UK start-ups: They are out there

I’ve been having conversations lately with a few people about British start-ups. As Tom Coates noted, it is a conversation we’ve been having for quite a while now, but rather than pontificate, I thought I’d do another one of my list blog posts. Who are the British start-ups? And what do they do? I’ll be editing this post as I go along to reflect new info, but here’s my starter for ten:

“Ning is the fast and free way to create custom Social Websites!”

“word-of-mouth community where people can remember, share and discover great places”

“etribes is used by thousands of people like you who want a simple, secure personal website.”

“Web Widgets. Snipperoo is for collecting and using them without hacking code. Add widgets to your account and they appear on your site. It’s like magic! And it’s free.”

“Webjam is a flexible tool that allows you to manage multiple pages, on your own or with people you invite, with just one account.”

“Blog instantly by speaking your entry into your mobile phone. Simply call your Speak-a-Blog TM number and speak your post. SpinVox converts it to text and posts the entry live to your blog, within minutes.”
“The social music revolution.”

“The marketplace where people meet to lend and borrow money.”

“Email large files easily and securely”

I just know I’ve forgotten some, so tell me… where are the other UK tech start-ups? And which ones do you rate? Equally, I feel pretty confident of the provenance of these start-ups, although it’s not always clear, so please correct me if I’ve got it wrong.

NowPublic NowFunded

I was the first person to blog about the launch of Michael Tippett’s participatory news network, NowPublic, which marries news stories from the media and public with “crowd-sourced” media such as photos and videos. I saw Michael demo NowPublic last February at the fabulous Northern Voice conference in Vancouver. Over a year later, just a few weeks ago, Michael, Kevin and I met up at a conference in London and had a really nice evening talking about everything, almost except NowPublic.

I’m delighted to announce that NowPublic has raised a healthy US$1.4 million in angel financing, lead by Brightspark Ventures. Congratulations to co-founders Michael, Leonard Brody and Michael Meyers and all the angels involved.

NowPublic met with early success when U2 played a ‘secret’ gig in New York. The photos posted on the site were fantastic – a realtime record of a gig posted without the aid of paid photographers or the traditional media. As an event of national and international interest to U2 fans, it was a bit of a no-brainer for people who were there to take and post photographs.

Since then, NowPublic has become one of the fastest growing news networks, with (and here I quote from the press release) “over 15,000 reporters in 130 countries and over 2 million unique visits a month. During Hurricane Katrina, NowPublic had more reporters in the affected area than most news organizations have on their entire staff.”

But what is news? We frequently thing of news as being events that have national or international importance, but much more news happens at a local or hyperlocal level and these are the types of events that we are less likely to share because they don’t ‘seem like news’ to us. We also tend to think of ‘news’ as being the same as ‘current events’, but in actual fact it spreads far wider than that, into technology, science, sports and beyond.

This is where NowPublic has huge potential – to be a repository of hyperlocal and focused news that is defined not by the sections in your newspaper or the packages on the 1 o’clock bulletin, but by the people who are involved or who witness what happened. We can make our own news – we just have to remember that what we are experiencing is newsworthy.

I myself have contributed to the site a paltry once, when I reported on a “five alarm” fire in San Francisco last July that happened just a few blocks away from where I was staying. I could have contributed more often, and one missed opportunity in particular springs to mind.

Kevin and I were walking to Holborn station in London, only to find that area sealed off. To find a tube station shut is not that big of a deal in London, but the fact that the surrounding roads were sealed off and the place was swarming with police was much more unusual. Had I had any presence of mind, (or a decent cameraphone), I would have taken some snaps, posted them on NowPublic and asked if anyone knew what had happened. Something patently had, but the traditional news outlets didn’t cover it, and the London Underground site never even mentioned the closure of the station. Yet there was news there – I could smell it. My curiosity nearly killed me.

But much participatory media happens at the behest of an authoritative source – XYZMediaCo requests photos of a specific event, or a news anchor invites people to text or email in questions. Under some circumstances – such as the London bombings or the Buncefield fire, the media can be inundated with images and reportage. But we, the public, frequently forget that smaller events are news too, and retraining us to think more critically about what is news is a hefty challenge I am sure that Michael will relish.

Thank you for that kind introduction…

I say taking over the mic. Oh wait, that’s over at our podcast. Suw and I have so many of these chats over coffee and crepes (I can’t believe it took an American to introduce her to Nutella) that we decided to capture some of our conversations and invite a few more people to the table.

You know Suw. I affectionately refer to you, her adoring masses, as Suw’s posse. But who is this Kevin character?

The Edward R Murrow of the internet

A friend once said of me that everyone wants something from me but managers don’t know exactly what to do with me. Sure, my journalism career started pretty traditionally. I went to J-school at the University of Illinois, but it just so happened that while I was studying to be an ink-stained wretch, Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina were on the other end of campus coming up with Mosaic.

Before that, I thought the internet was pretty cool, but I couldn’t see my parents getting into it. They had trouble with the VCR and the microwave. How the hell were they going to get their heads around this internet thing? (Bless ’em. I just got them onto Skype over Christmas.) But when I saw Mosaic, I thought as a journalist, this is going to change everything I do. I was just a little ahead of my time.

So when my managers scratch their heads and try to figure out where the hell to shoe horn me into the org chart, they ask, but what is it that you want to do? I want to be the Edward R Murrow of the internet.

Digital storytelling

My television professor told me that before Murrow, television journalism was really just radio with pictures. Radio presenters just sat in front of a TV camera. Murrow helped create a grammar for telling stories tele-visually.

What is internet journalism? Some 10 years into this project, it’s still way too much newspaper and TV journalism regurgitated on a webpage. I went to a great talk by Danish multimedia visionary Ulrik Haagerup last year. He said that at our most basic, journalists are storytellers. We’ve got all these new ways of telling a story, but we might as well be radio presenters reading out reports on a computer screen for all the innovation in the industry.

Our audience is doing it better

But our audiences aren’t waiting for us. Neil McIntosh says that blogging is the first native storytelling format to develop on the internet. A friend of mine said that he worried that blogging had stopped the development of digital storytelling in its tracks.

I initially agreed with him, and then I took a quick look at the really amazing ways that people are telling stories online, and then I realised that blogging and social media are driving digital storytelling online more in the last few years than we professionals had done in the last decade.

Colleagues ask me why I blog. Robert Scoble told me at a London Geek Dinner last year that blogging keeps him and Microsoft close to its customers. Blogging keeps me close and more relevant to my audience than the one-way journalism of yesterday, and blogging increasingly keeps me close to the digital storytellers that are leading the way.

PS. Thanks to Ben Hammersley who shot the picture of me at Les Blogs 2.0.

Welcoming Kevin Anderson to Strange Attractor

You might have noticed that Strange Attractor has been a wee bit quiet over the last few months. There’s one simple reason for this – I’ve been living in the petri dish instead of looking through the microscope at it. A few months ago I had a call from fellow Corante contributor Ross Mayfield asking me to work with Socialtext to help increase understanding and adoption of wikis at one of their clients, Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, an investment bank in London.

How could I say no? For the last couple of years, I’ve been looking at the use of social software in business from the outside, or from brief forays into the business environment, extrapolating and working from first principals. Having the opportunity to put all that to the test, to spend a good solid amount of time on site, working directly alongside the business users and IT department was just too good to pass up.

And then of course I helped co-found the Open Rights Group, a digital rights campaigning organisation based in London. With luminaries such as Cory Doctorow on our Advisory Council, it’s another great opportunity for me to work on issues that are close to my heart, such as digital privacy and access to knowledge.

So my working week has been a bit full, to say the least.

But I felt somewhat reluctant to give up Strange Attractor. I’m fond of the ol’ blog, even though there are probably only about three people who still have it in their aggregator.

What to do? What to do?

The answer came to me as I was talking to my partner Kevin Anderson one day. Kevin’s one of the people working at the BBC on blogging strategy, as well as being a producer on the World Service’s radio programme World Have Your Say, a show best described as ‘it’s like blogging, but on the radio’. He also does a podcast with Ben Metcalfe and Paul Sissons called Talking Shop. So we’re talking about blogging, and journalism, and how the two can peacefully co-exist and it strikes me that Kevin has a lot to say, but nowhere to say it. I, on the other hand, have somewhere to say stuff but not enough time to say it.

I see a neat little solution to both our problems here.

Thus I would like to welcome Kevin Anderson to Strange Attractor. Kev will be talking about the intersections between mainstream media, citizen journalism, blogging, and anything else that strikes his fancy. I’m going to carry on blogging about blogging, and whatever else I feel like. Sometimes our threads might overlap, but between us, hopefully, we’ll manage to update Strange Attractor more than once a month.

Ewan Spence’s Edinburgh Fringe Podcast nominated for a BAFTA

Ewan Spence, occasional co-host of the Movie Show with me and Cameron Reilly, has been nominated for a Scottish BAFTA for his podcast of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Now, let’s just get this clear. A podcast has been nominated for a BAFTA. A BAFTA. Y’know, the award with the golden mask statuette? The sort of award that Ewan McGregor gets. A BAFTA, ffs.

As far as I am aware, this is the first podcast, ever, to be nominated for a serious and well respected industry award.

Huge congratulations to Ewan (Spence, that is, not McGregor. I’d be a year late for him). I know how much work he put into the Edinburgh Fringe Festival podcast, and this nomination is well, well deserved.

Technorati on Newsweek

Newsweek are now using Technorati to provide a list of links to blogs which cite their articles. On their front page are the most blogged of Newsweek’s articles, and then each feature itself, such as this one on podcast porn, links through to a page of excerpts from the blogosphere. It’s a nice little feedback loop, creating a two way street between mainstream media and the blogosphere. I hope we see more of this.

Ask Jeeves acquires Bloglines

Mark Fletcher, CEO of Bloglines, confirms that they have been bought by Ask Jeeves, in a deal both he and Ask Jeeve’s Jim Lanzone are very happy with. Mark says:

So what will change?

We’ll have a lot more resources available to us. For example, we’ll be integrating Ask’s killer Teoma search engine technology within Bloglines. This will vastly improve our blog search capabilities. We don’t think that world-class blog search exists yet; with Teoma and Bloglines that will happen.

Sounds good to me!

Bloglines used to be my aggregator of choice until I hit a usability limit caused by too many feeds, at which point I changed to NetNewsWire which works really well for me now. NetNewsWire and Bloglines are working in concert, however, so that I will soon be able to sync my posts between the online and offline readers. Which would, I have to admit, be rather cool.

So, yay for Bloglines!

BrandShift – new Corante blog

A warm welcome to Corante to Jennifer Rice, Andy Lark, Johnnie Moore and John Windsor, who together are blogging on BrandShift:

What does it mean for a brand to mature? The same thing as when people mature… we become more honest, direct, transparent. We become better listeners and communicators. We stop seeing ourselves as the center of our world and begin to see ourselves as part of an interconnected whole. We move from following rules to making value judgements.

The BrandShift contributors are all passionate about helping brands through this transition. We’ll not only discuss the theory of branding, but also the practice. We’ll have podcast discussions with CEOs and brand owners on how their brands are evolving in the new economy… growing pains and all. And we’ll cover the new social technologies and discuss their impact on brands.