Since I joined Yahoo I’ve been wearing a One bracelet. One stands for abolishing world poverty and making it possible for the world’s poorest people to better themselves. Having a constant reminder is a good thing. In the western world, London, or here in Silicon Valley we have it pretty easy. Today is blog action day and I’d like to talk to you about poverty.
It’s been a feature of politics for a long time to suggest that many of the world’s problems are insolvable. This is because many of the those solutions are not popular in the short term. In order to compensate for the treasury deficit of striking third world debt we need raise taxes. Raising taxes has, and I suspect, and will remain the easy target for opposition candidates. As such no politician is willing to attack these hard problems.
This means a large part of the solution has to be down to us, the people. We may not have enough sway over popular opinion to fix political short-termism. However, we can set an example and create calls for action for other regular people. Giving time or money to organisations like One is something that I suspect many people would find surprisingly rewarding.
The main thing I can tell you is in your life considering that helping others is worthwhile may be the most important choice you ever have. Until you’ve tried putting yourself in the service of other you can’t know how much of an impact it also has on yourself.
Yes, I’m posting 2 days in a row. Mostly because I’m pretty annoyed with the policy at Ultimate Ears. I spoke to someone on from customer service who was nice but reiterated their ridiculous policy.
I called them to see if they could upgrade my triple.fi 10s that are in for repair to triple.fi vi for my iPhone. I was told that unless I had bought them directly from Ultimate Ears this was not possible. Remember I bought them in the UK, so I wouldn’t want to buy them from their site to be shipped to the UK only to have to pay import tax. That would be silly.
The reason she gave was that she didn’t want to become “an iPhone wire supplier”. Since the wires only fit their earphones effectively the message is that people should buy the new models. Given that UE is a premium brand that sell high-end earphones I think this is a very poor attitude. I bought my earphones based on a recommendation of a friend on the quality of the customer service. Apparently it’s not as good as he thought.
It’s sad that I feel I have to write posts like this because their earphones are awesome.
My favourite headphone manufacturer are Ultimate Ears. They make my primary in-ear headphone the Triple.fi 10. These “in-ear monitors” contain no less than 3 driver and sound amazing.
In August it seems Logitech bought Ultimate Ears, which isn’t a bad thing in my mind. I’m sure a larger company will happily see them through the financial crisis. What does bother me though is that they have quietly reduced the lengths of all the warranties.
Right now my Triple.fis are with UE to be fixed. When trying to get a foam tip off the casing catches snapped. No problem, send them back, get a replacement pair. This is one of the reason I was willing to shell out the not inconsiderable money they cost. They came with a recommendation from a friend that UE were fantastic at dealing with customers. Mine have a 2 year warranty.
When I looked at the web site this week to see if they were going to support a model with a mic for my iPhone (they now have the triple.fi 10v, not that they will sell me the mic wire separately) I noticed that all the warranties are now 1 years only. That includes the custom moulded monitors which I think used to have a life time warranty, or at least 2 years.
I find it astonishing that Logitech expects people to shell out $400 for triple.fi headphones and $800+ for customs with such a short time to be able to get them repaired.
To contrast this all Shure headphones from the $119 SE110s to the $499 SE530 come with a 2 year warranty. I really hope Logitech renege and sort this out. I have been considering getting some customs from UE. I think I’m going to continue to consider for a while longer now.
So I’m finally in San Francisco for good. Rosemarie and I are going to settle in and look for a new permanent place. Recommendations are very welcome. Right now we are thinking about looking around Mission Delores and Lower Haight.
Now that I’m here I’m sure this blog is going to get a lot more love and things settle down into some normality.
I had an interest thought about the direction of some of Yahoo’s projects. It seems like a lot of the stuff Yahoo is working on are about helping people to aggregate and manage their data. Two of the most obvious public examples are Fire Eagle and Open ID.
What I think is particularly interesting is that neither of these things are products or applications in themselves. Neither of them tries to control what you do with your data and in fact they will happily let you to use the information anywhere on the web that supports it.
I think Yahoo is actually creating an interesting market here. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say Yahoo is a brand perceived as safe and family friendly. By providing tools to let average people safeguard and manage important parts of their identity Yahoo is creating a new trend in middleware.
There has been some discussion recently about once you put something online how hard it is to manage thereafter. Conceptually Yahoo are positioning to help become your identity provider for the Web. Pick a brand you trust and let them act as a middleman between you and everyone else. Sites can put data in and sites can take data out but only if your middleman lets them.
Many people who support Open ID have stated an aim like this. Open ID allows SSO but it can also facilitate “attribute exchange”. This is where the Open ID provider passes the relying party¹ a number pieces of information (attributes) about the user logging in, assuming they say it’s ok. Right now Yahoo’s Open ID provider service allows users to pick a number of IDs they can use, from their Yahoo username, their Flickr username, to a random anonymous one. There is nothing that would stop Yahoo allowing you to associate a unique profile which each of these users. There is already a certain amount of evidence to show that the youth of today already do this kind of segmenting by hand and manage multiple online profiles.
I’d be interested in seeing what techniques can be applied to this information management. If you’ve ever seen the Facebook application TOS they are pretty harpdcore. You are allowed to store virtually nothing about the user in your own database. This is because Facebook are aware of the simple truth that once you share information you can’t unshare it. Look at the music industry, the properties of bits are not the same as those of physical objects. As such the only real protection you can offer the user is legal.
That said, obviously most people are happy to share information with many sites they use and let them store it. I’d like to see a much better way to represent the TOS so that a user could effectively review it before they share information. This a topic I discussed, yet again, at Leeds Barcamp. I want to see terms of service use a number of creative commons style attributes. Any additional terms they required would then be easy to identify and read. If you were using Open ID to sign in, it would be easy to define what you were happy to accept from a site and what you weren’t. Your Open ID provider could then easily flag any discrepancies to you before you login/signup.
Despite all of this I am not suggesting to say that Yahoo should own this potential market. However I think they are being extremely progressive in it. I’d love to see providers competing for consumer’s love. And, of course, since it’s all about being Open it’s not like anyone would stop you swapping providers. Not at least if they were sensible. I read a quote by a Sun exec (that I can’t seem to find) about making it easy for customers to leave, because they are much more likely to stay if they come back.
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”?