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.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Demand driven teaching: Social VRM applied in education

Twitter as social VRM is an idea I have been thinking of since I blogged about it. Today, I stumbled upon this super cool post about the use of hashtags (#teachme) to signal intentions to learn something. It is an RFP (Request For Proposal) for education!

This is powerful.

It can become a pull system for self learning that is created on a open platform. What it needs is mechanisms that tie into the APIs of teaching platforms like EduFire, TeachStreet, SuperCoolSchool, Cramster etc so that suitable rockstar teachers can be alerted and their profile information can be pulled into a dashboard for the learner. Learner will of course need tools to help them manage these in-coming as well as their personal information.

If I am a startup in the learning space, I would build the necessary parts to complete the VRM process and launch it as quickly as I can.

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Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Hacking is everywhere

Hacking is our new manifesto. With the marcopocalypse staring in our face, the pressure to hack our current economy is greater than ever. Fortunately, it is also now easier to get our hands on resources and begin hacking the stale industries that need reinvention. Everyday, I see more and more of such examples. I want to share it here and hopefully inspired more smart entrepreneurs to start hacking our industries.

Hacking Uninsured Workers
Dr. Ores is also a physician who runs a nonprofit health care cooperative for city restaurant workers that he sees as a model for how national health care could work.

Under the plan, he charges each restaurant a dollar each month for every seat in the establishment and pools the money. In return, any employee from those restaurants can visit him free of charge, whether for a cut finger or the flu.

The need is acute: A 2005 study by the New York State Restaurant Association reported that almost 75 percent of the city’s restaurant workers — about 120,000— have no health insurance.

Hacking Mobile Devices

“Five years ago, there were no counterfeit phones,” says Xiong Ting, a sales manager at Triquint Semiconductor, a maker of mobile phone parts, while visiting Shenzhen. “You needed a design house. You needed software guys. You needed hardware design. But now, a company with five guys can do it. Within 100 miles of here, you can find all your suppliers.”

Technological advances have allowed hundreds of small Chinese companies, some with as few as 10 employees, to churn out what are known here as shanzhai, or black market, cellphones, often for as little as $20 apiece.

Hacking Music
"Talking gross numbers that come directly to the band, we have made more money already than we have on the last record in four years," said Mathieu Drouin, the band's co-manager. "Without any intermediary, we're making 77 cents on the dollar for every record we sell" on iTunes. Under a label deal, based on Drouin's estimate, Metric would have earned closer to 22 cents.

Metric also took a page from album rollouts employed by much bigger artists such as Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails. In addition, fans could purchase the album directly from Metric's own site (
www.ilovemetric.com), which sold "Fantasies" at five price points, ranging from an $8.99 album download -- with an extra track not available on iTunes -- to a $64.99 "deluxe" package that included autographs, artwork and invitations to exclusive performances.

Hacking Legal
Today, Wilson Sonsini announced the launch of a "term sheet generator." It's basically a web tool that creates draft preferred financing term sheets for startups...So I think this is a brilliant step toward "open source law" which I've been advocating for a while. ....What this tool really wants to evolve to is having an open, wiki-style back end where practitioners can change and comment on the myriad of options and verbiage which would keep the tool evergreen based on the best crowdsourced legal opinions.

Hacking University
An Israeli entrepreneur with decades of experience in international education plans to start the first global, tuition-free Internet university, a nonprofit venture he has named the University of the People....“The open-source courseware is there, from universities that have put their courses online, available to the public, free,” Mr. Reshef said. “We know that online peer-to-peer teaching works. Putting it all together, we can make a free university for students all over the world, anyone who speaks English and has an Internet connection.”

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

What I have learned from StockTwits

My previous post has briefly mention how StockTwits is pioneering a powerful new community model. There are actually more learning points to that. I want to share what I have observed from using the service and looking at its growth and strategies. StockTwits is pioneering something important and we can all learn from it.

Leveraging on abundance of content but scarcity in wisdom
Stocktwits has very smartly avoided being another platform for content production. We have already too much of that. What we need and what StockTwits has provided is wisdom. They have used a very elegant tagging system to intelligently filter content from Twitter.

Letting business model 'happen'
The blogging platform it has created lets the talent have a stage to do their thing. (Note: this platform is different from other content producing platforms because of the quality of the bloggers). Where the money will come from is not too certain. They may come from subscriptions, advertisements, sponsorships or some new models etc. That is not important. The critical thing here is to let things happen. Let the people at the edge create the models. Key question is how to bring the edge back to the core?
More efficient model for talent identification
What StockTwits is doing in terms of identifying and promoting talent is not new. Publishers and music labels have been doing that for a while i.e. signing up artists. What is revolutionary is the low cost and bottoms up model they have deployed. This has effectively stripped out the inefficiencies as well as the risk of talent spotting.

I really liked how the StockTwits model works. I think it has potentially to be used in many other verticals, of which healthcare is one possibility. I am sure there are other things we can learn. Why not share them in the comments?

Admin note: carnival of mobilists #171

Carnival of the Mobilists #171 is up at CatalystCode


My post on 15 Twitter Ideas was fortunately selected to be on this edition of the carnival.

I took a glance at the rest of carnival and some of it looks interesting. If you are interested in mobile learning, advertisements etc, do pop up and take a look.

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Adding value to aggregation

Continuing from my previous post on democratizing aggregation, I want to elaborate about the value beyond bringing all the information together. That is only the first step. In fact, it is one of the least value adding aspect of aggregation. The important thing is what you do with the information you have aggregated. Here are three ways that you can add value to any aggregation service:
Search and coordination
Aggregation is mainly about data but search transforms data into information. If you add in the ability to coordinate actions, such that deals or actions can be closed much more effectively (food aggregator allows you to book restaurants etc ), then aggregation becomes a much strong value proposition.
This is why scraper models for jobs, like Indeed, create economic value: they transform "data" into information - in fact, they do so at the moment you do a search. Conversely, this is why Craigslist is getting devalued - it's more data, and less information (ie, I can personalize it less/receive less stuff that matches my preferences, expectations, etc, than elsewhere).
Aggregating context
A bit of context goes a long way. Aggregating context is just as important as the information itself. Outside.In for example aggregates posts from local bloggers and filters them according to locations. An aggregator will need to think about how to add context that is useful to the users they are serving.

Allowing the cream to rise to the top
The power of StockTwits is its understanding of this principle. We can see this in their announcement of a premium blog network. That is a brilliant strategy. Surfacing the best of the community and then giving them tools to let them do what they do is a powerful demonstration of edge competency. It is equivalent to a music label picking up promising artists, except with a much more effective cost structure and software. This also points to a new path to profitability for community powered models. Every aggregator, from food to fashion to health, should seriously employing this in their community.

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Sunday, 26 April 2009

4 big opportunities for radical innovation in media

Umair Haque has a talk that finally brings everything together to help us understand the new economics of music (and media). Go and listen to it. It will help you better understand where are the value drivers and how radical innovation will happen.

The sound in the video is a bit soft and most people might not have the time to sit through. Here, I have summarised the 4 big opportunities below. If you are a startup in media, these are the value proposition that you should think about:

Information about preferences (or demand)
The simple thing about demand is this: know what your customers want. Yet, many of the media companies simply don't have a clue. Micro communities are gathering across the Web around music, animation, films etc they love. How do we aggregate and surface these demand in the most easy to understand manner? Bandmetrics is an early example.

Information about supply
The same information asymmetry applies to the creatives as well. Unknown talent have very little information about them, although that is changing with the explosion of services like RCDLBL. Going forward, I see this model extending to the physical world.

Mechanisms to connect demand and supply
Contextual pricing is the primary mechanism whereby demand and supply can be coordinated. Amie Street is one example of how this can be done. Radiohead is of course another (see more examples here).

Building better relationships between creatives and their fans
When we have a better marketplace for music, the eventual step is to build a better kind of relationships. The NIN iPhone application is a good example. It focuses purely on fan engagement and viral distribution. There is room here for someone to make this available to all musicians (hat tip to Ethan Bauley).

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Democratising agggregation

Fred Wilson has a post today that celebrates aggregation. I agree that aggreagators have changed the media landscape. Similar to Fred, I no longer consume my news via direct visits to the sources of the news. Instead, I rely on my aggregators such as Hacker news, Techmeme, Twitter etc to highlight interesting news before visiting the source directly.

However, the current technical barrier to creating aggregators is still quite high. This has limit aggregation to the realm of startups. Why is this so? We are all curators in our own areas. We just need a simple service to help us organise our curations and share with it with whoever that wants it.

It is with this line of thinking that we decided to create a service that democratise the aggregation process. We built something that anyone, without technical background, can create an aggregator in less than 5 minutes. Best of all, we created a parser that not only retrieves and sorts text, but image as well. Here is a screenshot of a food aggregator that I have created called SgFoodie. It curates the feeds of Singapore food blogs and creates a Tastyspotting page, without any coding.

The business model is still tentative but here is what the team will be rolling out. For users who want complete control of their aggregators, they can pay a basic subscription fee. For users who doesn't want to pay the fees, the team will be handling the advertising for the aggreators and sharing the revenue with the site creator.

This service will go live next month and the team is looking for early users. If you are interested to try some aggregation of your own, just drop a comment and we will be keeping you in our mailing list.

Thoughts, comments or feedback?

Saturday, 25 April 2009

10 random mobile startup ideas

Having strong interest in mobile, it is little wonder that I have a sudden surge of mobile startup ideas after reading Tomi Ahonen's mobile pearls volume 2 and rereading volume 1 as well.
By the way, if you are interested in turning these ideas into real companies but lack funds, why not consider start up loans?

1. Alternative payment platform for mobile applications
With the coming of in game currencies on iPhone applications, players are going to want alternate ways to get those currencies beyond paying their money for it. That is where alternate payment platforms likeOfferpay Media comes in. They offer a service for people to conduct actions (such as sign up other services) and earn currencies for their actions. I think there is an opportunity to build a similar platform for the Asian, mobile market. Think about Asian companies who want to test their mobile applications, companies who want to survey their target groups, companies who want to advertise, companies who want valuable customer leads etc. All these are potential companies who are willing to pay. Any platform that facilitates this exchange is going to have a windfall.

2. More open version of Blyk
Blyk has shown us that co-created advertisements is the right model for mobile advertising. By allowing users to tell advertisers what products, colour, model
etc they prefer, Blyk has achieved a high conversation rate for their mobile advertisements. Can we build a more open version of this co-creation advertisement platform for all mobile content, applications and services? An OpenX version of Blyk?

3. Mobile user generated content
One of the main advantage of mobile is its ability to handle micro-payment efficiently. This has turned user generated content into real businesses. Witness the success of SeeMeTV, a youtube clone on mobile but with the ability for content creators to charge. There are opportunities to create similar ventures across the rest of the user generated landscape, from comics to photos.
4. Viral marketing through alpha usersAlpha users are the people that have extraordinary social connections. If we know who these people are, why not give them better deals so that they might spread the word for your business? A startup who can figure out a way to enable this is going to change how word of mouth is done.

5. Mobile as your design tool
Mobile is available at your creative impulse. See a nice graffiti? Snap it. Like the logo on a shop front? Take a picture of it. We can build services around these creative impulses. One area is in user generated designs. Imagine a mobile threadless where tshirt design submissions are as easy as snapping images with your photo and submitting them as MMS. What's more, because it is on mobile, premium sms voting for the best design can become another viable revenue model.

6. Ebay for companies and companies in mobile advergaming
Mobile advergaming will be an explosive growth area as more companies commission mini-games or applications for the iPhone and other mobile platforms. The current marketplace for advergaming however is very inefficient. Negotiations are long and filled with all sorts of contractual discussions. Any elegant solution for developers and advertisers to find each other will surely find the market responding to it.

7. Mood music for status updating (Hat Tip to Tomi Ahonen)
Social networking may be all about status, but why is status restricted to text? Our experiences are much richer than what words can sometimes convey. Music is one powerful way to express how you feel. Why not create a mobile service that lets users 'listen' to moods of their friends through the songs they embed in their status updates? Pictures and videos are other media that this idea can apply to.

8. Shazam for images
There is very little tolerance for browsing on the mobile as both the keypad( or touch screen) and the screen are ill suited to such tasks.
Mobile search may be all about point, snap and retrieve. There are potentially dozens of opportunities for startups to provide Shazam-for-pictures in different vertical sectors. For example, a Shazam for cars will enable a user to take a picture of a car model and retrieve the lowest car prices in his surrounding neighborhood for that model. Other verticals include movies, animals, buildings, product reviews etc.

9. Image recognition applications for the blind
Related to (9) is the idea of building image recognition services for the blind. The mobile can become their eyes, helping them to identify objects and reading out their description. One niche application is in money recognition, where the mobile can assist the blind to know how much money they are holding in their hands.

 10. Make it easy to embed QR codes into videos
QR codes are url shorteners for mobile (see mobiletinyurl). Currently, they are mostly used in paper based medium like magazines and posters. As video becomes more ubiquitous as a communication medium, embedding QR codes into them is the next logical step. Making this easy for users seems like a great opportunity especially as we are seeing more QR codes in videos (See pet shop boys example).

  • Mobile Pearls II (ac-idealog.blogspot.com)

  • Mobile Pearls Vol III (ac-idealog.blogspot.com)

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    Pictures of Tim Draper karaoking in Singapore

    Something about these pictures is disturbing to me.

    Friday, 24 April 2009

    Why I used Twitter for market research on startups

    As part of my job, I typically conduct market research on the Web to find out more about the markets that applicants of our startup fund are developing in. My routine would be something like this:

    -Start with some random Google searches
    to have an overview of the market as well as to find out the key players
    -Look at research reports (if available) that highlights the potential of the addressable markets
    -Go to Compete or Alexa to see how the key players are doing in terms of traffic
    -Search in crunchbase or other startup sites to see if similar services are available

    All these are well and good but I feel that these information are not direct. There is a disconnect between what I have searched and the real pain points in the market. Where are the voices of users? Where are the people who are suffering the pain of current services?

    I then decided to try Twitter because they host the most powerful conversation graph. This is what I did, using the specific case of a startup who is proposing a TopSpinMedia for ebook authors:

    -Use Twitter search to identify authors or publishers
    -Follow 5-10 of them to assess their thoughts about the market and the difficulties they are encountering
    - Click on the articles they are linking. These are typically very relevant to the markets you are trying to research on

    After 2 weeks, you can a real sense of what are the pain points in the market. The people you follow will articulate the problems they encounter and the issues that pop up for their businesses. More importantly, you can also read about their proposed solutions or their attempts to overcome these problems. All these information are very useful and are not available in any other services.

    I really like this new approach and has been trying it for the past few weeks. Give it a shot if you are a startup and an investor. Your perspective of the market and its pain points will most likely be changed by it.

    Thursday, 23 April 2009

    Who wants to create a MyTopLinks with me?

    Dave Winer has quietly created a very powerful service called TopLinks. It is a service that enables individual author to submit links, which are then voted by the community to determine how they rank. The author is the only one who can do the submissions, hence controlling the quality of the news.

    I think this is a very elegant model. In effect, it has the curation ability of an editor while being able to tap on the wisdom of crowds. The resulting page is a personalised Techmeme, one which can be shaped by any author.

    Toplinks is a solution for the Twitter attention problems that we are experiencing. It has effectively transform information flows into attention markets. That is a really powerful value proposition.

    I really love this concept and has some ideas on taking it to the next level. So, I am asking if there is any developer out there who want to try this project with me. I am willing to put in some seed money to kick start this. I think this will be fun. Contact me if you are keen :)

    Related readings:
    My new news page (Dave Winer)
    Links of Twitter, day 3 (Dave Winer)
    Progress in the 40-twits app (Dave Winer)

    Wednesday, 22 April 2009

    5 ideas for the new ebook landscape

    Steven Johnson wrote one of the most relevant article about the future of ebooks. If you have not read it, I would advice you to do so if you are interested this market.
    (Side note: I am advising a startup in the ebook market and they are working on one of the key value propositions highlighted in the article: the ability to make passages and sentences the key unit of consumption rather than the whole book. Such a change is non-trival. Just ask Twitter.)

    If you read the trends correctly, there are actually a number of opportunities a startup can pursue. Here is my list of 5 ideas:

    1) Helping content to move across different readers and applications
    I believe that ebook readers will proliferate. There will be many devices and applications that enable ebooks to be read. While this creates complications, it also opens up an opportunity for someone to create a service for authors to 'upload once' and distribute across difference services. Think of Tubemogul for ebooks.

    2) People powered distribution
    Once ebooks allow users to annoate and share passages/sentences that inspires or infuriate them, these passages become a form of distribution that is community powered. We need a bit.ly + tipjar service that enables these linked passages to be tracked in real time as well as to provide direct purchases (through a simply hashtag for example).

    3) Infrastructure that enables innovations in search and discovery of ebooks
    With users sharing their annotated passages, they represent an alternate way that books can be searched and discovered. The first order opportunity is to build a Digg or Del.licio.us equivalent that surfaces the most interesting annotated passages. What is more interesting is to create a Twitter-like 'dumb' pipe that focuses on moving the data around. The aim is to allow third party enables developers to create different interface clients and innovate around how books can be searched and discovered.

    4) Community building tools
    Each ebook is a platform for authors to build their communities. We can learn from companies such as Mybloglog and develop simple applications that organises communities around ebooks. Alternatively, there might also be a need for a third party commenting system that aggregates comments left by readers on the same ebook across different readers.

    5) Wiki for annoated passages
    Ebooks can be the starting point for our information discovery. Use that to build powerful tools for user generated context. Consider the following scenario:

    - as you are reading an ebook, you come across a concept, a person, a piece of art, a travel destination, a statistic etc that you want more information on.
    - you search for it via the ebook search function, which relies on Google to retrieve the relevant information for you.
    - you read these information and saves the relevant ones through a link of your selected passage in the ebook.
    - that passage effectively becomes a window to a wiki page that hosts all your related articles and blog posts.
    - if you choose to share it, other readers reading the same ebook can see the link and the additional articles that you have saved
    - if thousands of peope do that, the ebook becomes the context which information is organised around.

    Tuesday, 21 April 2009

    Interactions that can enrich our social networks

    Continuing from my previous post, I want to be sharper in drawing out the opportunities in social networks. More specifically, I want to suggest some possible interactions that have missing in many of the current social networks that we see.

    The current way we conduct commerce is very inefficient. One of the contributors is the amount of resources we spent on blind advertising. Social networks can replace the inefficiencies by becoming a powerful referral network that recommends the right products and services for their communities, taking into account the members' context. It can potentially transform commerce and become the default way we buy and consumer stuff. That is the true potential of social networks.

    To accomplish that, we need richer interactions that goes beyond what our current social networks offer. We need to learn from offline communities about the institutional innovations they have put in place that grows and strengthens communities. Below is a list of initial thoughts on what kinds of richer interactions are needed.

    i) Celebrating the achievements of the community through awarding of status
    Offline communities such as religion, or hobbyists groups celebrate achievements. They have rituals that celebrate new members as well as the contributions of current members to the community. We are missing all these in our current social networks. We need to be able to see and highlight members' contributions through explicit status (gold, sliver, bronse membership) that are given when they:

    -bring in new members
    -brought publicity to the community
    -highlight false members i.e. companies trying to pass off as real people
    -have a perfect record of attending every offline meeting
    -bring in strategic partners that bought revenue to the community etc

    ii) Marketplace
    Social networks should come with a list of service providers for the community that can be ranked and compared. This is how social networks can become powerful referral network. A social network for startups for example should have a list of legal, rental, administrative, hosting services etc that allow members to rate and review. Similarly, a community of DIY homeowners should have a list of DIY service providers.

    iii) Allowing members to reward each other
    Our current way for members to reward each other is through social gestures. We can be more explicit. Why not allow a tipjar on each of the profile page so that members can give real money for the good that particular members have bought to the community? If a member has bought in 50 new guys, why can't I reward him for it by tipping him $1?

    iv) Membership identifier
    How can we better identify with our communities? In real world communities, we have tshirts, baseball caps etc that identify us with certain groups. Why is that missing in our social networks? The opportunity here is use virtual identifiers that can scale much more efficiently as well as create new kinds of value. Think about, for example credit cards with virtual currencies that allows members to purchase real goods and servcies.

    v) Real time info on how the community is growing
    People care about the communities they belong to. They want to see how it is growing, in which segments and locations, the growth of members' contributions, the total revenue generated by the community etc. Seeing growth has a motivational effect of encouraging members to be more active. However, I don't see this in many social networks. The most often used marker is the number of registered users. I think there is room for more innovations.

    Is there money in social networks?

    Social networks have a very bad name. Whenever some startups open their pitch saying: we are a social network for XXX, many people would roll their eyes. I was one of those people. I thought that the social networking game has already been won. However, after reading the book "the social network business plan", I realise we may be on the blink on seeing what social network can unleash.

    One of the reasons we write off social networks is the narrow perception we have of them. We have a fixed view of the kinds of interactions that social networks enabled . Typically, we are restricted to think of interactions such as friending, poking, updating profiles etc. That is too limiting.

    If we expand our view to include 'social networks' such as Threadless, PatientsLikeMe etc, the scope for powerful interactions will increased. The opportunity then is to apply these interactions to new markets that required such organisations. Think of markets as radical as fighting terrorism, conducting medical research etc.

    One way to spot these markets are the gross margins of current companies in that market. A high margin might suggest some form inefficiencies that the companies are using to exploit the consumers. Social networks are a way to shift the power back to consumers.

    Sunday, 19 April 2009

    The browser for your conversation graph

    There is a discussion on Techmeme about Seesmic Desktop vs TweetDeck. While the comparison is interesting, the bigger point is the strategic importance of these conversation aggregators. I think they are are a powerful area to think about because they are the consumer interface to our conversation graph.

    These conversation aggregators control the browsing of our conversations. They have the potential to create powerful value propositions if they play their cards right. For example:

    - they can recommend relevant discussions and people to you based on your preference and what you have consumed and talked about (essentially overtaking Mr Tweet)
    - they can add value to the links such as extracting the articles from the links and presenting them in another column
    - they can allow users to add layers on data on top of the conversations i.e. think of social gestures, ratings, tags etc
    - they can suggest useful tags for findability

    Now, the interesting question is who is going to open up first. Currently, conversation aggregators are competing on features. Going forward, they will be competing on openness as well as their abilities to create the business ecosystem. Who is going to the first in giving people access to their platform so that they can create better services for everyone else?

    In order words, who is going to the Firefox for conversation agreggators? (Btw, Firefox is a busienss that is grossing over 100M a year in revenue.)

    This post draws a lot of references from the following posts:
    Technorati, Bloglines, and The Economics of Feeds
    How to Arbitrage Micromedia, pt 1
    How to Chrome your Industry
    Don’t create a company, create an ecosystem

    15 Twitter startups ideas from the Web

    Micro blogging is becoming a land of opportunities. If you like to read what I have already blogged about it, here are the relevant posts.

    i) Startup Idea #109: 6 Twitter ideas
    ii) How do we create better conversations?
    iii)Twitter is cooler when it becomes mainstream
    iv)Twitter as social VRM: a big idea

    Beyond this, there are tons of interesting ideas from the Web. Here is a list of what I have found to be the most relevant. Most of them are related to Twitter but can be applied to micro blogging in general. Note that those with * denotes my favorites.

    1a. TweetSense

    John Battelle's idea on force fitting Google's adsense model into Twitter. Will it work? Probably in the short term but as its costs overwhelms the benefits, we will more likely see marketing as described in (1b) below:

    Marketers can play, both on Twitter (imagine a cars.twitter.com, with auto advertisers on the right rail and at the top, perhaps using contextual TweetSense - yes, it's owned, by...), and off (think about a feed of contextual Tweets and TweetSense next to conversational sites like Digg and, well, millions of others, as well as sites created simply from Twitter feeds on popular hashes...)

    1b. Twitter as next generation marketing platform (hat tip to Ethan Bauley)*
    Twitter has the potential to enable brands to build real value for users. The opportunity is to layer additional value services on top of its communication protocol. Brands need the publishing tools necessary to better target and more richly cultivate a conversation with their audience via this viral, decentralized and spam-free messaging/marketing channel.

    2 A wordpress for micro blogging*
    Group size matters a lot in social media. If we gain the ability to change group sizes in micro blogging, we can potentially see more kinds of social innovations.
    What happens when millions of micro blogs/comunities can be installed easily in anywhere?

    Bonus: what would happen if a billion micro blogs is being applied in mobile? Will it change the way we communicate?

    3. Products that Twits
    Then there's the thought of our products telling us when they need things; cars needing servicing is something we have already, refrigerators needing replenishing is something that's often talked about.

    4. Data driven ideas powered by Twitter
    I could see models around Twitter news, traffic, weather, product information, dating (why hasn't that one been done yet??), politics... How about using twitter to actually power my newsreader, or go back the other way and use my RSS feeds to power Twitter user recommendations based on people who are tweeting the articles I read?

    5. Mirco exchange for Twitter
    Think of a situation where you want to exchange something of micro-value - but it’s just too inconvenient or socially awkward to actually do anything about it.

    6. Tool for publishing financial research*
    A good opportunity for somebody to build a lightweight blogging platform for analysts to democratize the financial research business. Twitter will be the default tool for publishing and community building.

    Many if not most top sell-side research analysts will leave to set up their own shops, and leverage lightweight, flexible technologies for publishing and disseminating their research.

    7. Dating service for Twitter
    Basically, it’s just a big database that collects information on people that want to use @TwitterDating and then matches up people based on their supplied personal information and a magical contextual analysis of people’s last 1-2 pages of tweets to create potential matches.

    8. Twitter for business connections
    I think it is more potent for business connections, interest groups and flash invites to targeted events (tied to a mobile LBS). All of this, of course, is based upon the availability of real working software that delivers accurate text analysis.

    9. Building better services on Twitter to assess social capital*
    Enabling connections to build up one's social capital is going to be a very important business enabler for the 21st century. Twitter is primarily a publishing platform. You can extend your social capital on it but it takes effort. Some smart entrepreneurs can build easier to use services for us to amplify our social capital.

    The more techniques we can design to make accessible social capital the better off we’ll all be.... Twitter are great platforms for this kind of work, but I’d like to see someone build something on top of those services to make connections even easier to make.

    10. Better conversation filters for Twitter
    Related to (9) is our inability to organise conversations. In real life, our conversations are rich, multi-dimensionally and integrate entertainment, facts, opinions, news etc into a coherent whole. All these are lost in the way our conversation tools have been built. This is the opportunity to develop something that better organises our conversations.

    There is, however a natural part of our humanness that wants to discern who is talking to whom and what they’re saying. It’s a big part of what Social Media is all about but we’ve lost our way in a world of widgets, wikkis and web-apps.The apps today just aren’t able to filter and sort conversations yet.

    11. Twitter as favor bank*
    This is one of the few attempts I have seen of creating business models around attention markets. Twitter is such a market and this is an innovative attempt.

    Every minute or so
    , there are several Twitter users asking their followers to “Please RT” a link they tweetted about, whether it is to promote an event, an widget, some marketing offer, or to find someone.This favor might be worth a lot, considering that many Twitter users have 1000s or 10,000s of followers. One way that Twitter users could earn something would be through a favor bank, or in this case a Retweet bank or Tweetbank for short.

    12. Translation tool for Twitter*
    We often forget that language is one of the biggest barrier to a global conversation. If diversity is key to creativity and innovation, then the ability to hear different voices is going to be a killer.

    Someone should make a twitter app that translates your updates to other languages... so you can follow people who speak a different language.

    13. Local search
    Imagine using Outside.In mechanism for organising local information and applying to Twitter.

    Almost everything on Twitter is inherently local. The simple question “What are you doing?” implies that because, unless you are at home watching TV, you are doing something that is local, whether that is local to you or to someone else.

    14. Twitter as a time bank
    The goal of the Twitter Time Bank is to allow people to bring the reality to the idea that “time is money”, and allow anyone to issue their own time-based money they can use to pay others for products/services or to donate to others.

    15. Opening up miro blogging to designers*
    This is beyond making a pretty site. Opening up the design elements in micro blogging gives creative people the ability to shape different forms of communities. That is necessary if we want to see a blossom of diversity in micro blogging.

    Breaking the rendering into as many componenets as necessary to give designers over the appearance of a site... it is time to open it up so that all the creative people can have a go at it.

    Saturday, 18 April 2009

    Why social tags are more powerful than tags

    I think tags started at the wrong foot. When early services like Flickr and Del.icio.us began the tagging movement, it was primary used as a organising tool. Unfortunately, it never took away. The tags were too inconsistent to be useful and you need critical mass before aggregation provides any sort of value.

    Right now, I am seeing tags evolving into social tags. On Facebook, people love to tag photos which their friends have appeared in. Similarly on Twitter, people like to use the @ tag to send message, links, comments etc to their social network.

    The evolution of tagging as an organisation tool to a social gesture mechanism is an important one.

    As a social gesture, tagging has become more viral and people centric. Its communicative nature has open up new ways which coordination can be done. Consider the following scenario for open source development:

    - Instead of photos, imagine being able to tag software codes during development to people who can help you solve particular difficulties.
    -Tags can be address to multiple developers who can each contribute their time and effort to solving the problems
    -Developers now have a stream of requests through this process which helps them to decide how to allocate their time
    - Through this process, coordinating open source development can be more productive and targeted.

    This is just some simple thought exercise. I can't see the end game yet for social tagging but I think there is a lot of potential.

    (Note: imagine if there is mechanism here where I can address this post to through tags (e.g. @igniter, @tdavidson), we can have more productive discussions here).

    Friday, 17 April 2009

    While Youtube is making losses, mobile Youtube clone is making money

    Technovia has an interesting article talking about whether Youtube is the largest loss-making venture in history:

    it’s still losing money hand over fist. As I mentioned earlier, a recent Credit Suisse report estimates it will lose a whopping $470 million this year.

    The reason for that is simple: while its revenues should grow at a more-than-respectable 20% in 2009, the number of streams it serves will grow at a rate almost double that (38%).

    Contrast this with SeeMeTv, a youtube clone on mobile that is making money. It has one big difference relative to Youtube: user has to pay for each view and the revenue was co-shared with the person who uploaded the video. On SeeMeTv, each user on average earns 12 pounds per video!

    Why is this so? Why can SeeMeTv charge for its service and be profitable while Youtube, the third largest site in the world, is making losses?

    One of the reason is that micro payment is handled very efficiently on the mobile platform. Because of this, each click can be billed. This alone opens up different revenue models.

    Another reason is the different usage context. Mobile is often used in situations where the user has no other options for entertainment. He may be on public transport. He may be stuck in a queue. Why not just pay a bit of money to download a funny video and entertain himself while having nothing to do? This context is vastly different when one is sitting in front of a screen and having all the time in the world to find free content.

    Ultimately, this boils down to the fact that the Web and the mobile are vastly different media. On mobile, it is possible to make money on social media. Video is just one example. The same can be said for social networks. Facebook and MySpace are struggling for revenue while CyWorld and Flirtomatic are bringing in the profits.

    This is why I love mobile : )

    Thursday, 16 April 2009

    Why our school system needs hacking

    (Note: I wrote this post not in a vacuum. My wife is a teacher. 5 of my school mates are as well. My current colleague is an ex teacher. I also dealt with schools as part of our Future School programmes.)

    Many many teachers I have talked to have spoken to me about this: our school system sucks. It has evolved into a model where branding and public relations with parents has become more important than teaching. This has sucked money, school resources and attention away from students and towards activities that made the schools look good (winning awards, getting press releases etc). All these has resulted in teachers spending more time on administrative efforts, rather than innovating on how to teach more effectively.

    In a teaching focus school, the structure is such that teaching load is heavier than administration duties. Teachers spend more time in innovative course development and online learning. They interact more with students to find out about their learning styles and how to teach more effectively.

    Does the above sound familiar to you? It probably don't because that is not how our schools are run.

    In reality, teachers spend more time doing a lot of non-teaching related stuff. To make matters worse, they are REWARDED based on that. Did the basketball team you are in charge of win awards? Did our science project got featured in the news? How many committees are you in charge of?

    In a time where our education needs reinvention, is the above what our teachers should be focusing on?

    Having said that, not all schools behave in this way. There are certainly good schools and teachers that emphasize on a child's learning. The problem is we don't have a way to tell them apart. That is where startups can come in.

    - How can you make the resource allocation within schools transparent? Why can outsiders tell whether the school in investing more in students' learning rather than their own marketing. I heard that at some local zone area, special budgets are allocated based on how famous or well known the schools are, which creates more incentives for schools to play the marketing game.
    We need more transparency.

    - Can you create a GetSatisfaction equivalent for schools?
    GetSatisfaction flipped customer-service on its head by allowing employees to have a voice and help customers solve problems, but also allow customers to solve problems too. In a same manner, can we give voices to the public and help them solve problems with schools?

    -RateMyTeachers.sg, the Singapore version anyone?

    - Can we create a platform for teachers to break out of the school model and create a virtual one on their own? A wordpress or a topspinmedia equivalent for teachers who are passionate to teach and make a differene to a student's life?

    I am sure there are more creative ways you can think of to hack our school system. Let's hear them!

    Wednesday, 15 April 2009

    Search, tags and follow

    Organising or structuring information is a key value enabler in this age of abundance. Be it conversations, tweets, data etc, organization provides the key to efficient attention allocation. Currently, I have seen 3 scalable forms of organisations.

    The most commonly used form of organisation, search instantly organises information around your stated interest. However, as information increases, the cost of search is going up. Not only that, search itself is limiting in discovery and doesn't fit into our way of uncovering stuff.

    Tags is different from search as it is more discovery based. Interfaces like tag clouds encourages explorations. Now, with the use of tags on Twitter becoming more and more common, we might see innovations in tags related forms of organisation. We are not done with tagging yet.

    Social filters are the latest in information organisation. The breakthrough for me was the invention of 'follow' by Twitter. Before this, we can already bookmark or subscribe to people so that they can act as filters for information. This process however is cumbersome. 'Follow' provides an elegant way for people to easily select their social filters and create their personalised streams of information. What's more, the information tends to be diverse due to the human aspect of such organisation.

    What is interesting is when these models are mixed and match. One example is searching through the #tags in Twitter search. That is a combination of tags and search. What other models are possible?

    1) Tagging the people you follow and then searching through the people you tag to find relevant answers on particular topics

    2) Follow tags from the people you are following to explore the areas they have interest in

    3) Follow searches by the people you are following and bundle them with tags

    4) Follow people who are searching the same terms or using the same tags

    What other combinations do you see? More importantly, what other ways are there to help us organise information?

    Tuesday, 14 April 2009

    The value of links in next generation media (continued)

    Scott Karr touched a very important point about links that I failed to convey adequately: they are currencies which relevance can be determined. Without relevance, you cannot build effective distribution for next generation media because you don't know what to send who.

    In my post on creating a link infrastructure to empower fans, I touch on dentralising the relevance derivation mechanism as a critical third step. Without that, it is almost impossible to build a scalable distribution channel. In fact, decentralising the link creation, link distribution and relevance generation mechanisms are ways to send money back from Google to the people who deserves it: the creatives, the fans etc.

    Strangely enough, this is exactly the same point Umair Haque made four years ago when he states that free culture is subsidising Google. However, at that time, pieces were not in place to build a next generation distribution play that is based on links and are geared towards bringing value back to the creative folks. I think now is the time and whoever gets there first has a shot of building something really powerful.

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    Singapore's online classified sector

    I had a chat with the CEO of JobFactory a couple of months back. One comment that stuck in my head was that the local classified market for jobs alone is worth 100M easily. This number was computed based on current revenue models of major job sites like JobsDB and the revenue for SPH's recruitment classified.

    The number assumes that the market wouldn't shrink. I don't believe that is realistic. Disruptive companies typically shrinks a current market. Craglist is taking billions out of the US classified market because most of the listings are free. Similarly, Wikipedia is taking billions out of the reference market and driving companies to cease operations.

    I think that will happen to Singapore's classified market as well. So far, we have not seen this happening because very few have realise this: classified business are community businesses.

    Classified businesses are marketplaces and we know now that markets are conversations. Where do conversations come from? Communities. People like to discuss, debate, review, recommend, encourage etc. They do that to learn about new stuff, to do business, to just share. They like to do that in communities, with people they know and have hang out with.

    That is why I compare building classified businesses to building communities. You need to anchor communities first before becoming marketplace. We have already seen many examples of this. Let's take Hardwarezone, a local community of gadget lovers, and look at their forums. You can see that people are already buying and selling stuff. This is the future of classified businesses.

    Unfortunately, all the local classified startups I have seen are taking a transactional approach to classified, i.e. making things more efficient. I believe displacement will come when someone realise it is not about transaction, it is about building community first. The latter has inherent advantages over the former. If you focus on transactions, you will realise that the key to success is a large and effective (& costly) salesforce. If you focus on communities, you will completely reverse the trend and operate a light-weight and flexible operation. Just see Craglist.

    If I am building a classified business, these are 2 direction I would try:

    i) Be a pure network play and link up with all current communities. Provide the platform whereby each community can become a marketplace to buy and sell stuff that fits their niches. Because you are sitting on top of the different markets, you are now in a better position to provide value add services such as recommendations, identify experts etc.

    ii) Build a community up from scratch by becoming the most powerful value provider in the niche. For example, if I am in the real estate play, I would focus on providing the most relevant information such as pricing analysis, local news, best value home contractors, home maintenance tips etc. I would build up my mailing list to those who want to subscribe. Once I have at least 10,000 subscribers, I would then allow members to post their selling or buying intentions.

    The classified market in Singapore has not seen the full extend of innovations that are happening across the globe. I look forward to see some young startups disrupting what is currently available.

    Sunday, 12 April 2009

    4 ideas for empowering fans

    The most effective web API is still the link. Simple and powerful

    This summarises very nicely what I have written about the importance of links to next generation web. It is the most simple and most wide spread API that majority of Web users knows how to use. With such wide penetration, isn't it time for us to fully extend its capabilities?

    One of the most fruitful areas is to enable links as the foundation of which to
    rethink fans from consumers to distributors, empower fans to spread AND sell content, viral marketing AND viral distribution.

    How shall we begin? These are my 4 principles that I am thinking about:

    We need a tumblr for media links
    Tumblr made posting different media a breeze. Be it image, videos, text etc, they made it dead simple to post and more importantly, to turn up beautiful. We need the same thing for links. A bit.ly that has different tabs to accommodate different media types. The functions of each link can then be different. This is to create the most effective links that leverages on each media's unique characteristics.

    We need to make such a service widely distributed
    Once we have figure out how to do the above, we need to turn this service into a dumb pipe. Let anyone be able to tap into the service and built different interfaces for different platforms, be it blogs, social networks, mobile applications et al.

    We need to decentralise the organising principles
    Beyond enabling link creation and distribution, we need to enable consumers to employ some organising principles to better allocate the attention of their social network. These principles must surface the most relevant and interesting links. If we can allow users to decide how to surface these recommendations, then we are in effect creating masses of attention allocators as well.

    We need to ride the collaboration curve
    With a distributed network of fans in place, the final thing to consider is how to upgrade of the entire network so that each fan becomes better at what he/she does. This is the collaboration curve that John Hagel and company talked about. Corporating this into the network is what will scale the entire model to new heights.

    Thursday, 9 April 2009

    5 startups experiments I like to try

    I have been blogging for quite a while now. While many of the posts are ramblings off my head (thank you readers for willing to listen to these rants), I want to collapse some of them in this post into 5 startups ideas. Things that 1-2 developers can quickly code and experiment. These are stuff I wish I can do now. Unfortunately, I don't have the necessary time and resources. If you are somehow inspired by this post to do something, feel free to include me as a free advisor :)

    Social payment for ecommerce
    This idea came from a golden statement from betaworks:
    there is a fundamental difference between “micropayments” (iTunes, I suppose) and social payments that are centered around a gesture, a social gesture, as a means of both giving money and openly stating a preference, and in that difference may lie new business models.

    If I am a startup, I would use TipJoy's API to create a service for online stores to allow their customers to purchase their goods via Twitter. I will offer discounts to encourage such payments as that would mean the purchase can be broadcasted to the user's followers. I will allow users the option of making that broadcast.

    Twitter VRM
    I am very bullish on the concept of Twitter as a social VRM. What I would try is to create a command line such as #tVRM for users who want to receive offers from vendors when they twit about something they are looking for. The service would host the twit and the corresponding offers on another platform such that they will not 'pollute' the flow of normal Twitter conversations. Finally, I would like to link to something like Twellow such that vendors can be alerted to the tweets that are marked with #tVRM. (Example of Twitter as social VRM)

    Firefox plug-in to provide real time analytics for your links
    We are used to analytics for sites but when information is more like flow than destination, data for the bits and pieces is more important than for the whole.
    Bit.ly has shown us just how valuable real time analytic is for individual links. What I like to experiment is to make this service available at the point of your linking, not only at particular sites like Bit.ly.

    I want to build a Firefox plug-in that provides you with analytics of what you have linked, in whatever destinations the linking occurs. It can be at your blog, at third party commenting systems, at Facebook etc. It doesn't really matter. Through the browser, you can track your links in real time. That is when the true flows of links can be revealed.

    Conversation tags for web wide discussions
    I always feel that the twitter conversation tags such as @, rt et al are very useful tools to organise our conversations. However, why do I have to go to Twitter or any other places to use them? Why can't I add a similar tag to my blog title when I want to address to someone in specific. Similarly, why can't I retweet a comment that I found useful by simply adding a tag. Why must sharing be so tightly integrated into a service?

    Through the browser, I hope an application independent conversation tag system can be developed. A system that allows the sender to tag anything thing from the web and share it. A system that allows the receiver to choose which service he wants the content from the conversation tags to appear in.

    Web to Mobile distribution
    Increasing, people want to move their content across Web and mobile. They want it in the context that makes sense to them. For me, I want a distributed service that lets me (i) bookmark articles from the Web that I want to read on the mobile, (ii) converts the article to a format that is easy to read, and (iii) allows me to easily interact with the articles (i.e. commenting, rating etc) via some interface innovation.

    I want to build this service in a way that is separated and relies on current applications the user might be using. For example, if a user is on Delicious, I want him to continue to stay on it rather than forcing him to switch services. What I want to build is just the lines that joined the three components that I mentioned above.

    5 local startups I will like to invest personally

    I have been mostly critical of some of our local startups. However, there are others that I find that have tremendous potential because of the ideas they are experimenting with. Here are my top 5, which I will like to invest in personally when I am no longer with the office.

    Interactive Vision Lab

    They are doing to 3D scanners what digital camera has done to traditional cameras. By developing a technology that allows one click 3D scanning, they can potentially democratize many industries, from healthcare, to game development, to architecture etc. My hope is that they can become the Flip camera of 3D scanner to enable more creativity to be born.


    StoryBoy is creating interactive animated storybooks authoring and reading applications with multi-language narration for mobile devices. It is supported by an online library of ebooks created by a community of authors lead by Skyvu Pictures. What I love about this team is their understanding that ebooks will not be behave or look like traditonal books. They are defining what digial books can achieve and are focusing on the children's segement. I think that is a smart move because children are the most imaginative. With the right tools in their hands, they can redefine what reading means.


    I like this startup because they have an ideal: save more lives in hazardous work environments. They are developing Environment, Health, Safety and Security (EHSS) software management solutions and Asian-Centric EHSS content to help companies enable better safety practices. They may not be the next Google but if their software saves even 1 live, I think that is value enough.

    They are a location based emergency services, again with the focus on saving lives during natural disasters. Looking forward, I see such services becoming more and more important as changes to our climate leads to more sudden disasters.

    Futurz Solutions
    Finally, the first proposal I have seen that tackles the energy monitoring opportunity. Energy is just like information. How to make that liquid and hence enabling it to flow to the right context is a good opportunity to achieve energy efficiency. We have not funded them yet but I am looking forward to doing so in the coming weeks.

    Wednesday, 8 April 2009

    Empowering creative talent in next generation media

    I have been talking about next generation media for the past 2 posts. I want to conclude by saying how we can leverage on these important changes to empower creative talent (i.e. the musicians, the photographers, the artists, the authors etc). In this, I want to draw reference to a powerful article on Nine Inch Nails (hat tip to Ethan Bauley) that has illuminated how media will evolve but also raised some important issues.

    Value capture for creative talent is still a challenge: he sold 250,000 numbered copies of the CD. The album is also available on iTunes for $9.90.

    Most of the innovations we have seen and discussed on the Web are on the value creation side. This is important because without value creation, there is no basis for growth. However, at some point, we need to talk about value capture as well. Even Google needs to capture some (not all!) of the value it has created. However, this is very elusive for next generation media.

    NIN has innovated for its fans and as a result, has successful created lots of new value. However, in the value capture side, the innovations are far less impressive. The article mentions CD and iTune sales, as well as concerts. All these are traditional ways of capturing value. How we invent new ways of doing so? One possibility is to rethink the ecosystem of creative talent and their fans.

    Fans are critical value enablers: users could tag items on Flickr and YouTube and have them pop up on NIN.com, where other users will find them neatly ordered and ready for viewing

    Fans are your natural viral distributors but they can go beyond that. It is time to think about how to elevate your community to truly power the businesses of creative talent. We need to go further than allowing fans to share, to remix stuff, to moderate community etc. We need to create new organisation models that allow the most passion fans to be part of the creative talent's business ecosystem.

    Each creative talent and all their assets, be it music, books, images etc are markets whereby fans can innovate on. Think about software marketplaces like App Store but apply it to creative talents. How do you design insitiutional rules that allow any fan to be a manager, a promoter, a merchandiser, a radio station etc and profit from your talent and creative outputs?

    It is only by recognising that value capture needs to be done at the ecosystem level than can we reimagine new business models for creative talent in next generation media. This is just a thought. I look forward to hearing your comments and views.