John Merrells

October 29th, 2011

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Cease yo Jibba Jabba

June 22nd, 2009

Update: I’ve removed the links in this posts to the Jibba Jabba website in. I’ve been working away on something for the past six months, and am ready to release it now.

Oft heard by my children, and now the name of my current project.

Lately I have been experiencing  a bit of writers block, so I figured I just needed to start afresh with a blank slate. I started yet-another-frickin-blog over at Just knowing that I had no audience at all really did loosen things up a lot. As a result, of course, it’s a complete drivel, but I did actually make something kind of useful. It’s a Natural Language Text Classifier service, which you can give a document and in response it’ll tell you what language it was written in. That’s it. It won’t win the Nobel prize for adding meaning and purpose to a generation, but it did make me feel pretty good to get something out there.

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David Boreham goes native

September 20th, 2008

David Boreham goes native

Top news just in from the Billings Gazette, Montana. David Boreham has flipped his badge. Yes, he’s now an American. So, Mr. Bush can now draft him now and send him to Iraq. Is that Victoria Beckham on his left?. Send her too please!

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Blogging about blogging

May 25th, 2008

This post is going to be as tedious as the post ‘It’s been three years since my last blog post… and I still have nothing to say’ and the post ‘I’m taking a break from blogging…’. This is a post about blogging. A post about Pimping Up my blog.

Since my failure to get OpenID working well with my WordPress installation, I’ve decided to start with something a bit simpler, and then based hopefully upon that success build on upwards. So…


Twitter – I’m still not quite sure what the point of Twitter is, but I’m giving it a go. Adding a Twitter Badge to the sidebar was super easy. I just had to cut and paste some HTML from there into my theme’s sidebar.php. I had to add the ‘Follow me’ link at the bottom.

I can now send an update to my own blog from Twitterific on my Mac desktop, or I can send a text message from my phone. Look see! I can micro-blog about my breakfast.


AddThis – The next mini-project is to make my posts easier to share. The AddThis Button seen just below this post, and every post on this blog, allows the reader to share this post with others through any of the popular link sharing systems. I achieved this by downloading and installing a WordPress plugin provided by AddThis… super easy peasy.


FeedBurner – To make my blog easier to subscribe to I’ve published an RSS through FeedBurner. I enabled two things, a link to ‘subscribe in a reader’, and a form for subscribing by email. Both were provided as snippets of code to be cut and pasted into sidebar.php. I did have to edit them a bit to make them fit style-wise.

The FeedBurner website provides a lot of configuration options – too many I think. It took me a while to work out how to get to the email subscription page. Anyway, I’ve now subscribed to my own feed, so I have one subscriber. Woohoo!

[...To Be Continued...]

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wordpress and openid

May 22nd, 2008

Goal of the day: OpenID enable this blog


what does this mean?

Well in abstract terms OpenID is an enabling technology that allows an internet user to mediate the flow of their digital identity information between websites. The user establishes a persona URL, like this blog, an identity URL managed by their Identity Provider, then mediates exchanges with other websites, known as Relying Parties, through their browser.

Diagrammatically the parties and network protocol look like this:

OpenID Protocol Flow

Typically, the identity information that is being moved is either assertions about authentication or attributes that contain personal information. An authentication assertion is a cryptographic mechanism for asserting that you are who you say you are, and personal information attributes are things like your first name, last name, email address, etc.

In the context of a blog that translates into the following functionality:

1) The blog authors can log into the blog using their OpenID identifier, rather than remembering a blog specific username and password. So, one less thing to remember.

2) When commenting the blog reader can identify themselves using their own OpenID identifier, and rather than typing in their contact information it can be requested from their profile.

3) The blog author could use the URL of their blog as an OpenID identifier, either by delegating that identifier to another OpenID provider, or by making the blog itself into a provider.

Why do this?

Well, I just wanted to get a hands on appreciation of the state of the digital identity infrastructure available today. So, how do we go about this project? Well, there are resources available on the net, it’s just a matter of bringing them all together. The first step is to establish a digital identity identifier with an identity provider.

Create an OpenID identifier

So, let’s begin with the simple stuff. I created for myself an OpenID identifier at JanRain’s myOpenID service, which is a well known provider. The identifiers it provides are of the form, so my identifier is


Delegate a Persona URL to an OpenID identifier

The next step is to delegate the persona URL to the OpenID identifier. This can be done using a WordPress plugin written by Will Norris, called WP-YADIS. Nasty name, but once configured with the name of the identity provider ( and the identifier ( it will effectively allow me to use my blog URL as my identifier. It does this by adding a couple of link tags to blog web page. You can use View-Source to check they’re there.

Now, when confronted with a request for my OpenID identifier I can type the more personal, instead of the slightly less personal

Let’s test it with . I type in my delegated identifier (, and it redirects my to the myOpenID verification page.

OpenID Verification

It worked. Excellent. But, it would have been nice if the verification page had also displayed the delegation identifier. I wonder if the protocol supports that?

Author/Commenter Login by OpenID

Will Norris, et al, have written a plugin called WP-OpenID, which supports both author and commenter login via OpenID.

Once installed the only configuration requirements are to add the identifier URL for each of the authors.

This is where I’m stuck for the moment. I add my identifier, which I can see has been authorized by my provider, but it doesn’t appear on the admin page. I wonder what’s gone wrong? More investigation is required…

Your Identity URLs

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Cohesive FT is in InfoWord’s Top Ten

May 20th, 2008

My friend Alexis Richardson is a provider of elastic to the financial world. Well, a provider of “Elastic Servers” that is, which are collections of applications packaged as virtual servers. The company he co-founded, Cohesive FT, has just appeared in InfoWorld’s top 10 tech startups for 2008. Hurrah!

The company name and corporate web pages are somewhat abstract, but it’s clear that there’s something significant going on here from the community forming around their technology platform. Users are free to assemble a collection of applications, called a stack, and publish them for others to make use of, amortizing the cost of their creation and configuration.

Cohesive FT

In a similar vein is Kimbro Staken’s company JumpBox, which packages single applications as virtual servers. They just raised another round of funding and it looks like they have revamped their website to have that popular three-things-on-the-home-page look. They are focused on solving the problem of getting users from download to running application as quickly as possible, which is a hurdle that users are putting less effort into jumping over. JumpBox gets less attention than they deserve, probably because they’re based out of Pheonix Arizona, where startups are thin on the ground.


Kimbro and I were competitors for a while, back when we were both working on native XML databases, I was working on DB XML and he was working on dbXML. Notice the subtle capitalization difference there!

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Wine Find ™

May 12th, 2008

I drank a bottle of wine yesterday – not much news in that really, since it’s a regular occurance. But, I happened to browse the verbiage on the back of the bottle and I noticed that part of the label was detachable. It had a tab that read ‘TO REMEMBER PEEL HERE’… and it had a URL… it was a physical browser bookmark. A business card for a bottle of wine. What a genius idea!

Nobilo Bookmark

I emailed the winemaker, Nobilo, and a nice lady there, Jane Bennett, replied:

We worked with our label printers to use this concept on our Nobilo wine labels. Unfortunately, we cannot take claim for inventing the idea. I am glad you liked it though.

I found the label maker, Collotype:

Collotype Labels

It’s a great idea, but I think they could do with some help with their marketing. “Wine Find ™” is what’s it’s called, with the slightly disturbing sounding tag line of “The silent salesperson”. I couldn’t find any validation or testimonials that it actually works. I wonder if it does…

Wine Find (tm) - The Silent Salesperson

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April 22nd, 2008

In March last year I visited London and to start a conversation about ‘UK vs US’ entrepreneurialism, and in a small way I helped pushed along this idea of a trade mission.

Ideas are easy, execution is hard. Congratulations to the team that put this together:
Oli Barrett, Julia French, and Jim and Bron.

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Worse things happen at zee.

April 17th, 2008


Redefining search… with a red animated zebra?

The result of applying the ‘Cindy Crawford’ test has her homepage at position 11 in the results. Not so good.

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Cuill Funding

April 15th, 2008

Cuill announced its funding today – $25 million from Madrone and $8 million from Tugboat and Greylock.

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25 Beautiful Minimalistic Website Designs

November 21st, 2007

Gadzookes! Someone out there likes this blog design. I just got a heck of a lot of traffic from Vandelay Design and another site that appears to have the same content, in Japanese.

a thumbnail of this blog

This explains the odd email I got last week taking me to task over the copyright statement in the footer of this page. Apparently I’d committed the unholy act of removing the ‘WordPress Copyright’. I patiently explained that the content of the website was indeed my copyright, since I’d authored it, and that as far as I knew WordPress was available under an open source license. Unsatisfied, the emailer threw his killer punch… ‘All Rights Reserved, that’s what I’m taking issue with’…. Hmm, so, what exactly does ‘Copyright (c) 2007. All rights reserverd’ mean I wondered:

The phrase All rights reserved was once a necessary formal notice indicating all rights granted under existing copyright law are retained by the copyright holder and that legal action may be taken against copyright infringement. … While it is commonplace to see it, this notice is now superfluous, ….(Wikipedia::Copyright)

Triple damn – he had me there – I had failed to live up to the highest standards of minimalism.

In any case the design of these web pages has nothing to do with me. I blame Ben Saunders. When he’s not doing really manly things in the Arctic, or planning to do really manly things in the Antarctic, he throws together some pretty spiffy web pages.

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Cuill Desk Jockey

November 10th, 2007

Ahh – there’s nothing quite like waking up in the morning, strapping on some chaps and riding a desk all day. I’m building a distributed query processor. It’s a continuation of my work on Berkeley DBXML and on the Netscape Directory Server. At Cuill we have a lot of data, and we have a lot of servers… we’re building a search engine…. this is going to be fun :-)

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Cuill is ‘kool’

November 1st, 2007

Cuill Logo

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simplification – a lot of email

July 18th, 2007

I get a lot of email, perhaps a few hundred messages per day. A badge of honor? Rather time consuming I’d say. The past few years I’ve just taken it to be the cost of doing business in the tech industry. A lot of stuff flows in, that’s how you stay on top of things, whether you can consume it all or not. Well, I thought I was getting a lot of spam, but upon analysis it seems to be mostly self inflicted. Whenever I browse across a page of interest I’ll offer up an email address to keep abreast of updates. Since I use my email client as a Todo list and as a news reader, it gets kinda backed up a bit. So the majority of email is actually marketing messages and newsletters and mailing lists. The problem is – I never unsubscribe. I’ve been deleting the same messages month in month out for years. Mindless busy work. Why oh why? But now I have decided to take action! I’ve decided to take whatever time it takes to stop these messages. So far it’s taken me couple of hours a day for a whole week, but I’ve stopped the bulk of it . There are some troublesome ones… websites that ask for long lost passwords… and emails without unsubscribe links… I’ve even _shock_horror_ had to engage in conversation with a real human. Bizzare. But now I have time to blog.

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Entrepreneurial Ignorance

March 29th, 2007

I first read about the Orders of Ignorance in an ACM article written by Phillip Armour in 2000. Since that time they have proved a valuable guide to both my software development and business decision making. I’d love to paste the whole thing here, but it’s (c) the ACM, and I don’t want to infringe upon them, so let me reflect upon them in relation to entrepreneurship.

The ‘Five Orders of Ignorance’

Ignorance Order One is what you know that you know. As an entrepreneur it’s OK to be arrogant about what you know that you know, that’s what drives you forward against all the odds and the naysayers.

Ignorance Order Two is what you know that you don’t know. You must adopt humility in equal measure to your arrogance about what you know you don’t know. Solicit advice from experts and listen carefully. Hire people smarter than you with the skills that complement yours.

Ignorance Order Three is what you don’t know that you know. This is about trust of your gut instincts. Don’t hire people who don’t feel right and don’t do deals with people you don’t feel good about. Believe in your values and principals.

Ignorance Order Four is what you don’t know that you don’t know. This is something to fear in yourself and others. Avoid the fakers and the liars. If they can’t be moved to Ignorance Order Two then you don’t want to be dealing with them.

Ignorance Order Five is not knowing about the Orders of Ignorance. Congratulations dear reader as you are no longer classified by this order :-)

I was prompted to write this post by this conversation about the US versus the UK entrepreneurial environment over at Vecosys. I spoke briefly about this during an event last week in London organized by Robert Loch of InternetPeople. He paraphrased my comments there, so I thought that I’d best flesh them out a bit.

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Social Media Consensus Workshop

March 28th, 2007

Julia French of Covered Communications has arranged a workshop event about the effect of Social Media on society. I’ve been supporting this effort as I believe that entrepreneurs will save the world and that effecting positive social change through social media is key way to empower the economically and politically disadvantaged. There’s some cool people coming… including me… Here’s the invitation…

I would like to invite you to attend the Social Media Consensus workshop on Thursday, March 29th from 10am to 2pm in Palo Alto, at the Socialtext Headquarters. The Social Media Consensus is built out of the desire to measure the impact social media has on society. We would like to invite you to come to this working session to provide your leadership insights.

We will be discussing the impact social media has on society as a whole, how this impact should be measured, and what its implications are. The workshop will be held in a free format and will revolve around the following topics:

  • Community Site Usage Patterns – ala Wiki Patterns
  • Participant Personas – comparison of offline and online personas
  • How to build and sustain a community
  • Universal Definitions for aspects of Community Sites
  • Definition of Metrics for Value Measurement

655 High Street
Palo Alto, CA

Proposed Agenda:

10–11 – Introductions and opening
11-12 – Discussion around Social media impact
12- 1 – Lunch and podcasting interviews with Ross Mayfield, and Michael
1- 2 – Break down on next steps and firm outline of topics discussed


Written about the event by Stowe Boyd Social Consciousness, Consensus, and Impact, and by Liz Henry Social Media Consensus Workshop, Liveblogged.

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An Entrepreneurial Conversation

March 13th, 2007

I’m in London this week meeting with business angels, venture capitalists, journalists, bloggers, and entrepreneurs: the people that comprise the startup eco-system. The topic I’m exploring is ‘UK vs US Entrepreneurship’ – the similarities, the differences, the problems, and the solutions. I think there are problems and I’d like to be a part of the solution. Please participate in this conversation if you’d like to be a part of it too.

People I’ve met with this week: Max Aitkin, Henry Lin, Allan Kelly, Daniel Waterhouse, John Wright, Dave Sag, Paul Youlton, Jeremy Ruston, Chris Vine, John Hornbaker, Robert Robertsson, Oli Barrett, Jason Ball, David Smith, Sam Sethi, Avid Larizadeh, Alexis Richardson, Ron Pettengill, Anish Kapoor, Philip Hemsted, Ryan Gallagher, Cedric Sellin, Davor Hebel, Andrew Davies, Ben Saunders, Mark Lloyd, Modwenna Rees-Mogg, Nic Brisbourne, Stephen Allot, Robert Loch, David Shieldhouse, Jemima Kiss, …

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The American Dream

March 11th, 2007

I was recently interviewed by Lana Clements of Emigrate magazine about my experience moving to the states. Her questions centered around ‘The American Dream”, which I had never really thought about in relation to myself. It was quite thought provoking.

Lana: When did you move to America and on what visa?

John: I’ve moved twice. Firstly in 1997 on a H1, then in 2005 on a H4 (spouse of H1). Having moved through several startups and not having hung about long enough to collect green cards we had to move back to the UK in 2003 for a couple of years of self imposed exile. After a one year break you can apply for another H1. We now have green cards and life is considerably easier.

Who did you emigrate with (ages)?

First time with my wife, second time with wife and son (3).

Why did you choose to emigrate to America?

Being in the software industry it was an easy choice for me. I found my career in the UK to be bounded by ‘tenure-ocracy’ and the poor environment for entrepreneurs. Reading Douglas Coupland’s book ‘Microsurfs’ encouraged me to seek out an opportunity to travel to Seattle to work with Microsoft for a few weeks. America seemed familiar, rather than foreign, probably because I’d grown up on a diet of American television shows and Hollywood movies. But, the company wasn’t for me, so I followed a friend David to Netscape in Silicon Valley.

What does the ‘American Dream’ mean to you, if anything, was it a factor in your decision to move?

I did dream of moving to America. I mean I read about it and thought about it a lot. But it wasn’t motherhood and apple pie or tasteless beer and baseball, it was more the Silicon Valley dream of cheap capital funding crazy plans to make the world a better place. I found the ‘merit-ocracy’ that I was looking for.

Do you consider America to be a land of opportunity, if yes in what way?

Yes. The culture varies a lot within the states, so I can only really comment on California, and then only on the peculiarities of the San Francisco Bay Area.

I’ve found that people are open and welcoming here, mostly because a huge proportion of the population have recently moved here from somewhere else. California is only 150 years old, so even the Californians talk about where their families are from.

It’s easier to be an entrepreneur here, than it is in the UK. It’s a worthy thing to be, and it’s not an offense to fail, provided you didn’t materially prove yourself incompetent, as it’s all part of the learning process. Better to fail quickly then be mediocre and waste valuable human capital.

There are environmental factors too. More resources available for starting up, and a generally more positive outlook to life. No whining down the pub, people just get on and build something cool. Possibly it’s the better weather, or maybe it’s because it’s just less crowded here. Drive between two cities in the US and you’ll be amazed by the huge empty spaces.

Do you think the American Dream is alive and well?

It’s fundamental to the society and economy here. Everyone buys into the idea that they will be better off in the future. From a cursory glance you can see a class divide here on mostly racial lines, the Latinos do all the manual work, but happy do so, as their kids are citizens, going to college to get their degrees, so that they can become professionals.

On the flip side their economy is consumption driven which is driving up an enormous national debt that’s putting huge pressure on their currency. But, the wages are high and the cost of living is still low.

Are entrepreneurs the modern day American pioneers – believing that they can grasp the opportunities offered by America to become whatever you want to become, start all over again and/ make it happen/ just as they dreamed?

Yes. I think entrepreneurs the world over are trying to make the world a better place. If you have the urge to create and express yourself by being an entrepreneur then location is no excuse for not getting on with it. Being in America just might be a bit easier in some aspects.

Have you found any contradictions between the American Dream and the reality of life in America

On first arriving it felt very familiar, but you’re faked into it by the common language and the cultural cues. But then I realised that it is a foreign country after all. It’s the future of society and the past all at the same time. Bits of the infrastructure here are laughably backward (the immigration service for example), and they’re mostly convinced that everything is the best here and not that interested in finding out what’s going on elsewhere. After the always-on international news culture in the UK it can be a shock to find that there is no quality news source in the US… to the point where people just don’t bother, because how could anything abroad possibly effect them.

Why did you choose to relocate in California and not another state?

Silicon Valley :-)

Having done almost ten years here I think I’d like to try the east coast. New York appeals, and the timezone is more amenable for my US/UK company.

Do you think that California represents one of the most attractive modern examples of the American Dream for British people?

Yes, but then I know Americans who are emigrating from California to other places. Some because of politics, some because of economics.

Vancouver is very popular for the quality of life aspects, although the taxes are high.

China is the place to be. Huge amounts of inward investment and high growth rates. It’s the new frontier where big European and American companies are fighting it out to own that huge emerging market.

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i am Lunch Meet

February 20th, 2007

I was interviewed by Eddie and Irina for Podtech’s LunchMeet series.

“Today we meet with John Merrells, CEO of Embrace Mobile, at the Hatfactory in San Francisco. Merrells’ company provides market research surveys to mobile phones. He tells us a bit about how a simple idea on the face is actually quite complex in implementation. With hundreds of cellular service providers and thousands of mobile devices around the world, mobile surveying poses some interesting challenges.”

Lunch Meet: We Survey Embrace Mobile

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Kiva – Personal Micro-Finance

December 11th, 2006 Logo puts a face on micro-finance.

Micro-finance means small loans. Not very remarkable, except in comparison with direct aide to developing countries. It turns out that bottom up grass-roots investments at the local level is more capital efficient and more effective at generating economic sustainability than top-down grants to governments and international NGOs. Loans rather than grants are made to individuals, communities, or businesses. The loans are usually made without any capital security or any interest on repayments. The only security is existing social ties, which works well, as evidenced by Kiva’s current repayment rate of 97%.

What makes Kiva special is the extension of those social ties across the internet – with a picture, a project proposal, and progress updates. Rather than a donor investing a sizable amount in a faceless fund, they can become an individual micro-financier building a portfolio of investments in $ 25 units.

What excites me about Kiva is that it makes micro-finance accessible to everyone, and it embraces the idea that entrepreneurs are a primary source of creative change and wealth creation. It’s also not positioned as charity, so much as it is positioned as social entrepreneurship – perhaps a more appealing way for the young and wealthy of the west to redistribute their wealth.

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