Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Beta Group in Brussels

Back to the Beta Group this evening at my Alma Mater, home of the B-school that has given me much useful knowledge at a time that feels like centuries ago for anyone who's been heavily involved with innovation in the past decade or so. There were more than 200 people in the room, which I find particularly positive for innovative ventures.

Again a couple of very interesting initiatives and very refreshingly most of them had credible business models. As I've said before on this blog I completely disagree with people downplaying the importance of a business model as they develop extreme positions to support the (correct IMHO) position that innovation needs to be supported regardless of the existence of a business model.

Let me give you my top 3 and some notes I took during the presentations...

The companies that have the very best prospects in my opinion are as follows:

  1. Incloode (currently in private beta) because they do tackle a real problem insofar as video production is concerned thanks to their idea to have video templates, which they call videoplates, and smoothen considerably the process of creating a video of acceptable quality for regular folks. It's all about enabling the production of user egnerated content in a field where there are really technical hurdles to overcome at an acceptable cost in terms of time and effort. On top of that they have a nice little business model that allows them to make money in different ways and with differents players from end-users to owners of video content to owners of audio content... Good stuff and well presented.

  2. Mollom because they seem to have an awesome product that makes comment moderation a smoother process than it would be otherwise. I liked their way of dealing with comments in "grey zones", where automated processing will not tell you with adequate levels of confidence whether a comment is spam. Since they went live their product, having stopped over 36 million spam comments, has 99.95% accuracy, which means less than 5 errors in 10,000 operations... Top site is the NY Observer where they help manage and stop over 70,000 spam comments PER DAY! Pretty good stuff. The way they use feedback from their installed base to improve the performance of the product is another strength. Their mission seems to be to offer tools to help moderation of online resources, which I find both nicely focused and broad enough to anticipate a nice size of targetable market.

  3. Moodio because of the very clever way they've found to build a nice little business model atop an initiative that seems to have started as a generous attempt to give Belgian musicians a video platform of professional quality to promote their creations. The value of their business model comes from the fact that instead of trying to be yet another video or social networking platform they hook-up to existing players like Facebook or Myspace offering instead to the owners of original content ways to promote events and sell stuff relating to the content on video or to the artist. Seems to be really elegant in a space that is crowded and very difficlut to make profitable.

One of the companies that was presenting today had big problems with the performance of their platform, part of which may have been caused by either the Internet connection or the browser, and I think that reflected negatively on the actual relevance of what they do. I'm talking about YourTour (now in private beta), whose tool will mean a lot to you if you've ever taken care of preparing and planning holidays or a short tour foryour family or of a group of friends. These guys have done some pretty clever work to develop a tool that optimizes your access to information to organize a tour with associated events, visits, sight-seeing...etc. Think of it as the combination of the dynamic web with your favorite tourist guides and driving directions / map tool. Quite intersting in fact. There was a good question about the trustworthiness of the information and advice they give their users for hotels, restaurants, places to visit...etc

Which bringgs me to where I think their next frontier lies and it's defined by the following points:

  1. merging user comments and customer rating of places with their formalized data used to optimize the tour. To do that I'd use existing platforms on which customers rate places, restaurants, touristic providers...etc as well as platforms that manage feedback like uservoice, getsatisfaction or feedback 2.0

  2. allowing the user to define which parameters should be used in the optimization (e.g. I may want a given guide's rating to be used or not, I may want user ratings to be used or not...)

  3. enabling users to export and embed a tour on their blog or website before, during and after a trip, possibly with a feature that would allow visitors to that site to vote for specific parts of the tour

There was one initiative that left me largely unimpressed because it seems to be trying to do too many things and at the age of minimalism as expressed by Twitter ExtraFootball might need to think about what stuff should be dropped and integrated through other platforms. In other words I would advise them to streamline, streamline, streamline and focus, focus, focus and integrate, integrate, integrate with the rest of the world; in that respect Moodio's example should be good inspiration IMHO. They have a couple of points I like and would use if I were in their shoes:

  1. the combination of community and content, which I think is the way to go as the pendulum is now moving back towards increased value and importance of content

  2. as regards content production they're clearly doing something right by combining professional journalists' articles and user generated content

  3. the way they've made it possible for "tribes" to exist within the community, i.e. allowing fans of a given team to immerse themselves in a version of the service that is fully branded

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