Jason Ball's TechBytes

Technology & Venture Capital. Early stage venture capital news mixed with personal views and comments

Roll your own Google

Google released their co-op search engine last week. Over the weekend I put together a quick and dirty test that I’ve been adding sites to over the past few days. Give it a whirl here if you’re interested. Search for something fun like “fuel cells”. Then go back and do the same thing at google.com.

You quickly see the power of federated search- it cuts out on the noise and allows you to focus on relevant information. (This is one of the key benefits one of our portfolio companies, Magpie, offers.)

I have been using the Swicki on my site, which is a federated search engine as well, however I’m not sure the Swicki can get into some of the sites that Google appears to be able to index.

If user generated content is the topic du jour – does this mean that user generated search will be the next Big Thing?

Filed under: Software, Technology

Roll your own Google

Google released their co-op search engine last week. Over the weekend I put together a quick and dirty test that I’ve been adding sites to over the past few days. Give it a whirl here if you’re interested. Search for something fun like “fuel cells”. Then go back and do the same thing at google.com.

You quickly see the power of federated search- it cuts out on the noise and allows you to focus on relevant information. (This is one of the key benefits one of our portfolio companies, Magpie, offers.)

I have been using the Swicki on my site, which is a federated search engine as well, however I’m not sure the Swicki can get into some of the sites that Google appears to be able to index.

If user generated content is the topic du jour – does this mean that user generated search will be the next Big Thing?

Filed under: Software, Technology

More Firefox Mods- Cocomment

home_users01.gifI’ve been using the Cocomment extension for Firefox since mid-August. In case you’re unfamiliar with Cocomment, the service lets you track your conversations around the web- “coComment keeps track of all the online conversations you’re following in one convenient place, and informs you whenever something is added to a conversation.”

I’ve complained about blogging being broken before, and cocomment really helps overcome the conversation problem. Because they’ve made an extension that integrates with Firefox, they’ve effectively idiot-proofed the service, i.e. if I try to post a comment on a blog, the extension asks if I want to start tracking that conversation.

Just another slick piece of code that makes life easer.

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Filed under: Software

Blackout London

I just picked up on this event listing called Blackout London:

For one day in November (4th November), we are asking everyone who receives this message to think about what they can turn off, switch off and unplug, to show support.

We want the power demand in the United Kingdom to reduce so much that the newspapers are obliged to report it.

We want the lights to go out in London, so that on the evening of 4th November 2006, the dimming effect will be visible from space.

Apparently, the dirty secret of the Hydrogen Economy is that energy conservation will have as much- if not more- of an impact as any switch to renewable energy sources.

If you live in London, switch out the lights this Friday evening.

Filed under: Clean Technology

London vs New York

Talking with a friend at Citigroup last night, he agreed fully that London is now the financial center of the world. I’ve known for a while that AIM has outstripped NASDAQ in IPO numbers, but hadn’t fully appreciated that more was raised publicly here than in NY (via TechCrunch UK):

London has already surpassed New York in terms of IPOs. According to the article, this year, through September $33.6 billion (US) was raised in London compared to $26.5 billion (US) raised in New York and London is predicted to beat New York again in 2007.

It’s the US’s fault that London is taking over, and as my friend quipped last night- “if the costs associated with being public in the US aren’t bad enough, you still have the “Bush Factor”- which might mean your assets are frozen at a whim.”

It’s also of interest that London is the center of venture activity for both the UK and the EU- something like NY and Silicon Valley combined…

Filed under: Venture Capital

Firefox Mods

Google’s Browser Sync has made me switch to Firefox. Having cross-platform bookmarks has proven to be very useful. That said, I still miss the Cocoalicious goodness of an application written in Cocoa for Mac OS X and have been considering going back to Safari for OS X.

However, I found two extensions over the weekend that are keeping me interested in Firefox: Fission, which re-creates Safari’s progress bar inside the address bar (I don’t use the Staus Bar in Firefox. The Status Bar is disabled by default in Safari and I’ve gotten used to the extra 1/4″ of screen real estate). The other is Stop-or-Reload button. Again, this mimics the two-in-one simplicity that Apple brings you.

If you’re using Firefox and are a previous Safari junkie, I would recommend you grab these two extensions.

Filed under: Apple Computer, Software

VC Investment in Clean and Alternative Energy – Q3

The recent data from the Venture Power newsletter shows Fuel Cell investments totaled $243 million YTD, up from $100 million in 2005. This growth figure is misleading though- the investment into Ion America by Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, Mobius and NEA for $103m skews the growth by a wide margin. However, Fuel Cells investments have still shown a healthy 40% growth rate. There were 14 investments in total, including London Seed Capital’s investment into Fuel Cell company, Bac2. Other sub sectors showed 50%- 100% investment growth, which does look like (irrational?) exuberance…

Our investment into Bac2 was for more than their fuel cell technology though. The company’s electrically conductive polymer is an enabling technology and has applications in aerospace, electronics and the semiconductor industry in addition to Fuel Cells. Bac2 is a great example of the type of investment opportunity that I find very compelling: a binary investment in a company targeting a billion dollar market initially, with secondary applications in large markets where you can still make substantial returns.

Filed under: Clean Technology, Venture Capital

Digital Media- Value Added Content

In my last post, I argued movie downloads need a bit of improvement and that the price point should be better.

Rather than drop the price, another way to look at it is value for money. I’ve said before that iTunes is pushing things in the right direction. I downloaded Beck’s new album over the weekend. The tipping factor was the inclusion of 15 videos along with the album. Coldplay’s video album similarly convinced me to buy concert footage I would otherwise never buy.

This is the same direction that DVD downloads need to take- giving customers something extra or different to what the physical product has always offered.

I also picked up that many people feel movie downloads are too slow- my suggestion would be to get a faster pipe. I saw an ad on a black cab today offering 24MB connection for £24 a month. At those speeds, video playback is basically instantaneous- even at much higher definition.

Filed under: Apple Computer, Software, Technology

Digital vs Physical

With Apple’s introduction of a movie download service, retailing heavy-weights Walmart, Target and Blockbuster are crying foul and have warned that they might “re-think their DVD retail strategy”. Walmart represents 40% of retail DVD sales and Target represents 15%.

Retailers like Target and Wal-Mart typically pay $17 or $18 wholesale for new-release DVDs. They typically sell them to the public at $16 to $19, often pricing them below cost to attract consumers into their stores. Retailers worry that consumers will quickly lose interest in DVDs if cheaper online versions of movies become widely available.

Four things come to mind to challenge their claims:
1. The retailers knowingly lose $1-2 on every DVD but make it up in volume? :-)
2. Online movies via Bit torrent offering FREE movies has made customers quickly lose all interest in DVDs?
3. The quality of a downloaded movie from Apple is far superior in viewing quality (resolution) to a physical DVD? Especially for HD TV (Blueray)
4. Online music downloads have similarly significantly impacted CD sales?

I am not a big purchaser of DVDs. I own approximately 10-15 in total. I bought “O Brother, where art thou?” from Apple’s store to support the format. (I bought one of their games as well for the same reason). I would have NEVER purchased these as boxed DVDs, so I could argue that digital distribution is expanding the market for content, not cannibalizing DVD sales.

The WSJ states that downloads of “Lost” (I’m a season ticket owner) have not impacted DVDs sales at all, and they they remain top selling items, which takes a bit of the wind out of the retailers sails.

No one likes change. Change is good.

Filed under: Apple Computer, Software, Technology

Web Video Spots

Today’s WSJ has an article on the web video advertising dilemma. Sites like YouTube are burning $1 million per month in bandwidth, which requires a robust business model. However, the viral component of YouTube means that the videos get imbedded in blogs, etc.- which prevents YouTube from benefiting from banner advertising revenue on those sites, even though they are footing the bandwidth bill.

It’s clear that in-video advertising is the ideal way to capture the greatest number of viewers consistently. However, what is the best way to accomplish that? 15 second intro commercials are aggravating and do not translate well to other platforms, i.e. mobile devices.

One of our portfolio companies, Imagineer Systems, is addressing this issue head on with their AdBroker software and service. Imagineer is well known for their software use in Spiderman, Harry Potter, X-men III, etc. Now they are taking their world-class high-end software and targeting online content, effectively using a “product placement” model, similar to that of in-game advertising:

Using proprietary [tracking] technology Imagineer can manipulate existing content, for example, regionalising the branding within popular TV programmes such as Friends or upcoming high definition re-releases of films. The in-video advertising approach is attractive for several reasons. It is skip proof, non-intrusive, allows regional and/or demographic multiplicity leading to higher volumes, lower advertising prices and better targeted advertising through precise addressing. It delivers a whole new business model, is accessible to smaller advertisers and delivers an incremental revenue opportunity to rights holders, broadcasters, agencies and aggregators on its own or even alongside traditional advertising models.

One of the areas where product placement could work well is in user generated content- which is a good potential fit with a YouTube model. Providing free video downloads for your mobile phone, subsidized by in-video advertising, could be an attractive option as well.

Filed under: Software, Technology

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