Is over-segmentation creeping back into Apple?

Screenshot 2015-04-10 08.35.36

One of the first things Steve Jobs did when he came back to save Apple in the late 90s was reduce their PC product range to the “four product matrix”. Instead of having an offering for every single segment of the market (executive, geek, soccer mom, teenager, single dude … ad infinitum) they reduced it to four products: Laptop and desktop, each available for home and work. Simple. Brilliant.

When my 19 month old daughter recently started testing my iPad’s durability I decided to assess the monetary implications of any potential damage caused by her enthusiasm. When I found the page, I got confused. So many iPads. Why don’t they just have an iPad and iPad mini? Why five different products? Which one is for a Star Wars-socks wearing hipster wannabe?

When I bought my iPad 2 life was simpler. Now it feels like choosing a mobile phone plan. Are the MBAs taking over Apple again?

Datasmoothie is accepted into Europe’s premium startup accelerator


First we were lucky enough to be selected out of hundreds of applications to compete at Seedcamp week and present our startup to a group of investors and mentors from Europe’s most successful businesses and venture funds. Then we were among the 11 companies selected as winners. Datasmoothie has joined Europe’s most respected startup accelerator! (Seedcamp announcement).

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What is Datasmoothie?

Has IBM’s SPSS ever made you cry? We are here to relieve you of your pain.

Datasmoothie allows analysts in the “people data” industries, e.g. market research,  sociology, economics, psychology, political science etc., to analyse data and turn them into stories. It is the result of more than a year of coding for one of the world’s top market research companies, YouGov, and now we are about to release it to the masses.

Why market research?

Datasmoothie is a tool for anyone who is in the so-called “business of evidence”. In other words:

The collection and interpretation of customer, citizen or business information for the purpose of informing commercial and public policy decisions, improving management of customer or civic relationships, or improving commercial or public management efficiency.

Why are we targeting this market? Because the global annual turnover for the market research industry is over $40Bn and in the UK it’s comparable in size to the newspaper industry and the core film industry (see Market Research Society report for more about the industry’s UK profile).

This industry also happens to be using an antiquated toolset that is largely stuck on the desktop. We plan to change that by bringing statistical analysis and data storytelling online and into the 21st century.

Can I have a look?

Not yet! The computational underpinnings of Datasmoothie are production ready and are being used to produce real-world reports for real clients. But our public facing product that will conquer the world isn’t live yet. We’ll let you know as soon as we have something to show! Until then, thanks for your interest in Datasmoothie!

Who are the founders?


Because everyone was in London for Seedcamp week (usually we’re dispersed between London and Reykjavik) we decided to pose and pretend that we were in a boy band. From the left: Geir Freysson, Agnar Sigmarsson and Birgir Hrafn Sigurðsson.

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Why do VCs invest in people who smell bad? (Notes from Peter Thiel’s book, part I)

Zero to One

Why are most movies crap? Why do venture capitalists ask you whether your company can become a billion dollar business or not? And why do they invest in companies run by people in hoodies (Zuckerberg) or people who don’t shower (Jobs)? The answer is: Statistics.

Peter Thiel, who the New Yorker says “might be the most successful technology investor in the world,” explains the VC part of the equation succinctly in his new book Zero to One:

The biggest secret in venture capital is that the best investment in a successful fund equals or outperforms the entire rest of the fund combined. This implies two very strange rules for VCs: First, only invest in companies that have the potential to return the value of the entire fund. [Second], because rule number one is so restrictive, there can’t be any other rules.

A super successful startup is what Nassim Taleb calls a “positive black swan” – an event that is extremely positive but practically impossible to predict. And because only one company might be responsible for an entire fund’s return and there’s no way to tell which company it will be, investors have to build a portfolio of companies where each and every one has the potential to win the lottery.

Paul Graham, who’s Y-Combinator fund was an early investor in Dropbox and Airbnb, calls this “black swan farming“. And the reason for Thiel’s rule number two is, as Graham puts it, because “the best startup ideas seem at first like bad ideas”. Ideas may seem crazy and the founders may smell like they should shower more often, but a startup’s potential to be a blockbuster is the only thing that matters to an investor.

This is also the reason why film studios make so many crap movies. Their portfolio has to be full of potential blockbusters that will make up for all the loss-makers. And there’s no way to tell what movies will succeed. They’re in the business of black swan farming as well. So they hire a big name actor or actress and make sure the script has a high-speed car chase, all in 3D, and cross their fingers.

I highly recommend Thiel’s book. It’s based on the wildly successful Blake Masters online notes from Thiel’s Stanford lectures. It’s original, entertaining and thought provoking. And importantly, it’s not too long. If Thiel can be bothered to write another one, I look forward to reading it.

How the Berlin Wall reminds me of Facebook Messenger

Screenshot 2014-08-21 09.52.01“Ask her!” the receptionist at the Feiniger Gallery in Quedlinburg told us in German, pointing towards a terrified junior colleague who was shaking her head profusely. They thought I wanted them to babysit my 11 month old daughter while my wife and I had a look around the gallery.

They were showing a photo exhibit of life in Berlin before the Wall came down. When your economic and political system is so bad you have to build a wall and guard it with guns to keep people from leaving, you might possibly have gotten something wrong. It’s far fetched, but this made me think of Facebook.

At the gallery everyone was relieved when I finally managed to make my self understandable. “Oh, I see! Of course you can take your pram into the gallery.”

The motherly lady who was in the gallery itself was easier to understand. “There was a ceremony here just the other day,” she said in German, “and I wondered what the occasion was.” Everyone seems to talk to you more when you have a baby in tow.

“Then I realized,” she continued smiling. “It was the 13th of August! When they raised the Wall! Imagine, it’s been so long since it came down I forget the anniversary!”

Facebook raised its own wall recently*. They’re forcing all of their users to download their Messengar mobile app by ripping the chat feature out of their main app. So if you have a message on Facebook you either have to download a separate app or wait until you’re home at your desktop to reply.

Facebook’s Messenger app was launched almost three years ago, in August 2011. Apparently, not enough people are using it. I removed it from my own phone after I first tried it out as I prefered the main app.

The Berlin Wall was a solution to a symptom, not the disease. The problem wasn’t that people were leaving East Germany, the problem was East Germany itself.

Facebook’s Messenger is a subpar version of WhatsApp. The problem wasn’t that people weren’t aware of the app, the problem was that the app itself wasn’t compelling enough to use. Facebook shouldn’t have given up on fixing the app rather than forcing its users to install it.


* Note: I’m not comparing nice people in Silicon Valley who I respect to nasty people in the DDR.

“I believe Google.” A Google Now story.

Flight delayed

I’m standing in a queue for a bakery in Stuttgart airport when there’s a buzzing in my pocket. I pick up my HTC Android phone, wondering whether it’s another Snapchat from a friend who was also on holiday, also sharing snaps incessantly.

It’s not a Snapchat. It’s a notification from Google Now. According to Google, my flight has been delayed. I pay for the sandwiches and check the departure screen. “On schedule”. I ask a nearby member of staff. He hasn’t heard anything.

“Google says our flight is delayed,” I say to my wife when I get back with our sandwiches, “but the screens aren’t saying anything.”

“I believe Google,” she answers.

Google keeps telling me news about Arsenal football club. “6-0, Chelsea – Arsenal” it notified me last year with clinical detachment. Thanks for the update. The match was yesterday. “It should be called Google Then”, I joked on Twitter.

About half an hour after Google told me about our flight, the departure screens were updated and an announcement was made in the speaker system. My wife was right. Google was right. I didn’t post a Google Then joke on Twitter that day.

Today I’m flying to Hanover on my way to Berlin. Google Now is already, without being asked, showing me information about my flight, what the weather is like at our first destination (Quedlinburg), and information about our first hotel. Spooky? A little. Especially because the NSA probably has a direct feed to all this information, which is farmed from my GMail account. Convenient? Very much so.

Next time, I’ll believe Google.

Orkut: When Google’s social network was bigger than Facebook

Screenshot 2014-06-30 19.17.58

Above is a screenshot of my Orkut profile page (that was my hairstyle in 2004). I have one friend on Orkut. Ever heard of it? I can’t blame you.

In 2004 Google decided they should launch a social network. That’s right, someone at Google saw the potential of social networks while Zuckerberg was still in his dorm room. It was the year Orkut was born.

I remember I was quite excited when a Brazilian colleague at British Telecom, where I was a researcher in a former life, added me as a friend on Orkut. It was invite only and everyone in the tech community was talking about it.

Orkut overtook Friendster before Facebook did

Common folklore says that Facebook killed Friendster. It didn’t really. Friendster just never reached the heights Facebook did. In fact, Orkut overtook Friendster long before Facebook did.

Screenshot 2014-06-30 18.38.49
2004-2005 search traffic for Friendster, Orkut and Facebook.

One year after Twitter’s famous SXSW breakthrough, Orkut was still much bigger

Twitter set the Texas conference ablaze in 2007 when the early adopters suddenly started Tweeting. But it wasn’t until late 2010 that Twitter got bigger than Orkut.

Screenshot 2014-06-30 18.01.46
Search traffic for Friendster, Orkut and Twitter from 2004 until now. Facebook is missing from the chart.

Facebook didn’t kill Friendster, it killed Orkut

Facebook overtook Orkut in 2007. Why am I still talking about Friendster?

Screenshot 2014-06-30 18.12.00
2006-2007 search traffic for Friendster, Orkut, Twitter and Facebook.

No one comes close to Facebook

And in case you were wondering, this is why you discovered this blog post on Facebook (well, most of you anyway).

Screenshot 2014-06-30 18.03.58
Search traffic for Friendster, Orkut, Twitter and Facebook from 2004 until today.

We’re big in Brazil

So why haven’t you heard of Orkut? Why is a Brazilian computer scientist my only friend on this social network success story? Because Orkut was huge in Brazil, and only in Brazil.

Screenshot 2014-07-01 08.53.00
Regional interest on Google for Orkut from 2004 to today.

If Orkut would have been an independent company, could they have expanded beyond Brazil? Should Google have used it as a jumping board onto greater things rather than start a new social network, Google+?

Either way it’s too late. As the top chart shows Orkut has now flatlined and Google is shutting it down. And I still only have the one friend on Google’s first social network.

Why Facebook is a Nordic success story – notes from the Nordic Digital Forum

Brainstorming session at the Nordic Digital Forum. Photo courtesy of @eskeknudsen

Mark Zuckerberg builds Facebook from his dorm room and becomes a billionaire. It’s a typical American success story, right? Yes and no. Bear with me.

I had the pleasure of being invited to Copenhagen last Thursday to participate in the Nordic Digital Forum. Attending the forum was a collection of approximately one hundred entrepreneurs, technologists and policymakers invited to the Danish capital to brainstorm for one day on how the Nordic countries can work together to create fertile ground for tech companies to grow and prosper.

Among the speakers were Claus Meyer, co-founder of the world’s greatest restaurant, Noma (who is incredibly passionate about bread) and Thomas Madsen-Mygdal, founder of Podio (acquired by Citrix).

Madsen-Mygdal had a funny take on Facebook. From a business perspective it might be the typical American success story, but from a technological perspective it’s all about the Nordics.

Let’s look at the Facebook technology stack:

  • Operating system: Linux. Built by a crazy guy from Finland.
  • Database technology: MySql. Built by crazy people from Sweden.
  • Programming language: PHP. Built by a relatively sane person from Denmark.

Zuckerberg was able to build Facebook from his dorm room because he had access to a lot of heavy duty technology that didn’t cost him a dime to use. This technology was built by folks in the Nordics. Except they give it away as open source. The moral of the story is that the Nordics punch above their weight when it comes to contributions to technology. How about that for patting each other on the back?

Some of my takeaways from the conference were that the Nordics are passionate about healthcare and equality, topics I’ve never heard mentioned much in conferences like London’s Digital Shoreditch or elsewhere. The role of government was also discussed. Helga Waage voiced the opinion of many (including mine) nicely in one of the panels:

The relation between digital start ups and government is like curling – the government is the broom.

Finally, the Danes didn’t just contribute to Facebook’s technology stack, they’re also a world class culinary destination. And the food at the conference was no exception. Whether it was the humble sandwiches for lunch, the brownies served with the coffee or the three course meal in the evening, everything on offer solidified my opinion of the Danes as the greatest foodies on the planet.

Thanks for having me, everyone. The Nordic Digital Forum was well worth attending.

Borgarstjórar fortíðarinnar

Reykjavik mayors: Timeline

Nú þegar sveitastjórnarkosningarnar eru handan við hornið er áhugavert að horfa um öxl og skoða hverjir hafa setið í borgarstjórastólnum, hvenær og hversu lengi. Hingað til hafa borgarstjórarnir verið 21 talsins, þar af 11 sjálfstæðismenn, fjórir frá Samfylkingunni (og R-Listanum) tveir frá öðrum hægri flokkum, tveir óflokksbundnir (þeir tveir fyrstu), einn óháður sem var ráðinn af meirihluta Alþýðuflokksins, Alþýðubandalagsins og Framsóknarflokksins og einn grínisti.

Myndin hér að ofan sýnir svokallaða Gantt mynd sem sýnir hvenær borgarstjórarnir 21 voru við völd og hvenær á æviskeiði þeirra þeir sinntu starfinu. Takið eftir borgarstjórunum sex sem sátu á undan Jóni Gnarr, en enginn þeirra sat heilt kjörtímabil.

Myndin hér að neðan sýnir hversu lengi hver borgarstjóri sat við völd. Þrír borgarstjórar hafa setið lengur en tíu ár í embættinu, sjálfstæðismennirnir Gunnar Thoroddsen og Geir Hallgrímsson og Knud Zimsen sem var óflokksbundinn. Aðeins 11 af 21 sátu heilt kjörtímabil eða meira.



Do what I want, not what I say. Google does.

Google can sometimes be eerily powerful. In 2012 the courts here in the UK ruled that Internet Service Providers must block access to The Pirate Bay, the Swedish torrent site.

If you search Google for “pirate bay” (which you shouldn’t) the algorithm manages a rare feat in computing: It does what you want it to do, not what you tell it to do.

Google results for "piratebay"

Instead of showing the actual Pirate Bay site as the top result Google serves up “The Proxy Bay”, which is a list of sites that mirror the Pirate Bay in every detail under a different domain, thereby circumventing the block. So if I want to access the Pirate Bay (I don’t) the Google algorithm shows me the way.

Unsurprisingly, a few months after the ban the BBC reported that torrent downloading was back up to pre-ban levels.

Another unsurprising fact: Bing shows the Pirate Bay as the top result, not the Proxy Bay. It does what you tell it to do, not what you want it to do.

Bing results for "pirate bay"

Google 1 – Bing 0.

How to give bitcoins as a wedding anniversary present

Sif with Bitcoin
Sif showing off the 0.1 bitcoins I generously gave her on our wedding anniversary.

I’ve been impressing people with Bitcoin lately. Being the romantic that I am, I gave my wife 0.1 BTC as a wedding anniversary present back in June (see transaction). She assures me she was very impressed. In late November, I told my brother-in-law and business partner: “You bring the takeaway to my place and I’ll pay half with bitcoins”. He assures me he was also very impressed.

The reason you can still impress wives with Bitcoin (trust me) is that it isn’t mainstream yet. As much hype as there is about the new technology, getting your hands on the electric coins is anything but straight forward (unless you live in the US, where you can use Coinbase). And if you live in currency-controlled Iceland trading bitcoins for the hated Krona is probably down right illegal.

So how do you buy bitcoins?

First: Transfer your currency of choice to an exchange. In my case it was BitStamp, which meant I had to send US dollars via a bank transfer to BitStamp’s bank account in Slovenia.


how does bitcoin work 1

Second: Once the exchange has processed your deposit, which can take a few days, you have dollars in their account. Now you have to buy bitcoins. The easiest option is to make an “instant order” which means you buy bitcoins for the current market price. They might come from a single seller or multiple sellers, depending on how much you’re buying. You don’t need to worry about the technicalities though, the exchange does this for you. The Bitcoin exchange is simply a match maker that charges a fee for every transaction they process.

how does bitcoin work 2

Third: Now that you have your precious bitcoins, it’s best to transfer them to a wallet. I use Coinbase but other popular options include the Bitcoin client for Android and the Blockchain Wallet. Once you’ve transferred your coins to a wallet, you can start trying to impress people by sending them coins. Or you could just hold on to them, cross your fingers and hope the price takes another upwards swing.
how does bitcoin work 3

Finally, watch the price fluctuate wildly: The graph below shows the price of bitcoin in US dollars over the past year. My wedding anniversary present is becoming ever more generous while my brother-in-law lost out by accepting bitcoin as a payment for the takeaway, although I’m not sure he would have been better off with the Icelandic Krona. Not in the long run, anyway. But that’s a different story.

chart wedding anniversary