Web Monday Zurich

Web Monday Zurich #14

One of the coolest things about the Web Monday Zurich meetings are the cool locations. Every Monday it takes place in a different place, and after a while you get the feeling of exploring the unique office spaces of the Zurich tech scene. One month you’re sitting in the cozy office space of Amazee, the next you’re chilling on the comfortable couch of Wuala, I took a ride down the rabbit hole slide at Google and on May 3rd, 2010, I got to check out Big Blue, the IBM European headquarters in Bahnhof Altstetten in Zurich. IBM is famous for being (historically) the Evil juggernaut of Silicon Valley (my feeling via Steve Jobs), the beast which Apple and Microsoft rallied against in the early days of the personal computer wars. But now that Apple is the old skool corporate entity – well…IBM sort of feels like the nimble innovation-minded corporation reborn from the ashes of the Silicon computer wars. The people there seem energetic and free-minded – like tech-prophets marching into the future with their heads high and without the corporate giant stigma you see when watching the Pirates of Silicon Valley.


The IBM building has a fantastic atrium, where you can mingle and enjoy an apero before heading into the auditorium. There’s a giant sort of aquarium with blue lights and a couple of huge serves on display, it’s an interesting place to have a beer, and IBM beer surpasses the offerings at Google. I enjoyed a weissbeer while getting my head slightly twisted for my presentation on Web Portraits Zurich and mingled with folks. But before I got up on stage and tried to make a fool of myself, we were treated to talks and thoughts from IBM, Dein Deal, and Kooaba.

IBM


Siddhartha Arora (from IBM) was our host for evening, and presented the IBM Global Entrepreneur Program. Basically, IBM is interested in working with startup teams to build a smarter planet. This is an awesome higher purpose to hear from giant company like IBM. So what do startups need when starting out? They need to be low cost, they need mentoring and networking, and then they need marketing and sales. And if you’re accepted into the program, IBM offers it’s project support, people, and marketing strength. Teams would have access to IBM servers and technology support to allow the growth of new ideas and startups. What’s in it for Big Blue? The intellectual property stays with the startup, but I think there’s the belief that helping technology grow is a good thing. If you have a sweet idea that works well on a small startup scale, at some point you’ll need to scale toward the sky, and you need IBM for that. So, basically IBM is enabling new ideas for a smarter planet by supporting startups, and hopes to benefit from the eventual resources required for cool startup ideas to turn into killer companies. I think that this approach is what big companies like Big Blue should be doing to foster and encourage the spread and evolution of ideas, and the higher purpose here, “To build a smarter planet” sounds authentic and is highly inspirational. If you’re interested, you can apply for the program at www.ibm.com/isv/startup.

Dein Deal


There are a number of cool social marketing ways to form new selling opportunities, and Dein Deal is basically taking the idea of grouponworkes.com and putting it in practice in Switzerland. The concept is as old as supply and demand, if you pool the buying power of people, you can reduce the price of a product. Dein Deal focuses on providing deals on “experiences” in Switzerland. What’s an experience? Going out to dinner, a massage, wellness, whatever can be offered. It’s good for deal providers because they get a lot of people using their services, and encourages people to come back after trying it out. It’s good for Dein Deal, because the concept has already been proven successful in a ton of other countries. It’s a copycat concept, but who cares? If something works in one place (like America or Germany) why not see if will downscale to a small country like Switzerland?

Kooaba


I’ll be honest, I love the idea of Kooaba, because as a photographer and visual imagery junky, it’s the technology I was always excited about. And since I live in a cave, I also didn’t know the technology already existed and felt like an idiot in a crowd of brainiacs. What does Kooaba do? Image recognition. That’s it. That’s what I love to learn about. The Kooaba technology recognizes objects in images. If you can identify these elements and then link it to something (like Amazon) you have a very powerful tool for image searching and monitization of online imagery. Why is this important? Because you can’t search for images on the internet. You can only search for tags and text associated to imagery, but you can’t draw a house and find images of houses on Google (not that I know of at least). The idea is that you have an iPhone, Android, smart phone, take a picture of something, and then you get buying info on that object (online stores, Amazon, etc.). Google has a similar application called Google Goggles, which is now the main competitor of Kooaba. The old competitor used to be a startup called Snaptell, who was bought by Goolge (see how the circle of life works).


Kooaba isn’t able to recognize everything though. If you have a picture of a cat, it won’t know what to do with it. Basically the technology works by querying a database, recognizing an object in the image, and then sending the user to buying services. They also have some applications like Paperboy, which is used to take a picture of a magazine article, and then you get connected to the electronic version online on your smart phone. They also have Shooting Star, a photo management app with flickr integration, and using the image recognition technology your image is instantly tagged based on recognized objects. Very cool I think. At the moment it looks good for tagging according to landmarks and scenery, which is great for travel photography. However, this is really just a very small part of what image recognition has the potential to do for retail business and advertising.


Why is imagery recognition so important? Because we love celebrities because of who they are in our minds and love to buy the shit they pose with in magazines. So companies pay advertising agencies to develop ad campaigns with famous faces to sell stuff like Nespresso and clothes. But with image recognition all you would need to do is have a picture on an Android/iPad/iPhone/internet tablet, and in an online magazine and click on an object that Lady Gaga is wearing in some random article about music and then using location based information technology your device could be connected with the closest store offering ghastly latex shoes or you instantly get One-Click link to an Amazon store. Of course, this sucks for the advertising photography industry because it means that any image can be used as an ad, not just those that have been licensed to ad agencies. Imagine my Urban Ninja photos on Flickr being used to sell Katana Samurai swords in Austin, Texas when some kid is looking for cool martial arts photos on his lunch break at school? My images would have aided in selling a product, but I get no split from the sale. But that’s the future, and it’s already here.

Web Portraits Zurich


The last presentation of the night was me and I went low-tech as I presented the Web Portraits Zurich project that I started on Amazee. I went over the concept, explaining why I started taking photos, and how I got bored with self-portraits and started taking to women on the internet to setup model shoots, and then came to the web portrait project idea. I stared the portrait project because I’m continually inspired by the thoughts and visual style of the people I meet in the startup scene. Then it was the most natural thing in the world to start a portrait project, the higher purpose being, “to create cool imagery of people in the startup scene around Zurich and Switzerland.”


I presented images from Mathias Möller and Lukas Fischer, and then talked a bit about the brain storming process and online tools we’ve been using to develop portrait ideas like Google Wave and Cacoo. The next portrait will be with Dania and Gregory from Amazee, and if all goes well a giant Tech-Flesh jungle portrait of the Amazee team will find it’s way onto the net.



Zurich is an exciting place to be if you’re into the startup scene. For more info on what’s happening check out the Web Monday Zurich group on Amazee.com or UX Chuchi or Marketing Chuchi, or just walk the tech streets and explore the possibilities.

Web Monday Zurich #13

Web Monday Zurich #13 was held at the offices of Wuala in Zurich (I took a sticker for my laptop), and covered such lovely topics as why companies fear Facebook, the history of the music industry and the visual searching tool I always wanted but never knew existed. I had a headache during the presentations, but that didn’t deter from the coolness of the tech evening from settling into my neuron flow. To join future Web Monday meetings check out the Web Monday Zurich project on Amazee.


I can’t say where the pain in my head came from exactly, some combination of being sick last week, finishing a review of a new electroactive polymer paper, ski touring towards the Wildstrubel (before recovering) in a snow storm and building up an image of a beautiful woman next to a nuclear mushroom cloud is bound to put pressure on essential areas of my neural networks. Plus I think I need new glasses.


According to the book “Neuro Web Design: What Makes them Click?” (which I read for the last UX Book club Switzerland ), people love stories, and if you start one everyone will be captivated. This explains why iMusicianDigital AG was my favorite presentation of the night, because it was mainly a story, that of the music industry from the 1990’s till today.


The 90’s were the golden age of the music industry. People went crazy buying over-priced CDs and more money was made in this time than at any other time in the history of the industry. Then, around 2001 broadband hit along with cheap CD burners and P2P networks, and all the consumers who were pissed off at paying $20 for an album on CD with two good songs and a lot of crap on it were all too happy to pirate as much music as possible (this last part is my own take on the history). CD sales dropped and there was a 20% sales decline per year. Discount CD sales were pushed by big retailers like Media Markt and Best Buy (in the US) who lost money on CDs but made a killing on other stuff (first get them in the stores). While this all went down the local retailers and cool CD shops where put out of business…and now where are we?


Now it’s estimated that 60% of the music we consume is pirated in some way or another. Why? There is a theory, purported in books like “Free” and “Economies of Abundance” that the value of things like images, music, movies, and other media will always tend to zero in the long run (like your survival rate). So how does one make money on something with a declining perception of monetary value like a music album?


Well, first off, in the traditional model of the music industry there was no real-time accounting and the administration of selling music was very inefficient. In the new model, such as with iMusicianDigital the content is user generated whenever possible. An artist creates an account, uploads the album as uncompressed audio and that music is distributed to iTunes, Amazon, etc. The musician sees real-time stats for where the music is bought, what countries, how much, when, and is paid in a timely manner.


How successful an artist is financially is dependent on much more than the distribution system. The savvy musician needs to build a fan base, often through live shows (connect the poetry to the reader) and now through social networking tools like Facebook, MySpace, etc. It’s like anything else, you need some way to connect to the fan base and develop a community.


iMusicianDigital is attempting to fill that niche, that area of the music industry which is in flux. Artists upload their album and a little while later it’s available on iTunes, Amazon, etc. It’s interesting for me to learn about this stuff, because I want to the a similar thing with self-published books. Seeing how music is distributed and promoted online is similar to the publishing-on-demand business models for books, putting the promotion and marketing of the material in the hands of the creator.


Raphael Briner from HyperWeek gave the first presentation of the night about developing online social networking communities (think Facebook) for businesses. Why do businesses need his company? Because it’s too hard to build the platforms up from scratch. A few examples were shown including stackoverflow.com and it’s cool to hear about the development of this stuff. However, since I’m a consumer and am now overloaded with Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, my blog and Flickr, I stood around wondering when I’m going to actually start shooting pictures again (yes, my mind wanders, the result of too many social networking sites).


The last presentation was for Oskope, the visual search and find design I’ve always new was possible, and continually frustrated when it didn’t exist. The concept of Oskope was originally presented two years ago, but this was the first I’d seen of it (I’m often oblivious to the world, I admit it). The idea of Oskope is to present products as images, allowing you to search visually and have the image products grouped in a certain way that you can better find what you were looking for. Ever tried searching for “Shoes” on Amazon? I’ve even tried using eBags to find a cool leather bag, and ended up going to Scaramanga in the UK. To be fair, Scaramanga sells some of the coolest vintage bags I could imagine (perhaps I’m just shallow) but the point is that sites like Amazon are really a cluster-fuck to search through unless you specifically know what you want (or just accept what they want to see to you).


For me Oskope is a window into how online shopping should be done. But the technology is distributed in a licensing model, and till now I never knew it existed. So where is the value in it? Promote it, get in online stores, revolutionize my online buying experience. If Oskope gets ported to Android (and as well the iPhone and iPad) I think it will really take off, as it’s the exact type of shopping experience a touch device consumer will love.




Web Monday Zurich #11

Google_Tennis_Seat.jpgThe days after a Web Monday Zurich (01.12.2009) is always hard on my head – still exploding from the tech-inspiration from the night before. On nights like this I need to find a dim place with mellow music and down a beer, sometimes with a chocolate brownie to calm my mind (this often happens at Alltag in Winterthur). The 11th Web Monday Zurich took place in the Zurich Google offices, that alone was enough of a reason to attend, the technology insight was just a bonus. There were three topics; Panoramio, UBS Web 2.0, and Mathias Vogel. Then I got a chance to tour through the Google offices.


Panoramio_logo.jpgThe Panoramio presentation wasn’t so much about the software, but more of a how-I-woke-up-and-found-myself-successful talk by Joaquin Cuenca Abela. Joaquin sounds like the type of startup personality everyone imagines it should be like. A basic idea, applied to a certain technology, you keep pushing your ideas, and for some reason you get a call when you’re in the mountains to hear that your one server has crashed and your idea is becoming a success. Joaquin tried a few different ideas before thinking it would be a good idea to allow people to post pictures on Google Earth (the purpose of Panoramio). Basically they did that, eventually Google got interested in it and added it as an option on Google Earth. Then the server crashed and they knew they had arrived. It’s the feel-good type of story that makes a person want to quit their job and sit around an apartment drinking beer and programming. However, the real essence of the talk was that one should just keep trying with their ideas, many successful web startups are by people who are not necessarily super smart or unobtainably talented. Just do what feels right, respect you decisions and try different things to find out what works.


ubs_logo.jpgNext up Andreas Hoffmann gave a presentation on a challenge/contest from UBS. Basically, UBS wants to know how to use Web 2.0 in the banking business. All they want is 4-5 PowerPoint slides by Dec. 24th explaining your concept (details at the Web Monday Zurich project on Amzaee). The top three winners get 5000 CHF each. Sounds pretty sweet, pretty basic, straight-forward, everything you always expected in an idea contest. Since I’m an idea man I’m planning to brainstorm some ideas and send it in. After all, I’m a UBS banking customer, and if I can tell them how I want Web 2.0 in my banking life and they’re going to take me seriously, well, that’s worth a few nights at the coffee shop combined with some scribbles on a piece of paper on the way back from a night out in Zurich.


fhnw_fhnw_logo_de.pngLast up Mathias Vogel talked about the Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz (FHNW). The FHNW school is interested in applied research, which means creating prototype technologies, serving industry partners, as opposed to basic science and writing publications (like at ETH Zurich). The program is currently after woman and industrial partners at the moment, with one goal being making computer science more attractive to women. I like this idea, and I can understand the motivations but generally dislike programs which separate one group of people from another at this level. I sort of felt excluded in many ways from the research communities in the United States because such a great push was made in universities and companies to recruit everyone who isn’t a white male (and that would be me). I decided to do research work at ETH Zurich largely because they seemed to be interested in results and ethics more than looks or gender. I think the best way to get more woman into the tech fields is to do more outreach at the lower levels and preschools and teach children at an early age not to exclude colleagues because of their gender or skin color. Pushing for women at the professional level, after they’ve already gone through a male-biased system and are already taking a research carrier direction (already succeeded despite the roadblocks) seems like a good start, but I think that giving support to tech-minded girls so they realize they could become startup-creating-women could have a greater influence (hmmm, sounds like a cool Amazee project idea). But now I’m interjecting random commentary where it might not belong (or does it?).


coolpeople_map.pngAs part of the FHNW program two projects were also presented. Amazee is included in one of their partner projects, one goal being the creation of a sort of Karma Index into the Amazee system, which will include a recommendation engine so that new users are quickly connected with other users with similar interests when they join. I find this to be fantastic, because the first thing you wonder about when joining an online organization like Amazee (or Stylished, or Talenthouse, or Flickr) is how to find the people you want to work with. My mind had become a tad befuddled by this point from the free beer, but it was able to coherently listen to the presentation of the Galaxyadvisors.com website. It’s basically a connection engine, trolling through networks picking out connections between different people, creating connections between them, and then displaying this as a giant web. I’m more or less smart enough to appreciate the full value of it, as were most people in the room. I’m going to keep tabs on Galaxyadvisors, as many great things could come from it.


After the talks I walked around the room enjoying two quick glasses of wine talking with cool people, and then took a tour of the Google offices half buzzed on vino. The experience was…fantastic. You don’t need to be half buzzed to enjoy the Google offices, but it does enhance the experience. Just walking around you feel drunk, wondering if it’s possible, or if you’re simply hallucinating, can it be possible for offices be this “cool?” No, this is madness, surely I drank a bottle of bottle of Jack at my apartment and am simply losing all functions of my mind, and as a last gasp before dying my brain has created this fantasy land for me to enjoy before I cease to exist. But this actually happened, and I have pictures to prove it, as well as a video of my shoes sliding down a pole instead of taking the stairs.

Web Monday Zurich #10

WalimexOcta150cmWeb Monday Zurich is a meeting setup on Amazee.com to enable interaction between people in the web community around Zurich.  Startups have a chance to present their ideas and get feedback, everyone has a chance to mingle and network, feed your brain and your innovation side in social atmosphere, how can you not go?


I wanted to attend my first Web Monday at the end of August, companies like MAGMAG Magazines were presenting, and being a photographer looking for new ways to present visual content, I was eager to see what was up.  But that Monday I had just flown back from shooting a wedding in Rome, had picked up some sort of sickness, and took down the wrong address.  So I ended up looking for Feldstrasse 113, a fictions address just different enough from Feldstrasse 133 to make me think I was going out of my mind.


Web Monday #10 was held in the Amazee office at the Technopark in Zurich (I was there before for a booster party), and my mind was sharp, so it was problem to find and attend. I could have stayed home and played with my new Octabox, but I was itching to infuse my mind with something new.


Two companies presented, GetYourGuide.com and StreamForge.


getyouguideGetYourGuide.com


So, there’s like a thousand travel website on the net, you can book a flight, book a hotel, book a car, book a train…but what about booking “an experience?”  GetYourGuide is a newly out of Beta website Startup which seeks to connect trip provides (suppliers) with people looking for travel experiences (customers).  The idea is you head to the website and and quickly search through destinations or activities and quickly find a cool experience, like a city tour, bike tour, etc.  I see a lot of potential for GetYourGuide, because I’ve been in a position to use it many times.  During the Spring I was in San Diego and L.A. for a few weeks.  In San Diego I was trying to book a kite boarding class, in L.A. I was searching for the best graffiti.  I ended up buying some Bratz dolls and shooting them on the streets of the cities.  So, in the end I didn’t learn to kite board, but did have a cool experience.  However, I didn’t end up kite boarding because by the time I found a school, I had run out of time and had to fly back to Zurich.  For a travel consumer such as myself, GetYourGuide can offer a lot of value, and I’ll use it to find a cool trip in the next city I visit.


For trip suppliers GetYourGuide is attractive, because it connects the local suppliers to the global customer directly.  It includes a very nice back-end with analytics software to help suppliers see how people are visiting their trip listings.  At the moment GetYourGuide is targeting popular destinations, and finding trip suppliers in those main cities.  This is nice strategy, as they can bring in revenue quickly, and then expand to targeting trip suppliers in broader destinations.  This is what interests me the most, because if you’re looking for a cattle driving experience in New Mexico and you live in Stuttgart, it’s not so easy to do.  I also had problems in the past contacting mountain guides in Bolivia when I flew down there.  I think if GetYourGuide expands into these areas and eventually targets specialty suppliers, they’ll set themselves apart from their competitors like Viator.com and have a web company offering a lot of value to their customers and suppliers.  I’m looking forward to a travel experience-enhanced future.


streamforgeStreamForge


So, when Barack Obama was giving his inauguration speech, so many people tuned in that the video feed was unavailable, the internet was broken - overloaded, users were blocked, their experience ruined.  I didn’t watch the speech, but I do recall trying to watch the 2009 Leica webcast during the launch of their new cameras, the S2, X1, and M9.  Their servers were overloaded and I had to read about it on a forum, how disappointed I was.  How can we avoid this in the future?  By using Peer-to-Peer strategies like those employed in LimeWire and previously in Napster (and now many others).


Instead of downloading the video or audio content directly from a website, parts are downloaded from other people who are downloading the same content.  This removes the load from the main server, and enables people to maintain their enjoyment of the internet without overloading the system.  This isn’t a new idea (in principle) it was tried (and failed) in the past.  But StreamForge is using technology developed from the latest research at ETH Zurich, and like many technologies, the subsequent try is often far better than the first attempt.


Like (as far as I know) all Peer-to-Peer sharing platforms, StreamForge does require that their software be downloaded and installed by users, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to upload data and remove the load on the main server.  But this presents a potential problem, because many consumers are wary of installing random programs which are connected to the internet, even though it may not be any different than using a webpage.  Also, this is a technology which the main server companies need to adopt and trust in.  If these two barriers can be overcome, then StreamForge has a bright future.  There are other examples of companies with similar problems.  Flash was introduced something like many, many years ago, but it’s really only in the last few years that it’s gained wide acceptance, and nearly every web browser has it installed.


Brass Tacs


Web Monday #10 rocked, I love seeing how different technologies develop and how new companies launch and present themselves. It’s very inspiring, and makes you think in new ways (at least, it works for me). I had an excellent time at Web Monday #10, I’m sad I missed #9, and am looking forward to #11, which will include presentations by Prof. Manfred Vogel from FHNW, Joaquin Cuenca Abela from Panoramio and Andreas Hoffmann from UBS (there’s a contest in the works).


The next Web Monday is coming up on Nov. 30th, location to be announced.  Check out the Web Monday Zurich magazine on Amazee for further details.  Also, STARTWERK.CH was a German write-up on Web Monday #10.