Sean Park Portrait
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Articles tagged 'social networks'

Reverse innovation. Listen. Learn.

I have written often (for example here and here) on the subject of how more and more of the most interesting and disruptive innovations and business models of the 21st century and of the sixth paradigm will emerge from the “edges” of the global economy. Newly empowered by the continuing advances in information and communications technologies, and building off the powerful emergent platforms of the sixth paradigm (mobile, cloud, etc.), entrepreneurs in places like India and Africa will design and popularize some of the most potent business models going forward. Indeed this is one of our key investment themes and as we grow, we hope to be able to participate by making investments in these parts of the world.

To be able to succeed (in providing meaningful, affordable, services) in such challenging environments to my mind offers great insights into how improvements can be made to how services are designed and sold in any environment – including the developed and wealthy western markets. A variation on the New York, NY theme of – ‘if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere’…

And so this post: “…and you will hear our voices” from Teddy Ruge really resonates:

So what does this really mean for us as an ever-increasing population empowered by the social media stage? It means we have the responsibility to start speaking up for our continent. We have right to say enough is enough with the hand outs, enough with the aid mentality, enough with the top-down solutions, and enough with being ignored on the global stage. Our voices count, and it would be good to partner with us—to have a conversation with us first—before any projects are started.

I would go further and say it would be insane not to partner with the people that are “at the coal face”. That not only would this reduce the number of mistakes, failures and unintended consequences but that the opportunity for learning and cross-fertilization of ideas, business models and innovations is so rich that to ignore it would simply be foolish. Social media is giving a voice to ideas from everywhere, anywhere, with the best ideas emerging naturally based on their intrinsic worth and evolutionary strength (and not because of where or by whom they were ‘invented’.) So for talented, ambitious people everywhere the cry is no longer “Go west young man!” but “Go south, go east, go north, go west – go into the global social ecosphere and connect with the current of humanity.” Open. Not closed.

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Dear Companies House,

It’s lovely that you have a website and that you even allow Companies to file (some) documents online. And wait until Google and others find out about your revolutionary business model of paid search! (Imagine if Google caught on and started charging a pound for every search! I can’t believe they didn’t think of this, but think I should buy some shares in case they see this. Just imagine – they would make billions!) Isn’t modern technology wonderful? But although you do seem to be quite ‘au fait’ with this whole internet thingy, there are a couple really neat newfangled things that could make your site even better. Things like relational databases for example. And if you really want to live on the edge, check out what the crazy kids at places like LinkedIn and Facebook have done. And then there’s this stuff called UI and UX, but I understand if you think this is perhaps a step to far. Maybe in 2015. In any event, the blue is very nice. Most people like blue. Very clever! Best regards, – A. Director

Say you are a Director of a UK limited company. Say you are a Director of many UK limited companies. You would think that in 2009, you’d be able to go to the Companies House website and ‘manage your profile’, no? (Address, contact details, present and former Directorships, qualifications, etc.) Well, you’d be wrong. You can’t even search on a person. Only on Companies. God help the poor bastard who is Director of 50 companies and has the stupidity to move: 50 change of address forms to fill in and submit. Online. Sort of. (Only for Limited companies, by post for LLP’s.) Aaaarrgh! I mean c’mon! WTF?!? Just because it is a government organization doesn’t mean it needs to be devoid of innovation, especially since:

The Minister responsible for Companies House is Ian Pearson MP, Minister of State for Science and Innovation. The agency also has Trading Fund status which allows the agency to directly manage its own finances.

Maybe next time he’s in the UK, Reid Hoffman might want to spend an hour with the Companies House Board(could be mistaken but a cursory google search would suggest that none of the Companies House directors are on LinkedIn so perhaps they do think they are on top of their game…)

In the ten minutes I’ve taken to write this one could sketch out the business model for Companies House 2.0 and given it’s key monopoly status, I’m sure you could build a killer revenue model (without fleecing your customers.) Better service. More revenues. Smarter business.


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First financial gaming app for iPhone

As some of you may know, I am very interested in how the advent of mobile computing (or as Gilder would say – teleputers) and in particular believe that the iPhone is the first device to really take us past the inflection point and has started to give us a good sense of what the future will look like.

Financial services and mobile computing are a match made in heaven, and the only thing that is surprising about the flurry of activity in this sector over the past 12-24 months is that it took so long. The fact that some of the earliest and most ambitious ventures in this area emerged in developing countries speaks volumes to the fundamental inertia and resistance to change and innovation in large corporations (in particular financial services firms and US/European telecom operators in this case.) People may laugh at the hysterical self-immolating attitude of the traditional media and entertainment industry, but well…you know – ‘glass houses’ and all that…

But things are starting to move. I wrote about BoA’s iPhone offering 18 months ago – the first banking app – and was impressed this week when I saw Nokia invest $70 million in Obopay. (Although I have to admit feeling a tinge of regret, as Obopay has been on our investment radar screen about a year or so now, but we just didn’t yet have the capital to pursue this (and other promising deals.) Like in most walks of life, many potential investors prefer the psychological safety of buying a big brand – whether directly (think of the billions pissed away buying banking stakes waaay too soon) or with the giant private equity or hedge fund groups; as the saying goes, “no one ever got fired for buying IBM’) Anyhow, I’m pleased to announce that one of the companies we have invested in, GnuTrade, has recently announced the first financial gaming app for the iPhone:GnuTrade Logo

The innovative web app, which is featured on the Apple website, gives iPhone users an instant view of how financial markets are performing, and lets them place simple bets on whether prices will rise or fall. The app complements gnuTrade’s acclaimed web-based trading platform (, using its signature graphics to show live market price action, but via a handy touch-screen device.

Why are we excited about this? Well it brings together three big things: increased consumer interest and awareness of financial markets, mobile computing and mobile/p2p gaming. And all of this in a simple-to-understand, easy-to-use, oh-so-not-wall-street/city kind of way. GnuTrade is definitely not your father’s Oldsmobile so to speak. It’s social. It’s fun. It’s about not looking down your nose at people who are interested but are intimidated by traditional banks and brokers and spread ‘trading’ firms. It’s about prizes and play money or real money (only if you live where this is allowed of course.) GnuTrade is a digitally native markets company: they were early on Facebook (become a fan here), they are the UK’s most prolific twitterer (62,000 updates! follow them @gnutrade), and they have a pretty neat set of widgets if you are interested in adding some markets info to your blog or website – basically they ‘get it.’

Now the iPhone app is definitely not perfect. First of all it is a web app (runs in Safari) as Apple does not (yet?) allow ‘betting’ applications in the AppStore (to get the app for free on your iPhone, simply enter on your iPhone’s Safari browser, and add the app to your homescreen.) Secondly, it’s beta so it has bugs (feedback and constructive criticism welcomed – send to @gnutrade for example) and thirdly – unless you have a blisteringly fast 3G connection – I would stick to wifi only for now.

They also have a very cool and fun beta application called NewsPools (similar to HubDub for example) that I for one would love to see on the iPhone (are you listening Lieven? 😉 )Newspools snapshot And while you are at it, let’s see a market on when (what year say) the US will wake up and legalize, regulate and tax online gambling!

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Companies that ban Facebook, etc. don’t understand people.

If you’re not a geek or early adopter or part of the digital generation and you are looking for an introduction to why social networking and virtual worlds are relevant for business, this is probably not a bad place to start. Roo Reynolds is a ‘metaverse evangelist’ for IBM. For those of you that already get it, you can probably take a pass as it is pretty basic stuff with really no new insights. Nonetheless it is a good overview and engaging presentation (although I wished he would speak a bit faster – the same content could have been delivered in 20 minutes I think.)

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(open) Money money money.

Roman denarius
Image via Wikipedia

Stumbled accross an interesting site recently – open money: a wealth acknowledgement information system.

How does open money work?

You treasure what you measure, and you measure what you treasure. Open money provides the tools to implement this maxim. What should we be treasuring in our culture and on our planet that we so far have no way to measure?

Throughout history, wealth acknowledgment evolved by becoming more abstract and less substantial. Open money follows this same pattern by being a meta-currency system, not just a new single kind of money. It enables the creation of many new types of money. It puts currency creation directly in the hands of communities so that they can create wealth-acknowledgment systems for tracking all types of wealth–tradable, measurable, and acknowledgeable–and so that they can tailor the tracking to fit their precise needs.

Open money works by providing a unified platform for the interchange of all these different kinds of wealth acknowledgment, just the same way that the Internet provides a unified platform for the interchange of all kinds of information. Just as the great shift of the Internet was in not specifying what kind of data can flow across it (unlike the phone network), the great shift of open money lies in not dictating which new form of wealth-acknowledgment people should use. Instead it provides the basic building blocks for communities to create new types of wealth-acknowledgment systems themselves.

Right off the bat, communities can use open money for simple things like Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS), Time Banks, barter networks, carbon-emissions trading programs, baby-sitting co-ops, reputation tracking systems, business loyalty programs, etc. But the interesting stuff will happen when communities apply their creativity to invent new currencies that solve wealth-acknowledgment problems we don’t even have names for yet.

It would seem to me that the potential reach and usefulness of such meta-currencies is even greater in a world where the wiring of the social graph is no longer location specific and consists of an infinite number of overlapping communities. I think anyone that has worked – and certainly anyone who has been a manager – in a medium to large size corporation would instantly recognize the importance of (and inherent difficultly therein) of measuring and rewarding what the open money folks call “acknowledgeable wealth.” And indeed in many instances attemps have been made to create internal ‘meta’-currencies to deal with this. I’m not sure if my experience is typical (I suspect it is) but such attempts in places I have worked have never really succeeded. Thinking about it now – and this is a provisional hypothesis – I suspect this was mainly due to two failings. First, the efforts generally tended to be half-hearted especially with respect to creating a robust and transparent ‘accounting’ system. Often the excuse would be ‘to avoid adding yet more bureaucracy to the system’, however I suspect the real resistance came from fear of what accurate accounting would reveal. Second, these currencies never had negative balances. They were like Lake Wobegon dollars: everybody got paid, but nobody paid. You can see how this would struggle to gain legitimacy.

There is an open money pilot project for a community currency network which I think I’m going to play around with; it would be ideal if they created a Facebook widget that allowed me to create a currency network for each Facebook group – this would save the hassle of having to solicit (potentially multiple times, for different currencies for different groups) my connections to sign up ‘out of context.’ Indeed by writing a widget that could overlay on any type of social group (email address book), departmental or company directory, yahoo group, ning network, etc. you could easily create millions of very context specific meta-currencies. While there is no reason to think that large transactions are proscribed from such a system, the likelyhood is that it would probably have a much greater impact in driving a large number of micro-transactions, greasing the wheels of social reciprocity so to speak. (Although as an aside, such a boom might create all sorts of issues for the existing tax paradigm…) Indeed, one of the seedcamp ’07 finalists (disclosure: I am an investor in seedcamp) (going live beta next week they say) – is something along these lines:

…is a simple and effective tool for referral tracking and reward administration for referring job candidates, clients, investors and other prospects. Currently in stealth (development)

They are giving us a demo on Thursday and I’ll be interested to see how it is similar/different to the concept I describe above.

Finally, part of the philosophy behind open money seems to exhibit a somewhat socialist or even utopian bent, and while I like their idea of “acknowledgeable wealth”, I firmly disagree with their “Why do we need open money?” reasoning. Basically, we might well ‘need’ open money – or more helpfully, open money might be a great tool, but not for the reasons they articulate. That said, in some specific cases I think there is merit in there first idea:

Modern money is inefficient and unfair. Because communities cannot create their own currencies they are beholden to, and fundamentally controlled by, whoever does, just as users of coins were limited by the amount of precious metal available. When communities can create their own currencies, they don’t have to export their own wealth to get money to use for trade. They can start trading right away and export later if they so choose.

In particular, I am thinking of Africa (which could be generalized to all countries with low per capita monetary wealth, especially where the state/financial system has a history of ineptitude), especially the Unchained Africa as described by George Ayittey:

And I wonder if JP isn’t on to something:

I start wondering whether the developing world’s enterprises will derive value from Enterprise 2.0 and social software much earlier than their developed world counterparts, a legacy effect I hadn’t considered before. I start wondering whether the developing world will leapfrog the developed world in the use of social software in general, as they are appearing to do in the mobile and wireless contexts. I start wondering.

Putting these threads together, I wonder if you could give a community (village or town or region) access (via mobile of course) to a mashup of Facebook, (local language) Wikipedia, combined with open money widgets this wouldn’t lead to an enormous leap in wealth (in the broadest sense) and well-being? If anyone out there wants to get together and have a look at having a crack at something like this, let me know. You never know, it just might work. Just have to think of a catchy name…

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Facebook and markets.

For readers who have yet to be seduced by the charms of Facebook, this Business 2.0 article and JP’s series of posts are good places to get a better understanding of the platform and what makes it interesting (for the over-30 crowd!) Dave Morin, Gatekeeper!

Many, many column inches have been written of late on the subject of Facebook, to the point that people who haven’t taken the time to try it out and migrate some of their (real-world) social networks to the platform are understandably cynical and wonder how the site can possibly live up to the hype. I’m not suggesting that this suspicion is entirely misplaced but I would however suggest that the fundamental enthusiasm surrounding Facebook is based on the real value it provides as a medium through which you can easily organize your networks online.

So what’s the Park Paradigm angle? Well, I would say that it is the closest online simulation of a trading floor environment that I have ever come across. I’m not talking about the content – although if you put all the people on a given trading floor on Facebook, you’d have that too – no, I’m talking about the connectedness, the interactivity, the multi-threaded narratives, the buzz… It’s not easy to describe, but anyone who has spent anytime working on a trading floor would identify with the energy that is generated on a good* trading floor. (* Some trading floors don’t work. If you don’t get the balance, acoustics, spacing, etc. right you can end up with a glorified wired reading room…) This is the same energy that can be harvested, seemingly effortlessly, by building a network of friends and applications on Facebook. Of course this is potentially interesting and useful in thousands of different contexts but let’s come back to markets. And trading floors.

Anyone who has worked in capital markets is likely to be familiar with the ubiquitous Bloomberg terminal. And notwithstanding the myriad of excellent analytical and trading applications available on Bloomberg, the ‘killer app’ – the secret of Mike’s success – was Bloomberg’s private instant messaging. Yes: IM with credentials, with context. Yes, “chat” is the main reason why Mayor Bloomberg is one of the wealthiest men in the world. (Remember the rise of Bloomberg in the world’s trading floors was long before ICQ was dreamed up. And once they hit the tipping point, Metcalf’s Law just took over.) There is no irony intended. Getting this right – providing this service – was of huge importance and benefit to people and firms working in global capital markets. Why? For the same reason the first modern stock market emerged out of conversations between trusted acquaitances in the coffee houses of the City of London:(in the words of my friend Patrick, “the essence of markets like most essences of civilization centers upon community.” (from The Exchange Manifesto, page 12)

Indeed, a heretic might say that the investment bank of the 21st century, the capital markets of the digital generation might not be built on a Bloomberg platform but on a Facebook (or other yet to be invented?) platform. (A heretic. Not me.) The irony of a number of investment banks banning Facebook access from work is abundant. So how will Bloomberg and Facebook compare in 2015? Of course by then, Mike will be President, and Mark may be Mayor of New York. Stranger things have happened. And as for my friend Dave (pictured above), well maybe he’ll stick around and run FB while Mark runs Manhattan. 😉

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