Monthly Archives: July 2007

From TagMyPod to StartAkademy?

Thanks to the large number of comments – and one in particular – about the TagMyPod project that I started on my French blog (description here in English), I am seeing if anyone will join me to take the concept further.

One comment, by Alexandre Le Guyader, pointed out that starting a company is extremely hard for young people and that Phuong Tran of TagMyPod had an enormous advantage through interacting with people via my blogging.

Since the blog where I write in French – belonging to my friend Loic Le Meur – is the number one blog in France, the videos and blog posts I did on Phuong’s project created an immediate buzz. (That said, the success of his company is still very uncertain, which is probably why people have enjoyed following the series of postings.)

I totally agree with Alexandre about how Phuong was very fortunate to receive the attention via my blog. Also, I detest when favoritism and connections can be used to beat out hard work and great ideas.

For that reason I propose launching StartAkademy.

Based on an identical principle to what I am doing with Phuong, young entrepreneurs would pitch their idea via video blog. A jury would then select and mentor the young entrepreneur via video-casts that would share, teach and inspire others who want to start their own companies.

This could perhaps be linked in with Seedcamp or a VC firm or a business school. Any takers?

I’ve done a brief video in English (above) and French (below) about the concept.

Email me or post a comment here!


Merci, Franck!

Picture 29-1

I had a very interesting lunch, followed by video session with Franck Perrier, speaking about the directions of Internet development.

Topics included on his video and blog post:

– Why Facebook works
– Privacy dangers of Facebook
– How cultural differences are now emerging across the Internet

In addition to running a popular blog, Franck is founder of Eyeka, a company that aims to connect User Generated videos and photographs with publications.

A faithful MacBook goes under the laser

Having left journalism last week, I am now getting a taste of entrepreneurial experiences by helping Phuong Tran, my brother-in-law, launch his first start-up.

Phuong, a 23-year old commerce school student, is obsessed with lasers and now wants to turn the technology into a self-made summer job.

The faith I have in the project was shown by my willingness to put my faithful MacBook under his laser’s beam.

My contribution is to bring a journalist’s skills – asking questions – to help him shape the company. We will interview on video and post various experts on small businesses giving their ideas on how Phuong should best proceed. With some luck (and hard work) the venture will succeed commercially and journalistically.

We hope people in France – a country not known for start-ups – will enjoy seeing an idea move into execution!

Disclosure: Unlike any other story I have written, I have a monetary interest in the company, having helped Phuong finance this summer project. (He starts commerce school in Reims – the Champagne city – this September)

The website for Tagmypod is up (though fairly basic) and below is our first video (in French). Comments and input are very welcome!

My online replicant (with French accent and acne)

Picture 26-2What if you were replaced by a robot suffering from acne?

VirtuOz, a French company that normally makes smart bots for websites like the French Post Office and Railway (Answering questions like: “What is the nearest train station to Aix-en-Provence?”), just launched a free consumer version of their artificial intelligence robot.

Skaaz is an online avatar suffering from an oversized head and acne who answers questions you have pre-programmed explicitly or entered through a series game-like questionaires. For now, it is only available in French.

Why do I want this?

The idea behind Skaaz is a variation on the continuous presence theme. Instead of the instant feedback of Jaiku or Twitter that tells people “what are you doing now?”, Skaaz will tell people about your broader preferences. You could put in your favorite color, car or restaurant, for example. That way, a person interacting with the bot could get to know you, even if you are not online. By the time you do actually get online, people have finished all the chit chat with your bot and you can get into the substantive stuff. It is possible even to imagine that Skaaz bots could be programmed to seek other bots loaded with similar interests.

How do they make money?

Since Skaaz is a watered-down version of the commercial-strength system used by the French post office and railways, presumably they could offer more functionality at a price. This would allow more complex questions and and subtle interaction. Advertising could also be worked into the bots fairly easily when it comes to recommendations.

The lowdown:

While VirtuOz clearly has experience on the output side (answering questions) it will be a challenge to get users to input enough information to make the bots knowledgeable about their owner. There could be real strength in tying Skaaz to a back end like Facebook or, where users have already expressed many views and preferences.

Due to the limited amount programmed into one person’s bot, the power of Skaaz might come more with crowdsourcing rather than from the knowledge of one bot. Imagine asking a large community of Skaaz bots to tell their favorite restaurant. This would turn the Skaaz technology into a search solution for personal recommendations from a large community.

Here is my Skaaz. Click here to chat with my virtual self.

Picture 27-1

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

A Farewell to Reporting


For those whom I did not have time to inform personally – things have been rather hectic – I soon start a new career as an Asia-based entrepreneur in new media.

After 12 years and more than a thousand datelines in the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times from dozens of countries on five continents at the cost of six laptops and despite one consistently dysfunctional email system, Friday was my last day at the newspaper.

The death and human suffering I witnessed in the war zones of northern Sri Lanka, southern Sudan and eastern Burma remain seared in my memory, along with the accordion-like collapse of fully occupied buildings during Taiwan’s largest earthquake and that disconcerting wobble of the Holiday Inn Express in Gulf Shores, Alabama as the eye of Hurricane Ivan passed overhead.

I live by the belief that witnessing and reporting improves the world. Good copy saves lives.

That said, I also treasured such hardship assignments as the Cannes Film Festival party column and always loved those urgent emails from the travel editor requesting me to go write about the best vacation spots I could find in Asia.

To the editors who sent me around the world, made my copy seem smart and captured the essence of my stories in so many pithy headlines, thanks. A few of them are in this video tour of the IHT newsroom.

A special thanks to my colleagues on the business side of the newspaper for making all that money in order for me to go spend it. Cheers, guys!

To those still in the back of the bus – my fellow reporters and photographers – keep the faith, humor and good luck with those editors. From the bomb-strewn Plain of Jars in Laos to the Republican National Convention in Manhattan, the stories are too numerous. (But I must say that hijacking that Kerry campaign pick-up truck across a state line was worthwhile, even if the bar we wanted – The Purple Grackle – was closed.)

Not all of us emerged unscathed, however, and some of remain in peril. A horrific number of reporters have been killed, injured and kidnapped in recent years. I think now particularly of Alan Johnston the reporter for the BBC who was kidnapped in Gaza more than 100 days ago.

Another daily contributor to our newspaper deserves my final and highest thanks: Local fixers and courageous sources.

Often motivated by the simple urge to show the truth to the world, they act in spite of government and other pressures.

Newspaper correspondents like myself travel with the safety of a foreign passport and backing of a high profile publication, but the fixers we hire do so at great risk to themselves and their families.

They place themselves in harm’s way by sharing information, arranging interviews and explaining complexities crucial to telling a story. Their lives can quickly become the collateral damage of journalism.

Thank you for taking those risks and thankĀ  you for all the stories. I hope I did them justice.


Technorati Tags: