Australian entrepreneur with FanFooty (alive) and Tinfinger (dead) on his CV. Working on new projects, podcasting weekly at the Coaches Box, and trying not to let microblogging take over this blog.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Too big to Twitter, too small to blog separately

• The Allure Media versions of Gizmodo and Defamer soft-launched today. The editor of Defamer Australia is Jess McGuire, who was poached from another blog called Ausculture according to blogs.com.au. Nice choice of launch day: Jess liveblogged the first episode of the new series of Big Brother.

• I started a new FanFooty blog during the week. A couple of days after starting it, one of the handful of bloggers who had started fantasy AFL blogs this season contacted me and as a result he has joined the blog as a writer. Nice to have you on board, Tim N! I haven't been on a group blog before but I'm sure it will be fun.

• From my NetVibes subscriptions: 901am OUT, Found+Read IN.

• We're commissioning a second Web server. Naming systems for servers traditionally follow a theme, something which I enjoyed back at RMIT where all the servers were named after planets which appeared in episodes of Doctor Who. Our first server is called mataji, after the guru Shri Mataji of whom co-founder Tai was enamoured for a while. We have discussed what we'd codename the second server. Our first thought was gandhi, though that started to cause confusion with a business associate's name. Our latest choice is mandela. I'm still not happy with that since it sounds too similar to mataji. Further thought is undoubtedly required. Deep, deep thought.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Hitwise: biggest Aussie Internet buy-out?

Hitwise, arguably the best Web measurements service in the world and a true Australian success story, has been bought by Experian Labs for US$240 million. The company put itself on the block last December for an asking price of around US$360 million, so co-founders Adrian Giles and Andrew Barlow didn't quite get what they were asking for, but it's a pretty good exit nonetheless.

Revenues for last year were US$40 million, up 50% from the previous year, giving the deal an effective multiple of six times revenue. Compare that to the ten times revenue multiple of the Google-DoubleClick purchase. Hitwise's business model from the start - I interviewed them back in the 90s in a previous life when I was editor of Internet World Australia - was to sign exclusive deals with ISPs to place their software inside the ISPs' systems to siphon usage data. This model has proved defensible, scalable and profitable, and there's no one else who has even approached their technology and partnership lead in their space. Alexa may have gained more publicity, but Hitwise's numbers are far more respected in the marketplace because their methodology is relatively robust.

Hitwise's core business is actually like Google's AdSense product, in a way. In both cases, the target was a disparate range of potential customers to monetise their assets: in Google's case, every Web site with textual content; in Hitwise's case, ISPs who had terabytes of data pouring through their pipes. In both cases, if the provider in question had not come along, it's probable that by now no one else would have thought of it, or would have come up with less satisfactory solutions. At the least, whoever came up with the idea first was bound to get a significant first mover advantage, assuming critical mass. The killer feature of the respective products was their Net-nativity: AdSense evolved past the scattershot old media banner ad format by taking advantage of the online environment, and Hitwise superseded the Nielsen controlled logbook sampling technique by ignoring the shortcuts of probability theory and pushing the boundaries of what constituted a respectable sample. In both cases an old business model was massively scaled by removing humans from the equation, thus reinventing each industry for the Internet.

I can't recall any Australian Internet company being acquired for anything like that price. Congrats to Adrian and Andrew, as well as current CEO Andrew Walsh who is also an Aussie, and also Aussie investment firm Allen & Buckeridge who got a nice piece of the action. Hopefully the local media gives you all the kudos you so richly deserve for building a demonstrably global business.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Invade rage, maintain the meme

I haven't got tagged with a blog meme yet, but I like the Invade rage one started by Bruce at Thinker's Podium. I think I'll seed it to the 2.0 community. For the uninitiated, rage is a 20-year-old music video program on Australian government broadcaster ABC on Friday and Saturday overnight. Unlike MTV, rage still actually plays music videos... and that's all they do. Every Saturday night they have a guest programmer, usually another musician, who spin the vids and gives a short commentary on about every fourth one, usually giving shoutouts to their musical influences. They currently have a contest on for some random viewer to program one night.

rage influences my dreams a lot. I spend a lot of post-midnight Friday and Saturday nights coding with rage on in my headphones (yes, yes, I'm a sad individual). On Saturday and Sunday mornings I often wake up after dreaming that I had gone back in time to my high school years in the late 80s and somehow I knew how to play the songs I had heard on rage the previous evening, and I had started a band, recorded those songs before the real stars thought them up and turned myself into a big star. Kind of an extension to Michael J. Fox showing his parents' 60s homecoming what 80s power chords are like in Back To The Future I, that sort of scenario.

Maybe I've said too much. Anyway, here's my rage playlist, limited to 20 as per the competition:

INXS, What You Need. INXS was my first favourite band, Kick was the first album I bought. Kicks off the playlist with a killer song and awesome video.
Men At Work, Land Down Under. My family somehow procured a tape of Business As Usual while spending two years living in India in the 80s, it was a vital piece of Australiana when we had precious little of it.
Ratcat, Don't Go Now. This band was huge in my first year of uni, perfect disposable pop. Nice simple video too.
Regurgitator, Kung Foo Sing. I interviewed two of these dudes while editing Catalyst, then watched them play at the Corner Hotel. That got me hooked.
Butterfingers, Yo Mama. I like many of the new breed of Aussie hop hop merchants, and Butterfingers has an enjoyable jokey vibe.
Sonic Animation, Theophilus Thistler. I loved their double album, played that shit for months.
Kylie Minogue, Can't Get Blue Monday Out Of My Head (live at the 2002 BRIT Awards). I'd like more mashups since that's been pretty much the only music I have listened to recently, but there are precious few videos available and this one is pretty special.
The Beatles, Get Back. I was named after Paul McCartney, so I had to include one of his.
Stone Roses, I Wanna Be Adored. Everyone picks Fool's Gold when they come on rage, but it wasn't even on their first album, which is one of the best albums ever made. If it was possible to get I Am The Resurrection then that would sub in here, but I don't know if there was a video for that.
Massive Attack, Rising Son. Ideally I'd like Angel here but I don't think there is a video for that. Quality band.
Radiohead, No Surprises. 2001 homage in the video, beautiful music. What's not to like?
Muse, Stockholm Syndrome. I once got a speeding ticket going up the Hume Highway for going 140kmh while listening to the guitar riff of this song and forgetting about my foot on the accelerator whilst headbanging. True story.
Beastie Boys, Sabotage. Greatest video ever made.
Red Hot Chilli Peppers, What I Got. Hot video, awesome song, another from my uni days.
Nirvana, Lithium. Of course.
Lenny Kravitz, Mama Said. Tough to choose between this one and Are You Gonna Go My Way, but I like this one's edge better.
Busta Rhymes, Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See. Awesome video, fine song.
Madonna, Respect Yourself. I always respected Madonna, she had complete control over her message.
Jeff Buckley, Lover You Should Have Come Over (live version). No explanation necessary. It was a bloody travesty that Pink Floyd beat Jeff for Australia's favourite album.
American Pie, Don McLean. Every playlist should end with Don McLean. The greatest song of all time. My dad infected me with McLean love, and I still love him.

So there it is. A bunch of Aussies followed by Poms and then Yanks. Now, I tag ben barren, Duncan Riley, Phil Sim, Cameron Reilly and Bronwen Clune. Get programming!


Seamus Byrne to head Gizmodo Australia

Seamus Byrne - freelance journalist, columnist, nominee for this year's Best Consumer Technology Journalist at the Lizzie Awards, blogger and Hydrapinion member - was revealed over the weekend as the new editor of Gizmodo Australia, a localised version of the popular gadget blog announced last month by Allure Media (and blogged about by me).

At the moment the local domain redirects back to the US parent, but according to an interview Seamus gave to industry site ITJourno he is working on a model of 25% local content produced by him alone, and the rest shoveled from the parent feed.

While most would believe that not being based at the heart of the action in the US is a crippling disadvantage, Byrne has spun this into an advantage and believes that the time difference provides him with an advantage over their American counterpart.

“I’ll get up and have most of the overnight content [from Gizmodo US] ready for the mornings, when Aussies are hitting their desks. There’ll also be a breakfast wrap on the best content from overnight.”

“We’ll be talking to the guys over there and getting content that [the readers] don’t see first. We’ll see stuff overnight that they might not have seen.”

Pretty standard business model for a licensed Australian technology publication... it's just that instead of an IDG dead-tree magazine it's one of those new-fangled blog thingies. Seamus will be working under Allure's managing director Chris Jansz, in a structure which sounds distinctly like it's under the News Corporation thumb. The fact that netus chose an established journalist with solid credentials indicates to me that they're not taking too many chances. Is this the first time that an Aussie IT lizard has been hired to be a full (or near-full) time blogger? My guess is yes. Not that it's a bad thing not to have hired some fresh-faced kid off the street, by any means.

By the by, Seamus said he'd be giving up his spot at Hydrapinion, amongst other freelance commitments at HYPER and Desktop magazines. Does this mean that Hydrapinion will be renamed to Quadrapinion? :D

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

The semantic Web: sentenced to life in a federated plenipotentiary

One of the last tasks to be completed before we open up Tinfinger to real users in our beta is how we handle our tag structure. Tags are used in Tinfinger to record any kind of information about people. We've tried a few different approaches, and they have been clumsy and unworkable. The addition of Wikipedia's structure via dbpedia, however, has been the catalyst for a solution - though not the solution itself.

In researching how to use dbpedia, Clay Shirky's repudation of the Semantic Web stood out to me as a cautionary note to be reckoned with. Clay even uses an example central to Tinfinger, people's names, along the way to dismantling the usefulness of the simplicity of the semantic Web concept.

My understanding of Clay's argument as it applies to me is this. dbpedia uses the W3C's specification for N-triples. Take the W3C's first example of a triple:

<http://www.w3.org/2001/08/rdf-test/> <http://purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/creator> "Dave Beckett" .

The three elements are subject, predicate and object, which are the building blocks of grammatically correct sentences. You can write that in plain English as: "The creator of this document is Dave Beckett." Ah, but there is another creator also listed below, so that sentence is wrong. It should be: "The creators of this document are Dave Beckett and Jan Grant." Without the second triple, the first one leads to error. XML is reductive by nature, which leads to syllogisms and thus can result in absurd and/or wrong deductive conclusions when the data set is not complete.

So is the solution just throwing more and more tags until every bit of metadata is covered? That's the approach by places like Spock, recently gushed over by TechCrunch. I disagree. Apart from the fact that it looks damn ugly, I think tags are not an endpoint for giving understanding. The problem is in the strictures put on comprehension of information imposed by the W3C's spec. Having just one concept in your subject, predicate and object is limiting. Imagine if every sentence you read in a profile of somebody went like this:

Bill Clinton was a president of the United States. Bill Clinton is a womaniser. Bill Clinton is a disbarred American lawyer. Bill Clinton is a great leader. Bill Clinton is a saxophonist.

You get the idea. What about compound sentences? Sure, you have nouns and verbs, but what about adjectives, adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions? XML-based tagging leaves no scope for complex ideas expressed with nuance and juxtaposition. That's what prose is for. For semantic metadata to be expressed usefully, I think it should be encapsulated in prose sentences.

That is what Tinfinger profiles will be: a collection of sentences which will first be assembled by our robot mascot Ned as generated from simple metadata triples, to the best of his admittedly limited ability, but later incorporated by human authors into human-comprehensible prose which nevertheless maintains that W3C-approved tag structure. Instead of infoboxes and templates for tabulated datums, as Wikipedia uses, Tinfinger will focus purely on the sentence as the primary method of communication.

Thus organised into barely submerged paragraph structures, we hope the resulting hypertext will bridge the gap between the illogical flaws of metadata and the chaotic echolalia of human-authored prose text, so that both spiderbots and meatbags can grok.