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Bartlomiej Owczarek weblog

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Nasza klasa and facebook

Nasza Klasa was kind enough to invite me to their management presentation last week. Here are some comments.

Perhaps annoyingly to organizers, question on top of everyone’s mind was – not what is NK current performance – but rather how the site is going to compete with Facebook, which is gaining users and, even to higher extent, interest of the media.

Let’s face it, NK is beyond the stage of being media darling. It might not seem like a lot if every other week there is a story about a teacher fired for “inappropriate” profile picture, some impersonating someone else or some other trivia. But, what matters is that they talk about you, and not what they say.

Now, press is all about facebook and even twitter, recently, as politicians use it to create their teacup storms (funny enough, one of such recent events was apparently due to politician not knowing how to use twitter correctly, ie. the fellow thought he’s sending a private message).

Facebook, an elephant in the room

Not even once word Facebook was mentioned in management’s presentation.

Also, all numbers shown were devoid of any comparison to other sites.

Surely enough, first (heavily loaded) question was about NK falling behind FB.

NK says FB progress is overblown. It’s been “already a year” since it is available in Polish version, and it has gained “only 2 million users” (other sources say something about 3m). NK has ~ 14m active monthly users.

Well, 2m in one year doesn’t look like such a small amount.

For good or for bad, NK is not Facebook


  • High end market (educated, younger people)
  • Global player
  • Everything in one feed
  • Open API, anyone can use the platform

Nasza Klasa:

  • Mass market
  • Local player
  • Functionalities are presented separately
  • API will be restricted, NK blessing will be required

NK is evolving (slowly)

It’s been couple of years already since Nasza klasa moved away from its “classmates” roots to “communication platform”.

In fact, “Nasza klasa” brand will shift to simply “NK”.

In contrast to FB, which proved ready to pull carpet from under its users in terms of exposing them to new functionalities, NK is taking it slowly. It has an evolutionary approach – it waits and sees what works. As it claims, long term planning (and long term for NK is one year) is a poor fit for their business.

Products long available on FB will be rolled out on NK this year. Like Groups. API – but strictly controlled. Games. Targeted ad campaigns based on user’s profile info, like the high school he finished (this one is so obvious it actually seems strange it took so long).

Onet or myspace

Leapfrogging users with products ahead of the time can be disastrous. Netscape’s poor performance with aping digg is one example.

And NK users are not known to be open for change.

NK hints that it focuses on what really matters, the mass market, regardless of FB hype in the media. Just like onet, which is boring, but ubiquitous, and pumps money at a steady rate.

In fact, monetizing its wide audience seems to be main focus for NK at the moment.

An unpleasant alternative to onet would be myspace case, which was left in the dust by FB and is trying make a living in its music niche.

NK is being wise by learning on mistakes of newcomers before migrating novelties, gradually, to its conservative, but profitable user base. Or, it is educating its users in social media basics, who then, impatient, will leave it for better alternatives.

Other posts after the meeting:

Presentation from the meeting:

New war of platforms?

Interesting article by Tom O’Reilly.

Perhaps days of fragmented but free-for-all web are coming to an end, as the gravitational pull of proprietary platforms – Facebook, iPhone, Google services – steadily increases.

On the other hand, many of these platforms in fact broke open spaces that were previously off limits to anyone but owners of the closed ecosystems and the few who bought their way in.

iPhone allowed everyone to write and distribute apps without mobile carrier’s blessing, and Facebook granted access to its social graph, allowing third party apps to take advantage of it.

Google Waves goodbye to email (and Microsoft)

Google revealed its stealth Wave project, with the announcement timed, by the way, within minutes after Microsoft Bing’s coming out.

Wave is an attempt to redefine and merge communication media, possibly replacing email, IM and others.

The demo looked really cool. Sadly Wave is not available yet – but I am really eager to check it out when it opens.

Demo lasted more than an hour, the video is available at project’s homepage.

Briefly, Wave aims to replace exchanging messages back and forth, which is the current practice, with single threads, called waves.

Different stuff can be added to waves – messages, but also photos and instant messaging.

In fact they implemented IM in a way that allows to follow each keystroke of the counterpart – like in good old days of Talk sessions on unix systems.

Meanwhile, Microsoft rebranded its search engine to “Bing” and tries to promote it as a “decision engine”, tailoring search results layout depending on the recognized query context (e.g. travel related search) and presenting structured information on its own page, rather than rely on user to go to any of the results.

I like the direction Microsoft is taking, but at this point I would be more excited about Wave’s ability to change my daily routing rather than Bing.

Bing is at most evolutionary step in the right direction, while Wave has more revolutionary feeling to it.

Note: this doesn’t bode well for Microsoft, which is an underdog compared to Google. In this position it should be Microsoft coming up with revolutionary ideas, not Google. Microsoft fails to show real innovation for all the dollars it sinks into search (for years already).

Another note: Wave makes me think of tremendous advantage Google has thanks to it capabilities in mass scale, real time processing. Building a system like this would be a challenge for a small startup.

Learning from Twitter, Facebook

Lately I’m mostly busy with community functionality of Ogito and I’m trying to take advantage of some intuitions from Twitter and Facebook.

I’ve had Facebook account for some time, but was never an active user. Twitter I never used at all, even though I had some experience with blip, a Polish twitter look-alike. So I opened a twitter account to experience the original thing.

My initial goal was something very close to twitter – or how I imagined it should feel like before actually using it. Low barrier of entry, easy to use, one information stream carrying all the relevant user updates.

After playing with Twitter and reading reactions to Facebook latest redesign, which makes social network look quite similar to its much smaller competitor, my vision is evolving a bit.

In fact I wasn’t disappointed by how easy it was to start using twitter. The application is lighthearted and inviting, also because the community seems to radiate with enthusiasm of the early converts.

On the other hand, and maybe it’s my lack of experience with the app, the updates stream seems overwhelming, difficult to read continuously and unstructured. Figuring a conversation from exchanges of replies is one example when I’m quite lost (stream of given users shows replies he directed at someone, but not the other way round, so it’s hard to understand the context).

Facebook feed was supposedly better. It had intelligence to handle updates (status vs activity reports) differently. It lost this advantage after redesign and maybe this is why so many people hate it.

Given that we will have a lot of non-status related updates, Facebook (as of before redesign) might serve as a better inspiration.

Its latest redesign also suggests a number of points where caution should be applied (I’m basing it mostly on this summary in huffingtonpost): overuse of user thumbs, large fonts and trivial updates, lack of real time view.

Of course, many of the complaints (photos flooding the feed em masse etc.) will be resolved by subsequent fixes.

Search getting fragmented, verticals most likely to fall to… Google

I’m reading an interesting post by John Borthwick.

Search is fragmenting into verticals. In the past year two meaningful verticals have emerged – one is video – the other is real time search.

It’s interesting and for me well, personally encouraging, because one can think of what I do with Ogito as going into vertical search. Kind of real time, too (time sensitive, at least).

There is also a funny episode from a while ago, when AOL thought of itself as an ultimate disruptor (natural-born disruptor?).

It was an interesting argument – heart felt and in the early days of the Internet cycle it seemed credible. The Internet leaders would have the creative DNA and organizational fortitude to withstand further cycles of disruption. Christensen didn’t buy it. He said time and time again disruptive business confuse adjacent innovation for disruptive innovation. They think they are still disrupting when they are just innovating on the same theme that they began with. As a consequence they miss the grass roots challenger – the real disruptor to their business. The company who is disrupting their business doesn’t look relevant to the billion dollar franchise, its often scrappy and unpolished, it looks like a sideline business, and often its business model is TBD.

Rest of the post serves to prove that “real time web” is the next disruptive wave (especially for Google). I though real time web is another Robert Scoble bullshit, because for some time he was the only one that I read hypeing up this theme, but maybe there is something to it after all.

I’m not convinced that there any major reasons for Google not to dominate the new niche, though. They did it with video. And with the blog search, earlier. Real time search companies may still end up like Technorati.

Smava launches as the first international P2P lender in Poland

Smava, a German social lending site, announced its official launch in Poland today.

Social lending (or p2p lending), for those unfamiliar with the concept, involves people lending money among themselves with intermediation of an Internet portal like smava.

In Poland three such sites operate already, and all of them started activity last year. I wrote about them after bootstrap meeting, roughly at the time when all three were launching, and then I organized a research between Accenture and Gemius to have some insight into how the Polish Internet users like this idea.

There is no doubt that P2P lenders like the Polish market, though, since very few countries have four players, like we now have after Smava opened.

How Smava wants to differentiate itself? I noted the following:

  • Conservative risk policy. They seem to have rather strict loan granting procedures. Scoring model was developed (and will be maintained) by BIK, the credit office. Documents and employment information are verified
  • Automatic and free of charge (from what I understood, updated: free of upfront fee) collections procedure. Other sites also claim to have collections, but perhaps it does not work as well as advertised
  • Anonymity. The parties don’t need to know each other unless collection procedures need to be launched. This would make me feel better as investor. Other players were missing this one when we compared them mid last year
  • Quantification of expected risk for the investor. Meaning one can see expected cost of risk based on borrower’s risk rating. This functionality was highly emphasized though I cannot verify how better it is that competition

Other features of the service seem in line with the market. Smava’s vice president Arek Hajduk told me, though, that the platform Germans have is 2-3 times more complex that the ones he had seen before. Arek is a P2P veteran who was launching social lending startups in Denmark (Fairrates) and in Canada (IOU).

Smava’s target group are “good” banking customers. People with poor risk profiles will be rejected and not allowed to use the site.

Down payment for mortgage was quoted as one interesting market niche, and recent experience that my mother had seems to confirm that this is an opportunity. Even if loan term of only 36 months might make the installments quite high. Banks started to demand down payment recently, and people often end up missing 10-20k euros to close their deal.

Business model is based on the fees. Borrower pays 1% of loan amount after loan is granted, investors do not have to pay. There was some discussion at the conference if the fees are not too low to built a sustainable business. Nevertheless, Smava wants to reach break-even point within three years.

What are Smava’s chances on the market?

Hard for me to say since I don’t follow it very closely. Everyone at the conference was taking shots at Monetto, the site which a year ago was boasting to have the most secure platform. They launched late, apparently raised the expectations too high, and failed to deliver. Perhaps Smava can take their place as the “high end” P2P player. Finansowo, on the other hand, is a rather different niche, more “social” than “lending”. That leaves us with Kokos, the third player. I don’t know how well they are doing.

Smava says that financial crisis didn’t reduce the loan volume in Germany, in fact it actually increased, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

Works on smava started in March 2008, and took about 6 full time programmers to finalize. Makes me a little bit uneasy about my 3-months, 1-non-programmer startup, but hey, they probably didn’t work seven days a week.

I wish Smava best. I would consider them for the time when I will have burnt all the money for startuping, but probably their advanced risk procedures would not let me in (if they are any good).

Back from Google Day 2008 [Poland]

I came back from Google Day 2008, organized for the second time in Poland by Google.

The scale of the event was quite impressive, even though there were some organizational deficiencies (like, everything was running late).

Just before event the started, the light-spirited Google’s logos beamed on huge screens accompanied by pompous music, reminding of the strength and confidence of today’s corporation, made peculiar impression on me (like that of seeing a child suddenly grown into a giant but still looking like a child only a very big one).

Anyway setting was nice.

But the content I saw was rather uninspiring. At least from my perspective. Maybe the idea of the event was more community/brand building, than showcasing something truly new.

First there was a video message from Cerf who told us that innovation is important, then Mario Queiroz (Google Labs) presentation from which I remember only that Google will keep on innovating if only for the reason that Internet is growing larger and that there are still some difficult problems in search, like understanding context of the query. And reminder what is the strategic idea of Chrome, for those who missed it.

Then I endured one session structured around screenshots from Google Trends and went back to do some real work today.

Still I think Google didn’t need to satisfy itself with such boilerplate content – certainly there is no lack of opportunities to say something new. Say, display Android phones (instead there were labs of… Google Maps and Youtube). Or provide insight into details of cooperation terms for startup mashups (ok, this is self-interest).

Maybe I missed some good stuff in the other workshop sessions, but judging from the agenda, I do not think so.

The best thing to do was probably networking, but for this purpose I was poorly prepared due to lack of business cards (note to myself: need business cards). But one person turned out so relevant to my current work that meeting her just like that seemed an amazing luck (and a justification for the time spent).

Report: social lending in Poland

Report from our research on social lending in Poland is now publicly available.

You can download it from Gemius webpage:

English version of the report

Polish version of the report

The research was an idea I had after February Bootstrap meeting devoted to social lending. Initially I thought of writing a simple article, but then decided that it would be cool to have some original primary data. So I asked Gemius (leading Internet research agency in Poland) to participate, and then involved Accenture as well.

Below a couple of comments and slides from the report. (read more…)

Ideal of personality

I came upon this, in an article by Andrew Sullivan:

The playwright Richard Foreman, cited by Carr, eulogised a culture he once felt at home in thus: “I come from a tradition of western culture, in which the ideal (my ideal) was the complex, dense and ‘cathedral-like’ structure of the highly educated and articulate personality – a man or woman who carried inside themselves a personally constructed and unique version of the entire heritage of the West.

“[Now] I see within us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self – evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the ‘instantly available’.”

The article adds to the discussion about how the web is changing the way we think. With ever shorter attention spans, are we losing the ability to think deeply?

Silicon Valley is looking for the new thing

Jeff Nolan wrote:

I wrote recently about VC loss of attraction in Web 2.0 and the thing that was frightening about that thought was the inability to answer the basic question “what’s next?”. The Valley thrives on the new new thing (possibly one of the most poignantly titled books ever) and with every turn of a generation there is an awkward moment where we’re just figuring out where we’ve been but have yet to see where we are going? right now is that moment.

(…) I’m still left with the uncomfortable question of what’s next? When Facebook doesn’t deliver world peace, and FriendFeed fails to be better than sliced bread, what will we do?

I suddenly realized that I missed the exact moment when web 2.0 ceased to be the new thing.

Ideas for the new thing: web 3.0 (too obvious), enterprise software (Jeff doesn’t like it, I also doesn’t like it much because it is difficult to scale), AI (as in the last 50 years), gene tech, …other ideas?

FriendFeed, Internet garbage dump or a gold mine

1) Joseph Weizenbaum, who created psychiatrist simulator called Eliza, dies at 85. WSJ article quotes him saying (link by Valleywag):

The Internet is like one of those garbage dumps outside of Bombay, there are people, most unfortunately, crawling all over it, and maybe they find a bit of aluminum, or perhaps something they call sell. But mainly it’s garbage.

2) Friendfeed, basically an RSS aggregator of person’s online activity with added functionality of comments, becomes the latest Internet hit. Scoble loves it, Duncan Riley at Techcrunch covered it and but didn’t see much point, louisgray replied to him with a blog post titled Duncan Riley Misses the Point of FriendFeed, which gained this comment by Ontario Emperor which i.a. explained why it is so useful to add another layer of commenting possibility to the “artifacts” that we produce:

(…) sometimes it’s not appropriate to comment at the original artifact. For example, one day I tweeted

“@commuter ont i10 eb jammed at euclid. 2 rt lanes clsd @ 4th. vineyard archibald offramps clsd.”

Then I subsequently added a metacomment via FriendFeed:

“i was 10 minutes late for maundy thursday rehearsal. my fault.”

The metacomment wouldn’t have made sense as just another tweet, but it made perfect sense as a metacomment overlaid over the previous artifact.

3) Ability of events in reality to generate “artifacts” is virtual reality is growing fast. These first artifacts can attract reactions, which themselves gain status of artifacts and are reprocessed (aggregated, commented on) further.

4) It reminds me of financial markets, which started with rather simple “artifacts” for real things (e.g. currencies), then built so many virtual layers on top of them, that in the end few people can understand the further chains of abstraction.

5) If financial markets were indication, the social sphere can be expected to generate amazing volume given its original “real” base, at the same time becoming unpredictable and impossible to understand for the majority of people.

6) How can social sphere be understood to be “unpredictable”..? In a way illustrated by recent Sarah Lacy interview and the twitter-enabled audience?

Technorati :

Twitter effect

Keynote interview with Zuckerberg is embarrassing to watch sometimes, but feel free to take a look yourself here (fragment).

There is plenty of commentary of course, about Sarah Lacy putting herself in the spotlight instead of her rather more interesting guest, not knowing her audience, and failing to get a clue even afterwards, but more interesting for me are comments related to twitter.

Bill Thompson:

And yet I was there in another way, listening to and even interacting with some of my friends in the audience, picking up on the vibe in the room and even tuning in later as Sarah Lacy loudly defended herself.

I was there because I was plugged into Twitter, the instant messaging service that lets users send short text messages to anyone who cares to tune in, online or on their mobile phone.

Steve O’Hear:

I think another factor in the keynote’s downfall was the use of Twitter as a so-called ‘back channel’. With keynote attendees able to share live commentary instantly, a negative response can spread like wildfire in a profound way that is very different to what’s possible without such connectivity.

Mark Evans:

What’s particularly fascinating is how quickly the criticism and vitriol started to flow as the interview started to go pear-shaped. While Twitter emerged out of nowhere last year at SXSW as a tool to tell people what was happening, Twitter’s took centre stage again this year to blare out anti-Lacy pronouncements in real-time.

Participants are able to turn event into a discussion forum in real time. Both exciting and scary (when you imagine yourself running the event).

Technorati : , ,

Google Sites promising but slooow

Google Sites is a wiki service derived from Jotspot, which Google acquired some time ago. It really does feel that Sites fill a gap in Google Apps. Now they combine knowledge organization tool in a shape of this wiki, online office tools, email and a calendar.

Such combination seems promising for my numerous side projects and I wanted to give it a try, even though, as far as wiki goes, I had good experience with Wikispaces before.

On a positive side, Google Sites does have a feeling of simplicity that I will always appreciate. Even though, it is surprising that it misses some seemingly no-brainer functionalities at the moment, like closer integration with Google Docs.

But the other key advantage of Google products is traditionally their responsiveness. On this account Google Sites is, so far, a disappointment. It’s not just slow, it simply hangs the browser at times (I’m using Firefox). I mean the whole thing goes “not responding”.

ZDnet blogger Dennis Howlett posted similar remarks, even though his focus was on gadgets.

That’s it for my first impressions. I’m curious about opinion of my project collaborator. I’m really optimistic about future of such offerings for teams, anyway.

PS. speaking of performance, now Google blog returns 502 server error, heh.

Technorati : , ,

In the East, Google is already well into corporates

I don’t know why, but corporate email in Russia and Ukraine apparently leaves a lot to desire and lots of people are using gmail as semi-official secondary email.

Inteliwise, Polish AI company, will go to NewConnect

Internet Standard published interview with CEO of Inteliwise, a Polish company which deals with AI technologies in search. On market since 2005.

The company plans to debut on NewConnect, a Polish stock exchange for high-tech companies.

I don’t have time to investigate it’s products at the moment, but the Company seems to understand what is most important for the AI:

Inteliwise avatar

A decent front-end.

Other thoughts: looks like an interesting company to watch (or even invest in).

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