Welcome to aaron chua make money blog

Hi, welcome to my blog. In this part of my world, I talked about how to achieve financial freedom by learning how to make money online through creating sites and earning from them.

Below are some current and past make money projects that details my learning journey.

My current experiment in making 50 amazon site niches. If you have not been following this challenge, best place to start is this resource page for the amazon challenge, that lists all the articles that I have written so far.

My experiment in making 1000 a month through adsense in 9 months.

If you came here looking for low cost startup ideas, here are 140 startup ideas that you can browse through.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

5 ideas for mobile ebook applications

With the rising popularity of the ebook readers on mobile, I think the ebook market might finally be taking off. If you are interested to do something in this area, I have listed some ideas for your you to consider.

A marketplace to create and sell non-text based ebooks
: Japan has shown that novels which are written on and intended for mobile is a viable market. With the new touch interfaces, it is now possible to create a non text based authoring system on mobile for users to create image intensive books such as children's books, picture magazines, calenders et al. Attach the authoring system to a marketplace and you can create a Wattpad equivalent for non text based ebooks.

Mobile advertising in ebooks: Advertising on the mobile can be personal, engaging and useful if done correctly. Blyk has shown how successful mobile advertising can be with its user co-created advertising (pls read the 7th mass media for a detailed case study). Creating this form of advertising infrastructure for mobile ebook creators can lead to a thriving ecosystem that benefits content creators, advertisers and consumers. Imagine reading a emagazine on cars, and getting engaging car advertisements that is based on your preference of brands, car models and prices. Best of all, the reader can click the ad directly and booked a test-drive if he/she is interested.

A social ebook reader
application: Seth Godin has pointed out how Kindle can be made more social. The opportunity here is to create an ebook reader application, rather than a physical reader, that reflects what he has stated.

--Let me see the best parts of the book as highlighted by thousands of other readers.
--Let me see notes in the margin as voted up, Digg-style, by thousands of other readers.
--Let me interact with hyperlinks and smart connections not just within the book but across books

In addition, the application should offer integration with the user's blogging platforms (wordless, blogger, twitter, tumblr et al) such that any highlighted text can be rebloged as a post or tweet. Fred Wilson has also echoed similar sentiments:

Its becoming more natural for readers to want to interact with the content they are reading. Computers have allowed this to happen and mobile devices need to support it. Its not just commenting, its tagging, sharing, reblogging, and a host of other interactions that make consuming content online a better experience than offline consumption.

It's gotten to the point that if I can't interact with content, I don't want to consume it. When I read books, I underline certain passages so I can blog about them later. If I were reading on a connected device, I'd simply reblog on tumblr and be done. I don't think I'm unusual in this regard but I do think I'm in the leading edge of behavior and that more and more people will feel this way.

Ebook readers with built in content for verticals: There are thousands of free ebooks on the web. You can built a ebook reader application that has already aggregates and organises free ebooks in vertical sectors such as travel, cars, gadgets, economics, science friction et al. In addition, ensure that each vertical has the relevant contextual services to enhance the book reading experiences. Some examples:

  • For tourism related ebooks, link to applications like hotel finder, travel search engines etal. This will create potential affiliate revenue for the authors
  • For cooking guides, link to online groceries services for users can purchase ingredients.
  • For fanfiction, mangas, comics and celebrities' biography, link to wallpapers, ringtones, videos, merchandise et al where users can click to buy these items;
  • For novels like science friction, integrate your reader with a related online community so that whatever the user has read, rated, commented, reviewed can be shared with the community, i.e. user generated context.
  • For investment books, a CNN News ticker (scrolling news headlines on the bottom of the 24 hour cable TV news on screen) like mobile service where relevant stocks or investments that is related to the ebook's investment themes can be scrolled across the bottom of the screen. Users of course have the option to turn the service off if it is too much distraction. This can be a Zemanta type of play where authors have to first insert a script into their ebooks.

A playlist.com equivalent for reading list: Reading list to books is what playlist is to music. It is a powerful way to create and share context for books. What is needed is a way to share reading lists from ebook readers, both within the same application and across different readers. Such an service is more powerful on mobile because of its built-in payment channel. Readers can now look at the reading list from friends, and buy any title that they like immediately. It is magic!

Be a topspinmedia equivalent for authors for ebooks
: Create applications that help authors better connect with their fans. These applications should be easily integrated into ebooks such that their services are embedded, rather than requiring readers to download another application. How are a few examples

  • Mobile is, first and foremost, a communication device. Leverage that to create real engagement between reader and authors through real conversations enabled by the phone. The idea is to create Twitter widget that any ebook author can embed with their ebooks. Using this widget, readers can converse with authors in a Twitter like manner. Authors can also use this channel to send relevant links, short stories or blog posts and even answer questions from their readers;
  • A book tour mobile mapping service that alerts the reader if any of their favourite authors are visiting their nearby locations;
  • A mobile meetup application for fans to organise meetup sessions either between themselves or between fans and authors.
  • A DIY ecommerce mobile site for authors to publish and market their ebooks. Imagine mobisiteglore but with a focus on authors.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Personal network enablers

As I understand more and more about the power of network models applied to businesses (see this article by John Hagel and John Seely Brown for business examples), I begin to see parallels for bringing the benefits of such models to a personal level. This is exciting as it implies a scalable model for microbusinesses.

The current crop of social networks have amplify our ability to connect and maintain more social relationships. Within this limited scope, we have already seen the scale and success they have achieved. Imagine taking that to the next level for personal productivity and innovation.

There are many specialised social networks like Coroflot (designers), Flickr (photographers), DeviantArt (digital artists) et al that has excellent network of freelancers. Unfortunately, most of them are structured like Facebook, rather than Li Fung. With some modifications, these network can become powerful markets where jobs are transacted. In the process, a new class of personal networks enablers (PEN) are needed.

The PEN should enable individuals to form temporary working teams from a network of partners to work on ad hoc projects that require different skill sets. From this perspective, the current social networks are woefully ill-equipped to enable this new form of networks to take place. What is missing?

Helping individuals to identify and build relationships: Enables individual to find working partners that have complementary skills and background, and build the necessary trust. This can take the form of the current 'friend' recommendation system, but focusing on creating complementary capabilities.

Creating loose networks: PEN should allow individuals to specify the protocols and guidelines that they are looking for in a network. Li Fung has the 30-30 rule. Similar options should be provided to the individuals to allow them to create a working network that they desired. It should be noted individuals are able to create and join different networks.

Enabling learning and capbability building within the network: This require data on job performance to be collected and shared among the working partners on a job. Such feedback loops allow individuals to understand their strengths and weakness, and also provide a good way for them to upgrade the necessary skills.

A reputation system that drills down to points for specific skills might also be necessary to encourages specialisation within the network.

I think PEN is one way that microbusinesses can scale. It is exciting to me as I think that people should do what they loved in a manner that can reap satisfactory financial benefits.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Exploring new concepts

Warning: this is going to be a long rant that possibly can go nowhere. Read it at your peril! (and if you have more than 5 minutes to spare)

I have been reading about a bunch of new concepts and I want to take a moment to put it down in some form of order. There is no precise logic except that I feel they will be important areas in the years to come.

Measuring the currently unmeasured: More and more, I come to accept that new forms of value creation is taking place without the proper mechanisms to capture and value it. The current reliance on monetary measurement masks some very real value that are being created. A good example is to look at social interactions, which are helping us filter and find the right content and connections. How will these value be captured?

Hence, I believe that there are opportunities in measuring values that are important but do not yet have a monetary measure. Amee is a good example of accounting for non-financial value. What other areas need such accounting?

Attention: How do we measure what gives us the best return for our attention? In the world of exploding content, maximising attention is the most powerful way to creating value. However, if we have no way to measure it, how do we maximise it?

Social Capital: How do we measure the value of helping people find the right connections that plug structural holes in our competency network?

Social influence: Related to the above is the concept of social influence. This has powerful implication for next generation marketing and branding. Xtract is the leading player in this field.

Human Capital: How we measure the lifetime value of a singer or artist? Is it beyond the expected value of their income? How do we capture the rest of the value these creatives bring to our lives?

This is not exhaustive as I am sure there are many other non-financial related value that needs measuring and capturing.

Alvin Toffler's interview had a powerful observation that 'more and more economic activity take place through processes that do not involve the exchange of currency'.

Talent development for next generation businesses: The next generation businesses need to learn and adapt continuously in face of the hyper-connectivity that charcterised our current business landscape. Ethan Bauley pointed out a truly great comment made by John Hagel and John Seely Brown (who is our international advisor btw) that 'companies will re-imagine themselves as places where talented individuals thrive'.

This means a total redefinition of what talent development means in organisations. The first implication is of course to throw out the idea of having a talent development unit.
Instead, we need to think about ways to rebuilt how talent is truly developed via connections to the resources at the edge, connections to different organisational comptencies that plugs their gaps, connections that increases cognitive diversity and brings about unexpected learnings et al. All these are rich areas for a new breed of talent development companies to think about and to create new products/services upon.

Democratised pricing: Prices are the powerful coordinator of resources. However, when they are drained of information, it can prevent the development of new forms of more efficient markets.

Hence, if you can create pricing that is reflective of real market forces, you have the potential to unlock new markets. That is why Radiohead's open pricing was such a powerful innovation. For any industry that is crippled by uninformative prices, there is now opportunity to use open pricing as a way to unbundle true demand and in the process, reveals segments of markets that are unseen before.

Valu Valu is one to watch in this space (Hat Tip to Ethan Bauley).

Expect more in the coming weeks as I continue to explore these areas.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

5 small ideas for music related startups

I have spent the better part of my traveling finishing 2 very interesting books on the future of music: Music 2.0 and Net, Blogs and RocknRoll. They point to very similar directions: music is going to be like water, and the opportunities lie in creating the products/services that creates, agggregates, filters and recommends the most powerful music experiences for the user.

There are great little nuggets of learning in both books and it is from all these that inspire me to come up with a list of 5 possible startup ideas in music. All these are not truly unique, given the hundreds of startups in this area, but they should provide further room for thought:

Concert related music channel: Aggregate music by musicians that is filtered by the geography proximity of their touring to the user
. Pair this with a mobile ticketing solution and you will have a powerful engagement model for concert marketing.

Events related media aggregator: It is not uncommon for fans to post pictures, videos, reviews et al of concerts performed by their favourite musicians. However, most of these media are not aggregated and shared. If we can somehow aggregate these concerts related media, and allow fans to then remix them, this will create a new form of media sharing that is centered around common events. Imagine outside.in but with a focus on events related media, rather than location focus.

Leveraging on context to create different aggregation plays
: Music is consumed under different context. Use that as a way to think about how best to recommend and surface the most relevant music that suits certain context. A simple idea: create a site where users upload and share their driving music playlist. This is a niche play where music is contextualised by the act of driving.

A marketplace for licensing of independent music: This is similar to the concept of micro stockphoto agencies. As music is increasing being used in advertisements, other media et al, we need an easy way for these music to be sold and used. While there are existing startups that are attacking this space, there is still plenty of room for evolution, just as in the stockphoto industry.

Data driven approaches to selling music: Data driven businesses is one of my favourite plays. Why not used such an approach to selling music? Band metrics is one recent example. There are many more opportunities. Just learn from the finance industry.


Startup Idea #26: New music label
5 ways to help musicians moblise their music
Startup Idea #96 (Part II): Topspinmedia for the mobile
Startup Idea #96: Topspinmedia for the mobile

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Sunday, 25 January 2009

Contours of next generation consumption, production and distribution

I will be on the road for the next few days so blogging will be non existent. While traveling, I will be thinking about how a next generation business will approach consumption, production and distribution. Specifically, these few areas will be on mind:

Demand based pricing: This is the most difficult for me. While open pricing reveals true demand, I have yet to understand the value proposition this creates. Back to the economic literature.

Viral Distribution: Taylor Davidson's post reminded me of just how important viral distribution is. It is not about making your product more viral. It is about how to create suitable products based on viral loops. One of the important ways to create new viral loops is to understand the context of of sharing: when does sharing occur, under what circumstances and for what type of products?

Sharing vs Owning: Kevin Kelly had a great post on how sharing is better than owning. I think this will be a major shift in years to come. As products become more digital in nature, the benefits of sharing will outweigh the benefits of ownership. This is where I think interesting models will emerge.

One last point to consider is whether there is the possibility of creating new products and services based on the above, beyond just implementing them in current industries. In order words, will we see new markets created based on different models of consumption, production and distribution?

Friday, 23 January 2009

The opportunity in blog comments

I have been reading and rereading Umair Haque's paper on user generated context. I have not fully digest its implications but one thing is clear to me: Harnessing context around the content to navigate the abundance of media is going to the key in creating value for users.

Let's take that logic and apply to one of the growing areas in social media: blog comments. How does blog comments help to surface the
most interesting blogs? I don't think it might be as obvious as the question suggests.

First of all, let's understand what kind of
complementary value does comments add to the blog posts:

  • Adds additional perspectives, views et al beyond what was offered by the blog author
  • Links to interesting examples or other relevant articles
  • Provide facts or numbers that either refute or verify what the author has said

There might be more but I think the above covers a lot of the value that comments provide.

How do any of these help us in surfacing the most interesting blog posts?

Unfortunately, I don't have a direct answer. If you have thoughts on the importance of blog comments as context, do leave a comment.

If content is King....Context is Kingdom (hat tip to Dr Ramesh)

My office's branding plan is stupid

I have just finished the branding plan for our office. The intent was to increase awareness for the industry and hopefully, attract more attention to the companies and their products.

The disappointing part was that we are adapting the 'blasting' approach, rather than having a true conversation with our stakeholders. This is pretty ironic. Our office often talks about disrupting traditional media, and here we are, using a medium than we want to disrupt.

My office does not understand that compressing its ideas and messages into 'branded' messages is not as efficient as my CEO talking about it through a blog. The passion and conviction that our office has of transforming the industry simply cannot be conveyed in 'branded' message.

We need to have discussions on how to have a true 2 way conversation with our stakeholders. It is pretty sad that we don't.

How do we create different forms of early stage investing?

As we look to strengthening our funding ecosystem in Singapore, one of the questions I am always struggling with is early stage investments.

Initially, we had thought that the problem was simply the lack of it. Hence, our office went about assembling a group of no less than 60 early stage investors and inviting them to a meet-the-companies sessions. We call this program i.MATCH.

However, after 2 rounds of i.MATCH, there are still not much investing activities going on. Hence, I am am beginning to feel that it is the structure of early stage investors that is not conducive for investing in young ventures.This post by Taylor Davidson has done a good job of articulating the same issue.

Therefore, as part of 2009, our office needs to explore and support new forms of early stage investing. It is time to reconstruct the early stage investment model.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

3 ideas for events related mobile advertising

My study into the mobile sector continues as I am finishing the book "Mobile as 7th of the Mass Media:cellphone, cameraphone, iphone and smartphone" by Tomi T Ahonen. It is a book that gives you great insights into the opportunities of the mobile industry.

During the reading, I cam across the idea of events based mobile advertising. This somehow felt right to me, rather than the much hyped location based ads (the over-killed Starbucks example).

Events based advertising rely on the same logic as when you search for an item on Google: your intention has been made known loud and clear. When you attend a U2 concert, it is obvious you love U2. When you go for a Man United game, it is clear you are a fan of the club.If intentions are clear, then it makes sense for advertising to take place as more relevant information can be served to the users.

Using this logic, I thought of some startup ideas that I have scribed below for reference. Please feel free to add to them or even do a startup on them:

Build a map-based platform for events advertising. Imagine a map based interface with a sms based input system. Allow event organiser to upload the floorplan into the platform wher users can download them for navigation purposes. Booth participants can then sms their booth numbers and messages such as special 15 min discounts, special events et al to the platform where they will appear as icons on the floorplan (See example : Virgin Festival Buddy). To the event participants, this application offers a map based navigation as well as useful information for special events or promotions.

Ringtone broadcast service for events: Create a service where musicians or sports teams can create powerful engagement through ringtones during concerts or sports matches. Prior or during the events, give participants the options to download the ringtone. The platform can then call these phones simultaneous during specific trigger points. For example, when a band plays the song that was offered as the ringtone, all phones that downloaded the ringtone would ring, creating a powerful crowd effect. If the user picks up the call, they can be offered discounts to merchandise or joining the fan club. All these should be done is a user friendly interface where any event organiser can use. (See Reebok example)

Event based games: Location based games are actually fun (Google for botfighters) but the fact that they need users to be close geographically kills the network effect. However, such a game can be offered during events that advertisers can sponsor. The close proximity of the event participants makes location based games a powerful engagement tool for brands (See World's Worst War example)

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

New forms of interaction as value drivers for media

Media industry needs new sources of revenue.

New ways on interaction is often the key to unlocking these new values.

The success of RockBand has showed us how enabling fans to interact with their music opens up huge revenue possibility. This Wired article showed us others.

Even within games, Wii has shown how a new interaction can add tremendous value to a medium that is already interactive by nature.

So, if you are a startup in the media space, you can:

  • Think about novel ways for people to interact more with their media. Need examples? See the video below for a cool demonstration.

  • Think about the elements within a media and how to make them interactive. For music, it might be lyrics, instruments, vocals et al. For video, it might be story, characters, fashion et al. How can we enable users to do more with elements?

  • Think about how to enable cross collaborations between the talent of different medias. Take the music and game example. Now that we are beginning to see music being sold as games, can we create an open marketplace for game developers to find music artists as partners? Enabling such connections is part of the new business of bridging gaps between areas of competencies.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

5 ways to help musicians moblise their music

The mobile music industry is thriving:

Music on mobile phones, from ringing tones to MP3 files to music videos to mobile karaoke is worth over 9.3 billion dollars per year. The global music industry is worth 30 billion dollars. (source)

How then can we help musicians to take advantage of this opportunity, and in the process, build a new kind of music business that takes the artists and their fans as the centre of gravity? Here are a few ideas:

  • Let's start with moblising musicians current content on the web to the mobile: Create a platform that easily renders an artists' RSS into beautiful mobile sites, mobiles apps et al automatically. These sites or apps should allow easy purchase of music.

  • Alternatively, create a mobile publishing platform such as mobisiteglore but for music. We have seen niche publishing platforms such as bandcamp on the web, why not for the mobile as well?

  • Help monetise web content with mobile. Mice Love Rice is an amazing music story. The music was available as a free MP3 download on the Internet but made millions of dollars of revenues via Ringback (ie Waiting) tones. Create a platform for other artists to do the same, and in a more efficient way. The platform should create a layer on top of any MP3 that gives fans the option to buy music videos, ringtones or other forms of mobile music content. In this way, music can be distributed freely on the Internet but monetised through mobile.

  • Allow artists to empower their fans to be their marketers. Allow fans to remix artists' content including music, video, voice et al and sell them. In order words, create editing tools (see Playscreen) and a marketplace for each artist. What their fans made can be see as content or apps in the marketplace. Revenue through this marketplace will be shared between artisits and fans.

  • Help artists manage their fan club or fan mailing list through a mobile platform. Allow artists to send periodic updates or news to their fan based through their mobile. Special discounts to upcoming concerts or music can also be offered through the platform.

Startup Idea #94 (Part 1): Helping independents to earn a living
Startup Idea #94 (Part 2): Helping independents to earn a living
Startup Idea #94 (Part 3): Bandcamp
Startup Idea #96: Topspinmedia for the mobile

Uplifting our industry (Part II)

I have written briefly about our office's plan to encourage to create more open and shared resources this year.

Why are we doing this?

We believe that the next generation media will be 3D and have real time flows between virtual and real data. To make it easier for the industry to move into these areas, we need to reduce friction, and that means making common resources open and sharable. Just like how Chrome is laying the foundation for a web browser meant for Web applications rather than pages, we are laying the pieces for a future media that will be beyond 2D and computers.

To this end, we have invested in many common resources. I have listed some below:

  • Live video feeds: We are going to plant thousands of cameras in public areas across Singapore and making the video feeds available for any startup or company to build applications upon them.While we are quite aware of the privacy issues that will arise, we strongly believe that 'live' data will be a powerful component of next generation media.

  • 3D objects: We are building 3D models for the entire Singapore. Every building, street and terrain will be made available. This is our attempt to encourage the industry to conduct rapid experiments on 3D web. We think this area has potential but is masked by its current chunkiness. Through the rapid experiments enabled by the common 3D objects, we hope somebody out there will create a more user friendly product or service in 3D web.

  • Location data: We are collecting datapoints from cellphone towers, WiFi et al and creating an API for our location developers. This means employing people to go around the island and manually collecting the data. While the costs are certainly high, we hope the spinoff is worth the investment.

Beyond resources on the supply side, we are also marshalling resources on the demand side. Chrome created an incentive for users: faster time in assessing web applications. We need to provide a similar incentive structure for the nation to want to use these common resources.

Part of our answer is to center the incentives around national events sucn as our National Day (independence day for US readers) and the Youth Olmpics which Singapore is hosting in 2010. We want to make use of the attractions of such events to encourage people to make stuff using our common resources. A competition perhaps, with the winners being able to showcase the stuff they made.

All these are part of our current workplans. If you have any comments or feedback, do drop a note and share.

Related: Uplifting our industry

Friday, 16 January 2009

How do you scale organisation design?

It is no secret that Threadless has been regarded as an excellent example of cutting edge organisation design. However, due to the cost of shipping, I don't think Threadless has managed to penetrate every possible country, the way pure digital companies like Youtube and Facebook has done. This is a crying shame. We can all do with more cool stuff in our lives.

This got me thinking about the issue of scaling organisation designs.

  • It is now commonplace for companies to offer APIs to scale their product, data or service. However, how do you enable others to tap into your organisation design?

  • Innovators like Threadless is not about technology. It is relative easy to develop a site builder that allows any startup to create a site that is similar to Threadless in functionality. These innovators are about new ways to organise resouces, from your talent to your supplier. However, how to you create a 'site builder' that contains these organised resources?

Scaling organisation designs is one way that I think can fasten the fusion of 21st century economics into our crippled economy. Just like how APIs fasten technology fusion from company to company, we need to think of a scaleable way to uplift the DNA of entire industries. Anyone who can provide that might just have the ticket to the pot of gold at tne end of the rainbow.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Uplifting our industry

This year will be an important one for us at the office. For the past 2 years, we have funded 250 projects to build a base. Now that the base is maturing, it is time to venture out.

We will be doing lots of interesting stuff this year. Stuff that few people have the chance to do it. I mean, how often are you given the opportunity to shape an entire nation's digital media strategy?

One of the things we will be doing is to emulate Google's strategy of relentless experimentation on a nationwide basis. This means we will be consolidating nation-wide demand for our funded companies to conduct radical experiments, using common resources that each of our funded companies have contributed in kind. These include detailed map data, location information, sensor data, cloud computing et al.

We are not sure what is the right way to do this as a nation but I am excited to be part of all these. I am sure there will be lots of things that we can learn along the way. If you are interested in our experiments, do watch this space.

Btw, information on the things we do can be found at www.idm.sg.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Idea generation #61: Expert networks

The Web has a given us a platform for experts across all areas to emerge. They can range from medicine to technical support to legal. How to identify and enable fluid access to these experts may be the next opportunity in social media. I think peer production only goes so far: sometimes you need expertise beyond what your immediate social circle offers.

This brings me to an interesting discussion I read today about measuring Twitter's authority. Able to identify authority is a first step to establishing experts. The next step would be to be able to reduce friction in terms of search costs to allow

What kind of businesses can be built from this? Roger Ehrenberg has identified one such segment: financial research. These buyers in particular are particularly willing to try out hard core technology in order to get more and better information faster than anyone else. So, for example, if you are derive meaningful insights from the conversations of these different experts using Twitter, there might be a market ready to purchase such insights from you.

I wonder what other subtainable business models can be build around the concept of expert networks.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

An interesting model that intersects mobile and photography

I am feeling sick today so not much energy to do a full post. I just want to highlight this interesting business model that I have came across.

Text messaging helps grow photography business

Cape Sessions, a business run by UK born Liz Metcalfe, sells digital photographs of windsurfers from a website. The business recently expanded its business model by adding a location alert service using text messaging. This service is helping drive sales as clients are kept informed of which beach Metcalfe is taking photographs at on a particular day. (See full post here)

This is interesting to me as it lies in the intersection between 2 of my favorite areas: mobile and helping independents to earn a living.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Idea generation #60: What can you build using Zemanta's API

Zemanta in one of my current favorite service. Added to the fact that we are encouraging our startups to leverage on good platforms, I want to give some thoughts of what kind of services that can be built using Zemanta's API:

A newsreader powered by what I blogged: This is a no brainer for me. I find the current crop of news aggregator such as Techmeme very unsatisfying. Now, Zemanta knows my interest through my blog and is already surfacing interesting links for my insertion. Why can't I turn that into a full blown news aggregation service. Better yet, why can't I input all my favourite blogs and let Zemanta recommends related reading materials based on those?

A new form of Digg: Related to the above is a new form of Digg, one that is powered by how many times a blog has been inserted, where each insertion is counted as a vote. Bonus points if you can attach a value of authority to the vote so that insertations made by more 'authorative' bloggers are given more weight.

Integration with blog shops: Products are now becomming more and more like content producers. See what kraftfoods.com has done with its hugely trafficked recipe site and what walmart.com has done with its popular blogs by mothers. Zemanta can be used to power such information for small blog shops that have no budget to hire full time bloggers or to pay for such content.

Zemanta as a platform: This is something which is not available right now but is something I hope will happen. What is valuable about Zemanta, beyond its technology, is the little 'browser' window that occupies the right hand side of my blog posting. That is prime 'estate' area. The idea is for Zemanta to turn that window into an igoogle equvialent where users can select the apps they want to display. Zemanta can then create an apps store for these apps and have a triving developer ecosystem.

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Sunday, 11 January 2009

Sharing links

People powered news are nothing new. We have seen the likes of Digg, Hackers News, Meta Filter et al becoming important venues for us to get our daily dose of important or interesting stories. The problem with these existing news aggregators is the lack of focus. On some days, you get really good reads. On others, it is just noise.

Yesterday, I tried Publish2, an infrastructure for links sharing that is targeted at journalists. I found this list of links regarding the future of news very relevant to myself. The high relevance is probably down to the the people contributing to it (a small group of experts) and the focus nature of the topic. Why can't such an infrastructure for sharing links be applicable to the entire Web, beyond journalism.

For example, I would love to be able to maintain a reading list regarding social capital that is contributed by the likes of Taylor Davidson, Ethan Bauley et al.

I don't think we need more platforms to produce links. We have enough of such tools in the form of Del.icio.us, Tumblr, Twiitter, your bookmarks et al. What we need are simple ways to share these links between groups of people regarding a common focus area.

I believe such a link sharing infrastructure will become an important part of how we consume news in the future.

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Friday, 9 January 2009

What fashion needs is new DNA

NYtimes has an interesting article titled: U.S. Fashion’s One-Woman Bailout?

Mrs. Obama did something bolder on the campaign trail and, in a sense, less expected. With flashcard clarity, she signaled an interest both in looking stylish and also in advancing the cause of American fashion and those who design and make it. She wore off-the-rack stuff from J. Crew and, at times controversially, designs by fashion darlings like Isabel Toledo, Thakoon Panichgul and Narciso Rodriguez.

I don't think what the fashion needs is more marketing. The problems it is facing has the same roots in other decaying industries.

Insignificant as this may seem in the larger scheme of things, it is less so when one considers the distressing state in which American fashion has found itself lately, with both chain and department stores shutting their doors, consumers confidence at its lowest level in decades and manufacturers struggling to remain afloat in what, as May Chen, the international vice president of the union group Unite Here, explained, “has always been a very credit-sensitive industry.”

What it needs is new DNA. New ways to manage resources and enable innovations and creativity to flourish. New ways to empower independent fashion designers. New ways to add context for the consumers.

American fashion, said Steven Kolb, the executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, like the American automobile and banking industries, is “at a crossroads” in dire need of some kind of boost.


A loose network for exchanging traffic

One of our invested companies is in the area of analytics for applications including games. In the course of our discussion in developing a unique value proposition, we realise that current analytics don't do much beyond reporting statistics. That is all fine and good but we think there is an opportunity to do more.

We realise that many developers, including those we funded, do not cross leverage on each other's traffic. We think that if the right infrastructure, mechanisms and incentives can be developed, we can enable an open exchange where developers can collaborate to cross promote each other.

Our starting point is to treat analytics as a social object that can be shared. An exchange can then be built on top where developers can ask the relevant partners to grow their traffic. For example, say you are doing well in Singapore but is seeking to further your growth in Taiwan . From the exchange, you noticed another startup that is doing well in Taiwan. You click a button to offer to promote his application in exchange for him to do the same thing. The taiwan developer receies your offer and checks out your analytics. He thinks it is worth an exchange and clicks ok.

These are our current hypothesis. We are not sure this makes sense or not. However, we think that enabling developers to help each other grow is a good direction. While there are currently such deals being made privately, we think an open and transparent exchange can bring greater value.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Short blogs and Tumblr are my news filter

I myself enjoying short blogs and tumblr more and more. On my iGoogle, you can find the following;

They are becoming my news filter. They helped me find the most relevant news, articles, quotes, thoughts, ideas et al on the Web. I checked them out religiously to satisfy my reading needs.

What they recommend is something that cannot be done by algorithm. The main reason they are interesting because they point to different things, different perspective and ideas that a machine will have a hard time learning. This speaks to the difference between people powered and machine powered recommendation systems. I think the future of media will be driven by the former, rather than the latter.

However, what I am doing now is not perfect. What if instead of 5, I have 50 tumblrs to follow? Is there a service that helps me aggregate all the content that these tumblrs point to and put them in a feeds-like interface for me to scan through? There should be a techmeme like button for me to click open and read the comments these authors may have made on the content they point to.

I think a news service that is powered by people is the way to go. One that lets users choose which people goes into powering the system. If you know of such services, do drop a note so that I can use it.

Idea generation #59: Blog clipart as advertisements

Blog clipart as advertising: Dave Winer has an absolutely cool idea: make it easy for bloggers to make use of your company's logo, product image et al. This is another great example of making your advertisements useful for your users.

There are several things you can try as a startup to build on this idea:

Aggregate: aggregate all the logos, products images et al of companies and tag them with useful metadata. Link your service to content recommendation service like Zemanta so that they can help to channel your images to bloggers who want to use them. Create a affilitate link whenever possible to each of the images. That will be the revenue model.

Analytics and Brand Monitoring: You can also provide analytics service for this new form of 'product placement'. Beyond providing basic stuff like viewership, click rates et al, what is more interesting is to be able to let companies know whether the sentiment of the blog that uses the company's images is positive and/or negative.

Using Image as Context: Create a metalayer for more information and even discounts that can be tagged onto the image. For example, browsing over the image might bring up other blog posts that use this image or news articles that related to this company. The important thing is to use the image as a context to filter the rest of the information.

What other things can you think to build on Dave Winer's idea?

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Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Startup Idea #81(Part III): Enabling game developers to connect to fans anywhere

Taylor left a great comment about my post on connecting game developers with their fans.

Where are the traditional game publishers failing?

What is wrong / inefficient / unrealized value with the existing distributors?

How should game developers connect with their fans and customers? Isn't the game itself the best way? (e.g. should the connection be through a third-party site similar to Epinions or Get Satisfaction, or a more community-oriented site like the above music examples, or should it be directly through the game, the game developer's website, etc.?)

My biggest question, though, is what is different between the way people use games and music?

Originally posted as a comment by Taylor Davidson on wild illusions using Disqus.

They are great questions which I wanted to comments on.

The first 2 questions are easy to answer but I found that this article has articulated better than I ever could:

"Most entertainment industries now are run by people who have very little affinity for … what they actually are building," Wilson says. "It's people that play golf, not video games."

Wilson says he wants to help foster the creativity of game makers, because publishers shouldn't "manage them to death."

To put it simply, traditional publishers are risk averse, leading to a stifling of innovative games. Independent game developers are now pushing back by ignoring the traditional publishing chain altogether. However, they need help and I think more can be done to enable independent game developers to build their own fan base and earning a living doing the games they love.

The 3rd and 4th questions require more thought. My gut feel is that
creating experience is the key to understanding how to better connect developers and gamers, as well as to differentiate between music and games.

Games invoke a different experience than music. In order words, they require different context for experiences to be meaningful. For music, attending live concerts create a different experience from listening to a MP3, and hence explains why touring is now the main revenue generator for most bands.

For games, what is the equivalent of enriching the gamers' experience? Is it tournaments and the competing of skills? If so, then is there opportunities for startups that help developers create that experience?

  • Create a live video service that broadcasts the tournaments and hosts the discussions. Also create a voting mechanism for viewers to predict winner and other outcomes

  • How about a play in the Intention Economy? Create an eventful equivalent that let fans indicate their desire to play against one another in competitions.

  • An aggregation play that alerts users where and when the best players in particular games are competing.

These are just based on the assumption that tournaments are the only experience enhancing mechanisms. I am sure there are many more and each one of these will have the potential for a startup to provide a useful service.

For example, game music is an important experience for some players (see final fantasy games). How do you enable players to search, listen, share, compile, remix et al their favourite game music from independent games?

Another example is game faqs. They are an important part of game playing. However, the current services such as gamefaqs.com cater only to publisher games. What about independent games? Is there any services that aggregate game faqs for them? Taking it one step further. Why confine faqs to only text when we now have much richer media such as videos?

What other experiences can a startup create to enrich the game playing and helps the independent developers?


Startup Idea #81(Part II): Enabling game developers to connect to fans anywhere

Startup Idea #81: Enabling game developers to connect to fans anywhere

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Startup Idea #81(Part II): Enabling game developers to connect to fans anywhere

The revolution of the music continues as I am constantly amazed by innovative music services created by small startups. It is a powerful learning journey for me as I see how these startups are rewritting the value chain of music, from distribution to market research. Here are a few recent ones I noticed:

SoundCloud: Enabling a new form of direct distribution, all wrapped up in an easy-to-use package. Helping to move data around, i.e. the distribution, is going to be more and more important.

Bandmetrics: The Google analytics of music. It crawls the web for semantic data indicating name recognition, music trends and fan interests. This allows artists and groups to adjust their image and strategy as they go to have the best shot at making it big.

BandCamp: I have mentioned this before but want to highlight it again. Helping musicians to create a web presence that belongs to them is cool and I wish these guys all the best.

Can these models be applicable to the game industry and help independent game developers make a decent living? Why not?

- How do independent game developers create a presence on the web?

- Is there an application that lets game developers track how their games are faring across different sites and platforms?

- Beyond analytics, is there recommendation services that suggest how game developers can grow their traffic, based on how other similar games have grown theirs?

- What kind of innovative distribution services that can be developed for games? Is there a need for a soundcloud equvialent?

- How do we enable fans to easily remix the games that they love? Can a third party provider help?

If you know of any cool startups that are rewriting the game industry, do drop a note here.

See part one here:
Startup Idea #81: Enabling game developers to connect to fans anywhere

Monday, 5 January 2009

Idea generation #58: Ideas in m-health, publishing and monetising photographs

Here are some random ideas from what I have read on a tired Monday evening:

  • Personalised travel books blend search and curation: This post spawned a related idea in self publishing: What if we combine the loose network structure like Glam to create content, with a publishing and printing layer. Bloggers can contribute their content to the network from which users can create their own books in self help areas like parenting, motoring, sports, gadget hacks, get rich ideas, et al. The underlying platform will power the search and curation of the right content. Revenue will be split between bloggers and the platform.

  • Economics of photography: Great post that talks about the untapped market potential of unlicensed photographs. Is there anyway a startup can try to tap into this market. I have a thought. Create a light weight application where users can submit their photographs to an email address akin to posterous. Once received, our application will then add a thin flash layer to allow purchase of this photograph via micropayment. These photos can then be added to any site or blogs for maximum outreach.

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Saturday, 3 January 2009

Startup Idea #112: Organising the world's online educational materials

The amount of online educational materials coming on to the Web is going to be, if not already, staggering. This site alone tracks the number of services offering free educational materials in medicine. With iTuneU, the amount of materials is going to get many, many times larger.

With so much content, the user runs into the classic attention problem: which one offers the best lectures in a topic that he/she should listen to? Many of the current educational offerings don't offer reviews, ratings et al of any sort. Without a way to filter the content, the user faces a uphill task of separating the good from the bad.

This, however creates an opening for anybody to take shot at solving this problem. We need services to help pull together discreet pieces of content into coherent streams of attention for users. This is particularly important for learning, as there is usually a sequential way to pick up knowledge.

The most obvious opportunity is to learn from the media side, and apply successful models such as Last.fm for online learning content. Aggregate content and filter them using your community. Let users see their learning 'neighbors' , their friends and create a community. Let users able to see the content their community is consuming in different ways. Let users discover new and relevant content through recommendations.

However, the more interesting opportunity may be to redefine how educational services are delivered. With the content and the ways to organise it in place, we can think of coordination tools that help users roll up their own leaning classes. Currently, the schools have the advantage of coordination with its administration and facilities. We can easily create scheduling and other coordination tools student need to organise their learning. There might even a VRM angle where lecturers will then bid to work with students.

Online learning is now on the inflection point. What other opportunities do you see?

Markets as new organisation design: case studies

Markets, networks, communities. The 3 new organisation designs that Umair Haque has argued

Among the three, I have been most fascinated by markets. As a result, I have been studying examples of how such an organisational design can be applied in industries that needs transparency and a more efficient way to manage scare resources.

Markets are difficult to built because you are trying to solve a simultaneous equation of bringing together both demand and supply. However, once they are created, they unleash powerful incentives that spurred more innovations. Just take a look at the current markets we know: Apple App Store, Ebay, Google Adsense, Carbon trading et al. Not only have they created more value in themselves, they have enabled entire sub industries to be build on top of them. Just think of analytics, research, risk management, trading platforms, and other feeder businesses.

I am paying attention now to new forms of markets that being created. I think there are a wide spectrum of opportunities for any startup if they pay enough attention of these new markets:

organise resources more efficiently than firms. It is something I have been learning over the past year and is one of my goals to continue gaining a deeper understanding in 2009.
Market for healthcare services: Carol is creating a centralized health care market place for consumers within a given regional community. A market place as defined by a centralized place where by consumers can shop, compare, and purchase health care services in an open, transparent way. They empower previously disjointed healthcare providers to form partnership to create healthcare packages with full price transparency. As a result, many different types of packages have formed and consumers now have the option to choose the one with the most value.
Markets for Water: Australia is the leading edge country in creating a water market. It has become a powerful tool to solve the water shortage crisis in a sustainable way. If people have the incentives to profit from better water management, they will actually do it. Once that happens, think of all the research, risk management and other forms of market enhancement businesses that will be needed. Waterfind is a good example.

Market for fishing stocks (and implications for food resources): Fish stocks have been eroding due to over fishing. What once was considered an abundant resource is now facing depletion. The birth of the Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs) was an effort to reorganise the resources using a market approach. So far, the results look promising.

What other new markets have you seen developing?

Idea generation #5: Creating new market exchanges

Startup Idea #68: Personal carbon trading
Idea generation #50: Markets for energy