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Philippe Starck speacking at Le Web 3

February 6th, 2008 · No Comments

When I was in Paris to attend Le Web 3, I decided to record some of the keynotes. Here you can find the one of Philippe Starck, a great designer and a very good showman :-)

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Elements for a Social Media Theory

January 18th, 2008 · No Comments

Recently I wrote an short essay about social media for Nova 24 Review (a bymonthly magazine about technology published by Il Sole 24 Ore). I translated it and I would like to discuss at Lift on February 7 or 8. Download the pdf and let me know what you think:

Nicola Mattina – Elements for a Social Media Theory

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Interview with Fabrizio Capobianco (Funambol)

December 20th, 2007 · No Comments

Internet is not accessed with mobile phones for two main reasons: devices are designed for voice instead that for managing data; mobile operators have discouraging data plans and, since now, have preferred to try to exploit (without success) their walled gardens. Nevertheless, it is clear that the next big thing in when people will be able to access the Net and their assets online: devices like iPhone will allow us to carry non only an address book, bu our social network.
I interviewed Fabrizio Capobianco, Ceo and founder of Funanbol, in Rome. We talked about its company, the choice to adopt an open source model and the challenge to build mass market mobile application in a sector where standardization is still a dream.

Note: the video can be commented and tagged. Contribute to make it better :-)

Nicola Mattina. Who are you?
Fabrizio Capobianco. My name is Fabrizio Capobianco and I am the Ceo of Funambol. Funambol is a mobile open source company and the largest open source project backed by venture capital funds. We are based in Silicon Valley while the development center is in Italy, which makes us fairly unique in this space.

NM. What is it possible to do with Funambol applications?
FC. Funambol is a mobile application server that is able to push email to a mobile phone. It does not matter which is the provider: it can be Yahoo! or Google. It does not matter what is the device: it can be a Raz or a Nokia or a smartphone with Windows Mobile.

NM. Since it is an open source project, the development is a collective effort. Why did you choose to have a community developing the applications and what is the community bringing to it?
FC. Mobile sector has a major problem if you are trying to attack the mass market: if you want to realize an application that is used by a lot of people, you have to support an exceptional variety of phones. It is not only the firmware of the device: you have to consider the location and the carrier. It is the very complicated, if not impossible, for a single company to build an application testing it on every single phone out there. So, the only way to make this happen, is to use a community and work together to test the application on every possible phone. At Funambol, we have more than one million download and our community is spread everywhere: in the Us, in Italy, in China or South Africa and so on. We have testing and quality assurance coming from every single place in the world.

NM. How many people are using Funambol?
FC. We know that we have usually 70.000 dowload per month and we know that we are adding an average of 1.000 sites per day worldwide. The majority of downloads come from China and India. The countries where we get a significant amount of downloads are the US, Italy… South Africa is also very active, together with Australia and Brasil.

NM. How do you deal with people coming from so many different countries? Do you have specialized teams for geographic area or you just speak English with everyone?
FC. We speak English with everyone. The company is based in Silicon Valley, where we have sales, business development, marketing and product management. The development center is in Italy, where we have about 35 people, that come from anywhere on the planet. We obviously speak English internally and externally.

NM. Do you have relationships with mobile operators?
FC. Yes. The business model is that our open source version is meant for enterprise and individuals. Then, we have a commercial product which is focused on people or companies hosting our server: service providers, mobile operators and portals. In our list of customers we count some mobile operators like Vodafone in Europe.

NM. You did the start up in Italy. How did you get to the United States? How did you contact venture capitalists?
FC. I was actually living in the US, in Silicon Valley, before starting Funambol, so for me it was easier. I’ve been living in the Valley for eight years now.
I came back to Italy and I started a development center with people that I knew very well. I started two companies in Italy before Funambol, one was called Internet Graffiti and it was the first web agency in 1994. So we built a Silicon Valley company and raised money there, with an offshore development center in Italy.
At the beginning it was fairly strange for the investors to see a development center not in India or in China, but I think we were able to explain why Italy was a better choice. Some of that came also by the fact that the product was open source already, and it was already very popular, so they could download and try it themselves: we didn’t have to explain why we thought the software was good.

NM. How do you deal with different cultures in Italy and in the States? Is it an issue having a group in the States and another one in Italy?
FC. If you look at any Silicon Valley company, the development center is somewhere else. The cultural differences between the US and Italy are less than between the US and India or China. So it actually makes life much easier once you assume that software will not be developed in the US because it’s too expensive: nobody does core development in Silicon Valley anymore.

NM. Which is the future of mobile applications?
FC. Mobile is the next big thing, it’s the device that you carry with you eighteen hours a day. A lot of people keep it turned on even when they sleep, so it’s the most important device we carry around at this point. If you get out of your house and forgot the phone, you will go back and take it. The applications we see on the web are just a subset of what you can have on a mobile device, which is a personal device.
The trend that is going to be more interesting is around mobile advertising. Advertising is what started the Internet: Google and Yahoo are all based on advertising. The phone as a platform for mobile advertising is even more powerful because has one element that is key, which is location. You have your phone with you, and so, if the phone is able to tell a server where you are, you can get advertising based on where you are, which is not only interesting for you. It can be very interesting where you are walking: it could be that you are walking in front of a store and so the advertiser of that store will have a lot of interest to reach you, while you are about to come in.
Mobile is a phenomenon that is happening. What has been holding it back, has to do a little with devices and a lot with data plans: the cost of data plans and the fact that in many countries you have to pay per-kilobyte is what is holding really back this phenomenon. But the change we’re seeing in the market is towards data flat plans and so, once you have a flat data plan, you are looking at a new Internet on a mobile device, like when you will move from a modem to the Dsl.

NM. How long will it take in your opinion to have a flat tarifs on mobile. Will mobile networks ever become neutral as the internet?
FC. I think the answer is pretty much today. In particular, in the US every carrier as a flat data plan and we are talking about 15-20 dollars a month. Europe is lacking behind which is big risk because they risk to miss the ability to really take advantage of this phenomenon. They’re still looking at a per-kilobyte, although you have examples like Tre that has a 19 euro a month data plan that includes five gigabytes a week, which can be considered a flat data plan.
We are talking about now. The iPhone, for example, which is gonna be launched in the UK, in France, in Germany in the next months: it’s gonna change the way people perceive their access to data with a device. It’s a data-centric device and you will buy it mostly for the data component, and less for the voice component. That changes the perception of the consumers towards the use of cellphone, which actually is going to start everything.

NM. Thank you very much and good luck.
FC. Thank you.

With the contribution of Antonella Napolitano and Anna De Bona.

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Italian bloggers blame the Levi-Prodi law

October 23rd, 2007 · 10 Comments

The Italian government has proposed a bill gathering all of the laws regarding the publishing industry in one text. The bill must be discussed in Parliament however since it isn’t included in this government’s electoral program, it’s highly unlikely that it will make the agenda.
Nevertheless, the bill is very controversial and is seen as an attempt of repression by many Italian bloggers and commenters. In fact, it begins by defining an editorial product as “any product aimed to inform, educate, divulge or entertain and which will be published regardless of its form or distribution”. This law does not affect advertising, music or video. This is a very broad definition and could include every page on the Internet, except company websites. As such, it can become dangerous because it can be interpreted in many different ways.
The second controversial aspect regards the fact the everyone publishing an editorial product must be registered in the Registro degli Operatori della Comunicazione (Roc) which is mantained by the Italian Communication Authority. The bill states that this is to “protect transparency, competition and pluralism” in the sector. Beppe Grillo wrote that you need to have a publishing company and an editor in chief even if you publish a blog. This isn’t the case: the bill clearly says that a single person can be registered and delegates the Communication Authority for the determination of who must register at the Roc. The text is ambiguous and it’s likely that the Authority will not ask millions of bloggers to register for the simple fact the it would have to deal with so many requests. It also doesn’t make any sense to force a teenager to fill in forms just to publish his personal blog.
Thirdly, the bill provides for a stricter application of defamation laws. The bill states that whoever publishes an editorial product is liable as an editor in chief and that means that he is responsible for every word that is published including, in the case of blogs, comments. Moreover, in Italy the defamation by press is considered a crime more severe than the defamation by a single person and that means that the punishment will be more severe. Many bloggers consider this an intimidation.
The bill has 32 articles: many of them regard money that the Italian government is giving and will continue to donate to newspapers and periodical press. Moreover, if the text will be approved as is, online newspapers will also recieve these gifts. Perhaps we should concentrate on this aspect as well which surely does not protect “transparency, competition and pluralism”.

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Second Life and its business colonisers

July 27th, 2007 · 2 Comments

Second Life is fashionable and in the news. This fact has not escaped the notice of some firms which have engaged their own consultants to organise their presence in the “new world”. So far the conquest of the promised land has occurred through the colonisation of virtual islands, on which prestigious and striking buildings have been constructed which are exactly identical to those in the real world: office blocks, auditoria, retail centres.
This might be considered a disarmingly superficial and dull approach. Nonetheless, we must remember that it takes time for a new medium to develop its own form of expression. For example, it took around ten years for the clear emergence of the collective intelligence phenomena which are typical of many Web 2.0 applications. At the end of the 1990s, most effort was focussed on migrating mass media models to the web: an example were the large general purpose portals where “the content was king”, and which today have been replaced by social networks, where value is produced from the relational network among users.
The business colonisers on Second Life have the same approach as their predecessors ten years earlier on the web and, moreover, insist on offering their stuffy and user-repellent sites. Since the metaverse reflects the real one with an added dreamlike state, they build a square, auditorium or office block.
If, on the other hand, we adopted a slightly more sophisticated viewpoint, we could design buildings in which a floor – given that it no longer has the function it fulfils in real life – could be used, for example, as a tool to help a group take decisions. This is the approach being followed by the researchers of the Sociable Media Group at MIT, who invent forms of architecture which perform new social functions. Tools which are used by avatars, but which – it should be remembered – help the users they represent.
Many indulge in fantasies which place the metaverse in a parallel and almost independent dimension compared to the real world. By doing so they underestimate the fact that Second Life is above all a social environment populated by real users who interact through their avatars. When people are offline, the avatars do not exist. That is why you often have the impression of visiting sparsely inhabited locations: every day just a few tens of thousands of users worldwide are online at the same time. The population of Italian avatars is fairly limited: according to the official figures from Linden there were just under 25,000 active users in May.
It is likely that the approach adopted by companies, together with the current size of Second Life, will swiftly bring disappointment to this first wave of business colonisers. Some will consider a failure of the metaverse as a business phenomenon: whereas in fact the role of pioneers is to commit errors on which those who follow them can build their success.

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Interview with Ian Forrester and Matthew Cashmore

July 20th, 2007 · No Comments

BBC Backstage is the BBC’s developer network that encourages the creation of non-commercial applications based on contents produced by the English television network. BBC offers these contents as RSS feeds and Apis, so that they can be easily manipulated and mixed with other information to create new services: mash-ups that use the Google Maps, billboards that brings real life news into Second Life, intelligent agents that answers via instant messengers t o people asking for latest news or weather forecasts. Ian Forrester and Matthew Cashmore are the two guys that are making all this possible and I had the pleasure to meet them in their office to talk about the project, its results and its future.

Questa intervista è disponibile anche in italiano nel blog di Nova 24: Intervista a Ian Forrester, Matthew Cashmore.

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Interview with Simon Willison

July 12th, 2007 · No Comments

Simon Willison is a brilliant developer and the co-creator of the Django Web framework. Before going freelance Simon worked on Yahoo!’s Technology Development team, and prior to that at the Lawrence Journal-World, an award winning local newspaper in Kansas. Simon is also one of the most active OpenID evangelist. I met him in London in February and we talked about Open Id, it’s advantages and its risks.

Questa intervista è disponibile anche in italiano nel blog di Nova 24: Intervista con Simon Willison.

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Interview with Tara Hunt

July 7th, 2007 · No Comments

Tara Hunt is one of the most active professional in the field of marketing 2.0 and worked in many different sectors. She has created successful communities and is often invited to speak to important conferences like Future of Web Apps, ETech e Web 2.0 Expo. I met her in London in February and interviewed to discuss how to create a successful community.

Questa intervista è disponibile anche in italiano nel blog di Nova 24: Intervista con Tara Hunt.

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Bruce Perens meets Italian bloggers

July 4th, 2007 · No Comments

On June 8, 2007 Bruce Perens met a bunch of Italian bloggers in Rome to talk about open source.

The talk is very interesting: Bruce talks about his experiences developing open source software for big and conservative companies like Merryl Linch and other financial institutions and about the difference between differentiating and non-differentiating software.
The first one is what makes a company different from its competitors: it is the page rank for Google or the recommendation system for Amazon. The second one is every software used by the company and by its competitors for common tasks: word processors, application servers and so on. Differentiating software must be proprietary and the company should invest on it because it makes a difference. Non-differentiating software can be, or better, should be open source: in this way the company shares not only the code but also the investment to create it.

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Interview with Daniel Waterhouse

June 29th, 2007 · No Comments

Daniel Waterhouse is a Sector Partner with 3i with a sector focus on internet/web2.0 and consumer technology investments. He joined 3i at the start of 2006 and is involved in investments and portfolio support on a global basis. Daniel has extensive knowledge of and network within the sector.
I met him in London in February and interviewed him for Nova 24, the supplement about technology of Il Sole 24 Ore, the main Italian economic newspaper.

Nicola Mattina. Before joining 3i, you were responsible for business development in Yahoo! and managed the acquisition of Kelkoo. I would like to start from here: why does a big company decides to acquire a smaller one instead of building the same services?
Daniel Waterhouse. There are many different reasons why an acquisition is performed, but basically you buy another company to achieve a strategic goal. Most of the times, it depends on the market: sometimes it is more convenient to do it in house, other times it is more convenient to buy someone that already produces what you need, other times it is better to do a partnership. Kelkoo is an interesting example: Yahoo! did not have a strong price comparison service in Europe like in the Usa and so we decided to buy the player with the biggest market share.

NM. You left Yahoo! at the beginning of 2006. Why did you chose 3i?
DW. That’s a good question: there is more than a reason. The main one is that 3i scales: it is one of the biggest private equity fund in the world and has a global business. Then, 3i invests in different development stages, from start-up to maturity and this makes the job more interesting and exciting. Finally, the portfolio is very heterogeneous

NM. What are your objectives in 3i?
DW. My role is to coordinate investments in the Internet area and to find occasions to create synergies between the companies in our portfolio.

NM. Do you have investments in the web 2.0 area in Italy?
DW. No, and I do not know many other investors that have investments in this area in Italy so I do not have to feel to guilty for that. In Italy we are focused on more traditional sectors, but we would like to speak toItalian web 2.0 companies: there is no real geographical limitation. Today you can build a global business in every country.

NM. You said 3i invests in every development stage. Which is your approach with start-ups?
DW. 3i invests mainly in the round A and B. We do occasionally seed investments, but not many. In the early stages we invest from 2 to 5 million dollars, while in the latest stages we invest from 20 to 40 million dollars. We are looking for business that has not been born yet especially in the web 2.0 space.

NM. In the last months there has been a certain interest in open source businesses with a good number of investments in this area. What do you think?
DW. It is a tough question and it is difficult to answer. We invested in a company named Visual Media that produces an open source software for special effects and video editing, but we are still refining the business model. I think that the challenge is to build a sustainable business model that can be applied to many companies, and my impression is that no one has been able to do it right now.

NM. Web 2.0 is happening mainly in the States. Tomorrow we will both attend a conference named Future of Web Apps and most of the speakers come from the Usa. What’s happening in Europe?
DW. I’ very optimistic. In the last eighteen months, there was an increasing number of important investments in Europe: Daily Motion, Skype, Netvibes are very successful businesses. The barriers to start a new venture are very low and this encourages entrepreneurs.

NM. Maintaining the focus on Europe, we have to notice that we do not have a European search engine. There are some initiatives in this area backed by the German and French government. Do you think it is an handicap?
DW. I do not think so. Search is by definition a global business, because the technology is the same even when the languages changes. I think there is room for niche search engines that addressspecific needs, but there is no need for a pan-European search engine.

NM. Google was the first search engine to use collective intelligence to produce better results. Which is the next step?
DW. There a lot of initiatives in this area, but maybe the most interesting experiments are in the area of social search. In this space, Yahoo! is achieving a leadership with Yahoo! Answers. We have invested in a company named Garlik: it is a service that allows the users to gather the information about themselves that are present on the Internet and uses a very sophisticated semantic engine to do this. Another area of great interest is visualization and there are many companies that are trying to create non textual search engines.

Questa intervista è disponibile anche in italiano nel blog di Nova 24: Intervista con Daniel Waterhouse.

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