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Skype

Last Thursday evening I was at the Saïd Business School to hear Saul Klein (blog), Vice-President of Marketing at Skype. An eye-opening talk.

When eBay bought Skype for $2.6bn last September, with an additional $1.5bn dependent upon performance targets, the deal surprised commentators:

… the high price for the transaction and the young nature of Skype's business prompted scepticism among some telecommunications industry executives and analysts, who questioned Ebay's ability to generate significant revenues from its new acquisition. FT

Since then the Skype user base has doubled in size. The company is young, only 2½ years old (launched in August, 2003), yet as of April this year it has more than 100 million users and a 67% CQGR: every 5 days, 1 million people join Skype. It has websites in 23 languages and accepts payment in 15 currencies. A year ago it employed just 100 people; today, 300.

From its inception, Skype has been intended to be a simple product — easy to use. A new user can be up and running within 2 to 3 minutes of downloading it. The software is under rapid development (changelog for Windows here; the latest beta version is 2.5). Currently, Skype allows up to 100 users to talk in a Skypecast and up to 5 people to conference call for free. (If you use an Intel Dual Core Processor machine then you can host 10 people conference calls for free.) Group chats can accommodate up to 50 contacts.

To understand more about the new Skypecast initiative, you can begin here. There's some background here:

Skypecasts enable people to discuss shared interests — anything from classic cars and cooking, to home design and computer support. Skypecasts are moderated by the ‘host’ who is able to mute, eject or pass the virtual microphone to participants when they wish to speak. Hosting or participating in a Skypecast is completely free.

There's more food for thought on Skype Journal. TypePad users are well set up:

Yesterday Skype launched their Skypecasts Directory, as well as a Widget that lets TypePad users promote upcoming Skypecasts (either their own or Skypecasts they're interested in) on their blog.

Ready to start talking with your readers?  Hosting a Skypecast is easy...

  1. Schedule your Skypecast. Got a topic for discussion? Got a time? Visit skypecasts.skype.com and schedule your Skypecast. It will be listed for anyone to discover and join.
  2. Promote it on your blog. Once you’re listed in the Skypecasts directory, promote your Skypecast on your blog. Link to your listing directly in your post, or use the Skypecast Widget for TypePad.
  3. Host your discussion. Connect using your Skype client to share your passion with your audience and have a bit of fun.

My school has just gone wireless in its boarding houses and some rapid work by two of my pupils has established that Google Talk and Skype work (both within the school's system and across the firewall). Very shortly, I'll be exploring the use of Skype conference calls with pupils.

Skype's program of development is both rapid and tightly focused around a well-defined product, with close attention paid to user-feedback (forums from day 1). Reviewing some of what Skype already offers (in addition to group chats, conference calls and Skypecasts) can't but impress: SkypeOut, SkypeIn, voicemail, Video (1 in 5 Skype users now video call), IM, SMS, data transfer/sharing (last month I noted Matt Webb's piece about Skype and there's no doubt we'll be making use of Skype for moving files around), cross-platform interoperability, integration with other apps, Skype Me, presence …  The appearance on the market of Skype-enabled mobiles is gathering pace. Also developing swiftly is Skype's engagement in eCommerce (Skype embedded in eBay auctions is already running as a trial in China — 25% of sellers use it) and the company expects its role in this market to be big.

Skype has so much going for it and the blogosphere is closely attentive. No wonder it was the third most recognised brand in 2005, and Saul used Blogpulse to demonstrate that, for the most part, Skype tracks above VoIP:

Skype_voip_trends

Skype is offering some powerful tools that will make a great impact on the way we work in education. I'm grateful to Saul for putting me in touch with their developer relations program team, and I hope we can begin to work with Skype both on the kinds of functionality that Skype already has (and we don't know about) and on new implementations that will be of value to schools.

And I want to put Skype in control of my home, too!

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Graffiti, not comments?

This takes the prize:

Wow, the internet is a messy place. Like most of you I got here through the Radiohead website, and I will also treat this post like graffiti.

What I would say is that if Web 2.0 means anything, it had better sort out this comment/presence/'I woz here and smiled'/'I woz here and frowned'/etc problem. You just can't conduct anything approximating to a "normal" conversation via a blog's comments -- it's all so hit, miss, infrequent and entirely dependent upon making the effort to go back and see what's happened. Too many strands, too. Graffiti's quite a good alt term for what goes on a lot of the time. Graffiti's good.

As I said before ...

(And I hope not everyone is coming here via Colin's referral … I have some regulars, surely … But thank you for that great graffiti, Chas.)

++ let's hear it for chaos (hear, hear) and conversation.


MS Live

Microsoft's Web 2.0 strategy, Windows Live and Office Live, was covered as it was announced by Read/Write Web; pictures of the launch announcement event from Michael Arrington here, his real time notes here and his initial appreciation of it here; Russell Beattie's take here; a reflective piece by Richard MacManus at Read/Write Web. Michale Arrington has also posted here about Office Live:

Office Live is not an online version of Office. Office Live is a set of free, ad-supported productivity tools for businesses. … The core tools are a free non-microsoft domain name, website and up to 50 email accounts with 2 GB of storage each. … For a small company needing a informational website, it will be great. Given that the domain name, website building, hosting and email will all be free, this will be very attractive to a small business. For customers needing more, Microsoft will offer a suite of additional productivity applications - 22 in all were announced yesterday. They will also support third party applications - ADP’s payroll software was shown integrated into Office Live. A set of APIs will be available for third parties to add their application functionality into Office Live. Among the additional applications was an office document collaboration tool. You can share an office document real time with others, allowing them to view and edit it. Impressive.

Windows Live Ideas here:

Windows Live is based on one simple idea: that your online world gets better when everything works simply and effortlessly together. So all the things you care about online - your friends, the latest information, your e-mails, searching the Net - all come together in one place. Windows Live is a brand new Internet experience designed to put you in control. And this is just the beginning-you'll see many more new products in the coming months.


QI

This is a bookshop designed for browsing. The shelves don't follow the usual classifications. Instead they collect books together thematically, so a novel or biography might end up next to a work of popular science, or a reference book. The selection criteria are simple: they are either the best books on a subject or a book one of us feels strongly about recommending. The selection and the categories are designed to stimulate thought and discussion. …

'Besides the libraries of Radcliffe and Bodley and the Colleges, there have been of late years many libraries founded in our coffee houses … in these instruction and pleasure go hand in hand; and we may pronounce, in a literal sense, that learning no longer remains a dry pursuit.' Thomas Warton (1728–1790)

So runs the card that you can pick up at the QI bookshop (16 Turl Street, Oxford OX1 3DH). A number of friends have asked me about QI and I said I'd post a few notes, beginning with the bookshop. Last time I was there I took a few photos and the one I'd intended to serve as illustration of the unusual classification system only gives a suggestion of what it's like to browse shelves where books are grouped by themes: Informed Rants, Obsession, Revenge, Desire, Betrayal, Addiction, Experience, Innocence, First Love, Last Love … It's a great bookshop, with personality, run by Claudia FitzHerbert and her small team of enthusiastic, informed and intellectually alive assistants. Support it! Oxford has many bookshops already — but this one is different. We have thousands of books at home and yet this is a place where I am always discovering new authors, new books … new ideas to follow up — not least through chatting with Claudia and her team.

There's also a QI bar behind the bookshop. It's a cosy place for a drink with friends, relaxed and very sociable. It serves food and coffee, too, throughout opening hours. Upstairs is the club: this is private — members only. But it's the only club I've come across that I feel I'd like to join: two elegant Georgian rooms to relax in with drinks, light food and coffee always available, and a dining room and library where lunch and dinner is served every day. Taken with the bookshop and bar, it offers 'an eclectic mix of people, a place to meet, talk, shop, eat and drink in the centre of Oxford. It's a new version of the salon or the coffee house: a place you pop into regularly to buy books, read the paper, eat lunch, celebrate, argue, escape the office and listen to, or start conversations with, other quite interesting people.'

QI. Quite interesting. (Common code: 01865. Bookshop: 261507. Bar: 261508. Club: 261500.)

*****

Updates

(1) this from Claudia FitzHerbert's column in the Daily Telegraph, 9 August:

Dons don't come into my shop, much. Michael Gearin-Tosh, who died last week, was an exception. A distinguished English tutor at St Catherine's, who acquired a wider audience with Living Proof (2002) - an account of his long (and, for a long time, startlingly successful) battle against myeloma and conventional medicine - he was an irregular regular. On his first visit, I tried to pick his brains over which editions of Chekhov to stock, and where to put them. Chekhov, a doctor as well as a dramatist, saw a "dull-wittedness and tyranny" in medicine which he compared to Tsarist police. His genius hovers over Living Proof.

Gearin-Tosh seemed to get the shop categories at once. "He would," said my Fellow fellow, when I put it to him that a scholar had been in the shop and not fainted in disgust. "Contradiction and creative disorder are at the heart of Gearin-Tosh's talent. Your shop is just the retail version of his room in college." He said he'd think about the Chekhov before responding with feline courtesy to the placing of Living Proof. I don't think he was overly pleased to find it in Informed Rants, wedged in between Francis Wheen on mumbo-jumbo and Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication. He would, I think, have preferred to be in The Big Picture, along with War and Peace and The Selfish Gene.

(2) jinty (livejournal):

Harry Potter is filed under Revenge, and the assistant, Thomasz, spoke interestingly of how one particular book had been placed by him under one category -- let's say Desire -- but then consistently moved by someone else to another category -- let's assume Ha Ha. In the end Thomasz moved it to Turbulence.


Matt Webb, ambient technology and lasting impressions

Trawling quickly through that defunct blog of mine (previous post), I came across this and the next item and wanted (for very different reasons) to "rescue" both. This was posted originally in February of last year.

Matt Webb, speaking at ETech, mentions in passing Ambient Orb and Dangling String.

Fascinating, particularly when seen from the vantage point of his talk.

I find Matt Webb, whose Mind Hacks (website here) I am just about to start reading, amongst the most stimulating of 'new technology' writers on the web. The talk linked to above is about Glancing ('an application to support small groups by simulating a very limited form of eye contact online'). Originally given at ETech 2004, it's stayed in my imagination since I first came across it as relatively few things on the web do.


Blogging: a soundtrack to our lives?

Last July, musicians teamed up with UK government ministers and others to produce a 'manifesto to enhance young people's music-making'.

'Music can be magic' … and has 'a unique contribution to make to education'. The music manifesto promises over five years to give every child in England the chance of free or cut-price instrument tuition. … Its 70 signatories say they are committed to helping young people 'create the soundtrack to their lives', and have come up with various associated pledges. Aberdare Online

(Somewhere in my memory — and the memex/mind-web has failed to assist me here — I know I have read something about the romanticising of our lives, how we see our lives as films, hear our lives to a soundtrack.)

'Soundtrack to my life' is hardly a rare phrase. It came back into my head recently when I read this from Jason Kottke

I've been listening to a lot of music lately as well, and it's been taking me back into different periods of my life. I don't know how it is with you, but my life definitely has a soundtrack, songs and albums that remind me of people, places, and experiences.

… and this, from Claire Chaundy:

Soundtracks to your life: the journey is more important than the destination

The Trip by Tom Middleton will be the soundtrack to this particular era of my life.  In the future it will remind me of a time when I both rediscovered and reinvented myself - and started to find genuine internal peace.  And Take me over by McKay will remind me of the perils of trying to dance and paint the walls of my house at the same time.  :o)

Claire writes skilfully about music, the way it blends and merges influences, and how this has mirrored her life: '(Tom Middleton's) eclecticism is wonderful.  I suppose it mirrors the way I have always chosen to lead my life and is what I draw great pleasure from - the hotch potch of influences that lead you to who you are and provide you with your unique voice'.

Claire went on to write:

Mixing stuff up seems to have become a way of life.  … Now I find I have a deep fascination with the science of networks which is itself a hotch potch of physics, maths, sociology, psychology, economics, biology. … Not all of us are after being uber-bloggers and gaining mass popularity.  Some of us, like me, just use it as an extension of our crazy, patchwork quilt lives.  Like I said: organised chaos.

There's lots of food for thought here: I have found Claire's recent writing about blogging very valuable and what she has to say about it is echoed, in part, in the quotation above. I am also struck by the importance she accords inter-disciplinary thinking — something Chris Allen wrote about so well last year.

And this all leads me back to Tom Coates expressing dissatisfaction with the current nature of blogging software. There are many examples one could take to illustrate the limitations of contemporary blogging, but I'll take one that Claire herself raised recently: commenting. She wonders whether building functionality into blogging software that 'enables you to see when the blogger is online (aka instant messenger)' might not help enable commenting to become more like having a conversation — which is surely what, at its heart, commenting ought to be about. (Jyri recently had interesting things to say about commenting.)

Just one example, but the messiness of creative thinking and the life of collaborative interaction aren't well served by the still very compartmentalised, drill-like, chronologically arranged, columnar life form that currently is blogging. Blogging as we know it can't be a soundtrack to our lives.

PS: I was very sorry to learn that Claire may be quitting blogging. Her voice is very intelligent and her range of inclusiveness wide. I hope she'll return — and soon.


The village global

Howard Rheingold makes some striking comments on the effects and implications of being 'always connected':

When millions of people carry Internet connections in their pockets, the focus of communications shifts from places to individuals – with significant implications for the way we think of ourselves and the shape of our social institutions.

I'm glad that places like NetLab are using the tools of social science research to probe provocative questions raised by technology-mediated communications: How do virtual communities affect physical communities? What kinds of social institutions are created or destroyed by new modes of communication?

Picture a mundane aspect of everyday life that most readers will recognize: you're in touch with a coworker on the other side of the planet via email or IM, and at the same time you get an SMS telling you to bring home a carton of milk: "Glocalization" is what sociologist Barry Wellman and his colleagues at the University of Toronto's NetLab research community call this "local involvement and global reach" enabled by email and mobile phones. NetLab, a network of social scientists with links to the Centre for Urban and Community Studies, the Department of Sociology, the Knowledge Media Design Institute and the Faculty of Information Studies, applies the decades-old methods of social network analysis (among other tools) to the social behaviors enabled by Internet-mediated communication.

… In another study of "The Social Affordances of the Internet for Networked Individualism," Wellman, Quan-Haase, Boase, Chen, Hampton, Isla de Diaz and Miyata proposed that people are using five "social affordances" of networked, wireless, ubiquitous information and communication technology to change their lives and communities. Today:

We have broader bandwidth (which "facilitates the rapid exchange of large amounts of data, instant messaging, feedback, attached text, picture, voice, and telepresence.").

Are always connected ("This embeds the Internet heavily in everyday life, for as soon as a communication is thought about, it can be sent immediately and easily.").

Use media that are increasingly personalized ("with more control over the sources people want to get messages from, when, and about what. This form of communication and the ensuing interactions are more tailored to individual preferences and needs, furthering a more individualized way of interacting and a way of mobilizing as fluid networks of partial commitment.").

Take wireless portability for granted ("This facilitates personalized communication. The person becomes the target of communication. An individual and not a household is called. The person is the node to which communication is directed. Person-to-person communication is supplanting door-to-door and place-to-place communication. Personalization and portability are not the same. Personalization recognizes anywhere who people are. With portability, people take their devices with them. The combination facilitates the emphasis on individuals connecting and (mobilizing) to individuals, rather than individuals connecting to groups or groups connecting to groups.").

Are accustomed to global connectivity ("The digital divide – the socio-economic gap between those who use computer-mediated communication and those who do not – is shrinking in the Western world. This may mean an increase in the small world phenomenon, with potential connectivity over the Web to all, either directly or through short chains of indirect ties. … It also facilitates transnational connectivity, be they migrants staying in touch with their homeland or transnational networks mobilizing around issues").

Wellman et. al. conclude:

"Changes in the nature of computer-mediated communication both reflect and foster the development of networked individualism in networked societies. Internet and mobile phone connectivity is to persons and not to jacked-in telephones that ring in a fixed place for anyone in the room or house to pick up. The developing personalization, wireless portability and ubiquitous connectivity of the Internet all facilitate networked individualism as the basis of community. Because connections are to people and not to places, the technology affords shifting of work and community ties from linking people-in-places to linking people at any place. Computer-supported communication is everywhere, but it is situated nowhere. It is I-alone that is reachable wherever I am: at a home, hotel, office, highway or shopping center. The person has become the portal.

"This shift facilitates personal communities that supply the essentials of community separately to each individual: support, sociability, information, social identities and a sense of belonging. The person, rather than the household or group, is the primary unit of connectivity. Just as 24/7/365 Internet computing means the ready availability of people in specific places, the proliferation of mobile phones and wireless computing increasingly is coming to mean an even greater availability of people without regard to place. Supportive convoys travel ethereally with each person."

Like all good research, NetLab's findings raise further questions: What will it mean for minds and neighborhoods when "the person becomes the portal" and "supportive convoys travel ethereally with each person?" In some ways, these questions apply directly to the future of today's early adopter fifteen-year-olds around the world who spend their waking hours with with buddy lists, SMS, moblogs and cameraphones.

Link via purse lip square jaw


Oddpost, Yahoo! and Google

Marc Canter on the news that Yahoo! has bought Oddpost:

This story is much more than Yahoo buying Oddpost to compete with Gmail. Sure - that's part of it - and I'm sure that's what Terry Semel et al have in their heads, but it's this sort of viral infusion into Yahoo that was needed.

This is much bigger than the search engine battles or even Yahoo versus Google.

This is about RIAs (rich internet apps), integrated web services and open standards being fused with productivity software, micro-content and social networking and offered as hosted experiences.

Does this sound like anything familiar? Yahoo has defined what portals have been - since day one - but their UI just plain sucked! Even the valiant attempts at providing "customization" features in MyYahoo - were tolerable at best. Yahoo supports RSS and has over 120M active end-users. Yahoo is showing how portals and ISPs can work together by providing software bundled with services - to the masses. But Odd post makes it a whole new ball game.

Now Yahoo can step up to the front on "end-user" experience. That holey grail that's been eluding them since day one. HTML was never designed and will never fulfil the end-user quotient. The human factor. The essence of compelling experiences.

HTML will also suck. But once you can truly integrate rich interactive experiences in the browser, and tie it into services and functionality - you got a winning formula for digital lifestyle aggregation! And once you have email, why stop there? Why not jukeboxes (like MySpace has) or photo blog objects (like Flickr) or Tribe Listings, Friends and Tribes appearing in blog gutters - as well?

Why stop there? Why not support an Open Listings standard and just completely screw Google completely? Certainly let's hope that Yahoo will support FOAF. Google is (or will) or (I sure hope they will.)

Marc Canter on MySapce: 'MySpace now has improved their Groups - and added it to their line-up of better blogging, classifieds, very coolio music features and special 'band groups'. MySpace has proven that it really is about the activities and giving people something to do. IM, Ranking and Games seem to be the core activities. Business model? Ads. Sponsorships. Special Band Groups. Watch for even more ''premium' features that folks will pay for. How many of them - you ask? Over 2M.'


Intellectual Community

'... people who live in the intersection of social worlds are at higher risk of having good ideas.' Social Origins of Good Ideas, Ronald S Burt, University of Chicago.

Link via Household Opera: 'people within well-defined groups tend to think homogeneously, but people who can bridge the gaps between groups are more prone to new ideas. I want my IIC (Ideal Intellectual Community) to be at once full of these intersections and self-identified as a community; whether that's possible is still an open question, though'.


Jason Kottke on Google

Great post about what Google is up to by Rich Skrenta. He argues that Google is building a huge computer with a custom operating system that everyone on earth can have an account on.

... So. They have this huge map of the Web and are aware of how people move around in the virtual space it represents. They have the perfect place to store this map (one of the world's largest computers that's all but incapable of crashing). And they are clever at reading this map. Google knows what people write about, what they search for, what they shop for, they know who wants to advertise and how effective those advertisements are, and they're about to know how we communicate with friends and loved ones. What can they do with all that? Just about anything that collection of Ph.Ds can dream up. ...

Google isn't worried about Yahoo! or Microsoft's search efforts...although the media's focus on that is probably to their advantage. Their real target is Windows. Who needs Windows when anyone can have free unlimited access to the world's fastest computer running the smartest operating system? Mobile devices don't need big, bloated OSes...they'll be perfect platforms for accessing the GooOS. Using Gnome and Linux as a starting point, Google should design an OS for desktop computers that's modified to use the GooOS and sell it right alongside Windows ($200) at CompUSA for $10/apiece (available free online of course). Google Office (Goffice?) will be built in, with all your data stored locally, backed up remotely, and available to whomever it needs to be (SubEthaEdit-style collaboration on Word/Excel/PowerPoint-esque documents is only the beginning). Email, shopping, games, music, news, personal publishing, etc.; all the stuff that people use their computers for, it's all there.

Even though everyone's down on Google these days, they remain the most interesting company in the world and I'm optimistic about their potential and success (while also apprehensive about the prospect of using Google for absolutely everything someday...I'll be cursing the Google monopoly in 5 years time). If they stay on target with their plans to leverage their three core assets (which, if Gmail is any indication, they will), I predict Google will be the biggest and most important company in the world in 5-8 years. kottke.org