Looking for Israeli Animation Studios or Directors? Look no more.

Life imitates art.

A friend asked me a couple of days ago if I know of any Israeli animation studios or directors. I do know a few, but I wasn’t sure if there are other good ones that I don’t know about. So I asked her if it’d be ok to post the question on my Facebook feed.

She said “sure”, and I did, and the result blew my mind.

 

Having spent several years working on a Q&A service, I found the behavior pattern around this post fascinating. To increase the likelihood of getting relevant answers, I tagged the post with a few friends that I knew are likely to know people in this field (“relevant connectors”). Many of the responders did the same – tagging or mentioning other people, some of them directly relevant, and others also relevant connectors. I guess one of the obvious issues resulting from this is that it’s hard to distinguish between an “answer” and a “forward to a relevant connection”. This may bother the engineer in me, but from an engagement point of view, a casual mention that does not require the poster to actually classify the response as this type or another may be more efficient than a more structured approach.

My initial tagging of relevant connectors also demonstrates the power of an intentional, manual targeting (assuming an underlying effective social graph) vs asking the machine to find the relevant people for you, which is the approach we took initially in Yedda (aka AOL Answers), or the self-tagging approach employed by Quora.

However, the real reason I decided to create this post though is because I just couldn’t let this list, created by my helpful friends, disappear in the depth of my Facebook feed. So for the benefit of whoever happens to search for this information in the future, here is the aggregated list:

(Please ping me if I missed anyone).

Please keep in mind that I don’t know and therefore can’t really recommend any of the folks on this list. They do all come recommended my friends though :)

 

Seedcamp Tel Aviv 2012, now with lool ventures inside

lool ventures loves SeedcampSeedcamp returns to Tel Aviv once again for the fourth year running, and it’s going to be bigger and better than ever.

I attended each one of them, and loved the experience – the startups are awesome, the format is engaging, and the crowd is as good as it gets. I’ve met some wonderful folks through this event and network, and even funded through lool one of the 2011 Seedcamp finalists (Go Wibbitz!).

I’m excited to announce that this year lool ventures and Seedcamp are partnering to host the event, jointly invest in the winners, and provide the Seedcamp startups with local and international support.

If you’re an early stage startup, you want to apply right now: Apply to Seedcamp Tel Aviv 2012.

The event will take place on March 29th, at the new lab building of the AFEKA College of Engineering, who are kind enough to host Seedcamp once again.

Looking forward to seeing you all at Seedcamp TLV!

Sweet, Glitzy Traps

Juxtaposition

Given yesterday’s news on Adobe ceasing development of their Flash player for mobile devices (read: Adobe killing Flash) I can’t help but recalling the post I’ve written back in 2007 on my old blog – it was titled "Why I don’t get Adobe Flex" and generated a heated discussion in the comments section back then.

Vendor lockdown. You know it when you see it. Sometimes the market forces are so strong that you basically have no choice but to walk into the trap eyes wide open. However, I’d argue that this was not the case with Flex, Flash and HTML. In many cases, the choice of Flex (or Silverlight for that matter) was a silly choice made by unqualified and uniformed decision makers (CEOs, CTOs and developers..) blinded by Adobe’s and Microsoft’s brochures and evangelists.

Our industry is maturing rapidly though. It seems as if even the vendors realized that vendor lockdown in the form of proprietary technology is evil and are actively refraining from creating such traps.

Where would you say is the next trap we’ll regret walking into 5 years from now?

My bet is on the various cloud platforms and these wonderful little time saving extra services they provide.

Here is a repost of that old post:


Why I don’t get Adobe Flex, originally published Feb 22, 2007

I don’t get Adobe Flex.

Actually, Flex looks great. Solid architecture, slick IDE, modern declarative markup language and scripting language, lots of productivity features.

Still, I don’t get it. Why would an architect choose to rely on a proprietary runtime, available only from a single vendor to do stuff that can be done just as easily with standard XHTML, CSS and JavaScript?

I chatted on Flex with Mark Anders from Adobe. Mark worked on ASP.NET from 1998 until 2003, and then co-founded the Flex effort at Macromedia.

Mark demoed Flex at FOWA today, building a functional, slick Flickr tag browser in few minutes using the Flex markup and practically zero code. The thing is that the exact same day can be built with just as easily with an environment like ASP.NET, with the output delivered to the client using standard XHTML CSS and JavaScript. So why Flex?
Is Flex Adobe’s way of leveraging the huge Flash developers community and lure them into a vendor-lockdown?

According to Mark, Flex is a way to avoid the browser compatibility issues, especially with regards to CSS and JavaScript. It’s a reliable, predictable runtime that works the same way on all browsers.

Flex must have been a huge engineering effort. Could the same effort have been dedicated to delivering the same productivity and reliability advancements, but with the markup and the script "compiled" into XHTML + CSS + JavaScript instead of proprietary Flash runtime bytecodes?

And what about search engines and other content-aware tools, which cannot easily access the content delivered by Flex applications? And permalinks, which do not work as naturally with Flex as they do with HTML? How do you bookmark a piece of content in a Flex application on Delicious? And – which surprises will you run into when you hit the browser’s Back button?

The upcoming Apollo server platform from Adobe promises to deliver support for rich web applications that work equally well offline and online. This is something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. Of course, it will require the Flex runtime to provide this functionality. Technically speaking, I don’t see a reason why the same capability cannot be delivered through standard XHTML + CSS + JavaScript + a client-side plugin, which could be a subset of the Flex-required Flash runtime.

Given Adobe’s track record with Flash and its 98% penetration, I think it’s safe to guess that Flex will be hugely successful. Still, I can’t help but feel that in a sense, it’s a step backward. Or at least sideways.

Technorati Tags: Adobe Flex Mark Anders Flex Standards

Google Related and the remotely related JASPAX

Google released today “Google Related“, a beautiful, well-implemented Chrome extension that let’s you see interesting content relevant to what’s on the page you’re viewing, right where you’re viewing it:

wikipedia

In many ways this reminds me of a project we did at Yedda (now AOL Answers) with the Toolbar team at AOL back in 2009.

We created a bar that popped from the bottom of the page you’re viewing (hence the name Popbar. duh!), from which you could ask questions (duh!) about the page’s content and to see what other people asked:

yedda-aol-popbar-cnn-cropped

ask

This was actually deployed with the AOL Toolbar team in one of the AOL toolbars, and generated high levels of engagements with users.

We could have stopped there. However, in a somewhat irrational fit of over-engineering we went ahead and created this as a generic platform allowing hosts (toolbars, plugins, or even browsers) to dynamically load JavaScript modules (such as the popbar) into the currently viewed browser page, and popbars could load multiple independent modules into them. We also had support for peace in the middle east, but that one never actually worked.

If you are into over-engineering yourself, I am sure you will have a blast going through the 19 pages of the JASPAX specification. Few things are as sad as a generic specification that covers a thousand use-cases but gets implemented by one, single implementation:

JASPAX 0.92
In case you are wondering, no, I have no idea what JASPAX was supposed to stand for.

Update: I’ve re-read the spec, JASPAX stands for JavaScript Page Extenders. Phew :)

Nokia-envy vs. letting a thousand flowers bloom

Red.The Wall Street Journal’s Sarah Toth Stub published an article in August 2010 titled “Innovative Israel Failing To Grow High-Tech Start-Ups“. The article discusses Israel’s perceived inability to turn its high tech start-ups into mature companies that remain in the country:

While Israel boasts the most high-tech start-ups per capita in the world, over the past decade a tendency has emerged whereby the majority of successful ones are acquired by or merged with larger foreign companies. This occurs before the Israeli companies have the chance to grow into substantial independent firms that can provide local jobs and encourage the development of management skills.

The article lists the possible reasons for this perceived inability and the steps that are being taken to attempt to fix this. It concludes though with a quote by Saul Singer, author of Start-up Nation (together with Dan Senor), who calls this kind of talk “Nokia-envy“:

The lack of patience, lack of respect for authority, lack of planning, chutzpah—whatever you want to call it—are things that make us good at start-ups but don’t make us particularly good at big companies,” he says. “We need to appreciate the importance of start-ups in the global economy, and if we can build bigger companies along the way, well, that’s nice too.

I had the most hilarious conversations with several reps of the Finnish delegation to Israel who attended the recent HTIA conference in Jerusalem. I asked them what brought them to Israel, and their answers had one recurring theme, one that adds an additional perspective to this Nokia-envy theme, especially relevant given the recent sad news from Nokia.

They said: We traveled to Israel to learn what is it that you guys do that encourages such a healthy ecosystem of a large number of start-ups – instead of one massive Nokia.

Makes you think of neighbors and greener grass, doesn’t it?

I say, let’s let a thousand flowers bloom.

It’s ok if entrepreneurs sell their startups for less than $50M after 3-4 years, and do not set their sights on creating the Israeli Nokia. This “failure”, as some of the speakers in the HTIA conference called this kind of scenario, will not only make (usually) the founders and their investors very happy, it will also probably result in:

  • The founders will work for an international corporation for 2-4 years, maybe even relocating to the US, and will receive priceless education, the kind that money can’t buy
  • The entire team will be exposed to new ways of doing their job at a scale that is probably significantly higher than anything they’ve done before
  • Many of the team members will gain valuable new relationships and networks

When it’s time for the founders or anyone else in the team to start a new venture, they will do so armed with experience, knowledge and insights that they did not possess before. They will also be better off financially than they were when they started their previous startup.

In other words, not only will they have better odds at succeeding this time, they are also likely to have more patience for building a bigger company this time, and selling somewhat later in the process. Anecdote:  The former employees of Yedda (now AOL Answers), the company we sold to AOL in 2007, started since the acquisition at least 6 different start-ups.

Saul is right. We lack patience. We don’t want to build the pyramids again one level at a time. We forget that Israel is only 63 years old, and its High Tech industry is a lot younger, and so we like to compare ourselves to Finland or even to the US, countries much older than Israel and with a longer tradition of entrepreneurship.

That’s not possible though. A pyramid needs a solid, stable base. We need thousands of start-ups at the base. Small ones, with as little as possible investment. Most of them won’t make it. Some will get acquired. Others will prove themselves worthy of another round of funding and several more years of growth.

We will learn, we will mature as an industry, we will improve our skills at management, marketing, design, scaling, distribution, customer service – the building blocks of the DNA of large successful companies.

We will create a pyramid that is built to last, surrounded by a thousand blooming flowers.

~~~

P.S. I no longer work for AOL. Earlier this year I started (together with my partner for many years, Avichay Nissenbaum) lool ventures, where we do our best to help seed and grow such flowers, hoping to see them bloom and give fruit.

world-usa-here-be-dragons.png

Here Be Dragons. Not.

Ethnocentrism is the tendency to believe that one’s ethnic or cultural group is centrally important, and that all other groups are measured in relation to one’s own. [wikipedia]

Living outside the US, I am often frustrated by the evident lack of awareness to the existence of any other geographic location displayed by many US-originated web & mobile companies.

world-usa-here-be-dragons

You could claim that the North American market is so large that a company does not need to look elsewhere for potential customers. To this, I would answer:

  1. Manners. Yes, manners. As in being polite and respectful to other people.
  2. Read Sarah Lacy’s "Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky". Note where the American VCs money is flowing to. The global economy – and with it the source of innovation – could look very different in a few years. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  3. It will make you feel good.

To help our American friends with this challenge, I figured it’d be useful to create a check list. You will note that implementing most of the items requires a rather trivial amount of effort, one that can easily be justified by thinking about the 95.495% of humanity that lives outside the United States of America.


Implement a Countries list

This is the simplest of them all. When asking where I live in your sign up forms and check out forms, understand that there are other countries. I understand you do not want to lower your form conversion for the US audience. It’s perfectly ok to put United States as the first default item in the list, just make sure there is a list and that I can choose other countries from it. I don’t want to have to lie to you to be able to use your service.

You will find the HTML code to implement this here.

Not all Countries have States

Understand that not all countries have states. Do not force me to make up that I live in AZ or wherever. If I stated that I do not live in the US, do not make me enter a state. Or make it free form (and not a drop down list). Or present list of states only for countries for which it is relevant (see the full list here). But please, do not force me to lie to you to be able to use your service.

Zip code. Arghh.

It’s cool that you want to validate my zip code. I appreciate your sensitivity to data integrity. You’re most welcome to implement this validation correctly for each and every country. If you don’t feel like it, please do skip the validation if I stated that I live outside the US. Still not sure it’s worth the huge effort? Check your database, note how many users live in zip code 90210. If you force me to lie, I may as well use the only US zip code I remember by heart.

UTF-what?

Storing data anywhere? Say, a database or a file? Please, be sure to configure your data store to use UTF-8 for text fields. If you don’t, my data will be lost, and worse – when displayed on the screen it will look like bird droppings.

When storing English text, UTF-8 has no overhead compared to ASCII. So there goes your last excuse.

International Phone Numbers

I’d love to give you my phone number, all you need to do is ask. If I live outside the US, there will be a country code preceding my number, in the format +country-code and then the rest the number e.g. +972-99-9999999. Please take that into account in your mighty validation rules.

If you do not, I will lie. I do not want to.

Also, when extracting my phone number for use by software, please do not strip the + (Path, are you listening?). It *is* a valid – and very necessary – part of the phone number.

There is a country code for the US by the way, it’s +1. Just so you know.

US AppStore

There are very few things more frustrating for a person like me than reading a TechCrunch post about a wonderful new solve-all-my-problems app, clicking on the link, and then finding that it’s available only on the US AppStore, for no good reason.

Yes, I might switch my iTunes to my full-of-lies US Apple ID account to download your app, but I am lot less likely to give you any love back. Keep in mind, true love is the greatest thing in the world except for a nice MLT – and you don’t want to lose that, do you?

Shipping into the white spaces on the map

Please, if you’ve got something to say, like "we don’t ship outside the US" – do say it upfront, and not after I fill 3 pages worth of forms in the check out phase.


That’s it. Now that’s not that hard, is it?

[International readers – got more pet peeves? Add them in the comments, I will update the list]

For extra motivation, keep in mind what Bowman realized once he stepped outside of his comfort zone:

Oh my God – it’s full of stars!

space_odyssey_baby

Facebook.gov – By The Power We Vested In You

patriotic chatThe New York Times published today an editorial calling for “exploring ways to ensure that the editorial policy guiding Google’s tweaks is solely intended to improve the quality of the results and not to help Google’s other businesses”.

Their reasoning is as follows:

“Google handles nearly two-thirds of Internet search queries worldwide. Analysts reckon that most Web sites rely on the search engine for half of their traffic. When Google engineers tweak its supersecret algorithm — as they do hundreds of times a year — they can break the business of a Web site that is pushed down the rankings.”

The article concludes:

“Google provides an incredibly valuable service, and the government must be careful not to stifle its ability to innovate.”

However:

“If Google is to continue to be the main map to the information highway, it concerns us all that it leads us fairly to where we want to go.”

Google is such an obvious target for this. Earlier this year, European regulators launched an inquiry asking Google to reveal its search ranking algorithm.

Funny how no one is aiming the same questions at Facebook though. Continue reading

On Hummus and Choice

Windows Mobile Hummus

Michael Eisenberg published yesterday an important post, titled “The Hummus Manifesto – Part 1“. I consider this post a must-read for the relevant decisions makers – investors, entrepreneurs, software architects and software developers.

Yes, software developers. The number of decisions made by single software developer sitting in front of their favorite code editor and the far reaching impact of these decisions is often underestimated. But more on that later.

The “startups scene” in Israel is Continue reading

Twitter Annotations vs. Flickr Machine Tags

One of the announcements that came out of Twitter’s Chirp conference is Annotations.

Shortly after, Chris Messina said on Twitter:

Soooo... Twitter Annotations are just machine tags? I could live with that. Good luck with those namespaces though! /cc @noradio #anarchy
@chrismessina
Chris Messina™

Let’s explore that for a second. Why is Chris Messina bringing up Machine Tags in this context?

Machine Tags are a term coined by Flickr back in January 2007.

The Flickr folks (following the prior art by the geo.licio.us folks) defined Machine Tags in this manner:

# What are machine tags?

Machine tags are tags that use a special syntax to define extra information
about a tag.

Machine tags have a namespace, a predicate and a value. The namespace defines a class or a facet that a tag belongs to (‘geo’, ‘flickr’, etc.) The predicate is name of the property for a namespace (‘latitude’, ‘user’, etc.) The value is, well, the value.

Like tags, there are no rules for machine tags beyond the syntax to specify the parts of a machine tag.

To support Machine Tags, Flickr did the following:

  • Machine tags could be added to a photo on Flickr either manually by users or through the API
  • By default, Machine Tags were hidden from the user, but Flickr provided an easy way for users to view them if interested.
  • Flickr announced several officially supported Machine Tags that had specific semantics and UI/functionality implications (like geo:, upcoming:event, and more). 3rd party developers created tools that created and consumed the official machine tags, as well as their own custom machine tags.

twitter:fail=whale

The nice thing about Flickr Machine Tags is they were defined and used by Flickr users before Flickr sanctioned them. When they did sanction them, they used the exact format that was already used by the community, and the previously-used Machine Tags just became easier to use.

For many people, one of Twitter’s original charms was that the the evolution of the platform was driven by the users. @mention, @reply, #hashtags, Retweet – these are all features that were essentially created by the users of Twitter – as a convention – and later adopted into the core platform.

#Hashtags are similar to Flickr tags. In fact, the Hashtags Wiki explains Hashtags: “They’re like tags on Flickr, only added inline to your post.“.

Hashtags are also already sanctioned by Twitter itself – #hashtags become links in tweets which navigate to the Twitter search results page for that #hashtag:

#hashtags in a tweet lead to search on the hashtag

In fact, just like with Flickr Machine Tags, Twitter itself already started attaching specific semantics and functionality to specific hashtags. For example, the #worldcup hashtag and each of the 3-letters country names hashtags trigger a specific experience on Twitter.com:

image

Now, with Twitter #hashtags and Flickr Machine tags in context, let’s look again at Twitter Annotations. This is how Marcel Molina, the Twitter engineer CCed by Chris Messina in his tweet (@noradio), defines them in “Early look at Annotations“:

First off let’s be clearer about what an annotation is. An annotation is a
namespace, key, value triple. A tweet can have one or more annotations. Namespaces can have one or more key/value pairs.

This sounds awfully a lot like Flickr Machine Tags, doesn’t it?

However, unlike Flickr Machine Tags, which are essentially specially-formatted tags, Twitter Annotations are implemented using an XML format which can be read and written only through API calls:

<annotations>
  <iso>
    <isbn>030759243X</isbn>
  </iso>
  <amazon>
    <url>
      http://www.amazon.com/Although-Course-You-Becoming-Yourself/dp/030759...
    </url>
  </amazon>
</annotations>

That’s only slightly less readable than, say #iso:isbn=030759243X, right? :)

In another universe perhaps we could have had Twitter Machine Tags instead of Twitter Annotations.

Twitter Machine Tags would have been a natural evolution of Hashtags:

  • Like Twitter Annotations, they wouldn’t be counted toward the 140 characters limit.
  • Like Flickr Machine Tags, Twitter Machine Tags could be hidden by default, but users could still request to see them – in the spirit of Microformats.
  • Twitter Machine Tags would be at least partially accessible – both for read and for write – to older Twitter Clients (unlike Twitter Annotations which will be completely invisible to older clients).
  • Twitter users would be completely comfortable with them. They’d be understandable. They’d evolve quicker, through an iterative process between developers and users. They’d be transparent.

In that alternate universe, Twitter users would have had another cool anecdote to tell, about how yet another one of their inventions went into the core platform.

Oh well.

Le Déserteur

My uncle Max passed away yesterday. He was a truly special man, a person who loved people, and loved life. His last request was to hear the chanson Le Déserteur. The lyrics were written in 1954 by Boris Vian and Harold Berg, and were performed by many. The version he asked to hear was performed by Mouloudji, a French singer and actor:

The lyrics were read at the funeral today by his friends, as he requested. Almost 60 years later, they still make my shiver and are just as relevant:

Monsieur le Président,
je vous fais une lettre,
que vous lirez peut-être,
si vous avez le temps.

Je viens de recevoir
mes papiers militaires
pour partir à la guerre
avant mercredi soir.

Monsieur le Président
je ne veux pas le faire,
je ne suis pas sur terre
pour tuer de pauvres gens.

C’est pas pour vous fâcher,
il faut que je vous dise,
ma décision est prise,
je m’en vais déserter.

Depuis que je suis né,
j’ai vu mourir mon père,
j’ai vu partir mes frères,
et pleurer mes enfants.

Ma mère a tant souffert,
qu’elle est dedans sa tombe,
et se moque des bombes,
et se moque des vers.

Quand j’étais prisonnier
on m’a volé ma femme,
on m’a volé mon âme,
et tout mon cher passé.

Demain de bon matin,
je fermerai ma porte
au nez des années mortes
j’irai sur les chemins.

Je mendierai ma vie,
sur les routes de France,
de Bretagne en Provence,
et je crierai aux gens:

refusez d’obéir,
refusez de la faire,
n’allez pas à la guerre,
refusez de partir.

S’il faut donner son sang,
allez donner le vôtre,
vous êtes bon apôtre,
monsieur le Président.

Si vous me poursuivez
prévenez vos gendarmes
que je n’aurai pas d’armes
et qu’ils pourront tirer.

Mr. President
I’m writing you a letter
that perhaps you will read
If you have the time.

I’ve just received
my call-up papers
to leave for the front
Before Wednesday night.

Mr. President
I do not want to go
I am not on this earth
to kill wretched people.

It’s not to make you mad
I must tell you
my decision is made
I am going to desert.

Since I was born
I have seen my father die
I have seen my brothers leave
and my children cry.

My mother has suffered so,
that she is in her grave
and she laughs at the bombs
and she laughs at the worms.

When I was a prisoner
they stole my wife
they stole my soul
and all my dear past.

Early tomorrow morning
I will shut my door
on these dead years
I will take to the road.

I will beg my way along
on the roads of France
from Brittany to Provence
and I will cry out to the people:

Refuse to obey
refuse to do it
don’t go to war
refuse to go.

If blood must be given
go give your own
you are a good apostle
Mr. President.

If you go after me
warn your police
that I’ll be unarmed
and that they can shoot.

(Translation to English by Gilles d’Aymery & Jan Baughman)

Goodbye Max. If only there were more people like you.