Kiva’s dormant funds – a missed opportunity?

I love Kiva as a micro-lending platform and am very excited that they hit the 1 million lender milestone. What’s killing me however is the thought that a significant number of funds is just dormant. What happens with all the money that is repaid?

I would classify myself as a semi-active contributor. According to my account page I have made 38 loans since I joined in November 2011 and contributed over $500 dollars (of new money). Making a loan is pretty straight forward and you should try it out if you haven’t. Get a $25 credit that you can lend for free.

Kiva infographic

The graphic above shows how effectively my money has been used. The ratio of money lent vs. money invested is roughly 1.6. Compare this to Pat’s 3.5! The higher the number, the better.

Kiva is doing a good job at informing me about repayments and encouraging me to relend my credit. Unfortunately their emails get lost in my inbox and the funds go unused. I made my last loan over 7 months ago and currently have over $340 in dormant funds.

Why can’t I automatically relend my repaid funds? In fact this was announced back in 2009. I can’t find this feature though and a lot of the related Google search results are not available anymore. Is there a legal reason why this is not available or does Kiva somehow benefit from dormant funds?

A barrel in your living room – a new kind of wine club

I’ve been following Green Barrel for quite a while now and love the look and feel of the wooden barrels. They’re a great fit for corporate events as well as weddings. Most recently (based on popular demand) Green Barrel has been toying with the idea of offering a consumer product and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to test a barrel in my living room for the last 4 weeks.

Update July 26, 2012: Green Barrel is currently raising money on Kickstarter to make this a reality for everyone. Check it out!

Quality of the wine

Green Barrel has a good selection of boutique wines form Northern California. I’m currently drinking a Napa valley Meritage from JT wines but also had an opportunity to try their Merlot as well as the Syrah blend. I’m impressed with all of them but specifically like the Meritage and have received positive feedback from everyone that tried it.

How long does the wine stay fresh? Issues with oxidation?

I do enjoy a glass of wine in the evening but I never finish a bottle. And it just doesn’t taste the same the next day — even if you vacuum pump it. Therefore I was very excited about their claim that it stays fresh for 4 weeks or more. The Meritage has now been open for 4 weeks and it still tastes great. The taste may have evolved a bit over time but I can’t detect any oxidation.

Packaging and handling of the barrel

The barrel fits perfectly into my wine rack and gives it a unique look. It loads in the front and hooking up the refill pack was straightforward. Replacing the eco-pack shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes.

I’ve made sure the barrel doesn’t get direct sunlight and the room doesn’t get too warm during the day. Without built-in cooling system it’s not suitable for white wine yet.

I haven’t had any issues with the barrel setup. At times there is a residual drop at the spigot after dispensing a glass that needs to be caught.

Summary

The barrel looks great and works well. I love the idea of turning this into a wine club where I can discover a new, high quality wine from NorCal each month — delivered straight to my door. I probably won’t be giving up on bottles anytime soon but having wine on tap is a great and unique addition!

I need to host a cheese and wine party soon…

Friends with start-ups

I’m happy to report that the three start-ups mentioned in my last post a year ago are doing great. I’ve been to several shows at the Kinetic Arts Center and have been impressed by the performances. Unbelievable what these kids can do, be it on trapeze, aerial tissue or on the ground. BeeBliss has extended the number of brands carried and offers quality Yoga clothing for any taste. And Loggly has received funding and is running a successful beta of log management in the cloud.

I’m always inspired to witness friends launching start-ups and I’m very excited to add another one to the list: Green Barrel. Local wines distributed in barrels as eco-friendly, sustainable packaging. Coming soon to a bar in SF.

Kickstarter is a great idea to find crowd-sourced funding. You define a target amount and have a limited amount of time to achieve it. You only get the money if you reach the target. You’re responsible for promoting your project but Kickstarter provides a great platform with an active community. Instead of getting lots of money from one investor (and giving up parts of your company) you get small amounts from a large number of contributers (and keep control of your company).

It’s about time I get going on my own start-up…

3 startups to check out

I’ve been very impressed with 3 friends of mine that have been working really hard to launch their own business in the second half of 2009. They’re all based in San Francisco/Bay area. Go check them out:

This contrasts pretty nicely with me feeling stuck at work currently. I feel like I’m not creating enough output. This is partially my own responsibility but also due to a recent reorg that has people waiting to see how things shake out. Also things are just slower as we’re approaching the end of the year. But I’m taking it personally.

idiomag – a missed opportunity

Idiomag’s value proposition is great: A daily personalized music magazine. Unfortunately they take it too literally.

I signed up in January 2007 and have been to the site only about 10 times since, typically as a result of an email notification that new content is available. These notifications seem to come in spurts. Sometimes I get one every day for a few days in a row. And then nothing for weeks.

2 days ago I received an email that promised new content on Dinosaur jr, Jeff Buckley, Radiohead, Nada Surf. Awesome! I click through but can’t find any of this content. Instead I find Hot Hot Heat and a History Channel ad. Yesterday the email promised Radiohead, Nada Surf, Weezer, Kasabian. Again, the content of the “magazine” didn’t match. We Are Scientists just isn’t Radiohead. And I couldn’t figure out how I would get to the content I came for.

The idea is great but the execution sucks. The virtual magazine does indeed look like a real magazine (except for the videos). Nice layout, glossy look and you can even flip the pages, all done in Flash. Unfortunately this interaction model doesn’t really work on the Web.

How to fix it

Idiomag has good content but makes it really hard to access and share. They have built in sharing functionality but it’s really hard to discover. They will have to drop the magazine-style if they want to become successful.

I would publish the same content (including all the meta data/tags) in an invisible blog. Expose the main genres as their own page/blog (basically a tag search on the main blog). The same recommendation/matching engine can still act in the back and produce a customized main page based on tags and meta data. Users would still have their personalized content but in a form that is easier to consume. I could then subscribe to my personalized RSS feed and go check out the full rich-media blog whenever I feel like it. Enable comments and ratings and even suggest new things based on what similar users find interesting. And all of a sudden sharing is easy through simple linking.

But what about the widgets

Idiomag is available as widget for an impressive amount of sites. I just added the one for Facebook and suddenly I do see Dinosaur jr, Nada Surf and Hard Fi. At least a partial match. However it doesn’t seem to play very nicely with the new Facebook design. Widgets are great for distribution but Idiomag has to fix their main site first. And please make the edit Interests easier too. Thanks.



When mobile phones become networked sensors

The Coming World of Mobile Sensors does a great job illustrating how mobile phones will impact our future. We’ll soon think of mobile phones not only as communication devices but also as sensors. This talk on Sensor Networks at the Lift conference first changed the way I think of mobile phones back in February 2007.

Imagine mobile phones as sensors constantly recording your geo-location, speed, altitude, temperature, nodes in proximity etc. Let’s ignore privacy concerns for a second. The data could be anonymized for example.

Data for personal use only

Even if the data is not shared with other devices some interesting applications are possible, e.g.

  • Personal diary of locations – searchable
  • Tracking of commute time – recommendations for best commute time
  • Weather history – searchable
  • Live blog geo-tagged photos as you take them

Data shared with nearby nodes

Now let’s allow the mobile devices to communicate with nodes in their proximity:

  • Personal diary is now also aware of who you were with at any given moment
  • People you keep running into but haven’t met can be introduced automatically

A German startup called aka-aki built a social network on top these two ideas. Your Bluetooth enabled phone tracks other phones in proximity. It basically keeps a trail of who you cross throughout the day. Another way to meet interesting people. Love it!

Data shared between all nodes – centrally aggregated

The real power of mobile sensors emerges when they’re networked together and the nodes have access to all the data (e.g. aggregated centrally). This totally changes the applications that are possible:

  • Real time traffic for your commute (I’ve written about this before)
  • Real-time weather in all locations as well as weather forecasts
  • Heat maps of sensor density indicating events

What other applications can you dream up?

How to improve PG&E’s usage and charges graph

I was pleasantly surprised that PG&E includes graphs for usage and billing history on their website. You can view electricity usage and charges in a pretty neat (but simple) graph.

I’ve been living in my current apartment since March 2007 which is the first data point on the x-axis. I wonder if there is a limit to how many months they show?

Making it easier to compare

The electricity usage is obviously seasonal and you can see the ups and downs in the graph. It would make more sense to have a 1 year wide graph and overlay last years data over the current data in a line or area chart. This would make the comparison easier and more meaningful. Alternatively a 12-months trend line would provide additional information but with a significant delay.

I created the above graph using Google Docs. I like the look and it makes comparing the charges from one year to the next a lot easier. Even adding another year shouldn’t impact readability. Now I have to find out why I’m paying 15-20% more this year.

It would also be interesting to compare usage and charges in the same graph. Am I paying more because I’m using more or because electricity is more expensive?

What are other companies providing?

Not much. I would love to have similar graphs for my bank account, credit card and phone bill. In fact I initially started this post rambling about AT&T and how they make it really hard to look at usage history. I’ll save that for another post. Maybe I’ll whip out Greasemonkey and create a little script…

Update 7/8/08: I’ll have to check out Skydeck for my AT&T billing needs. Still in closed beta.

Google Custom Search for my feeds

Has this ever happened to you? You remember reading something but can’t find it again!

It’s happening to me constantly. While discussing a topic with a friend or co-worker I remember having read a relevant blog post a few days ago. I want to send the link for reference. I know I’ve seen it in my feed reader but can’t remember in which feed. A Web search returns too many results and rarely the one I’m looking for. What I really want is a search for my feeds only!

The solution? I finally got around to setting up Google Custom Search. I entered the URL of all my feeds (watch out for the feedburner redirect ones) and named it appropriately “Search my feeds”. It seems to work pretty well but I would like a way to sort by publishing date as I often look for recent posts. New posts are often ranked lower as they haven’t had time to accumulate links.

It would be awesome if google.com would automatically add my custom searches so that I can run them from there. Getting to my custom search right now is painful. Bookmarking the link or adding a module to iGoogle works but is far from ideal. Going to google.com/custom doesn’t work. google.com/cse gets you within 2 clicks of your search. Adding it to the Firefox search bar would also be cool.

Ideally Google Reader would create such a custom search automatically given your feed subscriptions. Or use the subscription information they have in FeedBurner.

Nokia acquisitions: Navteq, Plazes and Symbian

Nokia has announced three interesting acquisitions in the last 9 months:

Navteq is the leading provider of Maps data for GPS, mobile devices and Internet. This acquisition will allow Nokia to provide improved location-based services and at the same time making it harder for competitors to get this data. Smart move! It looks like the acquisition hasn’t closed yet and is still undergoing regulatory approval.

I first heard of Plazes back in June 2006 from Laurent Haug. The basic idea at the time was to have members report their location and record their IP address (or subnet). The system would then assume that any visitor with a similar IP is in the same location. They extended this to mobile phones and cell towers if I remember correctly. A dedicated community emerged on Plazes (basically a social network around places). I didn’t end up using the service on a regular basis after trying it out. It looks like the product has come a long way since then and is now more centered around organizing social activities (with a corresponding place and time).

These two companies combined are a great foundation for location based services and applications! However turning acquisitions into new and exciting products is always a huge challenge. It’s been too quiet around Google and Dodgeball or GrandCentral for example.

The latest announcement is the acquisition of the remaining shares of Symbian to create the Symbian foundation [press release] and partially open source the OS. An interesting move given Google’s Android project and other closed source OS for mobile devices. It looks like Nokia wants to ensure that Symbian survives as an independent OS.

Nokia’s shares have been on a downward trend for a while now. I hope these acquisitons will start the turnaround.

Disclaimer: I have owned several Nokia phones and the brand has always kept a special spot in my heart. I do not own a Nokia phone (or shares) right now. And I’m eyeing an iPhone.

When the ‘social context’ becomes ubiquitous

I start seeing more articles that emphasize the social  ‘features’ over the social ‘network’ (also see my post Increasing relevance by adding social networking features). This video on FriendConnect shows some examples and makes the difference more obvious.

I love Nova Spivack’s comparison to cars and how the choice of a Social Network will come down to personal preference (ultimately determined by brand). For this to happen the Social Networks will have to open up and support a common base feature set. This is already happening today but will accelerate. I’m convinced that soon most of our online activity will be aware of our friends and that ‘social context’ will lead to a more relevant user experience:

  • Amazon book and NetFlix movie suggestions based on what your friends like
  • Craiglist and ebay items from friends of friends
  • Search results ranking enhanced by sites friends clicked on
  • Yelp reviews and ratings from friends rather than 200 strangers
  • News that your friends have read

Things to think about:

  • ‘Friend’ is probably to strong a term. What are better terms? How will this evolve over time?
  • ‘Soocial context’ brings trust. Trust brings economic opportunities.
  • How can the 2nd and 3rd degree be used especially on commercial sites (LinkedIn is already using this)?
  • When will large retail sites grasp the concept and what kind of opportunities will arise?

And the big question is:  How can the Social Networks be open (interop) and closed (privacy) at the same time?

Visitors or Users? Myspace vs. Facebook Traffic

ReadWriteWeb picked up the latest Hitwise numbers that indicate that Myspace is still way bigger than Facebook in terms of traffic. Depending on which metric you’re looking at you end up with a very different picture though.

I’ve only recently started using Myspace and I use it exclusively to listen to music. I don’t even have a Myspace account. I consider myself more of a visitor to the site than a user of the ‘social network’ Myspace. However I’m a user of their ‘DJ/Band pages’ and a consumer of the online music.

I’m a pretty engaged Facebook user on the other hand. I have an account with over 300 friends and log in about 4 days a week if not more. I change my status, send messages and post on walls.

My engagement and therefore user value is clearly higher on Facebook.

I think Hitwise could measure active accounts by looking at the subset of URLs that is only accessible when logged in and report that number separately from overall traffic to the entire site.

Microsoft walks away from Yahoo! – now what?

As mentioned before I’ve been fascinated by the play by play evolution of the attempted takeover of Yahoo! by Microsoft. A few days ago I started having a feeling that the deal will not go through. Even when the rumors of a higher bid started surfacing I still didn’t believe the deal would happen. And today Microsoft announced that it withdraws its offer!

I think that’s good longer term for Yahoo! even though it will hurt the stock in the short term. It might have actually helped rallying the troops behind Yahoo! even though we lost a bunch of good employees. It’s now up to the leadership to send strong signals to the employees asap and get them fired up.

Steve Ballmer seems to be very nervous about the recent (partial) outsourcing of search monetization to Google and has included a few remarks on that topic. I’m surprised Valleywag didn’t point out that these bullets were directly addressed to regulators rather than Yahoo!.

It’ll be an interesting Monday. For sure.

Browser performance issues caused by Flash?

I’ve been having issues in the last weeks where my CPU would peg at 100%. This is typically caused by a web page with an embedded Flash object (e.g. an ad or a music player). Closing the respective tab brings the CPU back to normal. This happens to me on Firefox 2, IE6, Safari 3.1 and SeaMonkey 1.1.9.

I’m running Flash 9,0,115,0. I will try upgrading to the latest version and see if this improves anything.

It’s not the first time that I see a third party component hurting performance and stability of the browser. I wonder how many extension the Mashable guys are running and how those impact the stability of Firefox. Disable/remove all extensions for a few days and see if the browser still crashes as often.

Also see “Firebug and Yahoo! Mail“.

New turn in the Microsoft/Yahoo! saga coming soon?

Microsoft’s attempt to purchase Yahoo! and the ensuing public moves and counter moves have been fascinating. It is a major milestone in the history of the Internet and witnessing it from within Yahoo! is very interesting.

The fact that all of this is happening in a very public way is indicative that the shareholders are an important piece of the puzzle. The tone and message sometimes remind me of two kids that are fighting.

We’re currently at the stage were Microsoft threatened to lower the bid and blamed Yahoo! for not even talking to them. Yahoo! denies this and says the offer is too low and that they are willing to talk.

And tomorrow Yahoo! will announce Q1 ’08 earnings. There are basically two possible outcomes:

  1. Results below expectations: Shareholders will get even more nervous and will push hard for accepting Microsoft’s bid. Microsoft can close the deal by increasing the bid slightly. This is preferable to lowering the bid which might have the same result but is more risky.
  2. Results in line or above expectations (with positive outlook): Shareholders are willing to give Yahoo! another chance and Microsoft will have to raise the bid and potentially go into a proxy-fight to push the acquisition through.

Given that Yahoo!’s senior management has been on a roadshow confirming the Q1 and 2008 forecast I would be surprised if earnings came in below expectations. This would totally ruin the management’s credibility.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s announcement and the after-hours market.  Microsoft’s next move will probably follow several days later. Valleywag determined the last possible date for a result in the case of a proxy fight to be mid-august.