GruUpy: The Purchasing Power of Community is an online retail company with a difference. They sell a different electronic product every day, and that’s only if a minimum quota of people buy it. The idea is that buyers become part of a community, and their combined buying power allows Gruupy to buy these gadgets cheaper, and pass these savings on to the consumer.

Irish online gaming entrepreneur Dylan Collins is the Chairman of Gruupy. Given the fact that he has enjoyed considerable success in the gaming sector, Demonware was acquired by Activision Blizzard, while Jolt was bought by Gamestop; surely starting another gaming company was the logical next step?

“Yeah, I suppose that’s what a sensible person would do!” However as Dylan explains, “To me there are huge growth opportunities in e-commerce. I know there has been a huge wave of it over the last ten years, but if you look at what the global economic situation is doing, it’s pushing people online to try and find the best price.

“Gruupy is a site which is really dedicated to giving people products at the cheapest price humanly possible and it does it in a way that is quite community-focused. I’m a big believer in that and I think you’re going to see a lot more growth in the future.”

Dylan is not concerned that the idea of the success of your purchase being dependant on others will deter online consumers. “We are extremely transparent in terms of whether something is selling or not. That’s the reality of the community, sometimes they like things, and sometimes they don’t like things. But the beauty of our business model is that we have no balance sheet risk, so we only buy the stuff once our community buys it.

“I think people are pretty well socialised to the notion of looking at stuff, realising that it might not be for them, but not taking it personally, and coming back the next day anyway.”

Dylan has been particularly vocal in his view that start up companies should be cherished and supported in Ireland, and tries to do so himself through a number of avenues.

“More and more what we’re seeing is companies approaching us, particularly start up hardware companies, or small gadget makers who are trying to break into the market and they want to sell stuff to our community. And that’s really very cool, because the ability to help small tech start ups around the world actually get traction in the market, but at the same time providing something very exclusive to our customers, I mean, that’s great, that’s a double win.”

“I try to help out with or mentor several companies. I act as an informal advisor to a range of them. Generally, I try and limit myself, because it’s very easy to get involved with everything and then all of a sudden you run out of time to do anything at all productively.”

Ireland is, as Dylan himself describes it, “One of the biggest online gaming hubs in the world.”

However, not many people are aware of the country’s stature in this sector. Much of this is to do with a lack of awareness from politicians.

“They don’t come from the same generation that grew up with the Internet, or that understands things like online gaming, so a lot of this stuff just goes beneath their radar.”

Dylan acknowledges that Ireland has not marketed itself particularly well in this regard, “I think one of the things that Ireland is quite bad at is really looking closely at what we’re good at and shouting about it unashamedly.”

However the Internet entrepreneurs should not be expected to shoulder this burden alone, he says, “I don’t think it’s particularly realistic to expect them to be out trying to represent the country as well as their own companies. I mean, there’s only so much they can do.”

He does think that Internet entrepreneurs could play some representative role in marketing Ireland as a tech hub, but only as part of an integrated government strategy.

“The government, needs to come to all the senior figures in the Internet industry and say, ‘OK guys, we want to hire you as ambassadors, we want you to go out and on your travels around the world, talk to people and when you talk to people, do so under this quasi-diplomatic ambassadorial status. Because the impact of an actual business person walking in to a Zynga or an Amazon or someone like that and saying ‘you know what? I run a company just like you guys, I know what the ups and downs are like, and I’m telling you, this is a fairly sensible place to do business, you should come to Ireland’ carries a lot of weight.”

In the meantime, Dylan welcomes the announcement by Fine Gael, the political party most likely to form Ireland’s next government, of a strategy, “Which is extremely focused on online gaming” as a positive start, “It bodes well for the future.”

And what does the future hold for Dylan Collins? “I’m always looking at things, and I think that there’s enough there to keep me busy for the time being, but I would be very bullish in general on the e-commerce space, I would be very bullish on online gaming. I think they’re both very, very strong sectors and will be well into the future.”

Crowdgather: The Importance of Forums on the Internet

Sanjay Sabnani is the chairman and CEO of Crowdgather, a network made up of over 65,000 forums generating over 90 million page views per month and 4.5 million visitors a month.

Back around 2005 Sanjay looked at all the press in terms of valuation of user generated content sites and social networks and realized that forums seemed to have very valuable content, very strong ties between the members and really no love from the mainstream community. We asked him why he thought that might be?

“For some reason there seems to be a general reluctance amongst advertisers to advertise on user generated content. You have to message down to the individual and to the small groups. Back in the nineties that was not how it was done. The manufacturers and advertisers wanted to control the message and did not have any dynamic feedback in their approach where they could learn from their users.

“That’s all changed now and we are already started to see traction. We have grown from 12 million page views a month last year to 90 million page views a month.”

But haven’t social media sites subsumed the role of forums?

“There is a substantial difference between forums and social media. At the same time there is a huge amount of ignorance about forums and their place in the eco-system.

“I believe that Twitter and Facebook are the training wheels of the true, deep internet experience.

“On forums most people use imaginary user names. Who you are in the real world, how big your bank balance is, how pretty or handsome you are does not matter on a forum. What matters on a forum is the worth of your intellect, the merit of your thoughts and your ability to communicate them.

“Unfortunately, they are not very pretty. There are legacy issues in how pretty they can be made because of how arcane the software is. But if you look at them for what they are — as vehicles for many to many communication — they are the best applications of many to many interaction.

“Facebook is not many to many. It is me and my friends and at any given time it’s me communicating with my friends or me participating in the communication of my friends. We are never all in it together because I may not have friends that overlap your group of friends.

“Forums are designed for a multiplicity of people to communicate with a multiplicity of people and they are done in an organized fashion with a taxonomy that makes sense.

“If you go to a standard forum you will find an index. There’ll be be a section that has an introduction for new members and a section to put your complaints. You’ll find the subject you are interested in is broken down into various sub-headings. It is very easy to find the information and, specifically, the conversation that you are looking to create or participate in.

“What forums allow you to do is the sum total of everything you can do on the internet.

“On a good forum you can read a review. You can have a member do a tutorial on how to jailbreak a phone or how to hack something. You can have your typical Q&A threads. You can post a question to the community. You can also share. There are very few places that have this aggregate of knowledge.

“Facebook allows you to share social linkages. You see pictures of your friend’s new born child and you get to congratulate them. Linkedin captures your work history; who you have worked with and the chronology of your work experience. Twitter allows you to broadcast to your followers.

“There is nowhere else [besides forums] on the internet where your passions, your hobbies and your knowledge base is sufficiently given credit for.”

Apart from being a powerful advocate for forums Sanjay also runs Crowdgather as a business.

“We are focused on what is unique about forums. In the meantime we pursue an acquisition and advertising driven business strategy because in order to get to our dreams we need to have a day job. Get bigger, charge more for ads and give advertisers access to the constituents they are looking for.

“The software that we are developing seeks to expand on this folio and create a system that allows all forums to be interlinked so this history and this collective knowledge base can be better utilized and accessed by the masses that are now cutting their teeth of Twitter and Facebook.

“Forums are highly valued by search engines. You take any other form of social media; you take a blog, you take Facebook, you take Twitter, what is the policing mechanism on the links posted in those types of sites? It’s zero.

“On a forum if you showed up as a new member and in your first several posts there were links to a commercial product you would be ridiculed, insulted, banned and the link would be removed.

“Forums are the only class of site other than Wikipedia type sites that has a built-in peer review mechanism. Search engines have already looked at and identified this process as a very powerful form of curation of good answers. There is a framework of well-understood conduct that you must abide by.”

Forums, with their roots in the pre-internet days of networked modems, are the largest repository of high value, user generated content on the internet. Despite their somewhat unfashionable status it is impossible to imagine a worthwhile or particularly useful internet existing without their presence.

Forums might never be cool enough to have movie like “The Social Network” made about them but with people like Sanjay as advocates there is a chance that they might receive a bit more love and respect than they do at present.

Arduino: A Big Revolution in a Small Package

Having shipped over a 120,000 boards since their inception in Italy in 2005, Arduino microprocessors are becoming increasingly popular beyond the usual circle of tech heads and dedicated do-it-yourselfers. To help me find out why this may be I talked to Darren Tighe, who is currently working on his own Arduino projects.

The first significant aspect of the Arduino is its accessibility. Darren explains, “ Well it’s a microprocessor and traditionally they come in a little package with a couple of pins on them. To program them, play around with them and learn how to use them you would have to plug it into a programmer… and then unplug it and put it on to whatever project you were working with.
Whereas the arduino uses an Atmel chip which is a fairly common micro-controller but it’s set up for proto-typing. So it gives you a USB port so you can just program directly from the PC and it has lots of in and out ports for the electronics to be attached.”

The programming is done by using Arduino Sketch an off shoot of Processing, a language developed by the MIT Media Lab specifically to make programming easier and more accessible for people who would not normally want to, or think they could not, take on the task of learning a full blown programming language.

As Darren says, “They are used by a lot of artists who want to use LEDs in their art. Just to control them, to drive all the LEDs and send them into different patterns.”

While making technology relevant and usable to wider and wider sections of the population is undoubtedly a good thing Darren argues that this not the main reason for the Arduino’s success.

“I think the revolutionary part has nothing to do with what it actually is but with what people are doing with it. People are going out and saying “what can I hook this up to?” They’re playing, they reverse engineer, they hack away. Then they’re going back to the community and saying is there anything else I can do? I think the revolutionary thing is the community that has built up around it.”

The community seems to be the key. Arduinos come with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic licence alongside the Copyleft GNU General Public license. These agreements encourage sharing of knowledge gained and lessons learned. The Arduino’s existence and the way it is shared is creating the community that is creating things.

“There’s nothing brand new and innovative about it but the way people use it, that’s brand new and innovative. There is a huge amount of information on the web, a big community backing it up, all posting up what they are doing with their Arduino. How they’re doing it so you can learn from what they are doing.”

There is no ‘killer app’ in the Arduino world. Darren goes on to say, “It has an enormous amount of flexibility and an enormous amount of utility. You can turn it to almost any project you have in mind. If you need any level of any automation or you need to give your project a bit of a brain so that it knows what it’s doing rather than you having to tell it everything then the Arduino is ideal.”

Through hardware like Arduino and programming languages like Processing and Arduino Sketch it is now possible for more and more people from a range of different backgrounds and disciplines to be given access to the tools to turn an idea in their head into physical reality. We can reasonably expect to many new and varied applications for the Arduino micro-controller come over the horizon.

Social Bits Joins us to Help Expand our Community

We are pleased to share with you the news that we will be working with Social Bits a Galway based Social Media technology company. We will be working together to expand the online presence of on the various social networking platforms.

As our output of articles grows we have concluded that it is time to bring in some dedicated expertise. We know from our own behind the scenes measurements that the most effective way to use social media is by making practical use of the results from the monitoring and analysis of our data.

Social Bits specialises in measuring the return of investment in social media from a business perspective. Social Bits also develops Semantic Web strategies to help companies organise their data. It is an absolute necessity to measure your social media outreach as we know measurement is extremely important in the effective use of social media.

For those of you who haven’t come across it yet we have a Facebook Pages site for

Facebook is huge with 500 million users plus, and we are think it is time to increase our level of activity there. We know from our own articles such as How to Influence on Twitter that engagement comes through activity and activity leads to further engagement and so a virtuous circle is created.

As well as linking articles and blogs to our Facebook page we also plan to share more of the workings around their creation. Pictures that we like that we couldn’t fit into a piece. Quotes that didn’t make it into articles, more video and audio clips that we would hate to have disappear forever but have no place on the main site for.

In the spirit of transparency we will also show some our thinking. We have already got a picture up of a font pattern that we have decided to use. We also posted Emma Creighton’s Jogo video as a standalone from the main article on her work because we thought it was that good.

Social Bits plans to use all major social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Digg and other social bookmarking websites to define, measure, analyse and improve our use of social media.

However, we will continue improving and developing our main site. We are very much looking forward to the Drupal 7 upgrade in September which will allow us to enhance all sorts of things both at the front and the back end of the site.

Our ultimate ambition is to build a strong community of people who are interested in the subjects we cover and the stories we write about.