Wow. Every once in a while you read a story that sounds too good to be true. Check out this Business 2.0 Magazine article about Powercast, a company that has found a way to recharge devices without wires.
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Wow. Every once in a while you read a story that sounds too good to be true. Check out this Business 2.0 Magazine article about Powercast, a company that has found a way to recharge devices without wires.
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Bambi Francisco has been my favorite columnist covering the internet for several years. (Read her Netsense columns on CBS Marketwatch.) Today she blogged about Geni.com’s approach to social networking, and features a video clip of Geni COO David Sacks talking about how he hopes to enable everyone in the world to map themselves to the networked family tree that they have developed.
Hey does anyone know if you pronounce this company like “genie” or “jenny?” I’ve heard supposedly in-the-know people pronouncing it either way.
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Normally I get my news for Live Friday from 100+ RSS feeds, but this week I found that a deep dive into Business 2.0 (my favorite internet publication–it took the place of Industry Standard which went away years ago) gave us much more interesting topics that the kinds of PR and brand new announcements that hit the blogosphere. Business 2.0 tends to cover companies that are getting real traction, so you can avoid wasting time on all the hype that is out there. I think I’ll use Business 2.0 a lot more in the future when planning Provo Labs Academy events.
When entrepreneurs write business plans, they can get all the market research and statistics they need for their plan from public filings of companies in a similar sector.
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Last night I was told about a great site for buying cell phones online called letstalk.com. So I checked it out and they do seem to have most phones and most carriers, so a lot more options than you typically see. They offer referral bonuses as well. My friend got a free Blackberry Pearl and loves it.
Speaking of mobile phones….I am advising a lot of entrepreneurs to skip the internet phase of their business, meaning trying to get desktop traffic to their web site, and instead focus on mobile applications and mobile web site development. That seems to be where everything is going right now. Google’s mobile search is ready for primetime, Yahoo launches a mobile ad network, GPS-enabled phones are finally arriving in large numbers, video is getting to phones, and on and on.
Today I saw this press release from letstalk.com that shows how much music is making it to cell phones.
SAN FRANCISCO, March 22 /PRNewswire/ — Online wireless retailer LetsTalk today announced the results of a survey that found the music player feature on cell phones isn’t just for teens. The survey shows over 83 percent of music phone purchasers are over the age of 25, and that 55 percent of those 35 years and older are listening to music on their cell phones. Yet, the music they are putting on cell phones isn’t typically coming from carrier offerings.
The music feature on cell phones is becoming more popular with people of all ages — about 63 percent of multimedia cell phone users have listened to music on their phones. Over 50 percent have downloaded 20 or more songs, and 89 percent have downloaded at least four songs to their phones.
Music phone users have several options for acquiring and downloading music to their cell phones, but in spite of the convenience of buying and downloading songs directly from their carrier, only 14 percent of survey respondents said they have done this. Overall, buying music online is popular, with over 60 percent of those polled going this route. While 67 percent of those polled stated they have used a computer to transfer music files to their cell phones from CDs or the Internet.
“Our survey results indicate that consumers are listening to music from their own collection, so virtually any music phone can meet their needs” said Delly Tamer, CEO of LetsTalk. “Customers are making the most of their music phones with cables and memory cards. The industry needs to offer customers a more compelling reason to download songs directly and easily to their cell phones — better prices, easier navigation, faster speeds, exclusive songs, or all of the above.”
I still don’t have a decent RSS reader for my cell phone (although I downloaded Bloglines for Blackberry today, so I’ll try that), and my web connection is still way too slow (can’t wait for T-Mobile to upgrade their network), and I haven’t bought a Blackberry 8800 yet so I’m still missing the GPS and location-based services that I can’t wait to have, so there are still limitations to my using my cell phone for everything. (I still use my 60GB iPod for music and audio books), but I think those limitations will fade over the next 1-2 years and by the time the successor to the Blackberry 8800, the Nokia N95, and the iPhone version 2 or 3 arrive, they will be so useful that I may never need to use a laptop again.
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On January 16th, an amazing, innovative, well-financed company (especially now, after raising $10 million!) launched a brilliant, web 2.0 based online family tree building tool called Geni..
After getting TechCrunched more than once, Geni caught the fancy of many bloggers and started spreading through word of mouth, but more powerfully, its innately viral application started attracting thousands of users very quickly. (Geni’s Alexa chart doesn’t look great, but Geni’s Quantcast chart looks better. No “addicts”, however, which comprise 38% of Ancestry’s traffic.)
I was both thrilled and disappointed. You see, I want interest in family history to spread all over the world. The family is fundamentally the most important unit in society, and modern societies with the ever weakening family are bring hosts of problems that will never be solved by government, which relies on force to tax people and create policy. The Old Testament ends with two haunting verses: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD; and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to the fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5-6).
Getting families to pay more attention to each other is important not only to those who believe in the Old Testament. Phillip Longman, author of “The Empty Cradle” which decries the falling birthrates in industrialized countries from an economic standpoint ends his book with these powerful words: ” If free societies have a future, it will be because they figure out or stumble upon a way to restore the value of children to their parents, and of parents to each other.”
Even the Soviet Union, when its birth rates kept declining, spoke out. Andrei Kirilenko, the ideology chief, said at a Kremlin rally in 1979, “Our common responsibility for the country’s future requires us to strengthen the family, to elevate the prestige of motherhood and to increase the demands made on the parents as to how their children are growing up.” Note how the language implies the power of government (which is always coercive) to get parents to do better. (Cited by Longman)
So I was thrilled by the launch of Geni, the best free online family tree building tool since MyFamily.com/Ancestry.com launched its free online family tree building tool back in 1999, and excited by the new attention that was being given to the family history category by the blogosphere. The first time ever really, since Ancestry.com/MyFamily.com are rather mature web sites and The Generations Network, which owns both of them, is more in its “monetization phase” than in a “build the market” phase. The blogosphere has never gotten all that excited about what Ancestry.com does and since MyFamily.com hasn’t been free since 2001, it has experienced “negative population growth.”
(Speaking of negative population growth, no less a thinker than Peter Drucker said that negative population growth is the single biggest issue facing civilization today. So on my recent trip to Europe it was very interesting to read “The Empty Cradle” completely and to consider the factors there that are leading to fewer children. Italy used to have a million births a year–now it’s 500,000.)
Not that Geni or MyFamily.com or any site that connects families is going to increase the worldwide birth rate. We’ll leave that job to matchmaking sites like eHarmony.com.
The CEO of eHarmony.com spoke at Stanford on Valentine’s Day, and casually pointed out that on any given day, 200 marriages occur where the people met on eHarmony, and that by the end of this year, there will have been 100,000 babies born to couples married because of eHarmony. No wonder he says doing any other job seems trivial compared to this most-satisfying company. Maybe the solution to worldwide negative population growth is to make sure eHarmony rolls out worldwide as quickly and inexpensively as possible!
Okay, so back to Geni. I was disappointed by Geni’s appearance because I had decided late last year to stop running my Provo Labs incubator, and start focusing on just one company, and turn that company into a raging success. I had chosen to focus on World Vital Records, along with the very talented team that is already there, for many reasons, one being that we felt we could be the first genealogy company to launch a social network for family history, and social networks are generally the fastest growth web sites today.
We were planning to do something entirely different than what family history web sites have done before, and we still are. But Geni’s launch has caused us to change our time table for many of our product features.
To be honest, my disappointment has entirely faded. It’s been swallowed up by an overwhelming feeling of excitement about family history sweeping the world, about families actually using technology to connect, rather than to disintegrate. The Geni launch, as well as all the great moves that Ancestry.com is doing (like launching international sites, kicking off its first-ever integrated advertising campaign — worth $10 million — to boost interest in the brand) and the newly formed alliance between werelate.org (see what Dick Eastman said about werelate.org last June) and the Allen County Public Library, the second largest family history library in the country — all of these things add to the level of excitement.
Anyway, the big question is can another family history social network take off? Can anyone catch Geni?
I’m not going to answer that question, because I simply can’t predict it. And it really doesn’t matter. Geni provides a great service to people who want to build their first family tree and to invite family members to collaborate on it. Geni is obviously great at listening to customers (Geni blog, Geni forum) and at responding to their requests quickly.
And of course Ancestry would certainly dispute the need to “catch Geni” in the first place. Ancestry is loudly defending its leadership position in this space. They have made it clear through recent press announcements that the Ancestry family tree software is attracting millions of records, photos, and more. And with revenues of $150 million per year, they have a very good chance to defend their leadership position.
So where does World Vital Records stand? How we can think that we have a chance to compete in this venture-capital driven world of online genealogy?
The key for us is to attract millions of users to our new free social network for family history which we call FamilyLink. We are some days away from our beta launch, and we can hardly wait. Our site will offer unique and valuable help to every serious family history researcher, and it will nicely coexist with all of the TGN web sites as well as Geni.com.
Our team is cautiously optimistic about our initial launch, and wildly enthusiastic about the long-term potential that we have to provide value to family historians worldwide. And we believe that by adding new databases every day to our World Vital Records web site, that our revenue will be able to keep up with our expenses. It won’t be cheap to run FamilyLink. But World Vital Records continues to generate record revenue each month and we are getting ever closer to being a sustainable business.
Thanks to the GEDCOM standard for data exchange, anyone who downloads a family tree from familysearch.org or Ancestry.com or Geni will be able to import their family data into virtually any genealogy software program or upload it to sites that accept gedcom uploads. And based on Geni’s March 15th blog post, any gedcom upload site that gets 100 uploads of family trees with at least 1,000 names in them, will end up with bigger trees than Geni has right now.
Of course, the magic in Geni is not in the size of its trees, but in its virality. Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn says he keeps a list of 12 people in the world who truly understand viral marketing (and he is one of the 12.) I wonder if anyone at Geni is on that list. Probably so, given the common PayPal connections. I doubt that anyone from TGN is on his list. But I hope that FamilyLink might convince him to add one more name to this list…and soon.
You can visit FamilyLink today and sign up for the beta. We’ll let you know when it is available. It won’t be long.
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I just returned from 7 days in Europe. Thanks to LinkedIn Answers, I probably saved $1,000 on airfare on this trip by taking the advice of some of my connections who are more experienced last-minute travellers. (I’ve joked that with all this great advice, I could publish an ebook on last minute European travel and probably sell it for $10 on our ebook site.)
Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, said in his excellent podcast from Stanford University last month that he hopes LinkedIn Answers becomes the first truly useful Answers service online. He told about asking a question (took him 2 minutes) and getting 26 answers, 18 of which were very helpful.
My experience was similarly helpful. I asked about 200 of my 600 LinkedIn connections how to get a cheap last-minute flight to Europe. I got 37 responses, most of them were very helpful. (One told me jokingly to pretend there was a funeral in the family and get the bereaved family discount. Another said I could be a courier and fly for free.)
From these answers, I learned of about 10 online travel sites that I had previously not used. SideStep.com was the most useful on my trip. (Venere.com, an Italian site, turned out to be the most useful for booking last minute hotels in Paris and London.)
I booked a flight on Air France two days before leaving for Europe, for $980 round trip from LAX to Rome, with a stop in Paris at CDG (Charles De Gaulle) airport. (Air France serves great food, by the way.) After Rome, I fly one-way to London, got a hotel downtown for 69 pounds per night, then on Saturday morning flew round trip to Dublin on British Airways for under US$200. Rather than fly back to Rome, I took the Eurostar train from London to Paris, and arrived in Paris Sunday night. I think it was US$229. My hotel was across the street from the Gare du Nord station and cost only 60 Euros.
So all in all, the travel costs weren’t so bad, considering the last-minute planning. What adds up was the cost of transportation within each city (taxis, metro) and the cost of food, which was surprisingly high.
But the trip itself gave me a sweet taste for world travel. I grew up with a very tiny reality map (see my Connect magazine article titled “Expanding Your Reality Map” in March 2006.) But it has been expanding every year. And especially now.
Reading Russian literature in high school, I dreamed of travelling, and meeting with the kinds of fascinating souls that Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky described in 19th century Russia. Their characters had great depth, education, and were master conversationalists. My favorite novel of all time, Brothers Karamazov, explains human nature better than any other book I have ever read. I wanted to be Alyosha.
So in college, I studied International Relations, which soon led to my talking a Russian class and then switching my major to Russian. I loved the language and the culture and the history of Russia. After graduation I went to DC looking for a job. I applied with the NSA and started undergoing their 6-8 month long background check process. But I never ended up interviewing with them. Instead, I started working at Folio, my brother’s search engine company.
For the last 19 years I’ve been in various high tech startups. But I’ve had a latent interest in world history, international affairs, foreign languages, and cultures and religions of the world. That interest has grown lately as my reading list has started including more books about the flat world we live in, and the economic booms in China and India.
But nothing has opened my eyes and piqued my interest in world affairs like my recent trip to Europe. Though my entire trip was business focused, I was able to visit several historic sites in Rome, including the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the Vatican Museums which includes the famous Sistine Chapel, and in London, and in Dublin I saw the Book of Kells, created by Irish monks in 800 AD, and walked through the library at Trinity College, the largest library in Ireland, with more than 4 million volumes, including 200,000 very old tomes in one great hall. (Wikipedia says that the Jedi library in Star Wars may have been modeled after this great library.) Years ago I read “How the Irish Saved Civilization.” Now I must re-read it, after having seen these historic artifacts.
I had some excellent ideas for a mobile application for history travellers, which would be built for worldhistory.com, which is likely to become part of World Vital Records in the future. (History and genealogy are really inseparably connected.)
I couldn’t stop considering that Utah, where I was born and raised, was settled by the Mormon pioneers (including my ancestors and my wife’s) started in 1847–just 160 years ago. While most of the places I visited have recorded history going back at least 10-15 times that far back.
More importantly, on this trip I met many wonderful people. Genealogy is a great subject to start any conversation with, because everyone has some knowledge of where there family came from, and how they fit into the world. My discussions with people from England, Ireland, Poland, Italy, and France were very enlightening, albeit sometimes rather depressing. Life is hard in many countries. Many people aren’t having children because they can’t afford to. They have to live in big cities where costs of living are so high, that they don’t know how they can possibly have a family. And it is important to face the realities of what people around the world actually think of the U.S. More than one European told me that the US was exporting materialism to all the world through its media, and causing people to be disatisfied with anything except a fast-paced materialistic, hedonistic lifestyle. (Coming home to a ton of billboards, radio and TV commercials, and seeing how everything in the US centers around selling stuff, I see their point.) And of course, most people strongly oppose the war in Iraq.
So I get to learn history and meet people. I’m in heaven really. I’m a former humanities major now working in a high-tech business (online world genealogy) that requires me to travel to many different countries of the world. In each country, I must learn its history and politics to determine when governments started keeping records, what kinds of records they kept, and where they are preserved now. I must also understand the religious histories and cultures of each country, since so many records of births, deaths and marriages were created and kept for religious reasons. I get to revitalize my knowledge of Spanish and Russian, and start studying bits and pieces of French, Italian, German, and hopefully Mandarin and Arabic as well. I’m planning to buy a mobile translation device soon, probably a high-end Franklin Publisher dictionary that handles 400,000 phrases and also supports audio. I know I’ll never have time to really learn these things, but a little exposure to them is extremely interesting nonetheless.
Besides my Blackberry, which worked nicely in Europe (I called T-Mobile on the way to the airport last week and they took care of it all in a few minutes), the most useful tools I had were LinkedIn.com, which enabled me to set up some last minute meetings, and Wikipedia, which basically enlightened me about every place I went, and all the things I saw. What a marvelous invention for travellers!
My dream is to travel with a Blackberry 8800 (with its GPS and Google Maps integration) and have a fully-functional mobile version of LinkedIn, and a mobile version of Sidestep so that I can plan trips on the fly (I usually procrastinate trip planning, but then while I’m there I want to make the most of it). I also want a business version of Dodgeball, so that I can find out if anyone that I’m connected to is also in the area. I may need to try out Twitter, since it’s getting so much positive buzz. (In fact, the Financial Times had it on the first page last Friday or Saturday as the next big thing from Silicon Valley–they called it miniblogging.) Perhaps it will be a helpful tool to let people contact me when I’m travelling… this would sort of be a pull approach to getting meetings, rather than a push approach. Finally, I need a database of all the LDS Family History Centers on my Blackberry, as well as a Genealogists Address Book, so that wherever I travel I’m seconds away from finding out where any local repositories or societies are. (Oh, and the Blackberry should support all the functionality of the Franklin device I described above. I don’t want to have to carry multiple devices.)
If I were young and without responsibilities, perhaps I’d take off and travel the world for the next year, visiting nearly every country, and just running World Vital Records from wherever I happen to be. As it stands, I’m currently planning a week a month for a multi-country trip. I guess I’ll see if I have the stamina to pull this off, and if it continues to make business sense to do so.
So…if you happen to be highly involved with genealogical records anywhere in the world, and would like to see if partnership makes sense between you and your organization and World Vital Records, please let me know. I don’t mind last minute trips, since my LinkedIn friends have shown me how to pull them off.
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My favorite collection of entrepreneur lectures is from Stanford University’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Series. I highly recommended downloading these from iTunes or listening to them while you work. You can find scores of incredibly valuable lectures here. One of my favorite’s is a recent lecture by Reid Hoffman, founder and Chairman of LinkedIn.com.
The best online collection of interviews with startup entrepreneurs is probably at npost.com. There are 167 so far.
One is a Jan 31st interview with David Sacks, the founder of Geni.com.
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The Everton Collection at the Logan Library in Logan, Utah could use more visitors.
Last September Leland Meitzler on his excellent genealogyblog broke the following news about one of the largest private genealogical collections in the U.S.:
I really feel that I’m being premature in posting this blog, but since the word is now circulating on the Internet, I’m forced into it. Yes – plans are underway for the Everton library to open in early October. I will announce the actual opening when it happens.
The Everton collection, which has been unavailable to the public for over two years now, will be opening soon. Logan Library Director Ron Jenkins has been interviewing potential librarians for the collection – and earlier this month, Jenkins hired Jason Cornelius, who is moving from Salt Lake City to Logan. Cornelius will be a full-time librarian, cataloging and overseeing the daily operations of the collection.
The books are housed in an unfinished and unused auxillary courtroom in Logan. The facility is very warehouse-like, complete with bare concrete floors. However, the bookshelves are full of an amazing variety of genealogical materials. It will be good to see the facility open to the public.
Volunteers are needed to assist with clerical work and help genealogists use the massive collection.
Read more about the “opening soon” of the Everton collection in the September 22, 2006 edition of The Logan Herald Journal.
Yesterday, a news story claims that the Library has had only 200 visits since it opened last October.
I googled “everton library logan” and “logan utah genealogy” and couldn’t readily find any information about the library, its holdings, hours or anything else. I looked at Everton.com’s home page and couldn’t find anything. Then I googled “logan library” and found the Logan Library home page with a prominent link to the Everton Collection information that visitors or volunteers would need.
If Logan officials would like more visitors to the Library, I’m sure World Vital Records can help a great deal. We have thousands of daily visitors to our web site. We could make it easy for these visitors, who are accessing some portions of the Everton Collection on our web site, to find the physical library in Logan where they can access the entire 82,000 piece collection, including the many copyrighted materials that World Vital Records will not likely put on its web site for some time.
I have wondered how physical libraries around the world will fare as Google Book Search, the Open Content Alliance, Microsoft Live Book Search, and other massive book digitization projects around the world.
(I think Microsoft Live Book Search is cleaner than Google’s. And to compare the size of the content, I did a search for my ancestor William Brewster, of Mayflower fame. Here are the 1,449 William Brewster results on Microsoft and the 3,608 William Brewster results on Google.)
Thomson Gale’s Access My Library project is a very smart effort to continue to make libraries relevant, by enabling library patrons to access huge electronic collections using their library ID.
I personally love physical libraries–there is nothing like browsing shelves and thumbing through old books. While I love the digital libraries for searching for something specific, I prefer to browse in a physical library. I have had some ideas about how RFID or Bluetooth could be used along with Smart Phones and PDAs to turn physical book collections into a wonderful experience of discovery–where the PDA knows what you are looking for and the books know what they contain, and the PDA and books can communicate as you wander around around the library, and let you know when you’re near something of interest.
I think future physical libraries could be really far out, but unless they do something radical, I’m not sure how they will survive.
What are your thoughts about physical libraries and the purpose they will serve in the coming years?
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Every Friday an energetic group of internet entrepreneurs and marketers meets at the Provo Labs Academy at 12:30 for a 60-90 minute run down of the hottest online business news of the week.
Some weeks we are blown away by the exciting announcements and new launches of venture-backed startup companies or the mind-blowing techtonic plate-shifting announcements that come from the major players in the industry, including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, eBay, Amazon, AOL and IAC.
As I read my 70+ RSS feeds, I keep a running tally of some of the topics we will cover at Live Friday. Yesterday alone I added the following to my list for this week:
a. Michael Eisner, vuguru.com
b. Divvio.com, user generated channels
c. Nintendo Mii challenges MySpace?
d. Google TV ad purchases, print, radio
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The blogosphere is going nuts over the possibility that Google will be providing monthly query volume by keyword. This is something that Goto.com/Overture/Yahoo Search Marketing has provided for years, but inventory.overture.com has been unreliable for some time. And Yahoo only has a minority of the overall search traffic. There are paid options like WordTracker (which I have used) for query volume and Keywordtopia (which I haven’t used yet) for generating unique words lists based on query volume and amount of competition. But if Google gets into this arena, it will be a boom for all search engine marketers. The screen shot from the adamap.com post shows that Google will display the query volume per keyword as well as the amount of PPC competition for that word. What they won’t do is show the SEO competition. This is what our WebEvident.com Searchability(TM) technology attempts to provide: an SEO “acquirability” score, meaning, how hard will it be to get a top 10 ranking on any given keyword based on the current top 10 results–how optimized is their page, how many incoming links do they have, etc. Unfortunately, WebEvident is only available through third party distributors; its retail site has never launched. If WebEvident could find a partner to build its retail site and share the revenue, I think they would do it. Use the Contact Me form if you are interested in discussing this….
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