Girl Geek Dinners is relaunched in Nottingham

At last the ball is rolling…

I'm really excited that at last I have managed to get the ball rolling and Girl Geek Dinners are back up and running in Nottingham. I have to say a massive and huge thank you to everyone who has been really supportive. I've never run an event like this before, but what I lack in experience I make up for in enthusiasm and a willingness to ask questions.

If you want to be kept up to date about these events then either email me or follow @NottsGirlGeeks on Twitter.

Banking as a Service

Managing our money is dull, so it is only when the situation is dire that it becomes important enough that most of us are actually willing to do it. Usually it sits on that long list of good intentions, somewhere under painting the bedroom.

Unfortunately in a recession we need to manage our finances and anything that can make that task easier is fantastic. I have already talked about services that can help us manage our finances. But none of these services are offered by the banks themselves. Egg and First Direct offer a limited aggregation service, but with none of the additional functionality of Wesabe or Mint.

So if I start using a third party tool to help me manage my money what does this mean for the banks? Now I no longer need to visit my bank's website to check my balance, my relationship with my bank becomes increasingly filtered through my money management tool of choice, which is a one stop shop for my financial information, currently needing only to visit my bank's website inorder to perform a transaction.

To my mind the banks have a choice; they can either decide they want to retain their direct customer engagement on-line and compete to keep customers engaging with them directly, or alternatively they can outsource the customer experience to third party services and consider the approach of offering Banking as a Service.

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Essentially banks offer services to store and move money securely. If we consider the concept of Banking as a Service, like other Web Services it would allow third parties to transact and store money, using appropriate protocols over the Internet.

Currently there are several existing Web Services that enable money transfer, including Amazon Flexible Payment System and Google Checkout, but both these systems still need a bank to actually support the service. PayPal is probably one of the largest on-line money services but it is deliberately set up so that it isn't a bank and as such it doesn't come under the same regulation as banks, so there is less protection for its customers increasingly retailers are becoming unhappy with its service, but there are few alternatives.

If a bank were to offer BaaS, concentrating on the core business and enabling features such as Faster Payments would create a competitive advantage over existing services. It could also offer better connectivity for third party sites such as Wesabe, enabling them to access the financial data in more robust fashion, for example using OAuth.

If banks are not willing or capable of improving their customer engagement, but would rather concentrate on their core business, then they should do so, but they are wreckless to do so while remaining blind to the context and opportunities of the Internet as it stands now and in the future.

Seadragon on the iPhone

Microsoft has released it's first iPhone application and its a good one. Some of the more interesting things that are coming out of Microsoft labs are Photosynth and Seadragon, you can see an excellent demo of this at a TED talk from 2007:

In brief Seadragon allows you to zoom quickly and smoothly through a great deal of visual information, so much information infact that when I originally saw the demo I assumed it was a little bit of demo magic being worked on a very high end computer. The zoom interface of Seadragon would seem like a natural fit with the multi-touch interface of the iPhone, but I had always thought that the iPhone did not have the necessary computing power to run such an application, thankfully I was wrong.If you are lucky enough to have an iPhone or iPod check Seadragon out and let me know what you think.

Role of Social Media in the Credit Crunch

The one good thing about this recession is that I can actually walk around and get my Christmas shopping done in relative peace. But it is a little alarming to see most shops offering 20% off and yet still find shopping centres quiet.

As a strange form of torture at work, Sky News is broadcast all over the place and offer repeated and constant coverage of the financial crisis (NB: Why CNN find it hard to cover – can also be applied to Sky News). In fact the press has been doom and gloom about the economy for some time now, with some making comments about the Web 2.0 bubble bursting. We all know that between the rising fuel and food costs and the house prices sinking things are pretty gloomy right now.

Financial Tracking charts from Wesabe

Wesabe charts personal finances.

However I am interested in what role the web will have in helping us deal with this. We’ve had recessions before, but like American elections I don’t think we’ve had one where the web will play such a significant role, especially in how we cope with it. Firstly there is our connection to the internet both emotively and economically; while fuel bills sore the cost of broadband costs continue to fall, also we feel the internet is essential and not a luxury we can cut to save costs. So we aren’t going to us the web less now.

We already know that the internet has made us more informed consumers, thanks to price comparison sites and communities offering advice. But now most of us are feeling the pressure to have more control over our finances, so what tools can the web offer us to help us manage our financial affairs? There are some good free tools that offer some helpful budgeting and financial management services, here are some for the UK:

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Wesabe / money.telegraph

Wesabe has been around for a few years now and offers support for most major UK institutions. They offer an aggregation service, allowing you to see all your financial data in one place. There is an active community around the service, as well anonymous data aggregation, allowing Wesabe to offer advice based to you based on your particular spending trends in the context of the wider community. Other functionality includes putting statements in “plain English” and aggregating this information across the community; so if a user identifies retailer TSC1238934 as Tescos, then if you were to shop there you will automatically see Tescos in your statement.

Wesabe have released an API and offer automated tools for downloading statements as well as various widgets to make your information more accessible. Recently the Daily Telegraph has partnered with Wesabe in the UK, further adding to its credibility.

Kublax

Kublax is new to the UK market, however it is powered by Yodlee, who is one of the biggest service providers in account aggregation, having partnered with large corporate banks too. Plus because it is UK specific it supports most of the UK financial institutions. It has similar functionality to Wesabe allowing you to compare spending and to get advice based on your own spending habits, with a focus on localisation. But it doesn’t offer an API for developers to create more tools. It has some inbuilt fraud detection and alerting.

Buxfer

Buxfer’s functionality is limited in comparison, but offers budgeting tools that are particularly good at managing money between people and can automate splitting costs and tracking debt, which can be useful and relieve social tension when finances are tight.

Wigadoo

Wigadoo is a UK service for sorting out events with a group of friends. Although it is not directly about managing your own personal finances, it is a useful tool for when you have to sort out the money for a trip with a group of mates and it avoids one person having to shell out for the cost for the whole group and they then take all the risk that someone will cancel or not pay their share. You no longer have to nag friends for the money they owe you, or have to feel guilty about not paying them back yet. Making these social money situations easier is always helpful when money is short and it is easy for it to become a source of tension.

In addition to better tools to help us manage our finances, the web offers alternative ways of borrowing money to the traditional bank loans; at a time when banks are reducing risks and lending far less, peer to peer lending continue to loan money and offer a way of raising necessary cash.

Zopa

Zopa is peer to peer lending that started in the UK and has spread globally. The principle is that you can borrow or lend money from other individuals rather than from institutions. As a borrower you make a pitch about what you want the money for and how much you need, and as a lender you decide who you want to lend to, how much and at what rate. The borrower can choose the best rate from the offers made.

Although technology will be hit by the financial climate too, you need only look at the staff cuts going on across the board in tech companies to see that, I think that through these Web 2.0 offerings we can better empower ourselves with the tools to help us weather this storm.

Services like Wesabe and Kublux enable us to gather advice from a community as well as from our own actual spending data. By having all your information in one place you get a complete picture of your financial situation. However this isn’t without any risk; since your data is aggregated it is important to be considerate of where you are storing your financial information, but there are huge advantages to be had by participating, both in convenience and in access to information otherwise unavailable. There are plenty of good services out there, but I have tried to look at ones I know will work for the UK, if you know others or have any experiences with any please let me know how you have found them.

Next generation wishlists for Christmas

Writing letters to Santa has changed over the years… normally about this time of year I have to vet my Amazon wishlist and co-ordinate with my family via http://www.alliwantforchristmas.com/ to swap wishlists. The site works, but it's done nothing new in the four years I've been using it, at best it offers some possible sites you might find the item you are looking for. The advantage it offers over Amazon's service is that you aren't tied to one retailer and you can offer a link to the best place to buy an item.

There is a new site in town with appropriate Web 2.0 name too; Wishli.st is a site created for the UK market. It has some great unique features, but also some critical downfalls. It breaks the mold by allowing micro-payments towards gifts on your wishlist, so you can pick the things you really want and allow your friends and family to chip in until you have the funds to buy the item outright. The shortfall is that items have to be chosen fromand puchased at a limited list of retailers, meaning you can't find the cheapest on the market and you are restricted on the items you can actually choose.

The existing retail partnerships are predominantly with the websites like Firebox and I want one of those, sites that are aimed at people buying presents, the problem is the stuff they sell tends to be lowcost or at least fun and frivolous with a wide target audience, rather than the kind of items you want to add to a wishlist i.e. specific and specialist items that often relate to a hobby or an interest – where you need that expert existing knowledge to know which item is appropriate. I don't see the point in adding stuff from Firebox; pretty much all their stock is passable and fun, thats the point, but none of it is stuff I really want – it's the stuff i'd buy someone if they didn't have a wishlist.

The micro-payments concept is a good one, but for the idea to succeed they need remove the dependancy on retailers to allow it's use for niche markets. A Web 2.0 app that ignores the Long Tail needs to reconsider it's approach.