Emoticons solved a problem. Does your startup?

3372806360 573f146a24 b 590x442 Emoticons solved a problem. Does your startup?

Choosing a startup can go balls up. Photo: arj03


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For all the hate we give them – emoticons solved a problem that we didn’t know existed – distinguishing between sarcasm and seriousness.

Rather than acknowledge that emoticons simplify ambiguous comments, we say they’re ruining the english language, much like you’s guys and y’all¹. Not everybody is a wordsmith, so a little extra punctuation helps. If you’re goal is to be understandable rather than obtuse, then write for a well read 6 year old.

As long as we keep them in messages rather than essays, what harm do emoticons create? Possibly:

1. People hide behind emoticons - to avoid saying what they really mean. However, that’s nothing new, people use jokes to convey difficult messages all the time. And emoticons are better than excessive use of exclamation points! See!

2. Emoticons create laziness - Rather than find the right words for a sentence, people use emoticons as placeholders. Otherwise we’d all be talking like Aaron Sorkin’s right? Really? Removing some punctuation would improve language? How about removing the word ‘interesting’? I guarantee you your vocabulary will go up by 100 words that you replace it with.

3. They look annoying – Yeah that’s true. But I’m talking about the traditional ones (like this ;). All animated ones can go to hell.

4. They close a bracket that wasn’t opened – Then try my solution used in point 3. If you’re a programmer and this matters to you, create a game where you only use emoticons while they are part of a bracket.

Other useful innovations that people find annoying

  • Hashtags popularised by the Twitter
  • Organising parties and contacts were fixed by the Facebook
  • Video and picture sharing were fixed by the YouTube and Flickr
  • Shopping was simplified by Amazon and Ebay
  • Textspeak solved a problem communicating via sms. Unlike emoticons, they have no place in messages now. And they definitely have no place in everyday communication. Nor do any of the above.

The objective of startups is to solve an annoying problem

I keep hearing that all startups are doing are reinventing the wheel. If that’s true, then why do we still have these pain-points that need to be fixed:

Event bookings - Instagram is the new Facebook for 20 year olds. Meanwhile, Facebook is chasing the 50 year olds money. Why would they care, they own Instagram. Instagram does everything Facebook does except event invites. Who will create a party invite service for 20 year olds that integrates their calendar, Facebook event, concert tickets, and events from Instagram?

Identification - Facebook could become the drivers licence of the internet. Someone needs to act as a third party system to make this work. I’m not talking about privacy here, I’m talking about genuine situations where if you could verify your real identity, life would be much simpler. Eg. Emailing your bank rather than deal with a call centre.

Shopping carts – that integrate into your site are horrible. From a customers perspective: they timeout, forget details, allow people to sell products that aren’t in inventory. Installing one? Don’t get me started on setting up merchant accounts, paypal, google wallets. ZenCarts is a nightmare to customise for a wordpress site, so you end up buying the template.

Money transfer - Paypal and Western Union are expensive. Now all the banks want onboard. The same guys that take 2 weeks to send me a new bank card after fraud?

Phone calls while travelling - Telco’s charge a fortune for international roaming. The simplest system still involves buying a SIM in every country you travel to. International SIMs can cost more than taking your phone with you.

Robbed overseas? The best unofficial system is Africa’s prepaid mobile phones. The best system in Australia? The TAB. Deposit money into your account, give your login to the intended recipient, and they collect the money from any TAB in Australia. Why isn’t electonic money transfer as simple as using cash?


Think Smaller

Meanwhile, the best innovation is happening at a smaller scale. The best startups find solutions to smaller problems:

Sceptics – Reading an opinionated article whether they tell you or not? Rbutr automatically shows you the other side of the argument.

BloggingContentDJ organises blogging and social media updates onto a calendar. It will also integrate ideal posting times. It’s second amazing feature is that it researches what you should write about automatically.

Copy and paste – Tim Ferris just mentioned using Jumpcut stops you feeling like a sad keyboard monkey.

Passwords – I still use LastPass. One password to rule them all.

¹  These terms make people squeamish though they are quite logical. Most other languages have a word for a collective of others. Eg Vosotros in Spanish. Because we lost our word with the collapse of formal and informal language in English, bogans and hicks have replaced those words.

The real question is: what itch does your business scratch?


International Roaming Suck? Hack a Single Number While You Travel

flooded phonebooth krypto 4 International Roaming Suck? Hack a Single Number While You Travel

Flooding and phone calls don’t necessarily mix well [Pic: Krypto]


I was recently stuck on Koh Tao because of torrential flooding up to my waist, while the Thai Navy evacuated the islands.

This quick Skype hack gave my parents, friends, and interview subject one number to call me on anywhere in the world. It provided them with peace of mind for pennies. And kept me in contact even though the internet and local phones were down.


Because international roaming costs $AU 2.50/min, most travellers don’t take a phone, or have a different number in every country. If you’re logged into Skype, this hack costs nothing to receive calls. If your computer is off, it diverts to your mobile for around 5c – 30c a minute. If you’re near a computer, you just call your dad back for around 2.3c / minute.

And the best bit: don’t use it, don’t pay.


  • Your using a sim card in the local country, so you can choose the provider with the best coverage for the area.
  • Your Dad picks up a physical phone, calls you, and speaks to you. Much easier than teaching him to use Skype.
  • You don’t need to check your email every day, you’d get a call if something important happened.
  • Skype friends can call you on your mobile when you’re offline if you want.
  • The hack is also perfect for location independent workers. It has helped with business deals to know I can work while on the road.
  • My English friends pay a bomb to receive international calls on their mobiles. This way you sidestep that cost.

Simple Setup Instructions

1. Install Skype and buy credit. 

The credit is necessary to divert to your mobile phone. Don’t skimp now, set up the automatic debit system. It’s better than entering your credit card details in an internet cafe. When they top up your account, Skype emails you so you can track your expenses.  If you’re likely to use it quite a bit, consider getting a plan.

2. Register an account at Ring2Skype.com 

You get a free local numbers (with a 3 digit extension) in your home country. It’s also possible to register multiple numbers.

If Ring2Skype doesn’t have a number in your country, you can buy a SkypeIn number for $60 a year.

Disclaimer: I’m not receiving any benefit to promote any company in this post.

3. Forward your calls from Skype to a local sim card in the country your visiting.

Log in, and click skype > account… from the menu.

Then click on the ‘call forwarding’ button, and add a number to divert to. That’s it!

When you get to a new country, simply repeat this step when you grab a new sim card ($2.50 in many countries).

Iphone 4 Bonus:

If you’ve got an Iphone 4, install Skype and leave it running in the background. If you’re in range of free wifi, it will dial your phone for free.

You’re travelling right? so you don’t want to be on the phone all the time. In most emergencies, there’s nothing you can do from across the world for a few days. So, be selective with who you give the number, and tell them it’s for important calls only.

This solution was invaluable on my trip, even when I stuck around after the Navy evacuation.

How to use Facebook when you Travel Vietnam: Don’t be Speechless (Updated)

speechless How to use Facebook when you Travel Vietnam: Dont be Speechless (Updated)

Getting blocked from your hit of Facebook? Break out of rehab. Photo: demibrooke

If you are one of those facebook addicts that gets to Vietnam and finds they are in rehab, then fear not, there are hack-arounds. Using a DNS or or especially VPN increases your security, speed, and well, addiction.

Also works well for China.

Important update in the comments!

Get a private VPN for total security and a permanent cheap free fix

Since Vietnam got a lot harder to crack, I found three free VPN sites for your own laptop, ipod, or ipad.

VPN Reactor



This will secure the hell out of your internet, but be slower. If you want something quicker that doesn’t have a 30 minute limit, try Black Logic. My friends and I have had a great experience with them. Benefits include that it will give you fast, secure, and anonymous browsing. At $100, it might be a good idea to ask for this as a present for travel. This is the only solution that currently works in Vietnam and China, without a complicated 3 step process that’s impossible in net cafes.