Yahoo’s new social job network: Kickstart

October 31, 2007

by Harrison Hoffman

Yahoo is looking to change the game with their new social job network, Kickstart. They are currently conducting research surveys among college students to find out what they think of this new service. Yahoo asks this question to the participants, “Wish you had an ‘in’ to find the job of your dreams?” Kickstart is all about finding that “in.”

Yahoo Kickstart connects college students with alumni at the companies that they are interested in. As you can see in the screenshot above, this student’s “in” at Nike is an alumni named Dave Bottoms. Dave has expressed an interest in helping out students and connecting with alumni. He also knows one of your friends, went to your school, and shares a common interest with you. That’s a really powerful networking tool. Presenting specific connections like this adds a whole new value to this job network.

Aside from showing your “in,” company pages also provide some useful information about the company as a whole, broken down into key points such as industry, size, location, contact, and description. Anyone who is connected in any way with that company is also displayed.

As you might also expect, everyone who signs up with Yahoo Kickstart gets their own profile page, where you can build a mini resume and add a quotation to give the profile a more personal feel. Everything here is pretty standard for a social network, but there is a definite professional focus, much like LinkedIn. The personal profile isn’t anything revolutionary, but it certainly gets the job done in this situation.

The third and final main component to Kickstart is the university page. This is very similar to what Facebook does with their “network” pages. It displays some basic information about the school and provides space for discussions, bulletins, and events.

Yahoo Kickstart is currently a concept and is being researched, so the things that you see in these screenshots may or may not make it into the final product. When I asked Yahoo for a comment on the service, they responded by saying,

“…We’re continually checking the pulse on customer response to potential concepts on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes our research leads to the development of new product offerings, but not all concepts we research are formally developed and rolled out to our larger audience.”

I personally think that Kickstart is a really solid concept and that it’s a possible game-changer in the professional networking space. Hopefully we’ll see Yahoo kickstarting some careers in the near future.


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LendingClub Moves From Facebook to Alums

October 31, 2007

by Kristen Nicole

LendingClub, the peer-to-peer lending service that took off on Facebook and recently announced its plans to expand, is doing so with partnerships with 10 alumni associations across the country.

This is set up in a similar manner to how the Facebook app worked, enabling alumni to lend and borrow money from each other. In establishing these new lending tools, LendingClub has set up co-branded communities with several alumni associations including Georgia Tech, Kansas Sate and my own alma mater, University of Michigan.

This is a unique method of expansion for LendingClub, which announced a round of funding for $10.26 million in August. What it’s doing is offering custom communities for existing organizations, which automatically harbors a level of trust tat would otherwise be absent.

Just like visiting the classifieds site set up for your college, you know that you’re more likely to deal with people that are trustworthy than going to a third-party classifieds site. Dealing with these LendingClub communities isn’t exactly like the classifieds example, because after college we all have a tendency to disperse, so it’s not as if you can drive across campus to pick up the new futon you bought from a Senior. But you get the point.

This route for expansion plays nicely with its initial tactic on Facebook. Growth in the peer- and micro-lending spaces has continued even in the past week, with eBay’s MicroPlace and Zopa’s new Listings section.


Suffering from Search Engine Fatigue? 3Luxe Attempts to Offer a Remedy

October 31, 2007

by Andy Angelos

A recent study from Autobytel – an online consumer guide for the automotive industry – suggested nearly 70% of American Internet users suffer from a phenomenon called “Search Engine Fatigue.” The condition (not yet recognized by the American Psychological Association) is an outcome of cluttered results, overwhelming advertisements, and inept keywords. Even locating treatment options leads to frustration for some and often forces users to physically leave the computer!

In a race against big pharma, St. Paul, MN based 3luxe developed an online solution – a consumer guide which lists the three best products in any given category. Relying on a team of consumer experts, 3luxe continuously redefines what signifies the “best” through extensive product testing, scouring of reviews, and a user-generated “luxe it or leave it” feature.

Current consumer categories on the advertising supported site include Automotive, Aviation, Boating, Computing, Sports, Travel, and a host of other popular items. Big ticket items like Boating and Aviation are a response to “rocketing” – the theory posited in best-seller Trading Up. Rocketing is connected to the overwhelming majority of American consumers who are willing to splurge for luxury on an increasing number of products. Not all items on 3luxe, however, carry a big price. I was drawn to the beer section which displayed one of my favorite, affordable Belgium Whites.

3luxe is currently ramping both product categories and user experience features for the upcoming holiday season. Individuals devoid of “Search Engine Fatigue” may continue to opt for the diversity of extensive consumer portals like Amazon, but 3luxe should connect with those bewildered by the paradox of choice.


Two More Challenges To Microsoft Office: Glide And ThinkFree

October 31, 2007

By Ron Miller

When Microsoft completely redesigned Office 2007, rendering it completely unfamiliar to even the most experienced users, it opened a door for a number of alternatives — some of them online. And while Google and Zoho are the names that most people are familiar with when it comes to online office applications (check out ), there are other — perhaps better — services out there.

Two of these services are ThinkFree Online and Glide. Both offer basic office functionality, as well as automatic synching to allow for access to your content when you’re offline. Glide includes not only office productivity applications, but also links your mobile and desktop computing environments and provides document-level security and media file sharing.

Both programs can open Office legacy documents with basic formatting, but each had some trouble with more complex documents, especially with Word numbered lists (but then Word has had trouble with numbered lists for years, so it should come as no surprise that these programs have trouble translating it). Neither can deal with an Open Office formatted document. While you can create fully formatted documents, slide show and spreadsheets, neither product’s spreadsheet can deal with sophisticated options such as pivot tables (although Glide promises that its upcoming offline version of the spreadsheet will have pivot table and other advanced functionality).

So before you make the leap and fork over the big bucks for Microsoft Office 2007, take a look at these two very reasonable alternatives.

ThinkFree Online aims to be a pure Microsoft Office alternative, offering a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation program. The company actually offers several version: the free Online edition, the Desktop edition ($50). a Server edition )$30 per user per year), and a Premium version (currently in beta), which adds online/offline file synching.

ThinkFree is the only Office alternative I’ve seen that actually uses the same .DOC, .PPT, and .XLS extensions as Microsoft (spokesperson Jonathan Crow says that his company actually reverse engineered the Microsoft Office file formats beginning in 1997). That means you can simply open your native Office documents (Office 2003 or earlier; ThinkFree is working on Office 2007 DocX compatibility for a future release.) seamlessly, at least in theory. In reality, it really depends on how complex your formatting is and how many of Microsoft’s more advanced features you have used.

If you keep it fairly basic, the documents open and display as they would in Office, but ThinkFree can’t play sound or animations in imported Powerpoint documents, pivot tables in imported Excel files, or complex formatting from Word documents. That’s because the ThinkFree Office program equivalents tend to stick to simpler functionality than Microsoft. If you are looking for every bell and whistle, this is probably not for you.

ThinkFree Premium, which adds syncing to the product, uses the concept of a Webtop (like a desktop on the Web) where you store all of your personal documents. Once you move a document from the desktop to the Webtop, whenever you change the document, either online or offline, ThinkFree automatically syncs the two versions. When uploading, you are limited to a maximum 10MB file size per file, which could be problematic for users who have larger documents. When uploading, by default, you have to browse for each document one at a time, but hidden away (if you look closely) is a feature that enables you to drag and drop multiple files or folders from your computer onto the Webtop, which is a lot easier than uploading a file at a time when moving multiple files.

If you have been an Office user (at least, prior to Office 2007), you should know your way around the ThinkFree office applications. ThinkFree uses the tried and true menu bar/toolbar metaphor which we have all grown familiar with over 20 years of GUI use.

One departure from Office is the choice of two editing modes: Quick Edit and Power Edit. As the names suggest, you can use Quick Edit to make minor changes to your document, but if you are writing a document from scratch or need access to more advanced formatting and editing functions, you need to use Power Edit. ThinkFree designed the QuickEditor with AJAX to make it load faster and be used for smaller editing jobs, while the Power Editor is programmed in Java for more advanced functionality, but in testing I found it hard to discern between the two.

ThinkFree offers a nifty blog posting feature, which is designed to work with major blog platforms such as Typepad, WordPress, and Blogger. You simply enter your user name and password and select how you want to display your ThinkFree content — as embedded text or as an icon the user clicks to open. When I tested this feature with my Typepad blog, it worked without a hitch.

While ThinkFree needs to upgrade the size of documents you can upload, it provides a familiar environment and deals fairly well with legacy documents.

Glide gives you office applications in a comprehensive online operating environment that works seamlessly between your mobile and desktop versions.

Glide takes an entirely different approach from ThinkFree. Instead of aiming to be a one for one Microsoft Office alternative, you get an online operating environment where in addition to a word processor, presentation program, and spreadsheet (which is due to be released at the end of October). You also get e-mail, an online meeting tool, automatic file syncing, sophisticated file security, media file sharing, a blogging tool, and a simple Web site building tool. If you wish, you can also import your browser bookmarks and contact list.

What’s more, the mobile and the desktop versions synch automatically, so any changes you make — whether on your desktop or mobile device — update instantly on each platform. Glide is coming out with a business version at the end of October that will let you to work locally on your hard drive, as well. There are versions for Linux, Mac, and Windows. And while Glide is free with 2GB of storage, you can increase that to 10 GB ($4.75/month) or 12 GB ($49.95/year).

Glide’s home page offers you a selection of all the applications that it offers; tabs along the top give you access to your mailbox, address book, and other tools. Like Microsoft Office 2007, the Glide office applications have foregone the menu bar in favor a ribbon divided up by task; however, I found Glide’s design was cleaner and easier to use. In addition, to the ribbon with traditional Office functions, when you edit a document, three tabs along the left side of the window enable you to share your document, invite one or more people to a chat or e-mail the document. However, the overall screen design isn’t quite as crisp as it could be; Transmedia needs to find a smoother way to incorporate these tabs.

Glide clearly separates itself from both ThinkFree and Office 2007 with its security features, which far outdo just about any other tools on the market. With Glide you can not only make your document read-only, you can set it so the recipient can only read it one time (or however many times you decide). You can control if the user can download attachments or reply with attachments and so forth, giving you total control on a file by file basis and even on a recipient by recipient basis (in an e-mail with multiple recipients).

Business users will appreciate the seamless integration between the mobile and desktop versions. The mobile side has been designed to do tasks with finger taps, making it a great match for the iPhone, and any changes you make to your documents on the mobile side sync instantly with the desktop. You have to download a separate syncing tool to your desktop computer, which provides a way to move content such as documents or photos from your desktop into the Glide system and synch any changes you make to those items. You can set the sync tool to watch files or folders to update the corresponding online folders automatically.

It would be remiss to have a review of Glide without discussing how well it handles media files whether it’s video or audio, regardless of the format. You simply send a media file to a recipient and apply whatever rights you want (just as with a document); Glide ships the file with its own media player.

Glide needs to work on handling Office documents better, but overall it offers a great package with security that dwarfs offerings from Microsoft and other competitors. You are not only getting fairly sophisticated office applications, but also the ability to share files and interact with other users, regardless if they are part of the Glide system or not. Because you’re dealing with a Web interface, the capacity to move and share files between desktop and mobile environments is seamless — for example, if you make a change on a file using your desktop, it will be immediately reflected on your mobile device.

The interface could still use some tweaking, but overall, Transmedia has built a system that includes all of the tools you need to create and share documents and collaborate with your colleagues securely with access from wherever you are.

Source: Information Week

Microsoft Models ‘Oslo’

October 31, 2007

By Darryl K. Taft

Considered late to the service-oriented architecture game, Microsoft is making its plans, if not its presence, known in a big way.

The company plans to make SOA more accessible and useful to customers by no less than changing the very premise of business application modeling, it said during its fifth annual SOA and business process conference here.

Microsoft said that it will begin offering enhanced SOA features and capabilities by extending current Microsoft products in five key areas: server, services, framework, tools and repository.

But much of the core technology that will make up its SOA strategy, code-named “Oslo,” has not been released yet, and some critics assert that Microsoft’s proprietary approach introduces inherent limitations to how far customers can extend their use of SOA.

SOA allows software developers to reuse existing code to create new applications, thus saving companies time and money. Microsoft wants to extend those benefits across the enterprise, and even beyond a company’s firewall, by building on the model-driven and service-enabled principles of Microsoft Dynamic IT.

According to Steven Martin, director of product management, connected systems division, Oslo also aims to change modeling from a paradigm wherein models describe the application to a paradigm where models are the application.

“Models have to become the applications,” he said. “We think that the premise of modeling tools is just fundamentally flawed,” he said.

So Microsoft is unifying its model-driven development tools, WCF (Windows Communication Foundation) and WF (Windows Workflow Foundation) to “try to unify the approach to modeling,” he said.

Martin said the approach will both democratize the use of modeling and facilitate Microsoft’s software-plus-services strategy.

“We’re not going to be satisfied until any two people in any company can collaborate on a solution and deploy it to the cloud,” Martin said.

Innovations from Oslo should also further Microsoft’s software-plus-services efforts by providing extensions to the application platform to help developers bridge the gap between on-premise and off-premise projects.

In a meeting with eWEEK, Microsoft architect John Shewchuck demonstrated “the world’s first federated access control system” to show how Web services can be used to allow applications to interoperate across their companies’ respective firewalls. “Everything is policy driven,” he said.

The company also plans to release advances in model-driven development from WCF and WF with its .Net Framework 4 release. Tools support will come through new technology planned for Visual Studio 10 intended to make strides in end-to-end application lifecycle management through new tools for model-driven design of distributed applications. The company also intends to make investments in aligning the metadata repositories across the Server and Tools product sets.

The company also demonstrated an upcoming community technology preview of Microsoft BizTalk Services, featuring additional support for interoperability, Web 2.0 services, identity standards and workflow in the cloud.

Microsoft BizTalk Server 6 will continue to provide a core foundation for distributed and highly scalable SOA and BPM solutions, and deliver the capability to develop, manage and deploy composite applications.

Microsoft System Center 5, Visual Studio 10 and BizTalk Server 6 will utilize a repository technology for managing, versioning and deploying models.

Microsoft is not providing exact time frames for when technologies such as .Net Framework 4 and Visual Studio 10 will ship. But the .Net Framework 3.5 has yet to ship.

Jason Bloomberg, an analyst with ZapThink LLC, said Microsoft is on the right track with Oslo’s model-driven approach to application creation. By unifying the application creation approach across different products following a model-driven approach, they are taking advantage of some key SOA best practices, he said.

But he lambasted the company’s proprietary approach as being inappropriate for enterprise customers. “The Oslo story is fundamentally not standards-based—the modeling format and repository interfaces are all proprietary,” Bloomberg said. “So while Microsoft is heading in the right direction, Oslo is fundamentally not appropriate for enterprise SOA efforts. Instead, they have chosen to focus on the value proposition to their core Microsoft customer base, while leaving the much greater enterprise opportunity on the table.”

Google’s OpenSocial: What it means

October 31, 2007

By Dan Farber

Google’s open social networking platform play is the buzz of the blogosphere tonight. Indeed, it is called OpenSocial in that the set of APIs allows developers to create applications that work on any social network that joins Google’s open party. So far, besides Google’s Orkut social net, LinkedIn, hi5, XING, Friendster, Plaxo and Ning have joined the party.

Oracle and are also supporting Google’s OpenSocial efforts, which indicates that they have plans to add social networking elements to their application platforms. OpenSocial will officially launch on Thursday.

Plaxo emailed a statement about OpenSocial this evening, getting ahead of the stampede:

“Dynamic profiles redefine what users should expect in terms of how they can represent themselves in a social or business network,” said Todd Masonis, Co-Founder and VP of Products for Plaxo. “We believe that users should have full control over what they share with whom – and that the catalog of widgets that they can choose from should be as open and diverse as the web itself. We are excited to support in dynamic profiles any application written to Google’s just–launched OpenSocial APIs. ”

According to TechCrunch, which first reported on Google’s larger social networking ambitions, OpenSocial consists of APIs for profile information, friend information (social graph) and activities, such as a news feed. OpenSocial users Javascript and HTML rather than a markup language as Facebook does.

This comes on the heels of the Facebook’s dynamic growth based on opening its social graph to developers and Microsoft’s $240 million investment for 1.6 percent of the company. However, unlike Google, Facebook doesn’t open its APIs to support other social networks. The other social networking giant, MySpace, is also planning to open its platform to developers.

This openness is part of what Vic Gundotra, Google’s head of developer programs, meant when he said last week, “In the next year we will make a series of announcements and spend hundreds of millions on innovations and giving them away as open source.”

He explained the newfound openness as more than altruism: “It also makes good economic sense. The more applications, the more usage. More users means more searches. And, more searches means more revenue for Google. The goal is to grow the overall market, not just to increase market share.”

What does OpenSocial mean for Facebook?

Facebook has a lot of wind behind its sails, but OpenSocial will cause developers to rethink their priorities. Developing OpenSocial applications will be easier than creating Facebook apps and will work across different social networks. However, Facebook is winning because 50 million users like the service and the applications. Unless the other social networks, which in aggregate have more members, have greater appeal to users, Facebook will continue to gain ground and developers won’t abandon the Facebook Platform. Facebook could also consider supporting OpenSocial in addition to its own APIs and markup languages as a way to be more open. It will be interesting to see how Zuckerberg and company, as well as the MySpace team, respond.

The New York Times story by Miguel Helft and Brad Stone quotes Google’s Joe Kraus on the Facebook topic.

Joe Kraus, director of product management at Google, said that the alliance’s conversations preceded Microsoft’s investment in Facebook. “Obviously, we would love for them to be part of it,” Mr. Kraus said of Facebook. Facebook declined to comment.

What does OpenSocial mean for Google?

As cited above, OpenSocial is part of Google’s quest to increase usage of the Web. More applications can mean more searches and ad searches. You could also expect some new advertising services based on tapping into the OpenSocial APIs that work across all compliant social networks. In addition, Google will weave OpenSocial across its services beyond Orkut, such as iGoogle, and eventually embed the social graph in the Internet fabric for its users.

This could create some issues for Facebook, which is rumored to be cooking up a targeted ad service that can follow its members across the Web. And, Google, taking a page from Microsoft, has some confidence that over time it can build or buy its ways into a leading social network. Google will try to have its cake and eat it too.

What does OpenSocial mean for users?

For users, it means more applications that can tap into user data, social graph, feeds and other content on a variety of social networks. They will have more choice of social networks and potentially some degree of portability as the APIs evolve and Google and other heavyweights push for more standardization.

What does OpenSocial mean for developers?

For developers, they have more opportunity to spread their work across different networks without significant cost and complexity. Many of the top Facebook developers are expected to support OpenSocial APIs. In the end, the top developers will flock to the social networks that have traction, leaving room for others to build apps for the less popular networks.

What does OpenSocial mean longer term?

It could become a kind of identity fabric for the Internet–with user profile data, relationships (social graph) and other items associated with an individual, group or brand that is used as a basis for more friction-free interactions of all kinds.


Survey Favors Dogpile’s Metasearch Approach

October 31, 2007

By W. David Gardner, the metasearch engine that combines many different search engines, has been deemed highest in customer satisfaction among search engines, according to a new survey of users.

The company, which announced the results Tuesday, said it had scored highest in the second year in a row in the J. D. Power and Associates Residential Online Service Customer Satisfaction Study. Dogpile crowed that it also extended its lead over Google — its nearest competitor. The study examined ease of use, functionality and results.

“With the vast amounts of information available on the Web today, it’s not surprising that different search engines return different results,” said Jim Voelker, CEO for InfoSpace, which owns Dogpile.

Google typically comes out on top of search engine rankings when it comes to sheer numbers of queries. For instance, Comshare reported rankings in July that placed Google in the lead with 6.6 billion searches to 2.5 billion for Yahoo, 1.3 billion for Microsoft, 959 million for AOL Time Warner and 587 million for Fox Interactive Media. But a customer satisfaction is also an important distinguishing trait.

“This top ranking is a validation of the benefits of metasearch, and shows that one search engine is not necessarily enough,” Voelker said.

While there are different ways of defining and tracking metasearch, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have shied away from recommending any metasearchers in their workshops and suggest that searchers use different search engines on their own. The Cal researchers note that users can craft their own metasearch engine; Google’s Custom Search Engines (CSEs) offering allows users to search Web pages, for instance.

Dogpile also cast aspersions on the results of top search engines, citing a study by researchers at Pennsylvania State University and Queensland University of Technology. The study, according to Dogpile, found that the first page results on Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft’s search engine overlap less than 1%. Dogpile said the results reinforce the value of Dogpile, which it returns the top results from those search engines.

Souce: Information Week