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On education, the future and how to sell yourself

posted in Events on August 21st, 2007

Dutch cross media network iMMovator kicked off the new season of their CrossMediaCafe events yesterday with an interesting event.

The guest of honor was Ronald Plasterk, Minister of Education, Culture and Science. When asked as to what kind of technology he uses in his daily life, he made a remark about his recent vacation to Bali, stating that “he uploaded a couple of eps of 24 to his iPod so he could watch them during his trip“.

Naturally, the above statement should be taken with a grain of salt, after all, can one really trust politicians? Political views aside however, Plasterk struck me as authentic. He listened to what people had to say and provided insight into why he did certain things.

This was only the second time I met a Minister and the first time I actually liked the guy. Very non-condescending and approachable. No fancy security guys to shield the guy from the audience and a highly likable appearance.

His statement on Blackberry usage during cabinet meetings was great too: “my mother taught me that it is very inappropriate and plain jerk’ish to not look someone in the face when they are talking to you” (this is not verbatim, but Plasterk’s statement came down to that)

Later on, Paul Rutten from Hogeschool InHolland commented that Blackberrys actually increase the efficiency of people and as a user of these kind of technologies, I would have to agree, nonetheless, the point Plasterk makes about it being rude still applies.

One of the keynotes also contained some interesting information. It appears as if one third of the dutch IT / creative industry seems to be concentrated around the so-called Noordvleugel, namely Amsterdam and Hilversum with a respectable growth and many small, innovative companies. It might not be Silicon Valley yet, but it may put us on the next Fast Cities listing.

Then came the, for me, highlight of the whole conference - Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten speech on Entrepreneurship and ways of becoming an entrepreneur in today’s world and how he became the man he is today.

The speech was hands down the best thing about the whole conference / meeting because Boris dares to show that all you need is some big cojones and the strength to get up when someone tries to knock you down. For those that are interested, head on over to bomega.com and read the speech, it is definitely worth it.

According to Boris, the Dutch educational system is not built for success and only breeds “hive workers” that have little to no ambition to advance in their profession. This is being backed up by the fact that only 7% of Dutch students actually plan on setting up their own company, compare that to the 70% of American students and that’s ’nuff said. Just about everyone in the Netherlands who goes into higher education, does that for the sole purpose of finding a job where you can apply for, people lack the motivation to come up with something innovative.

In the end, Boris says, it all comes down to selling yourself (or your product, for that matter) the right (successful) way.

Pitching is something we do 24/7; at your company, when you try to convince your boss that you need more funding for that awesome idea you have, with your co-workers, when they do not feel like working late but you still need them and of course, with your significant other, when you need them to sign off on your next big purchase.

Boris thinks that the Netherlands (although, this would apply to any country really) would do a lot better, internationally speaking, if presentation skills would carry a higher importance in the educational system. With “only one oral presentation every year, as opposed to one oral presentation EVERY week in the US“, it is no wonder that our students are scared of pitching something.

The lack of serious presentation skills (or should that be: the serious lack of presentation skills?) was also obvious during some of the showcases speeches:

First up was Wobble, a product from Momentum Interaction. Wobble is a piece of wood you can step on and use as a kind of enhanced joypad. The system can be connected to a PC and gathers an array of data that can be used for medical purposes.

While the system in itself is nice enough, the suggested price of more than $4,000 made me laugh. For one, the system, in its current state is a long way from actually being production-ready and moreover, 18 months ago, I came across a similar system at my own college, which was built over the span of nine weeks as opposed to ten months (which was the time Momentum Interaction needed).

The “home” version of Wobble will have an approximate price of $150 to $250 and will be easier to set up. It does make one wonder how a device that costs $4,000 for medical usage, can end up at less than 1/10 of the price in a retail customer’s hands.

Any consumer will expect a range of games that can be used with the device and the looks and usage would have to be improved too, all factors that would drive the price up as opposed to down, yet Momentum Interaction thinks that the home product can be sold at that price.

I am no analyst, but seeing what “our guys” came up with really makes me think if the approach that was used for Wobble was the right one …

The second showcase was Stoneroos which was, no offense to the presentator, the worst presentation I have ever seen. Did someone forget to tell the lady that folding your hands is a no-go for presentations? Oh and “uhm” and “err” do not work that well either.

This may be out of line, seeing how Stoneroos is an accomplished company with a nice portfolio of clients, but wow, one would expect that as a CEO, you would have the time to prepare a well thought out and clear presentation and do a dry run at least once to get some feedback.

Stoneroos’ product itself, the iFanzy (whats with the “i” by the way?) is a solid product but I wonder why I would want to use that , limited, platform as opposed to something along the lines of Windows Media Center.

One of the guests commented that Stoneroos lacks focus; their product portfolio includes electronical program guides, games and other services and you can tell that Stoneroos is trying to be a Jack of all trades; at the cost of being a Master of none.

The third showcase was about Wunderwall, a product that enables you to utilize the wisdom of crowds for various tasks on your computer. While the name in itself is not really something I would go for (it might work great in a German speaking locale), the product in itself is an innovative and useful solution.

Wunderwall enables multiple users to take part in the presentation / application that is displayed on a screen, allowing everyone to interact with the various elements. The “mutliple users, single location” principle was well thought through and the presentation was great too. No Dick Hardt, but still better than the other showcases.

The final showcase was about AVI Drome, a product from ParkPost; the product in itself did not catch my interest, simply because it is very location specific and not geared towards home / office users but rather companies in the (audio / visual) media creation sector.

Boris claimed early that the number one angst in the Netherlands is giving a presentation and looking at how badly half of the showcases was delivered, one must really wonder how it is that a student community can find a better selection of showcases for their events than a national cross media network.

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Next Night 2.0

posted in College, Events on March 2nd, 2007

This past Tuesday, Generation Next organized the second evening in their, so far, successful, series of events called “Next Night”. The idea behind these events is to bring (CMD) students in touch with market influencer as well as innovation leaders and academic researchers, thereby creating an intriguing evening loaded with useful information. The best thing is that it’s limited to a small group of people and so far, I’ve only seen people who really wanted to be there.

The evening was kicked off by Barend Raaff from DNB Media. The speech contained some interesting questions - for example in regards of the latest events that are happening in Second Life and who should be held accountable for them:

Mr. Raaff likes to think of Second Life as a means of communication, not unlike the phone system operated by KPN or Ma Bell. He goes on to explain that the medium cannot be blamed for the things some, misguided users do with it.

This week, two nuclear missiles were exploded in Second Life. The objective behind this mission that was spearheaded by the Second Life Liberation Army (SLLA) is to make Linden Labs, the developers of the game, aware to the fact that users want to more control over the Sims (the gaming environments) and that they won’t refrain from taking game altering actions.

The type of bomb that was used can be acquired in-game and their effect is nearly as devastating as in real life. The explosions consume so much CPU power that the servers just shut down. With 2700 Second Life servers out there, one would think that two servers wouldn’t matter, but unfortunately they do. Every time, someone sets off a bomb and kills a server, there is a 25% chance that the server that crashes will take another server with it. This percentage increases by one point with every server that gets killed successfully.

The shutdown also means that any data that wasn’t saved might be lost, which could incur real-world economical ramifications, because, after all, the Second Life currency known as Linden Dollars has to be acquired by real world money. On that topic, Mr. Raaff also noted that he doesn’t (yet) consider Linden Dollars to be a threat to actual real-world currency.

The second speaker was Bas van Ulden, head of the Second Life team of ABN AMRO, a well known financial institution. His team managed to create an online presence inside Second Life, thereby earning his team the title of “First European bank in Second Life”. Quite a feat, especially if you consider that most of the team didn’t use Second Life before and they managed to build the whole thing in a mere eight weeks.

The interesting thing is that ABN AMRO bought 32 sims, however, only six or seven are currently in use and by summer 2007, another ten sims will be made accessible to the general public. I’m curious as to what they have in store for their customers.

I think their approach, so far, is unique. They are the first European bank I know off that let’s you “skype” with your account manager (as opposed to calling an expensive phone number) as well as check your account balance via MSN Messenger.

Naturally, the decision to start out in Second Life was entirely business based, after all, the Netherlands are home to the biggest non-English community on Second Life. However, you can tell that this bank really values the social aspect of the Internet and Mr. Ulden’s speech was probably the best of the whole evening. Not because it offered possible employment opportunities to anyone interested and qualified, but rather because he was very open about the whole experience. He didn’t refrain from telling us how much they did wrong and how they had to learn the hard way.

I value his honesty and I think it tells a lot about how he and his small team of ten thinks of the net community.

The keynote was concluded by some statistics which gave some insight into the success of the whole operation. It turned out that ABN AMRO gets about 500 to 600 visitors a week in all their Sims combined and even though they only cater to the Dutch market right now, they get the occasional foreign visitor too.

After a short break, Raymond van der Kaaij from (lost in the) Magic Forest kicked off the second half of the evening by sharing some insight into the hows and whats of marketing in Second Life. For example, if you want to expand your base of operations into Second Life, you should ask yourself how you can do that in a way that links up with your offline brand. It is important to know how you can add value to the experience of the visitor and how you can turn them into recurring visitors.

Mr. van der Kaaij also believes the “whole thing” to be about experience design: “If there’s no experience then there’s no unique selling point and that’s when you should stop considering Second Life as a base of operations.”

David de Nood from EPN concluded the evening by explaining how Second Life was a game without a set ending point, but far from pointless. He also shared some very interesting stats with us. It turns out that from the group of heavy users, that is, people that play approximately ten to forty hours a week, more than half is female. What’s even more interesting is that this group is between 25 and 40 years old and has at least completed college. Most of them have creative jobs in the IT or marketing sector.

Even though this group plays an average of 25 hours a week, only 40% of the members consider themselves addicted to the game. The main reason, according to Mr. de Nood is, that the psycho-social wellbeing in-game, is a lot higher than outside, in the real world. It’s easier to establish contacts because there’s some sense of anonymity. EPN’s research also predicts that more businesses (especially those with goods related to Second Life) will open up to payments made in Linden Dollars.

The evening was concluded with an informal discussion where all of the speakers actively took part in. Thanks a lot to Marc and Noortje and the other members from Generation Next for setting up this meeting. Congratulations on a job well done. I’m already looking forward to see what you guys can come up with for Next Night 3.0!

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Next Night 1.0

posted in College, Events on November 29th, 2006

So I didn’t find any time to blog about the Next Night last night, mostly because I didn’t feel comfortable pulling out my laptop while everyone was listening but let me tell you that it itched in my fingers … so without furder ado, I’ll write up a short re-cap of yesterday’s events:

FYI: Next Night 1.0 was about Gamevertising and Advergames, putting ads into games and creating games to increase brand awareness and get people to buy your products.

The evening started out with us (Jack, me) being a bit late, thanks to the horrible public transport service currently offered. We missed the first half of the first keynote but managed to catch the second half. It was interesting, but didn’t rock.

Then came a duo of speakers who really knew how to cater to this audience - MediaMonks. Those guys were cocky, in a great way. They showcase’d some of their projects and the way they approached projects. Most of the people I talked to agreed that their presentation was without a doubt the best one. Not just because of their interesting presentation style, involving two very different people (one a media strategist, the other a creative technologist) who didn’t see eye to eye on some issues and mocked each other in a respectful way, but also because of the time they took to answer our questions in a very honest way.

I took some time to read up on them before I went to the event and from what I gather, their company must be one of the best you could work for, if you’re looking for a great team of highly creative, highly energetic minds.

The last speaker was a guy from the University of Amsterdam, a true researcher who discussed how bad it would be to put advertising into games like World of Warcraft. You could tell by the way he was talking that he was a true addict, trying to protect “his precious”. I disliked the fact that he couldn’t really stay objective. Like, he “sanctioned” advertising for games like FIFA ‘07, because of the added realism, but bashed advertising in games like Battlefield 2142.

He, on the other hand, liked the sort of viral marketing Microsoft used for marketing Halo 2 (ILoveBees) and appreciated that Rockstar Entertainment created loads of spoofs for their GTA series of games. I’m just baffled as to why he decided not to talk about Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. A modern-day game using modern day advertisement for products like Wrigley’s chewing gum, Axe body spray, powered by Massive Inc.’ in-game advertising technique. Other than that, he also forgot to mention older games like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, 3 and similar games which actually live on in-game advertising to add a new layer of realism to the game.

Summarizing, the first Next Night, if you ask me, was a total success. It’s not yet a high-octane event, but if they continue like this, they will be.
The best thing about Generation Next? It’s a kind of fraternity and no one even knew.

When I started out in college, I decided not to join any fraternity, because I didn’t see the added value of it. I also didn’t want to go thru various introductory rites like drinking blood from a chicken or running around naked. Generation Next on the other hand is different, they don’t have that kind of crap, you don’t have to pay any fees and it’s not obligatory to get drunk every Wedneday through Friday. What you do get, however, is a great community of creative and very motivated people as well as valuable business contacts with the people you’ll be either working for or with in the years to come.

Congrats to the Generation Next team for setting up an awesome event. If you guys are looking to start a “street team” in my college, I’ll gladly help out!

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current state of affairs

posted in personal stuff on November 28th, 2006

Wow, four weeks without blogging and I hardly noticed. The pace around here is picking up with loads of things to take care of (more on that later).

Right now I’m in a heated discussion about how we (the Dutch people) could change the state of mind of homophobic muslims … everyone has another solution and all of them seem to be more or less pointless. It’s a difficult audience to cater for and it gets increasingly difficult if you consider that most of this phobia is based on religious beliefs.

Luckily I got a little bit more time now, classes finished and I’ve got some 30 minutes to blog about stuff that’s been on my mind:

A few weeks ago I talked about a new show on CBS called Jericho. We’re nearing the mid-season break now and it turned out that it’s one, if not the best show of the current season. Characters are developed in a very interesting way, the directors add the complimentary conspiracy theories and the show’s web conduit(s) are great to experience too. CBS is certainly on the right path to creating a show that’s a lot more immersive than shows were a season ago.

Other than watching kick-ass TV shows, I’ve also spent some more time promoting my college and while having a great time with co-students, I also met some future-students who even remembered me (and whom I didn’t remember, shame on me).

Tonight I’ll be attending the first Next Night, powered, conceived and executed by Generation Next, a group of young students who decided that the time was right to set up “venue” where we all could meet.

I’ll be blogging more about that later tonight…

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