My favourite things from 2009


Moon — Duncan Jones’s debut is just stunning. I’ve watched it again on DVD now and there are so many clever bits you don’t notice first time around. Also best original soundtrack for quite some time by Stourbridge’s finest Clint Mansell. It’s been adopted as favourite coding music at Everything HQ.

Anvil — this one surprised me and I basically went along just on the basis of the blurb in the Curzon Soho guide. It’s Spinal Tap but real, there are scenes that had me crying my eyes out and the ending is fantastic.

In the Loop — There was pretty much only one person scary enough to pit Malcolm Tucker against: Tony Soprano. So many perfect comic moments and lots of real insight. I still contend that Thick of It is better for politics than the West Wing.


I’m not very good at describing why I like particular bits of music but these are my favourite albums of the year.

xx by The XX

The Eternal by Sonic Youth

Two Dancers by Wild Beasts

Lungs by Florence + Machine

Sigh No More by Mumford & Sons


I think it’s been a good year for British TV, it feels like the ecosystem is settling into a new pattern which is pretty creative. I hope that programmes like Can Gerry Robinson Fix Dementia Care get more of a run at it next year.

The Inbetweeners — really very simple formula this one but still fantastic. Bit of a cross between Peep Show and Skins.

The Thick of It — As with In the Loop, I don’t know where the spies are but so much of it is true. And just so painfully funny.

Can Gerry Robinson Fix Dementia Care? — I just happened to be watching when this was on but what a fantastic programme. Really taught me a lot and actually might change things. What public service TV should be like.


In Business — Peter Day is a complete legend and when you run a business you realise quite how amazing his analysis and selection of what’s important is compared to most of the guff that comes out of business schools. One program this year in particular might just have shaped the future of School of Everything.

X-posure on X Fm John Kennedy is turning into a bit of a John Peel. I’ve come across quite a few things this year via his show and it shows no sign of getting stale:

Adam and Joe — Still having fun, still causing havoc and still a great way to wake up on Saturday mornings.

Web stuff

Spotify — I had my doubts about the business model but it does seem to be starting to work and the standard of the service is brilliant. I’m now a premium member and the iPhone app is also pretty amazing.

Meetup — this was the year for me when Meetup went mainstream. I heard more and more people saying they were finding it useful and it has been a really great tool for both Long Now London and Social Innovation Camp. Scott and the team have also made it profitable which is no mean feat.

Kickstarter — new this year but a sign of much more to come in changing the ways we finance creativity and invention. Really hope they keep on growing.


Momofuku Ssam Bar, New York — I’m usually at the whim of Rob or other friends when I’m in New York so don’t tend to read reviews or anything but apparently this is quite trendy. Fantastic though.

Champor Champor, London — This place has been around for ages but I hadn’t been for a long time, probably since I was working at Demos five years ago. The Spicy squid salad with ginger flower and mint and papaya salsa was probably my dish of the year.

Glenelg Inn, Glenelg — I’d been to the Applecross Inn a few months previously and this was the other inn with great reviews and within range of amazing walking on the West Coast of Scotland. The basics of Scottish gastropubs are very fresh ingredients cooked as lightly as possible. They managed that brilliantly.

Newspapers and magazines

Although I’ve hardly read a newspaper in 2009, I have read quite a lot of magazines.

Still the best for me is actually one produced by a newspaper — the FT Magazine. It does what I want from a print publication which is to tell me about interesting things that I don’t already know about and uses the format to do that in a compelling way — ie use really top notch photography. I’m a big fan of Charlie Bibby’s stuff.

Wired UK deserves an honorable mention but seeing as I know pretty much everybody who is featured in it or writes for it (that’s a slight exaggeration), that does seem like a bit of a cop out based on my criteria above. The design is great though and they do a very good job of covering the scene I suppose I’m part of.

And then Private Eye has had a storming year. To be fair though they have had a lot of material to go on with the expenses fiasco.


TED in Long Beach. TED is the standard as far as events to inspire and entertain with ideas are concerned. It felt like a massive privilege to get a ticket and I made the most of it.

Social Innovation Camp in Glasgow. OK I’m biased because I played a small part in setting this one up but it was still a brilliant event and I’m just a little bit proud of what’s come out of it.

Interesting in London. One of my favourite days of the year. Loved it.

What School of Everything visitors are looking for


(image courtesy of the lovely Wordle)

The vast majority of our visitors (86%) at School of Everything come to us by searching through Google. The image above is a snapshot of the kind of words that people are typing in before landing on a School of Everything page (the data is for the month of November and X-Factor definitely has something to do with the popularity of singing).

What’s worked and what hasn’t: Commission on payments

In the early days of thinking about School of Everything we sometimes described it as “an eBay for teaching and learning” and the analogy kind of stuck. People understood what we meant especially when we clarified that it was about face-to-face learning rather than e-learning.

Then we started to think about a similar business model to eBay — we would charge a commission on successful purchases made through the site. Initially we set this as 5.25% — exactly the same as eBay. We didn’t think we would need the other parts of eBay’s business model such as listing fees.

We modeled the revenues we thought this would bring in based on how many teachers we thought would use the system and how many students would join up. Going back to the original spreadsheets we did, our assumptions were…

  1. The number of teachers would grow by 40% per quarter until the end of 2009 to 7,500.
  2. Teachers would take 10 payments through us per week.
  3. We would have 10 times more members than teachers
  4. We would have 30 times more visitors than members (although that’s not really relevant in this model)
  5. The average transaction would be £20.00
  6. After PayPal fees 2.5% of each transaction would come to School of Everything

and what happened…

  1. Well, we got the that one right. We’re now coming to the end of 2009 and sure enough we have just over 7,500 teachers registered with School of Everything. The percentage rate has slowed a little but we’re still growing faster than ever before. The problem is how many of them use the payment system — a tiny number.
  2. Way off. We don’t have any teachers who take more than 1 payment per week through us.
  3. Out by 50% — we have about 5 times more members signing up compared to teachers.
  4. In the last quarter we have had 300,000 unique visitors and 25,000 members.
  5. The average transaction has been about £25.
  6. We actually get about 3% of the transactions after all the PayPal fees.

So overall, we have roughly (order of magnitude) as many teachers, members and visitors as we thought but they’re just not paying or receiving payments through us. The model (remember this was before we’d built even the first version of School of Everything) said that we should have earned £225,886 from the commission model in the last quarter. That didn’t happen by a long way.

Back when we did our customer research, we found teachers who did indeed say that they would like to be able to take online payments. However, the basic problem seems to have been that people went around the system. They weren’t being sneaky, they just didn’t need our service enough. Teachers were perfectly used to taking payment for their services (of course) and although they complained about cheques being annoying and not get payments when people cancelled lessons at the last minute, it wasn’t a sharp enough pain for them to switch over to the service we built.

So to some extent the problem was the way we designed the service. By using PayPal we made the system easier to implement but harder for people to use. It meant that we needed teachers to have PayPal accounts in order to receive payments and also, to start with at least, students would have to leave the School of Everything site to go to PayPal to complete their payment. There were just too many steps to the process on both sides for it to be a really valuable service either for the teacher or the student.

Commission was just the first model we thought of and tried. I’ll give details of the other models in future posts. The question is whether this is the model we should return to and improve or whether we should come up with a completely new one.