Tuesday, May 27, 2008

New house

My blog has moved to www.gchicco.com, please come an visit! I won't longer be updating this one (I migrated all the contents to the other one).

Thursday, May 22, 2008

On simplicity and Italian (phone) services

I'm not famous for my love towards Italian services, in particular mobile phone services and specifically TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile).

Since mid February 2008 I've been trying to take my mobile number out from the company I used to work before (with their consent, as this was my first Italian mobile and I have it since 2001, long before I worked with them). It was very simple to add a "consumer" number to a business contract, but now it seems almost impossible to become consumer again. Several faxes (I guess that now more than 30 pages have been printed, hand filled and faxed), calls (at least 10 to the TIM guy that follows the company's account, at least other 5 to their business call center) and emails have been unsuccessfully exchanged.

They gave contradictory indications, the wrong forms a couple of times (and now that I probably sent the right one, they are asking for a formal fax where I cancel all the previous forms) and they even blamed me for sending the wrong stuff.

I'm talking of what should be a routine procedure. Why do I have to spend so much energy and keep paying for this service? Why can't I fill online the right form, print it, sign it and... sigh... yes, fax it (it has something to do with the law) and just have the situation solved? I would save a lot of time, they would save a lot of money on the transaction (yeah, maybe they are making more money retaining me against my will) and I would surely be recommending the service to some friend (for a commodity as mobile service, this details are important).

Please, why make stuff complicated when it could be so SIMPLE?
... and as soon as I'll be consumer again, I WILL CHANGE to another company, that's a fact!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Italy plays Tibet

In this strange period of "pre-sabbatical", I'm doing a lot of interesting things... Last weekend, national holiday in Italy, we made a videoclip with an italian band (Ottavo Richter) that plays the Tibetan anthem. This is part of the "friends of Pangea Day Milano" initiative I'm part of, in which a country plays the anthem of another (eg. UK plays Argentina).

What a more intimate thing than the anthem of a country? Pangea Day wants to unite people, through film but not only.

The video was made with the Pangea Day Milano team (MGM Digital Communication, Maria Grazia, Cristinaand me), Stalker Video (Francesco and Daniele), Macchinazioni Teatrali (Franco and Barbara), Regia (Tommi), AiEP (Claudio), Benedetta and Andrea.

watch the video:

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Pangea Day Milano - 10 maggio 2008!

So, this post is intended mainly for italian speakers...

Finalmente si è confermata l'edizione milanese del Pangea Day: Pangea Day Milano!!

Prima di entrare nel dettaglio, alcuni di voi vi chiederete cosa c'entro. Ebbene, prima di partire per il mio sabbatico in Giappone, sono stato coinvolto in questo bellissimo progetto non-profit.

Volete partecipare?
Potete dare una mano? (in particolare qualche esperto di WordPress per sistemare il sito!)
Avete il modo di diffondere la notizia?
Vi piacerebbe collaborare attivamente?

mandatemi un'email a gianfranco(punto)chicco(at)gmail(punto)com

Riguardo all'evento, segue una mini descrizione:

Il 10 maggio 2008 milioni di persone in tutto il mondo vivranno una straordinaria esperienza mediatica condivisa, in contemporanea, collegati fra loro.

Pangea Day sarà composto di 4 ore di live broadcasting e collaborazioni locali mirate alla creazione di una nuova società globale attraverso filmati stimolanti, relatori visionari e musiche ispiratrici che raggiungeranno il pubblico attraverso decine di network televisivi, internet, cinema, cellulari e performance dal vivo.

L’ idea è quella di suscitare la prima riflessione collettiva sui diritti umani, facendo leva sul potere delle immagini e lo scambio delle idee per creare una migliore conoscenza tra le persone e formare una comunità globale per un futuro migliore.

Attraverso Pangea Day Milano, la città diventerà un nodo importante dello scenario mondiale, abbracciando l’idea di raduno telematico globale e contribuendo con contenuti originali a far vivere un’esperienza innovativa con un format che coniuga alla perfezione spettacolo, partecipazione e responsabilità sociale.

- sito pangea day milano www.pangeadaymilano.it
- sito ufficiale www.pangeaday.org
- gruppo su facebook www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=10495094236
- notizie su Twitter http://twitter.com/pangeadaymilano
- video su YouTube www.youtube.com/pangeaday

Monday, March 10, 2008

Mr. Wiggles on Social Networking :-)


Sunday, March 9, 2008

Brad Jefferson & Animoto.com - The end of slideshows!

(note: the italian version of this article is available on 7th Floor online magazine)

The web of the late 90's was pretty different from what we are now living online. I recall that, at the startup I used to work for, new features were developed only taking into account the product (surely of high quality) and people were just a marginal aspect. The value proposition was centered in offering our customers the best contents of a certain type, and this should have been enough to be successful. Tom Friedman defines this as the capability of "downloading", that is, to have access to the information. But always according to Friedman, the real internet revolution has begun when people had the opportunity of "uploading" their own contents to the web.

Today's websites focus their energy on the uploading factor. Take Amazon.com as an example, they have made their mayor strength through their customer's opinions. We are navigating in the river of new sites that have been called the Web 2.0, many of whom are just copies of each other.

I met Brad Jefferson, co-founder and CEO of Animoto.com, one of this new uploading sites that declares "the end of slideshows".

Animoto was born a bit by chance (see the garage story) and with a very definite dream. Says Brad: "Our passion is automating the creative process for creating video content that has the type of production value you'd expect to see in film or television. Simply put, when users upload their images and music to Animoto our technology should be able to infer the best way to put it all together into a video - all with a click of a button. We want anyone to be able to make professional looking videos, not just super technical people who own and know sophisticated editing software".

So the next time that you'll come back from a trip (or other event) full of digital photos, why don't you upload the best of them to flickr and then, with a song that reminds you of that experience, you make a video and share it with your friends? It won't be just a normal video, check out this one:

garage story
Animoto was founded by four 30-year-old buddies which went together to high school and three of them to college too. Their common link has always been that they're all incredibly passionate people who love to work hard and inspire each other. Brad specialized in enterprise software at company called Onyx Software, while the other three found themselves working in film, television and music.

"The idea for Animoto came from Stevie Clifton, our CTO, while he was doing documentary work for ABC. As a motion graphics artist, Stevie was responsible for the special effects and motion design that was incorporated into various ABC documentaries. Yet, Stevie is also a software engineer so he was always inventing ways to make his motion graphics job easier by automating certain aspects of his daily grind. One night at a NY hole-in-the-wall sake bar Stevie started drawing up some of his job automation ideas on a dirty napkin for Jason Hsiao, our President. After hearing the idea Jason basically said, "Stevie, that's great that you've come up with a way to automate your job but if we could implement this technology through the Internet so anyone could access it that would be something really special." Jason shared the business idea with me and I was hooked. We then pulled in Stevie's brother, Tom Clifton, our Creative Director, to round out our founding team".

business model
Animoto is based on the freemium (free + premium) model. Registered users can create 30 second Animoto videos for free. Creating a full-length video costs $3 USD or $30 USD for an annual all-access pass that allows for the creation of unlimited full-length videos. "We've also been experimenting with opt-in advertising that we call 'Distractions.' We've found that there's lots of commercial demand for our technology so expect to see some interesting developments on that front in 2008".

Brad explains their starting funding: "We bootstrapped our first six months to create the Animoto.com alpha release. We launched the alpha site to friends and family in March 2007 and the feedback was very positive (albeit, it was from our loved ones). While we were thrilled that our alpha testers were loving Animoto.com, our stomachs sank a bit as we started our budget number crunching".

It takes a lot of processor power to render each unique video creation with a high quality production value, not to mention the bandwidth and storage needs.

"If our site was to become as popular as we had hoped the cost to run the infrastructure was going to mean that we'd require a fairly substantial infusion of cash which is something we wanted to avoid in order to maintain our ownership. We spent a lot of time planning for success so instead of rushing to launch Animoto.com publicly we took a step back and decided to completely re-architect our technical infrastructure on Amazon Web Services (AWS)".

They decided to sacrifice nearly four months to move Animoto.com to AWS, but they knew it was the right thing to do. During that period they continued to improve everything about the site and, more importantly, that extra time gave Brad enough time to find the right investors for Animoto. "With the new technical infrastructure our capital requirements were smaller. In fact, our capital requirements were so small that I was able to look no further than our family and friends to raise sufficient funds to complete our Series A private placement".

the launch
The site was launched as a private alpha in March 2007 and the private beta in July 2007. "Once we felt the private beta was solid we picked August 14, 2007, as our public launch date and a couple weeks before launch we invited a bunch a tech bloggers to take a sneak peak". Tech bloggers loved the service and wrote favorably about Animoto and August 14th was the D-day for the press release which made them public.

"In hindsight, we probably should have focused less on the tech circles and more on mainstream audiences; that's where our marketing focus is now".

Animoto allows users to retrieve photos from sites like Picasa, Flickr, Facebook and SmugMug to create videos and during 2008 the team will concentrate in strengthening the links with these and other communities.

"We see social platforms like OpenSocial and Facebook as great ways to get more people familiar with Animoto. The very nature - and brilliance - of a social platform, however, means that social networks like those from Google and Facebook can benefit from the value of apps like ours without needing to acquire companies like us".

In any case, during the first months of Animoto's life, several companies have expressed their interest in what these guys are cooking. "It was pretty cool to hear from Google and be invited to their campus to join their OpenSocial initiative just a few weeks after our public launch".

advice for entrepreneurs
  • There's nothing better than working with people you really trust, admire and are inspired by
  • Prove the feasibility of your idea as early as possible
  • Plan for success; failure means you simply move on to the next idea
  • Always take more investment than you think you need if it's available

Animoto in brief
- birthdate: Aug 2006
- employees / age range: 7 full-time & 4 part-time / 23-32 yrs old
- target audience: anyone who has access to digital images
- pc, mac, linux or who cares as long as it does the job? "I use a PC for my business function but all of our engineers and designers use Macs. Our entire web infrastructure is on Linux".
- success: in the first four months since launching, Animoto video creations have been viewed more than 10 million times.

"We thought Animoto videos from MySpace bands would account for a large percentage of these views since Animoto is the perfect music video creator but it's been amazing and inspiring to see the different types of videos our users are creating with Animoto: snowboarders touting their latest insanities, Facebook-fanatics crafting their latest "who-am-I" video profiles, football teams reliving their big Friday night win, animal-lovers that can't stop sending us videos of their pets, online daters trying to score just one date with a normal person, DJ's recreating that last night of Burning Man, models and actors working on their portfolio submissions, jazz quartets experimenting with live performance visuals, bikers bragging about the latest mountain they've conquered with evidence of bruises and blood, nature photographers showcasing their latest spread, real estate brokers looking to get top dollar for their listings, third-grade students surprising their teachers with their class presentations, illustrators discovering how to inject their art with even more life, conference speakers needing to kick-start their sleepy audiences, party organizers promoting the next hot bar scene, car enthusiasts boasting their new rims, brides creating the perfect wedding videos, aspiring film writers producing clever comedy shorts, memorabilia collectors showing off their collections, new parents proudly announcing the arrival of their new one, and even families keeping in touch with their sons and daughters serving in Iraq".

On Brad
Brad is 32 years old, married with a daughter who was born January 13, 2008. He was born in California and grew up outside of Seattle. Attended Dartmouth College and played American football all four years ("we went 10-0 and won the Ivy League my Jr. year").

His interests include anything that involves physical activity but favorites include football, mountain biking, running, skiing, snowboarding. His latest hobbies include photography and home improvement.

check out his LinkedIn profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/bradjefferson

- Past experience that was useful for launching Animoto: "At Onyx Software, I managed various teams and was always involved in the selling and implementing of our software. I use my sales and management skills everyday at Animoto. Near the end of my tenure at Onyx I managed the team that provided a lot of the reports to our Board of Directors. At the time, Onyx was a publicly traded company on the NASDAQ. I've found the skills of being able to analyze a company from a top-down and bottom-up perspective essential".

- What digital app/site/service has changed your working experience for good? "the iPhone"

- Digital entrepreneurs you admire? "All who give back in an philanthropic way".

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Digital photography is ruining our skin tones?

I read in the last number of (my favorite general news) magazine, Monocle, about the struggle of film photography, the people that are trying to save it for their art and hobbies (by even stocking it in the freezer) and the advantages that it still holds against the stampeding digital alternative.

While I resurrected my passion for photography some years ago thanks to the progress of digital single-lens-reflex (D-SLR) cameras (my beloved Nikon D70 has been recently replaced by a gorgeous D300), I have recently learned to appreciate the pleasure of analog photography. I never was patient enough to learn dark room techniques, but film photography has some characteristics that might be the seeds to its survival:

- the extra dedication on composition and "thinking" of the shot. It's just too costly (plus you don't have immediate feedback) to shoot as if your camera were and Uzi machine gun, so you have to carefully compose and snap when you think you've got it
- polaroids (It has recently been announced that Polaroid will be discontinuing instant film): these pics are not only unique but also instantaneously touchable, and digital can't just match that.
- grain: in digital it can be imitated, but it lacks the randomness of the real one.
- from the snobbish point of view, now everyone does digital, so going back to analog is a way of differentiating and has a particular "charm".
- hardware reliability: my Nikon F3 can work with almost no energy consumption (and Nikon's fully mechanical cameras of the F2 series can be used in the desert or in the freezing pole with no battery at all). Besides, after several decades the camera is just as valid as it was when it was first launched. Can you imagine using your present digicam in 5 years time?
- the expectancy to see the results obtained: this is not necessarily an advantage, but when I go to the lab to retrieve my developed negatives/prints, there's that mix of anxiety and curiosity to see how did they come.

The first article that confronts digital/analog photography is "Save our skintones" by Tyler Brûlé - Monocle's founder and editor in chief. Mr. Brûlé complains mainly about the difference there is in color quality between the two technologies, specially if compared printed stuff.

"In the pages of Vogue and InStyle leading boys and breakthrough girls appear as if they might have liver conditions judging by their skin tones" writes Mr. Brûlé

In my amateur photographic experience and professional printing experience (of high quality brochures, mags, etc) I found that the gap can be easily closed if several measures are taken:

  • Printing quality: first of all, to compare the two outputs, you cannot use standard/pro printed film and a digital photo printed using a home printer. You require a professional print from digital, which impacts heavily on the quality of paper and most importantly on the quality of inks/pigments and the color gamut they allow to reproduce.
  • Color correction: it is done in analog too. If you see well reproduced skin tones in a film photo print, it means that the photographer has worked on it. You must use the right film to balance the available light (tungsten, daylight) in order to reproduce the color temperature correctly. If you make use of flash/strobes you sometimes need to apply gels for the same reason. This is necessary only in color photography of course, as black&white does not suffer of this. Equivalently, in digital photography you have to select the right white balance to meet the present light. The advantage of digital is that if you shoot in raw format, you can do this after the pic has been taken, but you must remember to do it!
  • Screen color calibration: the screens of our computers don't reproduce colors correctly unless you calibrate them using dedicated hardware & software. Calibration is connected to the output source too (type of printer, technology, etc).
  • When you consider the printing process of a magazine, some other technical factors must be considered. From the printing machines used (roto-offsett or flat) to the color adjustments, the constancy of them and the types/amounts of inks used (from the 4 CYMK to even 10 or more dedicated pantone inks).
  • Apart from these technical aspects, I think that some fashion models look sick anyway and this is more of a trend than a printing problem!
Due to the acceleration brought by digital photography, it's easy that you might forget to carefully work on these aspects during the workflow that will produce the printed version of your capture. But only once all these aspects have been taken care of you can try to compare a digital and an analog print... and at this point you'll see that differences -if any- are almost not present. There's one aspect that digital cannot reproduce, or at least not with the same philosophy, and it is grain. In film, grain is produced by the chemical interaction of different substances that produce a unique result with a random disposition of its particles. Digital grain instead is the product of a software algorithm which produces only "artificial" randomness.

So the conclusion is that to get those superb skin tones that you find in [well treated] analog photography, you must be just as careful when producing prints from digital. Conceptually the points to take care of are the same, in practice they require some different abilities that are not always present even in professional outputs.

Brandeburg Tor
Polaroid instant photo taken during my last visit to Berlin

I'll discuss about how could analog photography be saved from oblivion in a future post. I think that an important change must be applied on the business model and supply chain (shift to cooperation and partnership of film producers).