Wednesday 30 May 2007

The Progress Paradox

by Ronnie Apteker

The progress paradox continually rocks our world. We have all these great time saving devices, but we just never seem to have any spare time. What's the deal here. All technology has ever meant to do was save us time, yet, with each new invention we seem to get more and more stressed out. So, I am wondering, is Vottle going to add to our stress, or not. Now, I am not saying that Vottle is a new invention, but it is a new project here in South Africa, and it is pretty cool. Where was I? Yes, is Vottle going to help us or not. Well, as the cliché goes, only time will tell. But waiting for time to tell is not something we enjoy, so I thought I would try to take some wild guesses.

South Africa represents in an interesting landscape, especially when it comes to the media. From what I understand, our leading newspaper companies, for example, made record profits last year doing what they have been doing since the beginning. And, when we look at what is happening in America and the rest of the world all the smart money appears to be pointing to the Net. Yet, here down South some key areas of the online world are still set to explode. Why is this? The phone company for one has been slow to roll out broadband access in a big way. All the telephony activity in South Africa seems to be oriented around cellular communications. The end result is that the old school media companies have been somewhat "protected". But, South Africa is not an island. By the time of the 2010 World Cup Soccer I estimate that high speed Internet access will be mainstream here in South Africa and when that is a reality so we will see a shift in consumer behaviour from the physical to the online world. Sites like, in my view, are well positioned. I think these guys were ahead of their time. The big migration is still coming. And so will there be a move from paper based classifieds to web based services. Sites like in America are a case in point. We estimate that will gain momentum slowly and a we move towards 2010 Vottle will be well positioned too.

But is Vottle going to make our lives better? As I said at the start, the progress paradox has us trapped. Will Vottle be another time saving device that adds to our stress? Well, for one thing, no sooner had we launched the site just a year ago than we saw the scammers and spammers come out of the proverbial virtual wood-work. Where on Earth do these guys suddenly come from? And yes, they added to our stress. But, we responded quickly with all kinds of tools to combat these parasites. Yes yes, I am all over the place as usual. So, the answer is: yes, we believe that Vottle does offer us a better alternative than its physical based counterpart. Now not all shifts from analog to digital have resulted in better lives for us all. Digital photography is a good example. Yes, we have more pictures being taken than ever before but we have less photographs to hold in our hands and enjoy. The romance of taking photographs is dying. Everyone has a camera these days and we snap away all the time and in doing so we trivializes what was once called "a Kodak moment". Imagine, there is a whole new generation that doesn't know what a Kodak moment is. When the world was dealing with 35 mm film we had to take our time with each photograph because it cost money and because you simply could delete the frame and shoot again. The result was that more love and care went into capturing a moment. There was more effort and more inspiration. Now, I am not saying that digital cameras are cool. They certainly are a miracle of the world today. But, we pay a price for this convenience. And that price is our souls. The progress paradox is all about our souls and about the move from quality to quantity. Digital cameras are all about quantity and the old-fashioned 35 mm machines of the last century are all about quality. But, when we look at the world of the classifieds we can see a definitive improvement when going digital. For one, we can attach pictures in sharp colour and high-resolution detail. And then, we can really go to town when it comes to text descriptions and more. But, the primary advantage is the interactive nature of the Internet whereby a potential buyer and contact the seller via email or Skype, etc. This allows faster results, more reach, greater rewards. And lastly, the ability to include a rating system is invaluable. There is so much emphasis in the online world in protecting users out there against scam artists that the online world of classifieds represents an exciting and powerful departure from its physical based newspaper counterpart.

Now, through in that fact that many of these new offerings are free, like, and you have a compelling proposition. So, again, the Vottling team believes that their online service will add something to our lives. We believe that this is a cool new offering down South and we are hoping to attract a cool membership base.

Sunday 27 May 2007

So, how did the Vottle project begin and why ?

by Ronnie Apteker

A bunch of us at Internet Solutions have been exploring and investigating where the buzz online is happening for as long as we can remember. The Net certainly is going through a second wave of explosive activity in the area of social networking, mash-ups, online video, VOIP, etc. One area that really captured our imaginations was in the user-driven content arena, and Craigslist was our catalyst here. We were all amazed at how this phenomena has taken shape and we decided we were going to have some fun and try and break some ground here at the tip of Africa.

The Vottle project is exactly that, a project. There is no income generation and there is no business model. There is just a vision, a passion and a bunch of goals. For a start, we have a very long list of technical stuff we want to roll out over the next 6 months. Our mission is to try and establish an online brand here in South African and to grow some critical mass in the classifieds space. It is not an easy task as the competition is intense and our time and resources are limited. But we are having fun and we are meeting our deadlines, well, almost (we keep coming up with new features to add all the time).

Internet Solutions (IS) has always been an inspired and colourful place and we have tackled a bunch of unusual projects over the years. From the comedy fund raiser, Laugh Out Loud, to our involvement with the Heartlines project, the list goes on and on. But we got thinking last year: let’s go back to our roots and take on a technical challenge. And after much soul searching it was decided that the online classifieds space represented the greatest challenge and the had the most potential for us to weave some high-tech magic.

IS is an intense business. It is filled with eccentric and smart people and there is a constant energy in the air. The pressure never ends and the Vottle project gives us a chance to focus on something that is not part of the bottom line. It is a vehicle for expression and it is an opportunity to push the envelope. Yeah, we dig it. We love giving Vottle demos. People are amazed at the integration into eBucks, for example, or the ease at which it allows you to make a posting.

The name Vottle has raised a bunch of questions. Yes, it is a quirky name, but then so is Google and Yahoo, etc. We wanted something that had a unique sound to it, we wanted something in the .COM space, and we wanted something that sounded like a verb as well as a noun. So, the saying became “Just Vottle it”.

Another question we get asked is “Why is this free?”. Like I said, this is a project, an experiment of sorts, a vehicle for us to have fun. Perhaps in time, if we ever do gather some mass, we can look at income generation, but that is years off. For now, we want to keep adding new features and we want to keep the content growing, ie, we want to get people to post more and more stuff. The more adverts we have on Vottle, the more there is for people to explore. User-driven content is a fascinating domain and we are hoping that the Vottle project will provide us with some new insights over time.

We are very happy with what has been built so far. The technology we have in place is cool. It work well and it is fast. We have had very few bug reports. And, we hardly ever get support queries on how to make postings etc. In fact, the most common question we get asked is “Is this really free?”.

Our current work is focused on rolling out a feed from This is a big win/win scenario. We get to aggregate content and gets to extend their service offering. We aim to aggregate content in some of the other popular classifieds categories, namely, motor vehicles and jobs. Also, the category of electronics and computers is something else we will consider soon with respect to aggregation. After this, our next big milestone is to put an API in place to allow for the integration of Vottle adverts into corporate intranets. We envision rolling out a free corporate service whereby a company’s intranet can have a classifieds section with adverts that are powered by Vottle. This is all about establishing a brand and pushing the envelope.

Who are the Vottlers?

So who are the people behind Well many have claimed that is so advanced that it actually artificially created itself, a type of self-evolving cluster of code who’s roots were allegedly downloaded from planet Xebian in sector 15 of the Nadamix galaxy. Who knows about the code, but these are the people or “Vottlers” behind “The Vottle Project”.

Ronnie Apteker

Apteker was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1967 and attended high school and university in Johannesburg where he graduated Cum Laude from the University of the Witwatersrand with an M.Sc in Computer Science in 1994. Apteker studied computer science for nine years and started the country’s first Internet commercial service provider in 1993. Internet Solutions (IS) has been one of South Africa’s most successful post-apartheid businesses, employing over 1000 people and winning numerous technology awards. Ronnie has authored a number of papers that have been published both locally and internationally. In February 1994, Ronnie was invited to present a paper in San Jose, California on Distributed Multimedia at the annual meeting of the International Society for Optical Engineering. This paper was subsequently published in the SPIE/IEEE proceedings. Apteker is also the author of two books and he writes the Funny Money feature every Friday in the Business Report with his comedian friend John Vlismas. Apteker sponsored and produced the successful Laugh Out Loud fundraiser in 2002, and he is also involved in film production. Ronnie has helped produce 6 features films and his latest endeavour is Footskating 101 ( Apteker also sits on various boards and committees within South Africa and is involved with many charity organizations and fundraising initiatives. Apteker is a founder member of the Vottle project.

Greg de Chasteauneuf

(Follow me on @degrumpysmurf)

Greg started in the IT industry at an early age, coding in Basic on a clone Apple II. After school he studied as a programer, coding in good old assembler, mind twisting prolog and still he’s personal favorites C++ and Perl (which he rarely gets to use these days). In 1996 he started working for Internet Solutions, where he met Apteker. Greg has been involved in various projects over the years from Metro Area Wireless Networking, MPLS VPN’s, Internet Routing and Peering Architectures, Network Security, Voice over IP and IPTV. More recently he is one of the founding members of a free classifieds web site and a non-profit “Million Dollar Pixels Site” aiming to raise R1million for HIV/AIDS.

Colin Peterson

Colin began playing with computers back in 1983 when he built his first computer, a UK101 which had a whole 8k of memory – the UK101 died a long time ago but he does still have a working Casio PB-100. He however followed his true passion for music when he studied and took up a career in the music/arts field as a studio and front-of-house engineer for a few years. His attraction to computers eventually got the better of him and he made a radical change in careers. He started out working for SDD (Siltek) and then moved to a small company called IS (Internet Solutions). Over the years he touched on most aspects of the IT industry and has finally settled down to a career in software development. He moved around the industry and has worked for Internet Solutions, Prism and Multichoice amongst others. He currently runs his own business, Electronstream that provides software development services in multiple environments and platforms and partners with Habanerosoft. He is also one of the founding members and principal developers on the Vottle project. If he is not coding you will probably find him spending quality time with his missus, cooking, playing guitar, recording/mixing in ProTools or playing with his dogs.

Andrew Murray

Andrew has been a computer geek since he was born in 0×7BC. He learnt to program BASIC on a Sinclair ZX Spectrum, progressing to Borland Pascal and x86 Assembler by age 14. While still at school he was the first national finalist in the Old Mutual Computer Olympiad to have a girlfriend, and in 1996 he started part-time telephonic support work at ICON, part of Internet Solutions (IS). Andrew completed his MCSD and B.COM (Unisa) part-time while working towards becoming a Systems Architect at IS. Andrew is one of the founding members of Vottle, but has since moved on to dedicate himself to Mobo, a NYC-based mobile commerce startup. When not working, Andrew attempts to fly small aircraft, plays the piano and guitar very badly, and makes plans to travel. He has accumulated many such plans now.

Richard van Katwijk

Richard was born in Estcourt Natal in 1975. From his primary school days he played with computers such as the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and a ZX81. He started writing programs in Basic, and it wasn’t long before his ZX81 was in desperate need of a memory upgrade in the form of an external 16k RAM pack. He continued writing software throughout High School, and after a short stint studying Electronic Engineering he joined the family farming business in 1994, setting up the companies first PC, installing databases, writing payroll systems and eventually led the business to install their first network.

Deciding that there was more to learn, he went on to do his BSc degree in Computer Science at the University of Natal in Durban, graduating Cum Laude. He joined Internet Solutions in 1998 while the company (and the Internet) were still in their infancy, and had a fruitful career spanning more than 9 years, during which he filled roles as Network Installations Engineer, Network Infrastructure Engineer, Access Solutions Product Developer, Systems Integration Engineer and finally took on a business role as Product Manager and Developer for the companies Access Business Unit.

Having been involved with Vottle not long after its inception, Richard initially looked after the projects infrastructure and finally decided to end his career at IS and dedicate his time fully to the project as a Systems Developer When he’s not Vottling you’ll find him hard at work renovating his home, working in the garden or spending time with friends and family.

Justin Spratt

Justin Spratt was born in Durban in 1976 but moved to Australia when he was 2 with his Australian father and South African mother. He returned to South Africa at 19 and finished a degree in Commerce, majoring Finance and Economics (cum laude). In 1998 he then did his honours in Finance (cum laude) before completing a MCSE in early 1999. Justin then went to London and took up a job at Morgan Stanley in Treasury. He finished his stint at Morgan Stanley and London in 2003 on the Credit Derivatives trading desk. After returning to South Africa in 2003, he purchased an IT Security business which he later divested before joining Internet Solutions as Product Development Manager in the Applications space. While in this role, he started his MBA at Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) due for completion later this year (2007). In July of 2006 he moved across the business at Internet Solutions to Account Management role and currently looks after some of Internet Solutions larger clients. Justin was a late comer to the Vottle crew.