and in business news…

Fascinating and Troll-like Barry Diller buys Ask Jeeves. No visible logic to this deal but, then again, who predicted Diller’s epic upside from buying the lacklustre Home Shopping Network or the equally mind-blowing outcome of his dodgy-looking 2001 Vivendi pact? Diller is a business genius and he compounds his genius by staying out at the edge of his target category and thus buying in at a fraction of the mugs’ price: so it’s HSN, not QVC. Ask Jeeves, not Google, USA Networks, not NBC.

Yahoo! buys flickr. This one is interesting: can the unique, clever, geeky flickr culture survive the Yahoo! steam bath? My guess: yes. Yahoo! is a friendly acquirer. They didn’t buy OFoto or Smugmug or Buzznet or one of those really boring photo sharing services. They bought the best one. That says, if you ask me, that Yahoo! is alive and well. I can imagine a raft of cool enhancements to the basic Yahoo! service right now: expect flickr pics and tags to start showing up next to Yahoo! search results, in Yahoo profiles and on My Yahoo! pretty soon.

Lending goes P2P. I think this is the week’s most mind-blowing arrival. Zopa (a UK firm) wants to connect ordinary borrowers with equally ordinary lenders. Borrow £10,000 and you could be borrowing it from your neighbour. No, I have no idea how they got this past the Financial Services Authority either: “So, let me get this straight: you want to be a lender?” “No, we’re just going to set up person-to-person loans”. “So there are going to be thousands of lenders?” “Millions, even.” “And not a consumer credit licence between them?” “Not one.” “Hmm…”

Zopa could do for credit what eBay did for car boot sales and BetFair for those men in loud suits at racecourses. I love the idea – it’s an intriguing extension of disintermediation in an unexpected direction – but I can already hear the cries of distress from the mainstream lenders. I can also see the Daily Mail editorials once the first defaults come in and the questions in Parliament about the moral hazard produced by turning us into a Nation of usurers and deadbeats. I’m assuming the stellar personnel behind Zopa have their tin hats firmly pulled down around their ears…

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