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Closing the Sarkozy campaign chapter

As this campaign finishes, I congratulated Nicolas Sarkozy and his team, I learnt a lot and was proud to have the opportunity to be one of Sarkozy’s advisors during this campaign. I was impressed by the professionalism and enthusiasm of team. The work accomplished has been huge. A good occasion for me to come back to how I got involved.

I had never been interested much in politics and as the presidential elections approached, I thought it was a good time for me, as I was 34, to try to understand it better. I started by trying to make a series of podcasts with most political parties, except the extremes, left or right, which I am not very interested in. Thanks to my blog in France and the help of my readers, I podcasted many policital figures from all parties, to get a sense of who were the leaders. In 2006, I podcasted the socialists Dominique Strauss-Khan, Jack Lang, Arnaud Montebourg (before he was spokesperson of Ségolène Royal), the centrists François Bayrou (I was behind the camera for this one) and several conservatist party political figures, the most important one being of course the podcast with Nicolas Sarkozy.

The two political figures who impressed me the most were Nicolas Sarkozy and Dominique Strauss-Khan. After this series of podcasts, I started blogging about french politics and to be transparent with my blog readers, decided to tell them I decided early to vote for Nicolas Sarkozy and I said it on my blog in September 2006. It was for me a choice as a citizen and honesty I thought as a blogger, to say it.

Sarkozy’s team contacted me and offered me to become an advisor on Internet topics, I gladly accepted to participate in an Internet committee every week, a couple of hours, but that was all, I did not even take any membership in the party, and this is still the case today.

I started preparing my conference LeWeb3 in november 2006 and had the crazy idea to invite the three main presidential candidates to talk to the bloggers, at the very last minute. It was not prepared and was not an attempt for me to help Sarkozy as many people thought afterwards, but rather I thought an interesting opportunity for the participants of the conference, coming from 37 countries. Two candidates came, the centrist François Bayrou, who was “the third man” during the elections, and Nicolas Sarkozy. I would have not had any if only one of them, including Sarkozy, had accepted, especially as I said in public I was backing him. Bayrou took questions, Sarkozy delivered a speech without taking any questions -the absence of questions being not very appropriate with a room full of bloggers- and Royal refused to show up. Far from understanding the reaction I would get when I took this decision, I made the mistake of not asking the room what they thought about it and the reaction was huge and I explained myself in a very detailed way.

Six months after the conference, I know that most participants do not blame me for this and were happy about the opportunity. There will be another LeWeb3 in 2007, but I learnt from my mistakes and will be closer to the participants to make decisions, I have heard them. If I regret the way I handled it, I do not regret having had two candidates now a President talking to us, I am proud of it, as I think the Web influencers, the bloggers and the political figures should start getting closer to each other, talk and collaborate, rather than stay in two different circles of society.

Shortly after the conference, in December 2006, the Sarkozy team invited me to get much more involved, they asked me to join the campaign team as one of the internet advisors, which I accepted. The most intense moment of the campaign for me was when they invited me to be on stage with Nicolas Sarkozy, in front of tens of thousands of French people in the audience, and many more on TV as it was broadcasted live. I liked my role, I was live on the web, took thousands of questions from the Internet, was on IM and monitoring blogs during the entire debates (three of them in Paris, Lyon and Bordeaux). I selected the questions and asked them directly to Nicolas Sarkozy, who answered. When I thought the answer was unclear, I asked again several questions, until the people who asked them were happy about their answer, which was an interesting experience.

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photo: Marco Pirrone

I finally joined the Sarkozy campaign as one of Internet advisors and took care about the conversation. That means anywhere on web, in a decentralized way. Based on the previous debates experience, I thought I should start by finding a way to sort the questions and launched a digg-like for Sarkozy, debat-sarkozy, people could ask their question, then vote for the most important one, and Nicolas Sarkozy committed to answer the questions: 1500 questions were answered and more than 8000 comments appeared on the site, a good start.

We started having a very close relationship with bloggers from all political areas of society, invited them to the campaign headquarters every week to meet a political figure, about a thousand bloggers showed support to Sarkozy, many others who would not vote for him were still happy to be in touch with us, and by the dialog that was created. We also created groups for Sarkozy in most social software sites (Flickr, YouTube, Netvibes, dailymotion…). About one hundred bloggers showed up every week at the campaign headquarters, and not all of them were supporting Sarkozy.

I also launched an island in Second Life, l’ile Sarkozy, which has been an amazing experience. The island has been managed by voluntaries who created the buildings and monitored it 24 hours a day, more than 400 avatars joined a Sarkozy group and many became residents of the island. We survived attacks from opponents which were interesting to see, bumbs, naked people, insults, mines dropped, weapons, demonstrations…. The island has been packed during the entire campaign, reaching the SL max avatars limit most of the time. The most interesting for me was when we started streaming the debates at the real headquarters in the virtual hearquarter on SL and had lots of interactivity, we took questions from SL and had the political figure answer them. The conversation and bridge between the virtual and the real life was fascinating. The voluntary work has been impressive.

This is one of the most striking difference between the business and the political world. How much voluntary there is and all so how much aggressivity. For the first time in four years of blogging, I had to start moderating my french blog. Criticism, rumors, out-of-law and insulting comments came by hundreds every day, most of them anonymous. The socialists recognized that they even asked their supporters to get easier on my blog as some of them were just dedicated to flooding me with fake and anonymous comments. My blog has been moderated 24 hours a day and thousands of comments deleted, I wrote a charter of behavior and managed to keep the conversation going, less comments, but better quality, of course criticism is still welcome: I banned mostly insults (we can use normal french language) and anything against the law.

But the most important reason for me to join forces with Sarkozy was because I thought France had to become more entrepreneurial. The Internet can become an entire economic sector in our Country, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs by bridging the economic ecosystem between entrepreneurs, business angels, venture capitalists and other players as it is happening in Silicon Valley. I was pleased to work with Sarkozy’s team on the Internet program of the President and see that most of my proposals were added to the program. The first example is about helping entrepreneurs get funded: up to 50 000 € of wealth tax (that means millions of euros at an individual scale as the wealth tax is a few % of your net here) will be cancelled if the funds are invested in startups. Second example is tax free Internet activity at personal level to encourage people creating their own jobs such as selling on Ebay or blog revenues… The hope is to create thousands of people self employed by their own Internet activity, making them entrepreneurs. The entire economic program of Sarkozy is also very compatible to entrepreneurship: less taxes, more flexibility with hiring/firing, no 35 hours a week maximum, etc. There are many more measures planned and I trust Sarkozy will apply them.

As this Entrepreneur compatible program was seen good by many, I helped gather a list of hundreds of internet entrepreneurs, Internet users and bloggers to support Sarkozy and accept to say they would vote for him in a Country where it is not cultural to do so. Marc Simoncini, head and founder of Meetic the #2 dating site Worldwide, said in a podcast why he decided to back him despite the fact he had voted for the socialists all his life. Marc also wants to be able to create more easily in France and see the French more focused on work rather than complaining all the time. Pierre Chappaz, founder of several internet successes (amongst them Kelkoo, #1 in ecommerce, sold to Yahoo!), also joined as well as tens of other Internet figures in France. I cannot quote them all but thank them again.

The campaign has been a unique opportunity for me to discover the political world that I knew nothing about (and still don’t know much about), and realize that despite the differences with the business world, most people involved are great professionals, impressive by their commitment and seriousness.

It is now that Nicolas Sarkozy is elected that the most important part begins. Change France. Make it more entrepreneurial. More focused on work rather than complaining. More focused on the future than the past. I trust Nicolas Sarkozy to do the job, time will tell. I also trust the Internet will be important for his team.

It’s been lots of fun, learnt a lot, now I am back to business focusing in my next startup.

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French bashing at CafePress.com

French blogger and California resident Arnaud alias Des Grenouilles dans la Vallée spotted hundreds of French bashing illustrations at the popular CafePress service (here, here, here). His French readers started complaining at the company, I wonder why they approve these and also think it is unacceptable. It looks like this practice is common in America, SuperFrenchie follows french bashing daily.

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My French blog is on fire since I announced I would vote for Nicolas Sarkozy

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picture: Paris-Match showing Nicolas Sarkozy surrounded by journalists and a few accredited bloggers at the last UMP university, where 12 bloggers had a press badge, a first ever in France, I’m on the left corner ;-)

Hundreds of comments and more than 20 000 page views a day currently on my french blog as I announced that I decided to vote for Nicolas Sarkozy at the next 2007 presidential elections.

The reason I did that is that Nicolas Sarkozy, currently #2 in Government and future candidate is the only politician in France to my knowledge to say he wants to transform France into a “nation of entrepreneurs” when entrepreneurs are often seen as “enemies of the State” these days, so I can only support him. Of course, many people disagree… The French AP AFP and Reuters published the news straight from my blog so it’s also rock and rolling in the press… [-] Here the presidential race will probably be won with a very tiny portion of votes, so I anticipate blogs to play a big role in the elections.



Smoking increases in France

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photo © Franck Boston – FOTOLIA

For the first time ever since 2002, french consumption of tobacco increased by 2,8% between january and may 2006. The government has proposed that like in many european Countries now smoking in public places would be forbidden but with the pressure of the syndicate of tobacco resellers, they delayed the law.

I keep stopping and starting again, sad to say but the fact that you can see smokers everywhere in Paris (most of my friends smoke), especially in restaurants, help me fall again. When I am in the US, Spain or Italy I never feel like smoking because I don’t see that many smokers. I hope this law is in application in France too as soon as possible or will we be the last to ban smokers in restaurant ?

Anyway, I have stopped again for two months and I am quite decided this time, my running helps me a lot not to start again this stupid and terrible habit. What’s fun is that each time I stop for real, I hate smokers, including my friends !

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France’s mysterious embrace of blogs

Thomas Crampton tries to understand in International Herald Tribune why blogs are so mainstream in France:

“Already famed for angry labor strikes and philosophical debates in smoke-filled cafés, the French have now brought these passions online to become some of the world’s most intensive bloggers. The French distinguish themselves, both statistically and anecdotally, ahead of Germans, Britons and even Americans in their obsession with blogs, the personal and public journals of the Internet age. Just why the French have embraced blogs more than most is anyone’s guess, but explanations range from technical to historical and cultural.”

Thanks Thomas for quoting me.

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Nicolas Sarkozy’s blog

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Nicolas Sarkozy, number 2 in French Government and future presidential candidate has just launched his official blog today, coordinated by Claude Malhuret and Thierry Solère. As I advised them to launch a blog since my podcast with Nicolas Sarkozy, I am happy to see they finally did it.

Disclosure: I help Nicolas Sarkozy’s team on a friendly basis without being a member of the political party myself.



Quaero: 10 reasons why the French search engine will fail.

Here are 10 reasons why Quaero, the French search engine, will fail, and “by a frenchman”.

1- Can’t spell it.

How can you trust a project that has not been even able to get its domain name and that nobody can spell right

2- Centralized.

There are no centralized projects on the web that succeed. The web is a web and decentralized by essence. Look at Firefox and the way it takes market share against the centralized Internet Explorer, look at Wikipedia

3- Secret versus beta.

There are no successful secret projects anymore. With 60 million bloggers out there and the dramatic shift from an era of vertical communication into a many-to-many conversation, you have to build your products with the consumers using beta versions, going live and improving the product as you go, not in secret.

4- No buzz, no adoption.

Darwinism is the way the web goes and darwinism is the way startups go. At the very beginning you can feel immediately if an idea or an innovative project is catching up. Look at Skype, 100 million users without advertising but a huge conversational buzz since launch. Nobody knows what Quaero does and what it is exactly, when it will be released. Worse, if you search, you find Exalead, a french search engine supposed to be “better than Google” but that few people use.

5- A galaxy of actors who compete to get the subventions and don’t get much noticed for their latest web innovations

About 25 organisations are involved in Quaero, mostly french. Even though many have excellent reputation, none of them are really known for their innovation around the web today, I mean around the latest standards RSS, conversations, tags, etc. Of course there is Lycos Europe but is Lycos still on the cutting edge of Internet initiatives ?

6- Not really international.

Quaero is introduced by Jacques Chirac as a Franco-German initiative when Deutsche Telecom has already announced it will not take an active role anymore but just be an observer. It looks much more like a French patriotic initiative.

7- A neverending story.

Quaero has been announced as a 5 years project when Google is only barely 8 years old, where will Google be in 5 years when Quaero is finally launched ? In a French podcast, François Bourdoncle, President of Exalead, a company that is said to lead the “multiple heads missile” as he calls the “programme Quaero” admits he does not even know when it should be launched. It was supposed to be introduced in January 2006 and we are still waiting.

8- Not enough euros.

Microsoft barely exists in Search marketshare against Google with his MSN Search. Still, it will invest 1.1 billion $ in 2005 only on search against 260 M€ on 5 years for the French engine. Google generated more than $2 billion in revenues last quarter… We’re launching a competitor which will be five years late with fifty times less money…

9- Subventions euros are not worth venture capital euros.

Maybe Jacques Chirac was not told that Yahoo! and Google were created by Stanford students in their rooms. Sure Jacques Chirac was not told either that they were financed by venture capitalists. People who know the industry, know how fast it goes and help the startups as they grow on a daily basis. They also fight against each other to invest in the next round or decide to sell or let the company die if it fails. Subventions are allocated in a totally different way. Too much politics involved in who will get the “euro shower” and not enough results driven.

10- Google is a thousand startups

These are only a few of the ongoing Google projects. The entire company operates as a thousand startups as employees who have ideas are encouraged to launch them in-house. That is why it is so innovative. How many european startups could the Government help launch if these 250 M€ were invested in them ?

Open source is probably the only possible threat to Google. Wikipedia has more audience than Britannica, Mozilla with Firefox and its hundreds of volunteers is the only organization that is really threatening Microsofts’s dominant position with Internet Explorer. These two last examples are thousands of individuals who decided one day that knowledge should be free and non commercial on the one hand, and that browsing should not be left to a monopolistic Microsoft that does not invest in it anymore. The same may well appear against Google and have chances to succeed. To my knowledge however, there are no such initiatives, probably because not enough people think Google “can be evil” with its dominant role. Why not open source Quaero and engage all individuals who would like to challenge Google’s position ? If the aim is to have an alternative and successful search engine, that it probably the way to go. It’s certainly not by trying to create centralized “multi-heads missiles” in a decentralized World where building communities matter more than the Country they originated from.



Bonjour America makes BBC News

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French blogger vinvin had a cool article on his hilarious video podcast Bonjour-America. Check it out if you didn’t, you will not lose your time and have fun.



Globalization the French way

Globalization here works only one way. In France we like to sell our products and services to other countries, but don’t try to buy one of our companies, we will merge before you even start moving: EU making France a takeover case (IHT).