The Fantastic 4 on Social Media

Went to iX New Media Forum 2007 on Wed 20 June, organised by TDM and SMU. Finally time to write my blog of this event, after my 2 quick MMS blogs on it at my moblog. They had four speakers in the forum, who are all gurus in new media, or social communication media. Check out detailed account at SGentrepreneurs website, they did a good live summary of the event with videos of Kevin Lim. Isn’t it great that with the web 2.0 nowadays we can actually read other people’s views and takeaways on a seminar directly online and it’s interesting how everyone has their own things they liked or disliked about the same event.

What I found interesting during the event was the live chat that was going on on the big screen behind the speakers. Sometimes interesting things were uttered and it was an interaction amongst the crowd that had gathered in the conference hall. Personally I found it a little distracting at times to focus on what the speaker was telling, and at the same time with one eye trying to follow the chat log to see if anything interesting was uttered there. Juggling with these two tasks, I didn’t bother to participate in the chat, it would have caused my brain to overload. Myself being about a decade older than most of the others in the audience (okay, some exceptions were there, I saw some respected aged men as well), I was wondering whether it’s me getting old… The technology with the chat could also have been a means of direct, non-intrusive interaction with the speakers, but I felt that didn’t really work out in that way. I guess the speakers were focusing on addressing the points they wanted to get across and it’s distracting if they would have to keep turning their back to the public to read the chat at the same time. I couldn’t help but keep wondering whether there would be a tool and moderator who could pick out interesting chat blurps and dump them in a sort of post-it at the side, so that they could be brought up as points during the forum discussion. Hmm, maybe a point for a next forum? The person(s) manning the technology did a really great job in bringing up websites that were talked about by the speakers quickly as an illustration, and everything worked smoothly.

The first speaker of the afternoon, Jeremiah Owyang, a social media evangelist as he calls himself, got the room rocking and his talk was very insightful. This is illustrated by the many blogs that mainly addressed his talk at the forum, like Walter Lim and Estee. Jeremiah believes that there should be an active dialogue between companies and their customers and that the communication between employees and customers should be more direct and not too restricted by the marketing & communications department only. Corporate websites should be collaborative and interactive. Negative feedback is no problem, it will hit you anyway and in this manner you are able to react to it directly and learn from it to improve your product / service. It’s not an easy thing though to convince large corporates to become transparent! Really admire his convincing power, and one example of that is DELL’s ideastorm.com. Something on my list of things to check out! Add on to the list: ustream.tv, valleywag.com (check out Robert Scoble who was target of a rumour), techmeme.com, public square (forgot what this was, will look for it), “Active worlds” which is similar to 2nd life (virtual world).

The next speaker up was Louis Broom, who works for Microsoft and has a job title that is amazingly long, I was impressed that he managed to pronounce it in one sentence without stammering, but I guess he must be used to it by now. Interesting part about him was that he started his career as actor and director and is now making corporate videos for Microsoft and customers. His talk didn’t leave a very lasting impression on me, but he had one interesting point, okay, two interesting points:

1. the content production is done decentralised, that means they start producing a video in the US, and when it’s night time in US, the teams in China and India take over to do the post production. Also the production is done with low cost, and fast. I guess in this fast-paced world, that’s the way to go and using the internet with collaborative tools, there should be a way to apply this concept in different industries too.

2. EPIC 2015, by Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson. Will google and watch this show one day when I feel bored and don’t feel like doing one of the other million things on my list….

After his talk there was a short tea break and I had a quick refreshment, after which I checked my email and (wow, what a perfect timing) I answered a call from one of my colleagues in one of my projects to help him out with something. No time for networking this time, also wasn’t really in the mood for it that day, too busy, too many things going on, but still wanted to attend the talks.

The next talk after the break, was by Mike Downey of Adobe, promoting the great new development of Adobe, which was initially nicked as Apollo and now launched as Adobe AIR (Adobe’s Integrated Runtime). This brought a fresh breeze 😉 into the room!

As most of his demo of the new platform (much alike Java in its philosophy, i.e. cross platform, virtual machine, runtime execute) was pretty similar to one posted on YouTube, have a look yourself here:

The cool thing about AIR is that it is a platform that uses web-technology, but it can run offline, and will synchronise data soon as you get back online.

I can see this being used in educational systems as well, wouldn’t it be great, one central distribution, students can logon from multiple operating systems (Windows, Mac or Linux), download the application to run on their desktop, and interact with the server once they are online. And of course the graphics rendering engine of Flash, really think this product is going to have a great future. Moreover, it’s open source!

Some other interesting sites, mentioned by Mike: picnik.com (online photo editing), sliderocket.com (presentations online to share and to edit collaboratively) and quietlyscheming.com (a cool, “useless” application built by one of the AIR developers).

Last but not least, the only female speaker of the afternoon: Lynda Brown, who is from Canada and also a front-runner in her own right for new media and communication. She heads New Media BC and produces VIDFEST, an annual creative digital media gathering. She is very inspiring, and didn’t so much focus on the technology, but more on the social aspects. She is a consultant and mentor of many startups and it’s quite amazing how she keeps track of all that, while also being part of a team at www.gnwc.ca to set up a MA course in Digital Media in Vancouver. She was surprised to hear that hardly anyone here was using Facebook (Jeremiah also mentioned Facebook as one of the new technologies that he liked to stay in touch with friends). Funny part is that I have always perceived Facebook as a very US-based tool, whereas for instance MySpace and Friendster have more world-wide users. But maybe my perception is wrong. Not that long ago I joined Multiply, which initially I also perceived as a US-based tool, and it turned out to be a very useful tool, that has spin-offs in multiple languages and a large Asian community too (majority in Philippines), which I thought to be quite interesting. Anyway, I guess everyone has their own preferences and is also influenced by friends in which of the tools they use to share photos and stories. I love Multiply for its easy photo sharing options, IMHO better than Flickr (the number of free photos is too limited for my taste).

One interesting takeaway from Lynda’s talk: www.starfishandspider.com, a story to read online and make a choice whether you are a starfish or a spider (if I remember correctly), will definitely check this out, sounds interesting!

At the end of the individual talks, there was a forum discussion, hosted by Ming Yeow, which I think he did very professionally!

All in all an interesting forum and an afternoon well-spent! Thanks TDM for the organisation 🙂

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Bingo icebreaker game a big hit!

Sunday afternoon we started a new IT Essentials computer course at the temple where I’m volunteering. Usually we have around 35 people signing up for the course, of which generally about 25 of them will actually complete the course. This year we had a shocking 50 people registered and most of them also showed up on the first class!

Still not sure how we are going to handle such a big group, considering that in physical space we can accommodate comfortably a maximum of 35 people, once we are starting to do practical work on the computers, of which we have 22 now. But that’s a problem to worry about next week. Last Sunday we had to entertain and get going a group of 50 adults who are going to be following this course weekly for the next 6 months or so.

The previous year we had a problem that we had quite a disintegrated group of students who took a long time to get to know each other and work together. At the time we had omitted a proper intro to let the students familiarize with each other before starting to do some actual work. Not to fall into the same trap again, I decided that this year we would start with an icebreaker game. I have been doing many different icebreakers as a student myself, and thought that the one I participated in last year during one of my courses at NIE, was quite good, a human bingo.

How does it work? You have a normal BINGO-score card, with 5 x 5 squares. But instead of putting numbers in the squares, you put characteristics of people, like: “loves chocolate”, “is married”, “wears glasses”.

Then they have to go and ask their peers to see who could match one of the squares and each person only appearing once on the square. When someone has 1 row filled up, it’s BINGO, and they get some sweets. To manage this with 50 people, I split them in 2 groups and gave a group price as well, for the first group who had 1 full square. It was really a big hit, they mingled around well and had fun finding out details about their classmates.  Officially you’ll have to verify the filled up cards and make sure people are not cheating, but hey, I was already happy that people seriously tried to get to know each other and played the game without getting into a mess… mind you, this is all in a room that could just fit 50 people in there seated, no more space to walk around!

Here is the bingo score card I used:

Loves cooking   

 Has children Has same favourite colour as you  Is vegetarian  Has a mobile phone
 Wears glasses   Has visited more than 3 countries  Is married Is from same home country as you    Plays musical instrument
 Likes to sing    Likes cats      FREE  Likes to dance  Is wearing earrings
 Loves to read books  Wears lipstick  Likes dogs     Is same age as you  Is crazy about chocolate
 Born in country side    Wears red colour clothes  Likes to eat durian  Likes shopping  Wears jeans

Going Dutch in Singapore

On Monday 11 June 2007 evening I was invited to be member in a panel to have a forum discussion on “What does it take to set up a business in Singapore and/or the region” by the Association of Dutch Businessmen (ADB).

This was the description that was sent around by email to all ADB members:

Have you always wondered what it takes -besides guts- to set up your own company, to realize your dreams or to be sent off by your employer to venture into new geographical realms?

On Monday 11 June we have invited a selection of Dutch entrepreneurs in Singapore, presented in a panel, who will both be sharing their own experiences as well as taking questions and discussions from the floor. What did they have to do to come so far and what not? How did the Singapore government support their ideas and in what way? Has ‘being Dutch’ been an advantage? What are easy mistakes to avoid? What business entity of form should you choose and how does registration works? What does it take to penetrate clients such as MNC’s ? 

The panel had an interesting composition:

          Alex Bok, who has setup a company called the Bike Boutique, which has franchises in other countries in Asia and he also initiated a non-profit organisation iwant2bike2work.org

          Peter Smit, who after a being retired for 2 years from Procter & Gamble for which he worked across the globe selling soap, took up an offer to start up an Asian branch office for Chiquita bananas.

          Lennart van der Beek, who is running a small company innotion pte. ltd.

          Bianca Polak (myself), who started Thalassa Consultancy to work as a freelance consultant in the IT industry.

The topic drew quite a crowd, I guess there were about 70 people in the audience (but that’s based on a raw estimate only). Annabelle Deken who organised and chaired the event (and that did that really professionally I must add), opened the evening. To my slight shock, we had to do the forum in Dutch, usually ADB events are done in English (hmm, at least the ones I have attended). My Dutch, though my native language, is not that great anymore after living in Asia for 9 years and speaking English most of the time, but I guess I did alright, stumbling a bit here and there, searching for the correct wordings and throwing in a bit of English when I couldn’t get the Dutch equivalent fast enough.

After we all did a short self-intro, Annabelle kicked off with the first question, to summarize in three words what one would need to set up a company in Singapore/region. I was the first to answer and my three words were:

  1. patience – you need a lot of patience in all aspects, waiting for orders to be confirmed, waiting for payment to come in, etc.
  2. connections / network – not just potential clients, but also in my case, connections as in partners, who can help out when you get a bigger project and you don’t have the time / skill-set to complete the job on your own. And I realised that now I’m trying to venture out into the edutech field, that I have start building up a new network.
  3. guts – you need to believe in yourself, especially running a 1-woman business like in my case.

Interestingly all three of us had patience in our list. Lennart (maybe because of his financial background) had a nice phrase for the money aspect of patience, which he called financial patience.

Alex mentioned it also in a regional aspect that he encountered, when he tried to copy his concept to apply it in the same way in Bangkok and found out that it didn’t work that way, he had to move a lot more mountains, though he had all the logistics organised pretty fast.

Someone in the audience asked whether this is typical for Singapore or this region to need patience, when starting up a company, but we all didn’t really have this kind of experience in Holland or other places in the world and probably it applies across the globe. It’s interesting though, because usually entrepreneurs are fast-thinking, fast-moving people, and patience won’t be the first thing on your mind when asked about a useful habit to have when you want to become an entrepreneur.

Another question that was asked by the audience was “what was a big mistake that you have made and learned from”. Well in my case it took me a while before I had a good answer to that, and let the others answer first. But I did have something that I regretted not having done earlier, which is registering with Gebiz, as I thought I couldn’t do that as a sole-proprietor or had to pay money for registration. When I finally did do it, I found out that it was really easy and that I should have done it from the start! It allows me to bid for the smaller requests for quotation or tenders directly without needing to go through one of my partners.

There were some questions on how to find employees and the hiring and firing in which I could not really participate. JobsDB.com seems to be the preferred way to hunt for new people, you get resumes back immediately, but it’s quite a bit of sifting work to be done to pick out the ones that you want to see. In Alex’ case his business started out of his hobby, being a tri-athlete and avid biker, his friends in this area and through word-of-mouth, he got his first customers but also people interested to work for him, invest in his company, etc.

Peter shared with us his strategy to see if a person would fit into his profile, which is regional sales. He would ask the person what was the first thing they ever sold and at which age. So, if someone already showed sales experience at age of 5 or whatever, they would be suitable for the job and if only sold something first at age of 20plus, they wouldn’t be suitable. Of course not as the only criteria, but just to gauge a person’s nature.

An interesting question came from a veteran who has worked for Philips most or all of his life and is now retired, which is whether it is in your genes to be an entrepreneur. Well, for the four of us sitting at the panel table this didn’t seem to be the case and it was not running in the family. In my case, I blame it on my innate stubbornness. In my first job working as a civil servant I came with lots of ideas that were only acknowledged a year later as being a great initiative, at the time that I had just put in a resignation letter. After that I worked for small companies, in which I was working pretty independently and had a lot of freedom to work in my own way, as long as the goals were met.

Peter, who had worked in P&G for most of his life, argued however that working for a MNC does require a certain amount of entrepreneurial spirit. I tend to disagree with that statement, I believe indeed that probably at a regional sales manager position in a foreign country you do need entrepreneurial characteristics to do well. However, as a general office worker, you need to be able to conform to all the rules and regulations put down by the management and if you exhibit too many creative ideas or opinions that don’t match with the rules, it doesn’t work in my honest opinion.

The last question from the audience was directed towards me, to ask how I cope with doing projects for government organisations here in Singapore as a sole proprietor, since there is always a danger of LD claims. Well, in my case I don’t deliver directly to the government, for big projects that have potential LD claims I offer my services to a main contractor, and there is no direct responsibility for LD’s from my side. Of course, I have to be sure to cover myself, that I deliver in time and am not the responsible party for any delays. But yes, it will be a reason over time to change my business to a limited liability company.

Other things discussed were how to go about work visas, which in most our cases was not an issue. But some had experience applying for Employment Pass based on their company business plan.

Alex had an interesting tip to share about his business plan, which is that after a few years he finally decided to write his business plan on just 1 A4-sized paper, including his dreams, his goals to realise his dreams and concrete action points. (I hope I remembered it correctly).

At the informal session afterwards, on my way out, I got to speak briefly with Diederik Heinink, who has just setup his business in communications & PR and has an online portal in Holland for networking of Dutch professionals. A bit like iConnectE (which I got to know about recently at the BlogOut) and when I mentioned that, he happened to have just registered and been to the first networking event. Unfortunately I had missed that event, but will probably see him on one of the other events around. Singapore is small 😉

How to register a business in Singapore?

I have registered my own sole-proprietorship in 2004 and have since been working as a freelancer. Many people have asked me how to do the registration, so I decided it’s time to put it online, so that I can just refer the next person to the URL, without having to find the description again….  

The procedure is quite simple once you have figured it out (the figuring out part is the one that takes time), so I’m glad to help you with this!  Before you go over to registration, it’s good to have the following information at hand and sorted out first:

  1. business name
  2. business address
  3. nature of the business
  4. a SingPass (in case you didn’t have one yet – in my case I did have it – this is also useful for CPF online) 

For the business address, this can either be: an office address, a private housing address or if you live in HDB, you can apply at the HDB website for permission to use your home address as a business address. For nature of business, there is a whole list and in some cases you need special certification from AVA or MOE, or other government organisations. In my case, I have registered my business under “software consultancy”, as I thought that would be most applicable and no special permissions or certifications needed. 

This website is extremely useful:http://www.acra.gov.sg/  it has a very good FAQ on how to register business or company, check if a certain business name can be used and a link as well to the website of the business registration www.bizfile.gov.sg  The bizfile website is where you need to login with the SingPass and then you can fill up the entire registration form online.

After login, you go to: Business Transactions > Business Name Application and Registration.

Then you select:Application to Register a New Business … And then fill up the form. You can actually just go through these steps and then see what are the things that you need to fill up. And come back there again on a day that you are doing the registration.When i finally did my registration I needed only about half an hour and my company was registered.  All the above is for registration of a sole proprietorship. The fee is SGD 65 for 1 year. Subsequent years you pay SGD 50 renewal fee. Change of address is also possible – costs SGD 15.  

Other things that might be useful, once you have registered the business, is to open a corporate bank account.  This is useful to have as some companies will only issue a cheque to your company’s name and not to your personal name. A cheque issued on a company’s name cannot be posted into your private account.  To open a corporate account, I have done this with DBS bank (because my personal account is with POSB – so I thought easier have both at the same bank). It was pretty simple, needed my company registration confirmation letter (you receive by email few minutes after registration – just print it out) and a minimum of 3,000 SGD. They have a penalty though of 15 SGD per month if the balance goes below 10,000 SGD. 

So I have opened my account with starting capital of 10,000 SGD. I’m not sure how it is for other banks, but I guess should be similar, though other banks have a higher starting capital for opening new accounts.  For taxes, you still file under personal income tax, there is a special category there for income out of sole proprietorship. Based on the income tax statement, you will then receive a letter from CPF to “advise” you how much CPF you need to contribute to your Medisave account. This is a mandatory minimum amount you will need to top up and depends on how much you have earned. Other CPF contributions are purely voluntary (in my case I don’t contribute voluntarily). This CPF is important once you are going to do your yearly renewal of your business, they will check if you have followed CPF’s advice and have sufficient funds in your Medisave. For all this you will receive letters, so you don’t have to worry too much about it, but it’s good to know in advance so that you can keep some financial reserves for this.   

BlogOut 2007!

Belated blog entry, I have been busy with various things, but finally got to type out my experiences of the blogout event today. The first BlogOut 2007 event was held in the Geek Terminal on 24th May 2007 and organised by The Digital Movement (TDM) in Singapore.

I was invited for this by Yoke Ching of moblog.com.sg where I’m having my personal blog to rant about my daily life. As I’m very interested in the concept of blogging and using it for serious applications like education, and information sharing as well, I was eager to sign up. In the process of signing up I already learned about some new web 2.0 communities, like ping.sg and the TDM themselves… It was also my first time to sign up for wikispaces, although I had looked at it before, I didn’t have a reason to sign up earlier.

Wikispaces is an interesting concept whereby all members of the group can participate in editing the text. This has advantages that everyone can just write on it whatever ideas they have and add on to other people’s ideas as an information sharing platform (I’m not using the term knowledge here, because it’s really information, knowledge might be generated from it). It has disadvantages as well with a high reliance on the moderating skills of all participants, it could easily end up in a mess and information that was posted there earlier might be lost over time. A good illustration of this was that when the final program of the evening was posted a few hours before the event started and an email was sent out to notify everyone of this, a few minutes later somebody had accidentally deleted the entire program!

My main reason for signing up was hoping to meet other bloggers who are interested in discussing about using blogs in education, but also to hear more about new web 2.0 communities in Singapore. Unfortunately on the evening itself the topic on education seems to have been scrapped of the list, but I did learn a bit more on new technologies and met some interesting people.

The evening started of with some socialising and some food. The venue looked nice for a café setting with a limited group of people, but for the 120 odd people that were on the list it was not properly equipped. The chairs were rather bulky and the small round tables were put together, didn’t really create the correct atmosphere. At an event like this with catered food and drinks it would be handy to have high tables where people can stand around and still have a space to put their glass or plate. Especially since we were asked to bring laptops as well, it didn’t fit the bill. During the socialising I first talked with Yoke Ching and her 2 colleagues, all of them I met last year during the 2 moblog gatherings (the first one organised by myself and few other mobloggers). As we were relatively early, we managed to get a seat at one of the tables near the front next to the stage.

The first item on the agenda when most people had arrived was a welcome and a music video by Genie, apparently a famous blogger. Apparently she is the first Singapore artist to bring out a cd that was born because she started her blog and posted her songs on it and the fans of her blog liked her music. An example of blogging used as marketing.

The panel discussion had a number of interesting guests who were to discuss on the web 2.0 in Singapore and share the stories of the blogging communities they represented. The discussion itself however was hard to follow, firstly because from the position where I was sitting it was impossible to see the speakers (people were standing in front of my view) and secondly because the sound system started making annoying shrieking sounds, which is something I’m totally allergic to. Furthermore the presentation screen showed the wrong websites when talking about a certain topic or the internet connection failed. That’s all act of God, not the fault of the organisers who did a really great job! Walter of NHB, who is in charge of yesterday.sg (a really interesting website I must say about Singapore’s history), and who has his own personal blog as well moderated the discussion really well.

The more interesting part of the evening started when the discussion tables were opened. There were 4 different discussions going on, with people sitting or standing around the tables that were arranged for this. Each table had a leader for the discussion and participants were free to walk around and join any of the tables and change table if they wanted to. I choose to sit in and participate with the corporate blogging table. The discussion was interesting with some participants who are in marketing, some having a small company and considering setting up a company blog and some who already do corporate blogging. Initially the discussion was tilting towards the SME blog, as we all thought that for large corporate organisations it will be difficult to maintain a blog unless the blog would be on the intranet to let your colleagues know what you are doing in your free time. However we were wrong in that respect, as Microsoft has a corporate blog that is maintained by various marketing managers around the world and what they feature are new interesting inventions by some of the technical staff, cool developments, news, etc. Sort of a global corporate newsletter. Bernard Leong of SG Entrepreneurs who chaired the discussion, summarised it all really well on his blog.

At the end of the evening I went to back to sit with the moblog gang, chatted a bit with shanewei, littlegeo, micah, lagoon and TheGuyOverThere (Howard). And two of them won a price in the lucky draw! Lagoon was lucky enough to take home a Window Vista and Micah got a thumbdrive of 1GB.

Take-aways:

  • learned a bit more on what’s going on with corporate blogging (might want to use it for my own company as well)

  • ping.sg community, brilliant in its simplicity! It shows the latest updates of blogs of people who subscribed to it and when a certain post is very interesting it gets more “pongs” and moves up in the list.

  • still not convinced that twitter is the way to go… who is interested in what I’m doing now and what’s the point of wasting spending time to post that? Oh well, maybe I’ll change my mind about it in the future….

  • IconnectE.com community – this is really new, and meant to do networking, offering services. E.g. I offer software consultancy, but am in need of someone who can help me with marketing. That way I can look at other people’s profiles and see who matches what I’m looking for and get in touch.

  • I met some interesting people…and a few interesting blogs to follow as well.

  • All in all it was a great event, considering that so many different communities were approached and present at such short notice! Kudos to the TDM team!!

Feedback for next event:

  • Venue: make better use of the space, like take away the bulky chairs and replace them with temporary stackable seats that are easier to move around and take up less space. Also good to have some high tables for people who are standing.

  • Topics: the first BlogOut2007 was very broad in its topics and intending to introduce people from the various communities to each other. Maybe the next blogout can have a more focused theme, or organise an event purely on e.g. corporate blogging, or educational blogging or new IT technologies, etc.

  • Keep discussion tables smaller – and have more topics for discussion. That way the dynamics will be better, at our discussion table there were only a few people participating actively and the rest just standing around listening. It was hard to hear what people on the other far end of the table were saying. I liked the concept of moving around to different tables which some people did, but it was kind of hard too as there was not much space to move around freely.

When is the next BlogOut? 😉