Majestic Mk II


I remember the tech press hype in the US when it originally came out, it had an innovative gaming concept that tapped into the zeitgeist of conspiracy theory entertainment like The X Files (remember them) and 24. Majestic was a game by Electronic Arts (under the fictional name of Anim-X) that was very innovative in its approach. Players were wrapped in an online game that charged a subscription (a business model since copied by the likes of Xbox Live etc). The game communicated to users not only through the software, but via web sites, video messages, emails and faxes.

Unfortunately the plug was pulled on the game in 2002 because it did not have a sufficient amount of players to make it financially viable. However, now the time maybe right, the extension of game play into every aspect of their online lives would make it much more powerful.

Think about it; Second Life avatars, IM messages, comments on their MySpace profile, voicemail to their mobile phone, SMS texts, mysterious contacts on LinkedIn, mysterious pictures on Flickr and videos seeded on Bit Torrents. It would be much more powerful because of the seamless integration of offline and online for younger people.

Convergence, utilising ‘free web services’ and a regular revenue stream would make this of interest to mobile operators, media companies and everyone in between.

Talking of games for a cheap January I am going old school and getting a copy of Risk.

Open source intelligence

I had my friend Stephen over earlier and whilst enjoying the indian summer this afternoon we discussed a number of things including social search products like Yahoo! Answers and Lycos IQ.The key problem that these services have is managing the quality of their product as their community expands.

A second problem they face is how much should advertisers pay to access these customers.

Ok, in order to ask questions you have to have points, which you gain from answering other questions. This is to try and prevent frivolous use by spammers and encourage repeated visits and thus a habit-formed behaviour.

By its nature, taking the time to answer questions and build up a battery of points to answer questions implies a certain level of spare time, which usually goes hand in hand with a corresponding lack of user intent and economic power: security guards, call centre workers, receptionists, students, children, pensioners and housewives to name some examples.

Will advertisers pay proportionately less for lower-quality leads than the high-user intent consumers with more economic power they can reach on Google?

In addition, Wired News had details of an interesting and well-funded public website called dropping knowledge that could do for social search what Wikipedia did for online reference content providers including the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Worst case scenario, the media companies will make a market for social search and then be usurped by community sites and left with a less attractive demographic of users.

Thought for the day

“Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.” Neil McCauley in Heat (played by Robert DeNiro). Sage words indeed.

A dreadfully simple idea

I went home for the weekend to see the folks in Liverpool, I had not been on Virgin Trains for a good while and went on one of their new tilting ‘Pendolino’ trains.Whilst Virgin have tried to give passengers the airline treatment with radio and air conditioning that actually works, the big boon for me was the humble three-point socket under the table which allowed me to plug in my laptop and spend a productive few hours going there and back.

It’s a brutally simple idea. Trains are usually powered in two ways: electricity or via a diesel engine. With an electric train how hard is it to allocate some of the electricity to a step-down transformer and provide 240V 50Hz to passenger seats?

Diesel isn’t as hard as you’d think either. Diesel locomotives are usually known as diesel electric, the reason for this is that in order to transfer the enormous amount of power to the axles would take an exceptionally robust transmission systems so trains have a generator hooked up to the engine instead and each axle is fitted with a giant electric motor. So in essence a diesel train is an electric train with its own power station on board.

Now if someone could apply themselves to consistent cell phone reception on the mainlines and in-carriage wi-fi, trains may represent a more viable proposition for business and leisure travel again.

PowerPoint: the Ted Bundy of Software?

There has been a bit of buzz on some of the blogs and email lists that I subscribe to about a Washington Post report PowerPoint: Killer App? by Ruth Marcus. Key outtakes from the article:




  • The nature of the way information is delivered on PowerPoint obscured some of the most serious risk factors surrounding the space shuttle Columbia
  • It encourages providing data without supporting information / back-up documentation
  • It encourages a lack of depth in thought as all concepts are broken down to bullet points


It even moved sufficiently far out of techy circles to be commented on by Matt Drudge on his site The Drudge Report. This isn’t the first time that PowerPoint has been attacked in this way. Information guru Edward Tufte wrote PowerPoint is Evil for Wired magazine (it can be found here).Tufte believes that PowerPoint


  • Induces stupidity
  • Makes presentations boring
  • Wastes time
  • Degrades both the quality and credibility of communication

And that’s not even including the shocking clip art.

Skeptical? When you write a document in Word, have you ever started in the middle or moved chunks of text around like Lego building blocks? Its much harder to write in this style in paper, Word by its nature can encourage more creating but unstructured writing. You throw down everything first and then sift through it discarding some pieces and reordering the rest. The same can happen with emails or any other text requiring editing.