Web Meeting Service Startup Takes On Cisco, Microsoft

November 21, 2007

Dimdim, a startup made up of entrepreneurs and technologists, on Monday launched a free Web meeting service that’s meant to compete with Cisco Systems’ WebEx and Microsoft’s PlaceWare. The service, also called Dimdim, will be showcased at this week’s DEMOfall 07 conference where new products, technologies, and companies make their debut. The free service is offered as a private beta for now, but will be widely available on registration basis in two to three months.

Dimdim is browser-based and doesn’t require any software to be installed, which makes it easy to use, said DD Ganguly, the company’s CEO and co-founder, in an interview. “A customer once told us: ‘This is just like visiting a web site.’ Anyone who can use a browser irrespective of technical ability can use Dimdim,” Ganguly said.

Dimdim uses a rich Internet application with advanced collaboration features. The service allows people to share their desktop files, show slides, and chat using a webcam. Cisco and Microsoft offer similar capabilities as part of their Web meeting services. Cisco acquired Web conferencing company WebEx earlier this year, with plans to integrate its own voice and video products into the WebEx offering.

CEO Ganguly said what makes Dimdim unique is its open source foundation. “We’re about democratizing collaboration,” Ganguly said.

The service integrates open source components, such as the Google Web toolkit for Ajax applications, the Red5 open source Flash server, and the Tomcat application server, with Dimdim’s open source software.

Additionally, it works on computers that run different operating systems, including Windows, Mac, and Linux.

There are three versions of Dimdim available: a free browser-based version, open source server-side software that can be downloaded from Sourceforge.net, and an enterprise version that can be purchased for a fee by small and medium-sized businesses.

The enterprise version is customizable and scalable. For example, it allows hundreds of participants to be on a Web conference at the same time, whereas the free version doesn’t. Dimdim also offers 24/7 support for the enterprise version.

Schools and universities can integrate Dimdim’s server-side software with e-learning apps, while companies can integrate it with customer-relationship management (CRM) apps for a better collaboration experience, said Ganguly.

Dimdim is supported by venture funding from firms that also have invested in Skype, Hotmail, and MySQL. The investors include Draper Richards, Index Ventures, and Nexus India Capital.

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Strategies For Growing A Great Services Business

November 21, 2007

By Julie Giera,

Of the top 35 global IT vendors, 22 are either services providers or product companies with a large services business like IBM. This shift to services has been accelerating over the past five years among technology vendors looking to drive recurring revenues, deeper customer relationships, and additional channels for their products. Building a great services business is tough for many technology vendors, because the things that contributed to their success as product companies are the very things that can be their downfall in services. Forrester has identified the top ten strategies technology vendors can employ to build a great IT services business.

  1. Stick to services that closely tie in to your products’ strengths.
  2. Organize for services separately from products.
  3. Hire experienced sales people.
  4. Limit the services portfolio.
  5. Automate the proposal process.
  6. Market your message through multiple channels.
  7. Limit risk in very large contracts.
  8. Develop the channel and deal with conflict early.
  9. Weigh a direct service model against a subcontracting arrangement.
  10. Know your value proposition: Wal-Mart or Tiffany’s?

Source:Forrester Research


Targeting Mobile Ads

November 21, 2007

By Andrew Schrock

Mobile-phone manufacturer Nokia expanded its reach with the recent acquisition of Enpocket, now called Nokia Ad Business, a mobile-advertising company that matches consumers to advertisements by considering their tastes and needs. Mike Baker, vice president of Nokia Ad Business, describes this as an “advanced targeting infrastructure.” Baker says that the matching system gives advertisers new kinds of opportunities that could be particularly beneficial for selling tickets to local events, for example, or for offering time-sensitive discounts. If the system is deployed properly, consumers would be automatically delivered ads about products that they want at the ideal time and place.

Context is already a cornerstone of online advertising, as it leads to more-effective campaigns and higher payouts for advertising providers. Google’s Gmail, for example, automatically extracts information from your e-mail, which is used to target campaigns. Facebook uses information saved in personal profiles to present more-relevant advertisements. Similarly, Nokia already has access to critical contextual information about consumers, such as demographics, which Enpocket can capitalize on. Information from Nokia’s OVI Web portal could eventually be incorporated as part of the data set to accurately match up people with relevant ads. For example, user histories from OVI social-networking and media-sharing site Mosh could be employed to track which pictures and movies users are sharing, signaling an interest in certain products.

Nokia believes that, by leveraging such information, it can offer higher response rates than current online marketing campaigns can, because the company delivers a message that consumers want to hear, where and when they want to encounter it. Contextualized advertising would also be more integrated into the services, so it might seem less irritating than a distracting pop-up window online, for instance. Initial response rates to contextual mobile advertisements are high, partly because of the novelty of the medium. According to Enpocket, the company’s recent mobile campaign for Land Rovers was wildly successful: 70 percent of people who were exposed to the campaign chose to download videos that promoted the automobiles. Baker says that consumers may be paying more attention to the ads purely because they are so novel, and he admits that this number will likely go down as the mobile-advertising space becomes increasingly saturated, as has occurred in more mobile-friendly markets like Asia.

Some consumers might perceive directed, contextualized advertising as an invasion of privacy. Some demographics might find the fact that their personal information is being shared annoying. Gary Pearl, CEO of Community Hotspot, says, “There’s a certain segment of the population which will accept it, and another segment that won’t.” He sees online and mobile business as being in a constant flux between subscription services and advertising-driven revenue.

At the moment, hardware is the biggest obstacle to delivering contextualized mobile advertising broadly. According to Nokia, there are nearly one billion Nokia mobile devices worldwide, or nearly twice the number of PCs. However, relatively few of these mobile devices are capable enough to handle the kind of contextual campaigns that Enpocket would like to deliver. Currently, campaigns rely on technologies such as SMS and WAP to deliver messages to devices that couldn’t otherwise provide a compelling multimedia experience. As more and more multimedia-friendly phones are sold, this will become less of an issue.

Nokia’s sheer market share ensures that its decisions will be closely watched and mirrored by the industry. Philip Stanger, CTO and founder of BluBlast, a company that specializes in ads for mobile networks based at specific locations, such as trade-show and showroom floors, views this favorably. If Nokia Ad Business takes off, it could create a more consistent business model and standard software-development tools for ads, potentially benefiting mobile-advertising companies of all sizes. “One of the big problems in the mobile space has been lack of standards and coordination between any of the systems,” Stanger says, citing lack of developer support. “It’s a nightmare developing [multimedia ads] for 50 different phones.”

Source:Technology Review


The Road to Success is Long for the Mobile Internet

November 21, 2007

by Carl Weinschenk,

The mobile Internet is in trouble. It’s hard to escape that conclusion when a well known analyst — Yankee Group president and CEO Emily Green — says that it “pretty much sucks.”

Actually, the prime topic of this InternetNews story from the first Mobile Internet World conference last week in Boston was a speech by Tim Berners-Lee. Lee is the director of the World Wide Web Consortium and is called the father of the Web so often that it seems like part of his official title. Lee expanded on Green’s eloquence by saying that people are reluctant to move from proprietary formats and protocols to explore new vistas. He said, according to the story, that new standards, “contextual” content, location-based platforms and “user awareness” — which probably refers to presence — will improve the mobile Internet.

Green’s eloquence also is expanded upon in a Yankee Group study, “Mobile Internet Utopia: Imagine if Supply Could Satisfy Demand,” that was released at the conference. The release on the study said that the mobile Internet “should already be” worth $66 billion per year, but has only reached $9.5 billion. Indeed, the firm says that even the $66 billion figure is conservative because it only refers to access revenues.

Whether the mobile Internet closes that gap or not is by no means certain. Clearly, there are many attractive applications and platforms available. A post at BizznTech, for instance, describes five: Gmail Java applications for mobile phones;Google Maps for Mobile; Opera Mini; Fring and ShoZu. During his remarks, Berners-Lee demonstrated a GPS-enabled watch that also monitors heart rates.

A commentary at TelecomTV looks optimistically at recent announcements in the mobile Internet arena. The biggest news, he says, isAndroid from Google. The piece outlines what the company is doing, but says that a couple of issues — changes in the landscape likely before it is ready and the questions about the strength of Linux-based system — could limit its impact.

Our sense is that we are at a crossroads. There is no doubt that the Mobile Internet will generate a lot of money — indeed, even the paltry $9.5 billion noted by Yankee is a lot. The InternetNews piece refers to “the long tail,” the idea that applications from many little providers will add up to great bundles of revenue. One question is whether this model will work — we worry about technologists’ mastery of economic theory — or whether a “killer app” is needed. The more basic question, however, is if these and other applications will appeal to non-geeks.

Source:IT Business Edge


What’s Next: The Monster Dilemma

November 20, 2007

By David H. Freedman

For business owners plagued by a dearth of candidates for key job openings, the Web was supposed to provide an ideal solution. Job-search sites like Monster.com (NASDAQ:MNST) can put postings in front of millions of applicants instantly. And newer business-oriented social networking sites like LinkedIn provide similarly fertile recruiting territory, supplying access to the contacts of thousands of people. On the other hand, anyone who’s actually tried to hire someone through the Web knows the truth: You post an ad and are immediately flooded with hundreds of resumés, many from people whose backgrounds are wildly inappropriate. So much for the Web making things easier. It’s enough to make you long for the days of print newspaper ads and snail mail.

But just as technology created the problem, newer technology aims to solve it. A new generation of hiring tools promises to screen out inappropriate applicants, allow the suitable ones to put their best foot forward, and even hunt down good candidates who haven’t applied. As these new services get better at these tasks, they may well change the balance of power in the job-recruiting industry and could even redefine the way we think about jobs.

A shot at diverting a river of weak applicants is the chief advantage offered to employers by Protuo, a Woodstock, Georgia-based start-up that launched its service in January. Protuo isn’t only a job-listing site; it also forwards its clients’ listings to some 270 established job-listing sites, including Monster. But applicants can’t respond to a Protuo posting unless they spend seven minutes or so filling out a survey that asks about experience, skills, workstyles, and job preferences. Employers can customize the survey by choosing from a wide field of prepared questions or by adding their own, and they specify which responses get a candidate’s resumé past the screen. Has the candidate managed a technical project? Is he or she willing to move? The approach is modeled, to some extent, on the sort of compatibility gauging one encounters on a matchmaking site like eHarmony, notes Jennifer Gerlach, Protuo’s co-founder and vice president of marketing. Gerlach went through the dating process on eHarmony just to research the technique. “I learned a lot,” she says. “And I met some very, very nice people.”

With online job postings sometimes pulling in more than a thousand applicants, the ability to winnow the flood could mean the difference between being able to retain control of the hiring process and having to bring in a professional recruiter–at a typical cost of $30,000 for a midlevel hire. The time and expense of dealing with a huge influx of resumés is all the more frustrating because much of the flow comes from online applicants who indiscriminately bombard hirers with resumés. You can try a keyword search on the resumés to narrow things down, but applicants have learned to load their resumés with them, often by pasting in phrases from the job posting. Even LinkedIn has suffered from inflation, as many users aggressively build networks of people they don’t really know in order to make themselves appear better connected. “There’s no value in a lot of these contacts,” says LinkedIn user Chris Knudsen, who heads business development for podcasting company Podango in Salt Lake City. “It can just be someone whose card you got at a trade show.” (A LinkedIn spokesperson commented via e-mail: “Anyone can join the LinkedIn network; however, the quality of your own personal LinkedIn network is the responsibility of each individual.”) But a well-designed survey, contends Gerlach, allows users to skim the cream.

Fred Donovan, who runs Donovan Networks, a seven-employee computer network security firm, has been flooded with applicants responding to previous postings to Monster.com and other online job boards. He is currently conducting a Protuo search and likes what he’s seen so far. “I can specify that I want to see only resumés from people who say they have 10 years’ experience in negotiating sales and are familiar with the software development process,” he says. “I’m seeing a small, better-qualified subset of the applicants.” There must be something to the idea. Other hiring sites, including Market10, Jobster, and Taleo (NASDAQ:TLEO), are introducing their own approaches to automated candidate screening. And Monster is doing the same, making available–for a fee that adds about 20 percent to the cost of posting a job–the ability to direct applicants to a questionnaire designed to rank the suitability of candidates.

Sure, candidates can try to game these surveys by being less than truthful. But Gerlach insists that surveys can be designed to stymie such people by asking questions that don’t have an obviously right answer–such as whether the person prefers to work independently or in groups–and by warning candidates that they can be rated as overqualified. Protuo, which costs hirers $44 to $295 a month depending on the number of jobs they’re posting and is currently free to job seekers, also offers applicants a chance to do more than post a resumé. The firm invites users to create online portfolios that can include whatever documents, photos, videos, or other material that best represents that person’s career to date. (Monster is currently testing a similar capability.)

ZoomInfo, in Waltham, Massachusetts, takes a different approach. It assembles profiles of potential job candidates from all available online data, whether or not they’re looking for jobs. Starting with the same techniques that Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) uses to gather Web data associated with a person’s name, ZoomInfo adds the significant additional step of crunching the results to pull out the most relevant information, weed out data referring to other people of the same name, and assemble a professional profile. ZoomInfo has an R&D team of 35 working on the technology. So far, the company has assembled some 34 million profiles, and as far as I can tell, most of them are fairly informative and accurate. (Check out your own name to put it to the test.)

But somebody has to pay for all those scientists, and that somebody is you. The company charges $5,000 a user per year for the ability to dig up personnel profiles by company or industry. It sounds like a lot, but ZoomInfo’s COO, Bryan Burdick, notes that if you get the right candidate for a single vacancy, the price is one-sixth that of using a recruiting firm. The company also offers less expensive, more limited searching capabilities aimed at smaller companies, as well as free access to searches on individuals. Many major executive search firms, along with some 500 other corporations, already use ZoomInfo, claims Burdick. “I can find personal information, professional backgrounds–and, sometimes, damning evidence–on tens of millions of people without having to go through 1.5 million Google hits on each one,” says John Boehmer, managing partner at executive search firm Barlow Group in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Boehmer is quick to point out that as ZoomInfo-like services get better, and more companies get comfortable using them, corporate hirers won’t need professional recruiting firms like his to turn up candidates. “It’s commoditizing the front end of what we do,” he says. “Eventually, everyone will know where everyone is and how to get hold of them, so we won’t be able to charge for identifying and contacting candidates.” Search firms will still be valuable for assessing candidates, he contends, though he acknowledges that new e-hiring systems could eventually eat into that end of the business as they get smarter and have more online data to work with.

For that matter, it’s easy to imagine the not-all-that-distant day when online tools make it so easy to find people to fill a specific slot that the notion of permanent jobs becomes irrelevant for many positions. Why hire a manager for years when you can find a new one with exactly the skill set needed for the precise tasks at hand? That’s not necessarily bad for employees: Think of an economy where top employees are constantly being sought out and bid over by companies that recognize them from their Web trails as the perfect short-term solution. And talented employees would be just as smart about whom they choose to work for–using similar services to weed out companies that aren’t good matches for them. You’ll want to treat those people well. If you don’t, and they post that fact online, it could haunt you for a long, long time.

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Five Favorite Facebook Widgets for Business Users

November 20, 2007

By C.G. Lynch, CIO.com

Most Facebook developers will tell you that they create two different kinds of widgets. There are widgets of expression, geared towards harnessing the viral aspect of Facebook by getting users to share the app with other users.

These “expression” widgets often don’t have much of a goal beyond entertainment. One, for instance, lets users share movie ratings. Another helps users build “virtual scrapbooks.” The second kind is the utilitarian widget, which include clocks, weather reports and other helpful accessories.

Five Favorites

We scoured the widget libraries and came up with five of our favorites for business users based on their utility for getting the job done. Feel free to add suggestions in the comment space below for widgets that we might have missed.

1) Wikimono

Face it. E-mail has become so passi for document authoring that writing this sentence explaining that to you even seems a bit trite. The exhausting task of opening, renaming, saving and then sending a file (then repeat) leads to no version of the truth. So why not a wiki instead? The principle behind Wikimono is as simple as their website, which says, “We love Facebook, we love wikis.” You might love how discreetly you can bookmark the wikis on your Facebook profile and the decent set of editing tools that comes with it. And when we say decent, we don’t just mean bold, italics and underline. As you can see from this spec list, you can add video, math formulas, maps and all kinds of pictures. Use Wikimono to plan the agenda for your next meeting or take food requests for your holiday party.

2) MyLinkedIn Profile

Booooo-ring, yes, but necessary for the business user since Facebook still gears its site towards the consumer experience. Though you can list your professional experience under the built in “Information” app of Facebook, it still doesn’t match the depth and breadth of the curriculum vitae that you can build on your LinkedIn profile and then share with other professionals. Some Facebook Apps help you upload your LinkedIn profile to your actual Facebook profile, but this simple badge seems to do the trick just fine.

3) Sticky Notes

The first response you might get if you add this helpful widget will be “but what about the wall? Can’t you just use that?” They’re referring to the built-in Facebook app that allows friends (or people who have access to your Facebook page) to leave a messages for you publicly. The problem? Most walls tend to be a laundry list of social comments and inside jokes that eventually blur together, especially if you get a ton of them. If someone added “meet with team at 3 p.m.” to your own wall, for instance, there’s a good chance you’d miss it. Sticky Notes are big and come in a variety of colors (we prefer the standard yellow). Created by J-Squared Media, a small widget company that sprung up in large part because of Sticky Notes’ success, the app already has around 200,000 active users. You can leave notes for yourself on your own page, or you can leave them for colleagues (provided they have the app as well).

4) Blog RSS Feed Reader

Another way to keep project management away from your e-mail inbox (where it doesn’t belong) is to have internal blogs. If you’ve made that leap, why not feed them to your Facebook page? We picked this reader over several other RSS widgets on the Facebook App list because it can pull from enterprise-worthy blogging apps such as Movable Type. As updates to a project occur, the blog entries feed through the Reader and onto your Facebook page.

5) Marco Polo

If you work for one of the Big Corporations, odds are your workforce is spread across the country or maybe even the world. By utilizing this Facebook news feed with mapping technology, you can track the location of your friends and colleagues. Need to plan a business meeting? Just get a view of where everyone is currently located and find the most convenient location. If you want to let you’re friends know you’re on the road on business, check out Marco Polo‘s notification tool.

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Online marketplace for people renting items and those who need to rent them

November 20, 2007

 

Zilok is an online marketplace for people renting items and those who need to rent them. The simple, intuitive interface helps visitors connect and facilitates the transactions. It’s a nifty site that’ll get more useful as the community grows.

Provides an easy-to-use platform where you’ll find items you typically wouldn’t see for rent and can make money renting out items you use only occasionally. Facilitates the transactions. Provides PayPal deposits to insure your items. A calendar shows when items are available.

Too small a community to be useful right now. The service will stop being free come 2008.

We all have a ton of stuff we barely use that’s just gathering dust in the garage or closet. You could justify your purchase of that cordless drill or ski set by inventing new ways to use them between uses, but why not put them to work making money for you? Zilok.com gives you an online place where you can easily do just that and also easily find items you’ll only need for a short time. The creators hope to make their site the one-stop online shop for locating anything you need on a temporary basis.

The site is like a Craigslist for rentals, showing available items in your area, but it also assists in the rental process, giving you the tools needed to set up terms and facilitate the transaction online. For instance, using Zilok search I found someone in the New York City area offering a Nikon D80 Digital-SLR camera and a 2GB memory card at a daily rate of $12 for 1 to 15 days. If that met my needs and budget, I’d send in a rent request, wait for an acceptance from the lender, and then set up a time and place to meet and pay for the item. It’s that simple.

You can sign up for the service as a business (if you’re a professional rental service) or an individual. As a lender, you can give potential customers peace of mind by becoming a verified member. To do so, you supply Zilok with your cell phone number, and in return, you’ll receive a text message confirming your information. Verification links an account to something concrete, giving potential renters more reason to trust you. Member profiles include ratings and customer feedback, which give you a good feel for who it is you’re renting from.

The stipulations you place on items you’re willing to loan out—the per-day price and length of rental—display online on that item’s page. A Zilok-provided rental agreement template for users to sign covers everything that happens in case of damage or lost of rented items. You can also set up a PayPal deposit as insurance on your goods.

To find items for rent, you search by keyword or category, then look at Zilok’s Google Maps mashup, which shows what’s available in your area. You can click on the image of the item to view the terms of rental and the lender’s profile. The item’s specs, supplied by the lender, appear below the map and the rental terms. A helpful calendar on the items page shows when the item is available. When you find something you like, clicking on the rent item button sends you to the booking page where you propose a start and end date for your rental and how long you’re willing to wait for an acceptance reply from the lender.

Once the rental request is accepted things move from the virtual to the actual. The lender and renter set up a meeting location by e-mail, where they meet and hash out the final details, such as payment method, and complete the transaction. After that, Zilok is no longer part of the process. The site doesn’t handle the actual exchange of the item and payment. The rental agreement, which according to Zilok ensures that “the consequences of an incident are governed by this contract and of course by any legislation that is in effect,” confirms the deal and conditions, helping to safeguard both sides.

As of this writing, the service is free, but that may change in less than two months. Starting January 2008, you might have to pay to put items up for rent. Site reps told me they’ll evaluate the site density, and if there are enough users to support it they’ll implement a charging scheme similar to what newspapers charge for classified ads. If there aren’t enough users, the site will remain free until later in 2008.

You can already find places to rent specific items, like cars, tuxedos, power tools—whatever—on- and off-line. But Zilok will create a marketplace where you’ll find not only those items, but others you don’t typically see—all in one place. The site is still too small to be tremendously useful right now. As of this writing there are only about 180 items up for rent in the U.S. I’m also not sure that imposing fees is the best way to promote growth. I doubt craigslist would’ve achieve such massive popularity if it charged a fee, no matter how minimal, to post ads. Regardless, Zilok sounds like a fantastic idea, and I’ll be interested to see if it will work.

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