I have to confess that, on first sight, the video website VideoJug.com brought out all my most sexist assumptions. Judging from the website's expertise in professionally-made how-to videos about beauty and relationships with titles like "how to kiss someone passionately", I assumed that this was a site designed exclusively for ladies.
Not for the first (or last) time, I was totally wrong. As VideoJug's British-born CEO Nancy Cruickshank tells me, the site's male-female split is 50/50, and its average user is 39 – which, given VideoJug's 3.25 million visitors for July, adds up to a lot of 39-year-old guys watching online videos about improving their kissing techniques.
Both male and female viewers certainly have a lot to choose from on VideoJug. Beyond the meretricious kissing tutorial, the site features 43,500 professionally made films on topics including health, leisure and technology, as well as videos about pets, parenting and food and drink – thereby making VideoJug the largest curated library of short-form movie content on the internet.
VideoJug is the anti-YouTube. Its editorial staff rejects 90 per cent of the content submitted, and includes only a small proportion (currently around 3,500 videos) of user-generated content. In contrast to videos of gurgling babies or dancing dogs, the meticulously screened content on VideoJug has real editorial value.
Such high-quality content doesn't come cheaply. To pay for all these professionally made videos, the 50-person company – which has offices and production studios in London, New York and Santa Monica – has raised $30m (£15m) over the last 18 months, primarily from high net worth individuals.
So how does VideoJug make money? Like every other content-rich website: through advertising, of course. All the video on the website is free for users and, according to Cruickshank, the business gets its revenue through the sale of every kind of online advertising – from pre-roll and in-screen to channel and micro-site sponsorships. Clients include Microsoft, T-Mobile, Intel and Unilever. But Cruickshank did confess that she was "worried" about the way in which the site sometimes muddied the traditional church-state division between advertising and content, particularly on sponsored micro-sites.
For the CEO of a privately held start-up, Cruickshank – who took over the company late last year after running Hearst Digital in the UK and now regularly commutes between VideoJug offices in England and America – was relatively forthcoming about her company's revenue. In 2006, the company brought in around £100,000, according to Cruickshank. Last year, it did around £1m, while this year she says she expects earnings in the "single-digit millions". The company should be "close to profitability", she says, by the second quarter of next year.
VideoJug's slogan is "Life Explained. On Film". This is no exaggeration. Cruickshank and her Anglo-American team have done a very competent job building the internet's leading library of how-to video content. This is not a sexist site. Men and women will each find many useful films explaining life on VideoJug.
* It's not even mid-August, but the competition for the most overhyped new internet product of 2008 already has an odds-on favourite.
A couple of weeks ago, Cuil.com (pronounced "cool" and meaning wisdom or knowledge in Gaelic), a new search engine designed to challenge Google's market dominance, was launched in Silicon Valley with much marketing fanfare. Given that it was built by an illustrious team of ex-Google engineers, financed by $30m of venture capital and claiming to have indexed the world's largest search engine, Cuil seemed to be a pretty cool product.
It should have been called Cruel.com. On the first morning of its massively publicised launch, the search engine hardly worked at all because its servers kept crashing. Worse still, when the site could be accessed, the quality of Cuil.com's search was, at best, spotty and, at worst – particularly compared to the Google gold-standard – laughably unreliable.
Cuil.com offers start-up entrepreneurs an elemental warning in marketing strategy. You only get one chance to launch your company. So don't introduce your new product until it works. Such unforgivable hubris doesn't translate into wisdom – in Gaelic or any other language.
HP's computer joins the iPhone in getting all touchy feely
I touched the future of the computer last week and it felt pretty good. The Silicon Valley-based Hewlett-Packard (HP) invited me down to their high-tech Home of the Future to put my finger on their new touchscreen TouchSmart all-in-one personal computer. It was a memorably tactile experience and I suspect that this intuitive touch technology will eventually revolutionise the way in which we interface with our home computers.
Touch technology – which replaces the mechanical computer keyboard or mouse with the human finger – isn't a new development. Back in 1983, HP introduced its touchscreen HP 150 PC, the world's first touch computer. Twenty-five years later, Apple's iconic iPod Touch and its touch-enabled iPhone, above, have transformed the finger into the mouse of mobile computing. On the software front, Microsoft are promising touch-screen controls for the next version of the Windows operating system, due to be released next year.
But it's HP, the paragon of Silicon Valley innovation, with its unrivalled research and development resources, who are really driving the revolution. While HP use touch technology for a variety of their products, including their iPAQ pocket PC and Tablet notebook PCs, the company's main focus has been to add the feature to its all-in-one personal computers.
HP's first-generation touch PC, the TouchSmart, introduced a year and a half ago, was intriguing, but flawed by its sluggish speed and by Microsoft's underwhelming Vista operating system. The second-generation TouchSmart product, which HP has just introduced into both the US and UK markets, appears really sleek in its black matte finish and it comes with both more mature touch software as well as Intel's powerful new Core 2 Duo processor. HP's 40-person user interface group has built an entirely new touch layer on top of Vista which offers Touch-Smart owners the ability to crop photos, manage their iTunes libraries, fill their calendars and write their on-screen messages, all with their fingers.
HP's pioneering development of touch technology is changing the history of personal computing. As the physical finger comes to replace the mechanical keyboard and the mouse, so our interaction with our computers will seem more and more natural. Touch technology will change the internet too, radically transforming the nature of online gaming, messaging, e-learning and e-commerce. It will also, I hope, help eliminate much online fraud because, with touch technology, internet identity thieves should be much easier to catch.
So how can you touch the future? HP's latest 22in high-definition, wide-screen Touch-Smart PC is currently available in the UK at Harrods for £1,099. Not cheap, of course. But then this is one of those must-have hardware products that, I suspect, will eventually be viewed as a symbolic milestone in the reinvention of the personal computer.