Singapore Entreupreneur Web 2.0 Unconference

Choon Keat came around at work to remind me of this unconference. I’d wanted to attend and therefore we both left together. CK was a bit surprised at the number of people there—ought to be close to 200—because the last time he had attended it, it was a small group in a “pathetic room with pizza and beer on the side”.

What intrigued me about this event was the format. The self-styled unconference claims to have an informal setting where many parallel discussions are going on side by side and where you are either presenting, debating or absorbing. Should you be not doing any of these, you are supposed to use the Law of Two Feet to take yourself elsewhere where you can be useful.

It wasn’t quite like that. This is the fourth instalment of the event, and this is the first time the organizers were trying to have three “tracks”. IMHO the tracks made it all too formal, because I was scientifically trying to decide how to split my time instead of just popping in at different talks and seeing whether something interesting was going on. Still, not having attended the previous events, I can’t compare and this may very well be a good format.

There was lots to hear, see and talk about. The debate was sometimes spirited and people were not afraid to speak. The questions (to presenters from startups) came fast and the presenters were able to roll with the punches.

The first presentation I attended was from a startup called ActiveDeals which puts movies in your MSN with some advertising along with it. It claims its product is interactive TV, about which I could only make out that people could chat about the video they were seeing with their friends and (presumably) on their website. If there is more interactivity the presented did not say. Haven’t fully checked it out yet, but this is the kind of startup that depends a lot on execution and the main barrier to entry is the work to get there. Their main points were:

  • The videos would be short, on-demand, and focus on local stuff; something people would be comfortable watching as a short break at work;
  • The interactive options would lead to user-generated content: links, reviews, etc., which could then be linked against the videos and become content.
  • activedeals would be doing the video production, so that’s some leg work.
  • Sponsorship of the video content would pay the bills.
  • The sponsors would have to be educated to the use the interactivity of the medium as opposed to just sell, sell, sell.

I don’t know how far they have come along—there were some mockups in the presentation, and the presenter Todd Murray referred to them as such—but the presenter mentioned they would launch in March.

I attended only 5 minutes of the next presentation, which about a website called Wisheus. Here you can “publish your wishes and your wares”. It might attract some teens. Could not see whats new about it. But I’ve not tried to sign-in, and I did not sit through the whole presentation, so if it has some twist, I don’t know about it.

I quit this talk to go to another about complex-systems and networks. The presentation started out with fractals, then on to complex systems with emergent behaviour (you know, the ones where autonomous agents which have simple behavioural rules but can interact with each other, produce complex, unpredictable behaviour), and then on to networks. Finished off with the observation that by observing a network, one could find out those nodes which are highly influential. For e.g., in the blogospere, there could be a blogger who is connected to just the right people and has interest in the idea you wish to popularize. This blogger does not have to be an A-list blogger with lots of readership, just rightly connected. Okay, but the relationship with fractals or complex systems is tenuous. The talk could have been better.

The next talk was titled “The Two Towers (of Web 2.0)”. I walked in a little bit late and heard people going on about Ajax. Asked someone what the other pillar was, and heard that one pillar was not ajax but technology and the other was marketing. Marketing? Well… not surprising considering that the talk was anchored by a group called Singapore Entrepreneurs, a group that runs a blog and also provides vc funcding in some way. I chipped in with an observation that while Ajax is a great technology enabler, another interesting aspect is the opening of the web as services with APIs through which people create and transform existing content into new forms. Guess people did not like it.

The only interesting points in this talk were that singapore is not ready for web 2.0 and that the talk should have been about doing stuff, not about whether we can or should do it. The rest of the time was spent in regurgigating stuff from (did not know it was so popular), and blaming timid singaporean VCs.

The next talk I was interested in attending was by Yahoo about widgets and gadgets. But at this point I had to leave.

Interesting event and I look forward to attending more. If I could stand up to the barrage of questions that other starter-uppers got then I would be proud of my pitching skills (don’t have any, I think). I do hope the level of the discussion goes up a little bit. It is most interesting when people talk about local circumstances and local problems and not debate about whether Singapore is too small. It is. Apparently some people want to start-up anyway. What could they do better?

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