MergerMania.com

Alex told me about this entertaining talk he went to in central London.  He had one Hell of a time with the trains (he couldn’t get a mortgage for his peak hour Anytime Return to Euston), got lost on the Northern Line and was held up in traffic outside Morrisons in Bredbury before – stood behind El Tel Turkey Toreador’s 4×4 near the Travellers’ Call!

Apart from that he had a great time (once he found the venue).  He also stumbled upon this handout from the conference.  It was a nostalgia trip into the merger mania before and after the dot.com bubble.  The author of this article has agreed to let me publish it on my blog, so long as he is identified as the author of the piece.  Without further ado, here it is.

 

MergerMania.com: How the cottage industry came of age: Stuart Vallantine, 06 April 2009

Sometime in 1997, the World Wide Web was still to make an impact in most people’s homes throughout the UK. We were excited at the prospect of 56k baud modems speeding up our web browsing, and online shopping seemed to be some sort of novelty. Back then, the dot-com companies of the day were small scale, at least till the big boys started sniffing around.

Among the first to do so was Microsoft. Competing with Netscape to deliver a new web browser, they also saw the need to add a free webmail service to the mix. In December 1997, they purchase Hotmail, for $400,000,000. The timing was right, as a year later Microsoft launched Windows ’98, which was bundled with Internet Explorer. This resulted in Netscape losing browser market share, and Netscape Communications being sold to AOL.

The Dot-com Boom also saw a myriad other acquisitions. For example, GeoCities, a free web space provider, was bought by Yahoo! in January 1999. With stock market prices at a high, it seemed to be the best time to form new dot-com businesses and abandon outdated business practices. By 2000, the dot-com boom turned to bust.

For some, it could have been a reality check, or rather the fact that the old ways of doing business were still pertinent. In the throes of the Dot-com bust, the bubble’s last hurrah was the merger with Time Warner and AOL. Formerly known as America Online (and Quantum Computer Services before then), the company was merged with an old media player, later dropping the AOL name from AOL Time Warner in 2003. Since then, its customer base has fallen to just 10.1 million, with its UK arm sold to the Carphone Warehouse in October 2006.

Starting to make its presence known around 2001 – 2002 was an up and coming search engine from Stanford. As an antithesis to the cluttered interfaces of search engines at the time, and the patchy nature of search engine results, Google.com was a breath of fresh air. It gained popularity among its users due to its simple interface – a blessing given that around 2001 – 2002, most personal internet access came from dial-up connections.

Buoyed by the success of its users, Google added other features from blogging to video sharing space, secondary to the searching experience. Its first main acquisition was Pyra Labs in 2003, which led to Google taking over Blogger. 2006 saw SketchUp and Writely bought by Google, in a bid to develop online software applications, without the need for a license key or telephone registration.

Later that same year came Google’s acquisition of YouTube, a popular video sharing site. For $1,650,000,000, it cemented Google’s position as a major provider of search services and as a leading player in the phenomenon which we know as Web 2.0.

In the last 15 years, the internet has become part of everyday life for most people. Shopping online no longer seems a novelty, more a normality, so much so it has impacted on traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ retailers. The last 5 years however have seen old media non-dot-com type businesses muscle in. For example, CBS now owns Last.fm and CNET Networks. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation owns MySpace and Easynet.com (the latter through its British Sky Broadcasting subsidiary).

In the next five years, we could see the boundaries between the old media companies and dot-com companies blurring. The switching off of analogue terrestrial signals could increase media convergence between TV and the internet, possible with developments in HDTV. Who knows if the spare analogue signal capacity could be given over to high speed broadband services?

 

That fellow sure talks a lot of sense.  Thank you very much for the article, Alex, it is well appreciated.

T.U., 06 April 2009.

April 6, 2009 at 2:03 pm 1 comment

“This time, the star of the show, could be you…”

The rise of User Generated Content

Till recently, I didn’t know what User Generated Content was, despite using it for some time. I realised that my blog and numerous social networking sites were among some examples. My granddaughter Ellie’s favourite game, ‘Little Big Planet’ is another example.

I realised just how broad user generated content has become. You could say that the first examples of user generated content were ‘The Golden Shot’ and ‘You’ve Been Framed’. With the former, its contestants directed the gun over the telephone, and millions of viewers were entertained by its callers, at the mercy of Bob Monkhouse, Charlie Williams, and a hostess who couldn’t add up properly. The latter was a precursor to YouTube though Google’s video sharing service does not pay you £200 for the best clip.

Fast forward to 2005, I started seeing news programmes doing user generated content. I thought at first it was a lazy way to fill airtime, but in recent years I started sending my photos to Northwest Tonight. Gordon Burns and Co has yet to return the favour, but it’s on their website.

Following a conversation at The Nursery I had with Alex yesterday, I asked him for further advice on user generated content. Unsurprisingly, he went around the houses but told me everything I needed to know. He told me that such works would be previously unpublished, akin to sending a poem to a writers’ group magazine, or my recent rantings on Twitter. He also said that a degree of creativity, outside of professional routines and practices were instrumental to its success.

Just as I found a suitable time to go for a Bruce and get the next round in, he ‘blinded me with science’ with another term: ‘crowdsourcing’. With this term, other users can add to existing content in respond to existing images and data. At that point, he told me about a fellow colleague’s Google Map on pubs in Heaton Moor.

Sat a few yards away from me in the lounge was a balding male, in his early 60s, who overheard our conversation. He thought it was killing serious journalism, press photography and local news. Though I did not say this (to avoid eventual confrontation), I thought it was a worthy adjunct to the Stockport Express, Manchester Evening News and BBC’s Northwest Tonight. It added to the mix and strengthened the reader’s bond with the journal or television channel.

I found that he was of the old school of media professionals, when he told me about his time at the North Cheshire Herald. Moments later, he said he had a Facebook account, played World of Warcraft, submitted his funnies to YouTube, uploaded his photos to Flickr, and managed a weblog. His favoured subject area for his blog was Stockport County.

I would say he had a point on the effects user generated content had on journalism. He also told me of the loss of intellectual property if the site closes down, plus the fact it had a negative impact on skilled journalists. He’s in the National Union of Journalists, and as a consequence referred me to another article on user generated content.

I have found user generated content part of my life more than ever, and had it not been for Alex, I would have had no idea how. Without realising it, I didn’t think that my ‘Mini Marple’ level on ‘Little Big Planet’, co-created by myself and granddaughter Ellie was one example. I thought it was only a custom level, akin to the days of Loderunner’s level editor on the ZX Spectrum.

Thanks to her, Ellie’s school friends are having great fun jumping on platforms circling The Navigation Inn whilst trying to avoid passing the 383/384 circular buses (OK, I lied about that bit – unless someone develops a plug-in featuring Stagecoach’s Enviro 400 double deckers).

 

T.U., 03 April 2009

April 3, 2009 at 2:33 pm Leave a comment

(Do You Remember) the First Time?

You remember ‘the good old days’ where they claim the grass was greener, the beer was stronger and the trains were cheaper? I could go on about this forever, but instead of ranting on about how certain things in 1973 were better than 2009, I shall use this post as a nostalgia fest on’ t’internet’.

This came about as a conversation I was having with Alex. He told me how he first found the World Wide Web in 1997. We went dewy-eyed over the Netscape v. Internet Explorer battle, loading pages on a 14.4k baud US Robotics Sportster modem (he bought his after a favourable review in The Guardian’s Online section), and of course how dated sites were then.

When Alex came to Chez Ogden for his Sunday dinner, he brought his laptop in. He decided to show me his latest addition, a 15” Macbook Pro. On this state of the art PC, he showed me his first website from 1996. There were framed pages galore (which was state of the art at the time) and animated GIF images.

He then showed me his latest website, an all singing all dancing affair coded in XHTML, using CSS for positioning and formatting. I was amazed to find how far we’ve come in 13 years – back when social networking meant bulletin boards and meeting ‘offline’ in pubs, rather than Facebook, Twitter and Co.

When I first found the joys of the internet, online shopping as a replacement for ‘the big shop’ seemed a novelty. Now we think nothing of logging on to TESCO’s website and buying for a fortnight, or even a month. This was 2004, some 10 years after I discovered Teletext (and stupidly wondered what happened to the ORACLE).

Alex was a child of the computer age, so it is no surprise as to why he grew up with a PC of some description since birth. Even when he was young, he would hog the school’s BBC Micro, so much so he managed to book a holiday using the school’s Micronet 800 account on the sly! He first found the internet before it existed – and has vague recollections of Prestel! I always remember the Prestel number as being on after Chris Kelly or Judith Chalmers sold us the joys of Lanzarote and before the credits on ‘Wish You Were Here’.

After Alex left for his humble abode in Bredbury, I retired to The Nursery for a couple of pints, and returned home to take Nelson for his daily walk. Then I went on my PC, only to find Judy has opened a Facebook account and received a friend request from El Tel Turkey Toreador. I also had a look on Archive.org to see how Google looked in 1999. As Judy was on my PC, whilst I was sat at The Nursery, she left a link to this great forum posting:

http://www.ukbusinessforums.co.uk/forums/showthread.php?t=104010&highlight=firstfound+internet

I was amazed as it was almost like that ‘Magical History Tour’ Alex took me on earlier.

T.U., 30 March 2009.

March 30, 2009 at 9:37 am Leave a comment

Why We Still Need PageRank

Until recently, I always wondered why certain websites were marked out of ten on my Google Toolbar. I found out how Google.com always got 10/10, Microsoft got 8/10, and how TESCO got 7/10, compared with El Tel Turkey Toreador’s MySpace page (which if I remember rightly stands at 1/10).

I cannot understand why people get in such a tizz over these rankings. Google’s PageRank figures serve as a measure of quality and relevance. This stops technophobes being palmed off with trashy casino sites or shady link farm schemes, which bear no resemblance from their desired subject area.

I can prove this point having searched for a similar keyword (a rather general phrase instead of a specialist one) on another search engine other than Google. The top result seemed to have had a lower PageRank figure and was a departure from the page I found at the top of Google’s results. On the latter’s results, the links were more relevant.

The reason as to why El Tel Turkey Toreador’s page got 1/10 (and of course how the mighty TESCO has 7/10) is a matter of content being freshly updated. Where the TESCO website is frequently updated, El Tel’s MySpace page was last updated 6 months ago. The latter is on a high traffic subdomain, the former its own domain and of great national importance. El Tel Turkey Toreador is only a celebrity known to fellow Stopfordians and South Manchester residents. Till last month, he was in Strangeways and shocked the local press by returning to radio so soon.

I think of the PageRank pettiness as a modern day equivalent to playing Top Trumps. High PageRank cannot be bought by link farms. Instead, it can only be gained by hard work: adding fresh content to your site, submitting it to reputable web directories, and building a website which Google and the like would love due to its ease of use. Though not the best design in the world, it is something I like about the Silver Surfers site which myself and Judy go on now and again.

I don’t like seeing my Google results (or any other search engine’s results) bombarded by low grade results leading to link farms and poker sites. I think that’s where El Tel could learn a few things as his MySpace page takes half an age to load (and this is on high speed broadband!). Actually, I think it’s the ‘me first’ mentality which is responsible for PageRank related angst.

PageRank is still relevant. How else do we avoid the link farms and scam sites?

(1657) is that the time by now? I’ve missed ‘Deal or No Deal’.  Oh well, I could catch it on Channel 4+1.

T.U., 26 March 2009.

March 26, 2009 at 4:57 pm Leave a comment

Adventures in Viral Marketing Land

Scene: the Ogden’s front room. Judy and Samuel are watching daytime television at the moment, only to be bombarded by an advert featuring a piano playing Jack Russell Terrier. Nelson on seeing the advert barks at its ability to play Bach.

Judy: Nelson – shut up will you (dog carries on barking) Nelson…

Samuel: You should know he’s not too keen on high pitched sound effects.

Judy: I reckon it’s the dog on the telly. I mean, why should a Jack Russell be playing the piano for a furniture advert?

Samuel: It is supposed to mean ‘you’ll be barking mad to miss these prices’. They’ve been downloading this video off YouTube like nobody’s business over the last month. It must be students watching ‘Loose Women’ between lectures.

Judy: Is it shifting any sofas? I don’t understand it.

Samuel: I’d say it is better than some smug salesmen or some annoying tune which they usually use. Anyway, I heard someone at The Nursery who said she saw the advert and fancied one of their sofas.

Judy: Does the Jack Russell come free with each purchase?

 

Some people must have too much time on their hands! This was our house one Sunday before ITV was about to show at least one of their three films.

I saw the video two weeks before the advert transferred to television form. The company has only traded for five years, and they started with a market stall and a self storage container. How I first found out about this revelation was through an email from Alex.

I’ve been on their website lately and found that they were doing well on Google for leather sofas in the Stockport area. They’ve also made the right moves by encouraging its users to bookmark the site on Del.icio.us, StumbleUpon and Facebook. My local radio station DJ, El Tel Turkey Toreador was raving on about it during his drive-time show.

As well as furniture, I found that the website includes clips of its piano playing Jack Russell and a customer feedback section. Their blog is quite good too, with contributions by its staff on the latest furniture deals or less relevant stuff. I found they also had a Twitter account, so I followed them.

Wondering what this phenomenon was, Alex told me about this thing called ‘Viral Marketing’, and it all seemed to fall into place. What I like is how it combines the oldest advertising media with the most recent. If only Nelson could stop barking every time I see the advert on telly.

 

T.U., 24 March 2009

March 24, 2009 at 1:15 pm Leave a comment

The World Wide Wait 2.0

UK Broadband Speeds Still Too Slow

After meeting up with Alex on Sunday, Judy and I decided to get the shopping done online. The reason is that it saves us petrol money or taxi fares, carting the groceries from Sainsburys in Stockport, or the ASDA store opposite.

With my newish Windows Vista PC, we decided to do ‘the big shop’ to the dulcet tones of Radio 2. On no less than three occasions did I try to load the Sainsburys page without it hanging up on [Windows] Vista. After about 20 minutes, the site came up. In case you ask, we were using broadband rather than dial-up – and on a connection speed most impressive compared with the rest of the UK.

At first, we thought there was something wrong with our broadband provider. Alex told me later through Facebook that it was normal for an early evening Sunday to be kept waiting. It was the time before ‘Dancing on Ice’ and shortly after the FA Cup Semi Final draw was made.

Then I found this article on ITProPortal.com which summed this up entitled: ‘OFCOM Reveals That Average UK Broadband Speed Is 3.6mbps’. I thought we were rather hasty, given the longer time it would take for us to drive or catch the 192 down to Stockport town centre.

In fact I was relieved to find it wasn’t my ISP at all.  I wonder if anybody else has noticed slow Sunday connection speeds, or whether you disagree or agree with the OFCOM report? Feel free to add your comments.

 

T.U., 09 March 2009.

March 10, 2009 at 11:41 am Leave a comment

SEO: The Musical

One search on Google makes a hard man humble…

I have just received a message from Alex via his Facebook account reminding me of the fact that tomorrow is his 21st birthday. He could have done with telling me this much earlier, so as to give me enough time to arrange a pub crawl through Stockport, starting at The Nursery in Heaton Norris, or arrange a party.

However, it turns out that Alex will be having a party with his workmates instead of little old me. Instead of The Nursery (several times winner of many CAMRA Pub of the Year Awards), they have gone for Bredbury Hall Country Club. I have grown to like The Nursery, having stumbled upon this hostelry whilst taking Nelson for his daily walk. I first found about this pub picking up a copy of ‘Opening Times’ at The Arden Arms some time in 2002.

In spite of this, one thing he told me to do in his message was a ‘burn a CD’, which would be played to his workmates. For me, ‘burn a CD’ means allowing your precious Dire Straits collection to be singed on a barbecue. Yesterday evening, I spent the best part of two hours trying to record the thing. Windows Vista wasn’t having any. I tried it on Judy’s netbook, and silly me didn’t realise that it had no CD/DVD drive.

Instead I turned to a format most of us were using 21 years ago, not only for music but also for computer games. Enter Compact Cassette C60.

Alex suggested having the tunes from his birthday, but to me the idea didn’t seem appropriate, so I came up with a phoney soundtrack album entitled ‘SEO: The Musical’. It is a bit like ‘Mamma Mia’, only with laptops, free Wi-Fi access and LAN Parties on a far off Greek island. All the titles of each tune relates to ‘searching’.

Side One:

  1. Searching, Change (1980)
  2. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, U2 (1987)
  3. Needles and Pins, The Searchers (1964)
  4. Looking Out For Linda, Hue and Cry (1989)
  5. Call Off The Search, Katie Melua (2003)
  6. Missing, Everything But The Girl (1996)
  7. Baby, Now That I’ve Found You, The Foundations (1967)

Side Two:

  1. Lost in France, Bonnie Tyler (1976)
  2. Search for the Hero, M People (1994)
  3. I Can’t Stand Losing You, The Police (1978)
  4. Missing You, Chris de Burgh (1988)
  5. Is There Anybody Out There?, Pink Floyd (1979)
  6. Sweets for my Sweet, The Searchers (1963)
  7. I’m Still Waiting, Diana Ross (1971)

I hope he likes his tape (or rather I hope he has a tape deck).

T.U., 06 March 2009.

Postscript:
We met up with Alex on Sunday and took a trip to the Merseyway centre. It didn’t amount to much apart from the fact I was taken aback by the White Lion near WHSmith’s. A fellow from the Derby and Joan club I met in Offerton told me that they started doing real ale again. The last time I went, they were doing Chesters’ Bitter – the notorious ‘fighting ale’ which sent us all loopy. That I remember was when I first found the joys of the 400 Trans-Lancs Express to Ashton, Bury and Bolton in 1975.

March 9, 2009 at 9:43 am Leave a comment

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