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This morning’s TechCrunch post and last Friday’s Startup Crawl heralds the public announcement of my new startup – Plato’s Forms.

Plato's Forms logo

I’ve been working with Darryl Siry (former CMO Tesla Motors) on this project since Spring, with us producing a demo for investors in September/early-October. That seemed to be successful because we managed to raise $545k angel round, led by a group of private investors, Darryl and ZelkovaVC (although the note remains open to $750k if anyone wants to get in at this early stage!).

So what are we building?

Well, the problem space we are addressing is the perpetuation of of miss-information and inaccurate information within the online news environment. A piece is written up about your product/service/company that contains some incorrect facts or draws a conclusion that didn’t include a pertinent piece of information. Maybe you are frustrated the journalist didn’t reach out to you during the creation of their article and you want to reach out. Or perhaps a piece on a competitor misses an opportunity to present an alternative perspective around your product/service/company.

The solution is a professional communication platform that allows PR/corporate communication professionals to engage journalists and pro-bloggers in a ‘velvet rope’ vetted environment. There are a number of products we’re building on top of this platform, but we’re not talking about implementation points right now — we have some very interesting ways to solve these problems. :)

Some of these problems (and solutions) are new. Some are just reducing the friction of the existing communication mechanisms these folk already have in place.

What’s under the hood?

Everything is Ruby on Rails… very agile, very rapid development. It’s my first time working with RoR and I’m really enjoying the experience. Pivotal Tracker continues to be an amazing productivity tool for development, and I’m beginning to wonder how I ever worked before DropBox, EtherPad and BaseCamp.

BTW if this all sounds like fun (which it is) we’re looking for top Ruby on Rails talent right now, working out of our digs in South Park, SF!

Busy bee

Plato’s Forms is obviously going to be my main project and focus moving forward, although for now I will continue to work with Seesmic on a small scale (my BlackBerry app shipped last week) and maintain my advisory board responsibilities with my portfolio.

Oh and I’m going to be in Europe for most of December – MC’ing at Le Web in Paris again, and then Christmas at home in London.

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Twhirl logo

Last week we launched a totally new version of the Seesmic website – with a much improved interface on the front end that builds upon 2008′s rewrite of the back-end. The new has version got some great reviews and I know the whole team is very pleased with the positive feedback it’s received. Do check it out if you haven’t tried Seesmic recently.

This week our concentration has moved to Twhirl, our Twitter (+ Seesmic, FriendFeed and Identi.Ca) client we produce. Once again there’s lots of buzz around some exciting new features in the forthcoming version, including:

  • The gathering under the “replies tab” of all tweets that include @yourusername, not just when it’s added at the start of a tweet
  • Ping.fm integration that posts your status messages from Twhirl to Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, WordPress and a other sites
  • One-click recording of new and reply Seesmic videos straight from Twhirl
  • Saved search, to keep across the discussion of your favorite terms across the twittersphere
  • More url shortening providers, including bit.ly and more

I’ve been using the beta version of Twhirl for a few days now and I have to say it’s excellent. We’ll be releasing the new version of Twhirl soon, but in the meantime you can get immediate access to the preview version by joining our brand new beta test group called “Team Seesmic-Twhirl”.

You can find out more, including where to sign up, on Loic’s blog.

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As you will know, I’ve been working with MySpace for a number of months on a number of initiatives to help them evolve into a far more open platform.

Following on from the launch of the developer platform and REST APIs, I’m really excited to announce that MySpace has joined the DataPortability Initiative. In addition MySpace has also announced it’s first implementation in this area, which will making it’s profile data available for those to consume on other websites. From the press release:

“MySpace … will be allowing users to dynamically share the content and data of their choosing including: (1) Publicly available basic profile information, (2) MySpace photos, (3) MySpaceTV videos, and (4) friend networks. Integration of the Data Availability project will roll to MySpace users and participating Websites in the coming weeks.”

MySpace’s full press release is on Alley Insider. DataPortability’s press release is here.

Whilst a number of high-profile launch partners have been announced (Yahoo!, eBay and Twitter), it’s worth point out that access to this project will be available to everyone who agrees to the T’s & C’s.

(UPDATE: A number of people are speculating that this is a biz-dev thing only for agreed partners and that it may not be using agreed standards, etc(eg here). I just want to be really clear: this is NOT A BIZ DEV DEAL, this is open to everyone. The launch partners are simple there to demonstrate the complete value at both ends and help MySpace test the implementation. And as mentioned in the press release, this is all using oAuth for authentication and will be working with DataPortability on standards.)

As a co-founder of the DataPortability Initiative I’m thrilled to be a part of this project and able to help guide it from the inside.

Caroline McCarthy of News.com has described this as “a huge deal” and of course I agree. In the media call she asked MySpace CEO Chris DeWolfe whether Facebook would be able to participated and he responded:

“This project is open to any site out there that wants to work with us so we’re happy to work with Facebook if they want to join up with us on this project.”

This is not the same MySpace I took on as a client 6 months ago. Significant and exciting things are happening at MySpace and it’s great to be a part of it.

If you have comments or ideas and suggestions for things you want to see at MySpace, please let me know: bmetcalfe {at} myspace {dot} com

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Just a quick note to say that the MySpace Developer Platform, which went live to developers last month, is now live to ‘regular’ users too.

That means anyone can add an app to their MySpace profile or homepage.

Congrats to everyone in the team who’ve worked some looooooong hours to get this up. Well done everyone!

Marshall Kirkpatrick has a great overview of today’s announcement and the platform:

A few key points of differentiation between MySpace, other OpenSocial “containers” and Facebook are as follows:

  • Apps on the Home page.
    I believe that one of the biggest reasons Facebook apps have such low user engagement numbers is because they can’t enter the key space of the user admin page. That’s where users live, not on their own public facing profile pages. MySpace is hoping to go so far as to create an “everyperson’s Netvibes/PageFlakes/MyYahoo” experience.
  • Custom namespaces
    MySpace has a long list of custom namespaces that aren’t available in OpenSocial’s most basic structure. That’s the case with almost all OpenSocial implementations, we hear, and it will be interesting to see how real the promise of interoperability is.
  • Synchronous communication
    It may not be XMPP but the MySpace app namespace ONLINE_FRIENDS appears to let app developers access the sub-list of a user’s friends who are actively online. Many social activities are best done in real time (like asking for money via Lending Club? maybe not) and we’ll be interested to see what apps make use of this option.
  • OAuth support
    MySpace users are going to be happy to share their contacts and info from other applications off-site with apps on the MySpace platform because they’ll be able to do so securely. MySpace is about to become the biggest use-case of the oAuth authentication protocol, something many sites are scrambling to implement. Will app developers put this to use? We’ll see.

More on Read/WriteWeb.com and also on Mashable.

(Disclosure: I work with the MySpace Developer Platform team)

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Congratulations to Peter Nixey and Immad Akhund – two friends and fellow Brits – who’ve just publicly launched their Y-Combinator backed startup ClickPass (TechCrunch coverage here).

Sofia and I have been following their progress for some month, including sneak peeks and early uses of the product. And I have to say it really brings the benefits of OpenID to the mainstream – opening up all sorts of new possibilities.

Click pass is essentially made up of two constituent parts.

Firstly, the company offers a simple-yet-slick design patten for the federated authentication of the user. What I like about the design is that not only do ClickPass help their users login to a given site with OpenID, but they have also baked in simple support for a number of other popular OpenID providers too – such as AOL, WordPress and LiveJournal (where it all began).

Rather than having to remember their full OpenID URL at either ClickPass or any of these other providers, the user simply has to enter their username and the ClickPass login widget automatically constructs the correct login url and sends the user on their way to authenticate at their chosen provider’s authentication home page.

Great stuff.

As a proponent of OpenID I really want to give props to Peter and Immad for taking the opportunity to make it easy for everyone regardless of whether they use ClickPass to authenticate or not.

The second aspect of the service is a dashboard style interface that reflects the various sites the user holds an OpenID relationship with. This creates an ideal home page opportunity as it’s so easy to dive straight into the sites you use.

There’s also a great monetization opportunity of using the interface to take advertising on this page to the next level. Rather than simply promoting the front page of their site, with the permission of the user an advertiser could create an account for their site upon the initial click through from the advert – using the OpenID credentials already authenticated on ClickPass.

This allows the site to immediately offer full utility to the user rather than having to encourage them to ‘cross the chasm’ and create an account (having already had to encourage them just to click on the advert).

I may be a little biased, as Peter and Immad are friends, but I really do think this is the best implementation of OpenID out there right now for ‘regular users’. I do think they need to bake in more anti-phishing mechanisms – such as displaying photos, key phrases or some other ‘secret’ upon authentication. But these are easily done and I’m sure this is something they are both looking at.

Well done boys, good work!

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(disclosure: I work with MySpace on their platform)

Having just launched the MySpace Developer Platform, including support for OpenSocial, MySpace are holding the first of their MySpace devJam events next week: Saturday March 1st at MySpace San Francisco (upcoming).

MySpace logo

devJams are MySpace’s take on popular events such as Yahoo!’s Hackday series and Google’s Hackathons. The day will kick-off with some tutorials and code walk-throughs led by the lead architects of the MySpace Developer Platform. Then after lunch it’s striaght down to good-old hacking, coding and devJammin’.

As you would expect they’ll be an opportunity at the end of the day to demo your app and perhaps even win some cool prizes.

But if you don’t get your app finished that day, MySpace will be holding a series of regular “Show-n-Tell Evenings” at MySpace San Francisco for you to come back to and ask questions of the MySpace Development Team and demo your app.

If you can’t make it to San Francisco on the 1st March, fear not as MySpace will be doing them all over the country world over the coming months. The next one is in Seattle, WA on the 15th March (Upcoming).

In the meantime, tell MySpace where you want the next devJams to be held!

MySpace devJam: San Francisco, March 1st

MySpace devJam: Seattle, March 15th

[Blog post on MySpace Developer Platform blog]

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You’d have to be under a pretty big rock not to have heard about the layoffs at Yahoo! today. Many people, from an Integrated Campaign Strategy Manager through to popular blogger Susan Mernit were ‘impacted’, as the internal memo was apparently worded. Even Brickhouse lost its head.

On the one hand, being given a pink slip is no doubt destabilizing and scary. However with Yahoo! on your resume and the rest of the industry still doing relatively well, I’m pretty sure most ex-Yahoo’s will find something to move onto.

MySpace logo

And as one company downsizes another upsizes – and so I guess this is as good as any opportunity to help get the word out that MySpace is hiring like mad for it’s funky new San Francisco office in South Park.

Engineers, Product Managers, UI Designers, Biz Dev, Project Management… you name it. There are some sample job reqs, but to be honest if you’re looking for such positions I’d rather just put you in contact with the right people at MySpace because we all know that at this level it’s about getting good people on board as much as it is defining specific roles.

MySpace is doing some really interesting work. Some people I talk to seem to have pre-conceived notions about the company, which I understand. But I feel it’s worth re-evaluating. The Developer Platform that just launched is a leading example of the level of openness, transparency and conversation MySpace is seeking with its audience.

And just today I saw the designs of something truly amazing that will hit your screens in the coming months. Like ground-breaking stuff.

If you got laid off from Yahoo! today, or are concerned you might be next then why not at least check out what MySpace is up to? Of course that offer extends to anyone who’s getting bored somewhere and wants to feel the fire in their belly again, and work with others of the same ilk.

Please hit me up with an email and your resume – my email address at MySpace is bmetcalfe {at} myspace.com.

(disclosure, I work with MySpace – but that’s hopefully pretty evident!)

UPDATE… Note to journalists/reporters/pro-bloggers: I do not have any comment to make on the reports of discussions between Yahoo!/News Corp (parent company to MySpace) – nor would I be authorized to do so if I did. Please don’t email or call me on this!

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(Ben Metcalfe is a founding member of the DataPortability Workgroup – which promotes and encourages the implementation of open-standards and open-access to data using technologies such a OpenID, OAuth, Microformats, APML and more)

DataPortability.org logo

Over at DataPortability.org, we’ve been sitting on some BIG news for the passed few days that I can finally blog about…

Google, Facebook and Plaxo have joined the Data Portability Workgroup.

It’s a massive and exciting breakthrough that we’re thrilled about. Data Portability is about true interoperability and data exchange (both between social networks and other apps we use). It’s breathtaking to see these companies sign up and align themselves with that ideal.

I’m also stoked to have some amazing people represent each of these companies on the group. Joseph Smarr will represent Plaxo (who I also work with on the OpenSocial committee), Brad Fitzpatrick will represent Google (a major coup seeing as he helped create OpenID ) and Benjamin Ling will represent Facebook (Benjamin is also ex-Google).

I’m on-site at MySpace today so can’t blog further reaction right now, but reaction can be found from Marshall Kirkpatrick at Read/WriteWeb and Duncan Riley at TechCrunch.

You can also join the public Google Group for Data Portability.

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I’m pleased to announce I’m advising and working with super-cool video start-up Seesmic! (that’s in addition to working with MySpace too)

Seesmic, for those who don’t know, is a video conversation site – somewhat reminiscent to Twitter. However, there is a lot more to it, much of which is still being built – the site is still in alpha.

The start-up vibe at Seesmic is grat, and in complete contrast with the corporate and enterprise clients I also work with. Both environments have their benefits, but for me it’s fantastic to be able to enjoy both. And Loic, VinVin, Gissele, Whit, Kathleen and the rest of the team are a complete blast.

I’m going to be working in a technical product development capacity at Seesmic. That’s a more general role than I tend to work with bigger clients but I like being a generalist and further more it’s kinda the way things are when you’re in a start-up! :)

However, the uber-cool news is that I’m going to also have my own show on Seesmic too. The current working title of the project is FastBen – a play on my nickname ‘dotBen’. As part of that, I’ll probably be in the daily Seesmic shows (subscribe in iTunes) when I’m in the office (mainly Fridays).

Today was no exception, and here it is:

Let me know what you think of Seesmic, and what I should do for my show!

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When I moved to San Francisco, just over a year ago, I came with three intentions:

  • To get further involved in social software, ideally social networking
  • To continue to my interest in platforms and API’s
  • To get involved with start-ups

I’ve already been working API stuff with Orange Labs, but with the two announcements I’ve got this week, I’m pleased to say that I’ve managed to achieve all my three goals (gosh, I’m going to need to think of three more!).

MySpace comes to San Francisco

So first up, I’m absolutely delighted to announce that I’m going to be working with MySpace to help advise them with their platform project(s). It’s an incredible, much talked about project (sometimes inaccurately), and I’m honored to have been invited to work on this with them.

MySpace approached me a few months back to see whether I’d be interested in working with them on this, and we’ve been discussing it for some time since. During that period they put their hat into the Google OpenSocial ring, which made the opportunity even more interesting!

BTW: that’s why you’ve not read anything about OpenSocial from me on the blog. I’m still yet to find out how OpenSocial fits into MySpace’s wider strategy – but perhaps that’s something I’ll be working with them to work out – which is why I can’t really about it talk much until I know what’s what.

So, there have already been raised eyebrows from a couple of close confidants upon informing them of my decision to work with MySpace, a subsidiary of Fox/News International, especially as I’ve always aligned myself with the values of the BBC. In the past, I’ve gone on record to say I’m not a fan of Fox News’s agenda and it’s one of the reasons I have decided not to own a TV here in the USA.

My reasons for taking on this gig are twofold: Firstly, I’m confident that MySpace is sufficiently separate to Fox News and no part of my contract involves working on anything to do with Fox News – in fact Fox News is an entirely different company as I understand it. Secondly, I’m particularly minded the project I’ve been asked to work on has values centered on open data and 3rd-party community development – values which I hold dear.

Passing up this contract would be a missed opportunity to help MySpace offer its 200m+ users the kinds of platform features we all want to see out of our chosen social networks.

When it comes to opportunities around platforms, MySpace really has been the 800lb gorilla in the social networking corner and it is tremendously exciting to think about the shear potential this project could have upon the social networking landscape.

I’m going to be working with MySpace 4 days a week out of their brand new San Francisco office, with one of those days spent down at MySpace HQ in Beverley Hills.

But there’s more…

GO WEST!!!

I’m also thrilled to be in final negotiations with a white-hot startup, recently announced on TechCrunch. The idea is fantastic, the team is fantastic and it also looks to be a lot of fun.

I’m going to be advising them 1 day a week on a number of things – but this time not so much platform stuff but more general product development and perhaps a bit of evangelism to-boot. I can’t go into specifics otherwise it might identify the company in question – which I don’t want to do until everything is signed.

However, what I will say is that I’m simply stoked at the thought of working with these guys.

–==–

I shall be continuing my independent consultant status here in USA, which means I shall be consulting for both companies on a contract basis rather than taking employment with either company. I shall be concluding my consultancy with Orange Labs next week – I shall miss the team there, you guys rock!

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