Under the radar: Are some French companies hiding?

Somehow, the conversation always ends up on which Silicon Valley companies are MIA in France.

A week or two ago, Deezer’s Jonathan Benassaya posted this comment on Twitter:

Opentable actually launched in France in 2008 and ironically their product didn’t take off – so I am told. French restaurants were too traditional to go electronic with their reservations at the time.

I agree. But apparently the situation has changed since 2008 and there are actually a few French companies in this space already: LaFourchette, Restopolitan and TableOnline.

Aside from OpenTable, another name that gets brought up frequently as potentially MIA in France is Mint. But guess what – ISWIGO is doing a pretty good job of covering that domain locally.

So why were these names under the radar?

Ok, perhaps some of it is Silicon Valley’s sexy name that seems to dwarf foreign competitors. But French companies may also have different communications strategies than American companies. I noticed, for example, that La Fourchette and ISWIGO are absent from Twitter (PLEASE correct me if I am wrong!). I’m probably starting to sound like Robert Scoble but Twitter is free and makes lots of noise – I don’t really see the point in saying no.

Wait, it gets worse…

Worse than not having a Twitter account, however, is not having a press kit available on a website. Restopolitan happily offers me a subscription to their newsletter when I sign onto their site but doesn’t have a press section? Don’t get me started on the other info missing from the website. The same goes for ISWIGO and La Fourchette isn’t really that much better.

Good noise, bad noise.

Are French companies somewhat more conservative, as a whole, when it comes to communication? Is this due to the fact that mess-ups and blunders are less tolerated in France than in the US? Do US start-ups differentiate less between good noise and bad noise? How would a French company have handled the release of Beacon? Or the Kevin Smith incident with SouthWest on Twitter?

All eyes on the SNCF et the RATP.

If there is one group that consistently takes a lot of flack from angry customers, it’s the French public transporation groups – the national SNCF and the Paris RATP. These two organizations have teamed up and done a fabulous job with Blogencommun – a blog that keeps commuters updated and responds to concerns and complains about strikes, construction, problems, etc. Blogencommun is also on Twitter (@blogencommun). I think this is one terrific example of a French group taking the web 2.0 wheel to help control and communicate regarding mess-ups.

Now all they have to do is release an English translation for the poor tourists…

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Eticketing: What Silicon Valley is Bad At

One of my first posts was called “A Letter to Silicon Valley” where I named 3 things in France that desperately need to be exported to Silicon Valley: SOS Medecins, the TGV and the Freebox.

Add electronic ticketing to the list.

I don’t care if public transporation is more popular in France than in the US – I simply cannot believe that the San Francisco public transporation system and the Caltrain still issue paper tickets. We are 2010 and the heart of high-tech still hasn’t adopted electronic ticketing? Scary.

What’s worse: the TransLink.

Yes, I am aware that there is finally an electronic ticketing system in place (mimics the current system available in France). But the BART began “testing” the technology in 2006 and TransLink only became available for the first time in the summer of 2009. Even worse,  it only works on certain train, subway and bus lines. That’s sad.

One would think that in a place like Silicon Valley, mobile ticketing would already be obsolete. But no, they’re only just beginning to move on from paper.

France, on the other hand, is discussing an upgrade of their current electronic ticketing system.

The current eletronic ticketing system in place for the Paris transportation is the NAVIGO, which is a contactless smart card (a French invention, FYI) using RFID technology – exactly what the TransLink is. It’s been around for ages. Users keep the same card and can put weekly and monthly credits on the card at electronic charging stations.

What about Weneo?

France now wants to kick-it up a notch and is experimenting with USB-key format electonic ticketing, to be known as Weneo passes.

Rather than having users add credits to their passes at electronic charging stations, users would be able to put additional credit on their passes from any computer with internet access.

All that sounds a lot better than paper to me.