August 29, 2008

Yahoo! (s)Mash(ed)

Yahoo! announced they are going to shut down Mash, the social networking site started less than one year ago.  Yesterday, Yahoo! sent a message to Mash’s users warning them to save all profile information somewhere else, since after September 29 Mash won’t be there anymore:  “we hope you had fun with it” and sayonara to everybody!
Mash is (or was…) a nicely designed SNS, it just got out there too late.  In fact, there is no more room for general/all-purposes SNSs.  Market’s needs have been saturated by Facebook (which is BTW celebrating its 100 Million users).
On Facebook, you can search and find most of the people you are in touch with… and eventually you keep more easily in touch with people who use it…
If you are wondering when was last time you e-mailed your old friend who is not on FB, the answer is: longer than others who are on FB: this just is one of the indirect effects of the Network Effect).
However, more and more professionals, teenagers and families keep in touch with Facebook.  A law firm is also recruiting on Facebook.
General SNSs (i.e. Facebook) have recently turned into an enriched version of a phonebook, and people use them just like one.
The value of a phonebook is inherently related to its completeness and distribution (AKA the Network Effect).  In the SNSs case, both completeness and distribution rely on users activity, which is costly.  O.k., filling user’s profile, adding friends and uploading pictures may be fun too, but doing it multiple times may become an hassle.  Anyway, swinging from a SNS to another is time consuming and there isn’t really reason to do it.
On the other hand, some SNSs are pursuing another strategy to gain a spot in the market, namely specialization.  Facebook’s internal networks or groups are not specific enough to satisfy users' needs.  Sometimes, the features of a SNS just don’t match a specific purpose or taste of its users. 
Thus, people who share a common interest, or come from a certain location tend to aggregate around a specialized SNS.  There are plenty of examples.
MySpace (which is still growing) is gradually specializing in music.  Its users share an interest in famous as well as emergent bands’ productions.  Thus, the features available for users’ profile customization match this purpose.  Flickr is another good example: it is more than a photo sharing, is an active community of photographers.  Thus, the quality/dimension of the pictures you can up/download is way superior to other SNSs.  Orkut, of the Google family, is well established in a few countries (e.g. Brazil), where it is much bigger than Facebook.  In fact, Orkut benefited of FB’s initial language deficiency and enjoyed a first comer advantage.
Therefore, SNSs new trends will be driven by the ability to interpret the concept of a hub, where people may find features and design able to satisfy an unexploited aggregating element.  And of course, a huge amount of luck…

August 27, 2008

SMILE, not SCRATCH (When You Pick a Domain Name)

It would be great if you’d enter our naming competition. We’re currently calling our online language exchange service Lingolink; unfortunately, the domain is already taken and the owner is not willing to sell it to us.
Once the service is up and running the winner of the "competition" will receive a special mention on this blog!!! (Exciting, isn't it?!)  To enter, by Friday, Sept 5, please send me your top five names. Feel free to include your friends, co-workers and family members as well. Make it a fun, brainstorming event :o)
Through the name of the service we want to communicate the following characteristics:
We connect people from around the world through language exchange.
We’re an on-line market for the buying and selling of language services.
We’re the go to place where people have fun and make friends from around the world.
On our site users feel that we are using technology for learning unlike anyone else. This is the best way to practice speaking a language.
Users say “aha” after using the service. “I finally understand what that word means.”
We’ll most likely pick the name that meets the following criteria:

Needs to possess these qualities
Simple –- one easy-to-understand concept
Meaningful –- customer instantly “get it”
Imagery –- visually evocative, creates a mental picture
Legs –- carries the brand, lends itself to wordplay
Emotional –- empowers, entertains, engages, enlightens

Spelling-challenged — you have to tell people how to spell it
Copycat – similar to competitor’s names
Random – disconnected from the brand
Annoying – hidden meaning, forced
Tame – flat, uninspired, boring, non-emotional
Curse of knowledge – only insiders get it
Hard-to-pronounce – not obvious, relies on punctuation

I can't wait to receive your suggestions!

PS. This is my avatar...

August 25, 2008

Series A Financing Sample Library

If you are working on a start-up, or you are a corporate lawyer, or just in case you are looking forward to collecting something valuable for your legal library, you cannot miss this.
Y Combinator and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati made available an entire set of documents created to use when raising angel rounds. 
Y-C and WSGR disclaim: "While they may not be suitable for all situations, the goal was to make the terms fairly neutral. So while we would of course advise both parties using these documents to have their lawyers look at them, they provide a starting point that we hope can be used in many situations without too many modifications.
Needless to say, neither YC nor WSGR assumes any responsibility for any consequence of using these documents."
Find all the documents

August 24, 2008

Find me on Technocrati

I am getting a Technocrati account...
I am waiting for the spider to register my blog. 
Here is my Technorati Profile.

August 23, 2008

The Pirate Bay case - UPDATE

The URL, accessed from the Italian ISPs, is not re-directing any more to the Pro-Music's web site.  The reverse DNS now says "localhost"...
Meanwhile, an Italian association (ALCEI) brought the issue before the Privacy Authority.  We'll hear about the Pirate Bay again... and perhaps it will be possible to understand who (and on what legal basis) gave such order to redirect the traffic (since the Court did not).

August 22, 2008

Open Source and Open Licenses as Copyright's Offsprings

Open Source and open licenses may appear as copyright's worst enemies.  Ironically, in order to ensure free access to certain content it is necessary to enforce copyright.

The idea is simple as well as counterintuitive: if you want to grant public and free access to a work of authorship, it is best if you establish that such work is protected under copyright law.  In this way, you can require that further publication and derivative works may be subject to certain conditions: e.g., to be licensed under the same license, for free, with no limitation for derivative works and with credit to the original author.
Otherwise, if your creative work were to fall in the public domain, anybody could claim a proprietary right on derivative works.

In a recent case decided by the Court of Appeal of the Federal Circuit (Jacobsen v. Katzer and Kamind Associate, Inc.), the Court addressed - among the others - an interesting issue, namely whether it is possible to enforce an open license, given the (alleged) lack of economic interest by the copyright holder.
Eventually, the Court acknowledged that the conditions i) to give credit to the author and ii) to display the copyright notice, represent a sufficient economic interest to uphold a public license.  In fact, giving credit to the author -in the case of an open license- is not merely a moral right, it rather encompasses an inherent benefit for the author.
In particular, the Court defined such benefit as follows:
"The attribution and modification transparency requirements directly serve to drive traffic to the open source incubation page and to inform downstream users of the project, which is a significant economic goal of the copyright holder that the law will enforce. Through this controlled spread of information, the copyright holder gains creative collaborators to the open source project; by requiring that changes made by downstream users be visible to the copyright holder and others, the copyright holder learns about the uses for his software and gains others' knowledge that can be used to advance future software releases."
I am not absolutely sure that such statement is truly catching the spirit of the Open Source project.  However, it looks like a robust argument and a preeminent endorsement of open licenses.  Somehow a windfall.

August 19, 2008

Net Neutrality - Guess the Quote!

While watching Lessig's last presentation, I thought - hey this is quite a crisp definition of Net Neutrality:  "NN guarantees access to content and applications that people want to choose, not the content and the applications that network providers choose for them."  Indeed, "neutrality is the spirit of the Internet" - so that, everybody is free to  access any web site, at anytime from anywhere.

So, from another perspective -what's the risk of a non-neutral network?
The answer is in the following quote, and I bet you'd never guess who said that:
"Would you be OK with the post office opening your mail, deciding they didn’t want to bother delivering it, and hiding that fact by sending it back to you stamped “address unknown – return to sender”? Or if they opened letters mailed to you, decided that because the mail truck is full sometimes, letters to you could wait, and then hid both that they read your letters and delayed them?"

Check your guess here! 

Startup School

I just found a resourceful site... It is an "oldie", I suppose - given the time-flow in this field. However, I think it is worth giving a glimpse to this conference

August 16, 2008

La Baia e il Tubo (*UPDATED*)

Italy and some Italian corporation have recently started a war (in the courtroom, of course) against two of the most representative Internet players - the Pirate Bay and Youtube.  The two cases have been harshly criticized in the blogosphere as an assault to freedom of expression and an attempt to weaken the increasing importance of the Internet as a powerful alternative to mainstream media and government propaganda.

My personal opinion: although I can envision the risk of a drift towards a stricter policing regime, the immediate reason of such lawsuits is well grounded on a rather prosaic level:  money (or should I say the lack of...). 

The old media tycoons are suffering significant revenue losses both from the advertising and the copyright royalties.

Direct sales of hard copies of copyrighted materials (software, movies and music of course) are suffering a perennial downturn.  Although the majors are cutting their losses, through on-line distribution, the hostilities against file-sharing have not ceased at all.

On the other hand, the market for on-line advertising has become more and more relevant (Google is constantly increasing its ads revenues), in spite of the traditional  advertisement on radio, television and newspapers, which is progressively loosing its share.  In fact, the money spent by advertisers tends to be steady and the overall advertising market is not really growing. Thus, it is the same old pie, except that slices are shared differently.

However, both in the Mediaset v. Youtube and in the Pirate Bay case, the problem is not limited to a friction among opposing  commercial interests.  The situation is way more complicated because Italy and its government interests are complicated.

In Mediaset, it is enough to say that the plaintiff is -somehow- the Italian prime minister, Berlusconi.  There is no need to explain his interest in communication and public opinion.  Moreover, in Italy some of Berlusconi's main opponents are leveraging the Internet and Youtube to drive their political activities.

As The Pirate Bay is concerned, there are too many things to say.  
Access to the Pirate Bay web site has been blocked from Italy and do you know where is the URL re-directing?  To a website hosted in England and owned by Pro-Music, namely the majors' association who is "behind" the lawsuits.
This is not quite all: when accessing the Pirate Bay site from Italy, Pro-Music is able to collect information about every user and his cookies-- using such cookies it is possible to access the user's profile in the Pirate Bay database, perhaps giving a look to what files such user recently downloaded, uploaded or searched.  
This is enough evidence to bring a strong case in court, of course if we assume it was acquired lawfully. 

I found a video-demonstration of how it is possible to hack Th Pirate Bay users'  identity. Click here!

The Italian URL is not re-directing any more to the Pro-Music web site.  The reverse DNS now says "localhost"...
Meanwhile some Italian associations brought the issue before the Privacy Authority.  We'll hear about the Pirate Bay again...


August 13, 2008

Pick a Name!

In these days I am going to pick a name for my start-up. It is a language learning service, but I'd prefer some name unrelated to the nature of the service.
My concern is to find something which is short, sexy, easy to spell and to remember. Besides, since it would be an international service, I'd like to avoid anything that could sound awkward or offensive in other languages... like cin cin, which is nice if you are in Italy, not so much in Japan... or cozza, a shellfish in Italy, not edible in Germany.
I look fwd to hearing what you'd pick!
Write your suggestion here!
My new favicon.