Osmosoft, MSN, Tiscalli, and others in the area.
Is London just too big to have a community where I’m going to bump into other web geeks? People talk about the Valley and the Bay Area like it’s a Mecca for tech and web cultures, is that really true? While I know plenty of people I can arrange to have coffee with, and often do, I just want more chance encounters.
So here is my line in the sand. I like the Milk Bar on Bateman Street in Soho. There isn’t free open wifi (yet) but there is a BT Openzone. It’s the sister site of Flat White so the coffee is awesome. Like Flat White it’s run by Aussies so the atmosphere is trendy and funky. London, especially Soho, geeks make this your coffee shop. Let’s have more random chance encounters because we choose to commune in a place we can make our community.
Update: Funny I should write this in the morning on the tube and then find this post with some thoughts about Cities by Paul Graham in the afternoon.
I’m always really pleased when someone uses interesting advertising techniques to engage me with a product. Today I got given a free banana on my way into the tube station. Attached to that banana was a sticker with the details of a local gym. I think the idea of associating something healthy with a gym is not at all a bad marketing message. Also by giving the possible consumers value (of a piece of fruit) they are much more likely to take the advertising and be positive to it. The stickers are low-tech and cheap, but the consumer has already taken some value, and is likely to engage anyway.
(More detailed photos are on Flickr)
Another example like this that has been around a while are the Google Map stickers you’ll see in shop windows. Google, obviously, have a list of who is on Google Map. So it wasn’t hard for them to send only those businesses a sticker. And what small business isn’t going put something in their window that says “We’re famous”?
The Wattson is a design object from DIY Kyoto. It provides a visual indication of the current level of electrical usage in your house and how it compares to your average.
There are a bunch of things that I love about the Wattson. I love the design object, it’s beautiful, as you might expect from a cohort of designers from the RCA. But I find the objective of their mission also beautiful. At GeeKyoto DIYKyoto’s Greta Corke talked about creating awareness without preaching. She said they wanted to help people understand how their electricity usage affects climate change but without judging them. She cited a number of really positive customer stories. My favourite was the little boy who slept with the family Wattson in an attempt to stay up for it turning blue during Earth Hour.
However, there is something that’s been bugging me about the Wattson as well. I hate that the data is so closely coupled to the rendering. The Wattson is essentially two parts. A part that clips onto your mains and transmits data and a part that turns that data into something meaningful. I was unimpressed when Greta answered a question about the feasibility of building on Open Source Wattson with a complete dismissal. I understand that they have put a lot of work in, but I think the Wattson as a design object would stand alone. I think it’s more interesting to decouple the part that transmits the data so that systems could be written around it.
AMEE, for example, generated a lot of discussion. An open standards for transmitting data about electrical usage could allow data to be fed into AMEE. Also if Wattson was more open it would be interesting to see what other measurements could be fed in. For example a wireless multimeter in the form of a plug socket would be awesome. Rather than having a much more horribly sterile looking thing the ability to transmit data to the Wattson, as a design object, would rock.
I guess I’m going to look for a cheap way to beam my electrical data from both mains and plug sockets to a computer and then have some kind of generic ambient data device (homebrew ambient orbs anyone) rather than buy a very specific kind of propriety, if pretty, device.
I’m writing this from the tube. Nearly opposite me is an older guy. He doesn’t smell so good, he doesn’t seem like a tramp, but he’s almost certainly a wino judging from the Gin he’s pouring into a Lucasade bottle.
When I sat down this end of the carriage was deserted. I saw people actually get up and move to other seat to be away from this undesirable. He’s not hurt anyone, he’s not being crazy, or violent, or even loud. He’s just quietly sitting. I don’t enjoy the smell, but I can’t imagine the continued hurt that is done to him by the obvious avoidance of my fellow Londoners.
It makes me sad that London has people who turn to drink, it makes me sadder that some people can’t deal with it to the extent that they won’t even sit near him. Rosemarie and I give to Shelter periodically. I think it’s part of living in a city that you should take some responsibility for it’s underbelly. Maybe I’m being cynical, but I don’t think that the people wanting to forget this lonely guy exist are doing the same. I just wish they cared.
This week I’m going to two Green events, a networking party run by AMEE and GeeKyoto. Given that I am such a treehugging (carbon neutral), duck-squeezing (vegan), person I’ve been wondering what it is that makes some geeks care so much about green.
My simple conclusion is that geeks feel like they are empowered to make a difference. Hacker culture is pretty strong right now, where if something on your computer isn’t the way you want it, you fix it. Or, you can at least find someone else who did. The same is true of green, the long standing “justification” about why not to be green is that one person won’t make a difference. The debate here is not why economic theory doesn’t fit well into the human psyche, but rather that geeks don’t feel that way.
I’m proud to be a geek, I’m proud to be part of a sub-culture, a growing generation of hackers that change what they don’t like, I’m proud that one of the things I’m changing is how we learn to look after our planet.
Josh points out some really good things, and it all comes back to one of the current calls to arms at Y!, relevancy. It really is the holy grail. If you can send someone an actual relevant reminder at a relevant time (when they were about to forget) then you are going to get a much better total click through rate than bulk mailing a low relevancy message to more people.
Relevancy doesn’t have to be about mind reading. People won’t mind your best guess if it really is that. We deal with “nearly-noise” all day long. We don’t get upset when our co-workers ask us if we would like a drink, because the offer is relevant and timely (they are going to fetch drink and so the return will be immediate). On the other hand watching people who don’t want a free paper outside the tube station is a dramatically marked experience from those who do.
The key is knowing enough of what people want to make any offers seem like polite courtesy rather than blanket bombing. People will like you for polite reminders (as long as you don’t nag). This is something Josh really hit the nail on the end with, if you contact people just as they are about to forget it’s a reminder and they don’t feel upset. If you hit them too early in the curve it’s a nag.
TinyDB is a new micro database app that allows you to easily get and set data to a URL and then access it again. It supports JSON and XML formats. I really like the concept a lot. The ability to throw up a simple datastruct or two in a very light way is definitely a good thing. The creators say it was because they wanted to attach data to tinyurls which makes a lot of sense to me.
While they point out that the TinyDB entries aren’t secure, I’m mostly curious to see if they plan to let people alter the data after it’s been posted or if it will remain locked in time forever. Whatever small concerns I have, it’s a great project. I also think it’s really cool that they’ve used AppEngine to create it with. I’ve been wondering how successful App Engine would be but with stuff like this coming out I’m looking forward to seeing the big internet providers compete to host the many apps of the future.