Archive for October, 2007

A-List blogger in a couple of months?

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

Jason Calacanis writes "I’ve never bought into it since anyone can be on the A-list if they blog intelligently for a couple of months/years."  I’m not sure what exactly his definition of A-list blogger is, but is that really true anymore?  It seems like the volume of blogs, and especially the number of "pro" blog networks out there, has changed the landscape significantly. 

Now, I suppose it might still be true to a degree, especially if someone focuses on writing and linking a lot on a small set of topics covered by an established set of bloggers.  But that’s just more of the same, which is already imo a pretty big failing of a lot of the "A-list" bloggers, many of whom just regurgitate the same stuff a bunch of other "A-list" bloggers are talking about. 

In terms of original content on a wide range of topics, I think it’s really much harder than Jason claims to rise above the noise.  There’s definitely a lot of good stuff being written out there, but I feel like it’s getting harder, not easier, to find.

Looking solely at the tech blogging world and techmeme in specific, what new blogs have emerged as
significant voices in the blogging world over the last few months?  While I’m sure there’s some confirmation bias here, the only one that really pops to mind is Marc Andreesen.  And he’s a very special case for obvious reasons. 

With the growth in volume of blogging, are there really so few new bloggers writing quality content that a bunch of established "A-list" bloggers writing slightly different takes on the newest iPhone or Apple OS happenings is the best stuff out there?   I doubt it.  But the way the blog ecosystem works, there’s a self-reinforcing effect that highly incents bloggers to write on the same topics that already established bloggers are writing about and link to each other.  That trend keeps discussion in the blogging world a lot less interesting and diverse than it could be.

OK, I quit: 3D Mailbox

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

3D Mailbox (via TechCrunch) might just be the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen.  The fact that this app exists makes me reconsider even being in the email field.  This 3D email app (yeah, wtf I know) "brings the thrill of flight to your inbox" and is where "email meets flight sim." Well, OK then.

See, you get an email from Australia, IT ARRIVES ON QANTAS, THAT’S RIGHT! 


Attachments?  Yeah, FEDEX HAS THOSE!!!!


Visit them to check out the rest of their screenshots and watch their sweet trailers.

Funding evolution or anomaly? $13.2M from 150+ angels

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

There has been a lot of talk recently about the future of the VC market given the abundance of capital in the market and the relatively lower amounts of capital now required to get many companies off the ground.  Firms like Y Combinator, Hit Forge, and First Round Capital are a few of many new firms investing in tech these days.  Some of these firms look more like incubators (remember 12 Entrepeneuring and campsix?) while others look more like traditional seed VCs, many of whom kept increasing funds under management to levels where smaller seed investments no longer made sense.  Plenty of new small funds that straddle the angel/institutional VC fence are starting all the time as individuals cash out from Google and other firms and look for something different. 

With so many different takes on the best funding vehicles for the new generation of tech startups, I found the funding announcement about LinkStorm to be pretty interesting.  "Linkstorm raises $4.2 million from 60 angel investors — The total is up to $13.2 million; the company had already taken $9 million from 150 individuals" writes VentureBeat.  Traditionally it has been pretty rare to see large funding rounds from big groups of angels.  The reasons given are typically time needed to pitch a large number of people, logistics/management of communications with a large group of individuals, and hitting reporting requirements once the number of shareholders exceeds SEC thresholds.  Perhaps things change somewhat, though, when there are a vastly greater number of entrepreneurial-minded people out there who are comfortable with taking $100k shots in early stage startups.  I’m curious to see whether this is just an anomaly or if we’ll see other companies going the route of large angel rounds rather than institutional VC.

The Context Web

Saturday, October 20th, 2007

Brad Feld and John Markoff write about the battle of semantics over what to call the next wave of web/tech applications.

Web 3.0?
The Semantic Web?
The Implicit Web?

I prefer the Context Web.  Or the Contextual Web, though that doesn’t have quite as nice a ring to it.

Let’s look at definitions here (

semantic – "of or relating to meaning in language"
implicit – "capable of being understood from something else though unexpressed : implied"
3.0 – "
The word you’ve entered isn’t in the dictionary."

context – 1
    : the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning

    : the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs : environmentsetting

Context in many ways combines the notions implied by "semantic" and "implicit" to determine the meaning of something by looking at the environment in which it exists.

And that to me is the most exciting and important part of the next wave of solutions we’re starting to see.

When I search for Brad Pitt on the internet, I’m interested in movie reviews and showtimes of upcoming films.  When I search for Brad Feld, I’m interested in descriptions of companies he’s talking about or funding.

When an email comes in, I’m interested in dealing with it in different ways if it’s someone I go to happy hours with on Fridays vs if it’s a customer we’re working on a big deal with. 

When I search for reviews of sushi places in San Francisco, I’m interested in maps and OpenTable listings.  When I search for reviews of El Bulli, I’m interested in plane and hotel information!

These are all the types of contextual distinctions technology is able to draw from us by taking into account who we are and the context in which we look for different types of information.  And I think the context web is a very good way to describe that.

Email is sexy again!

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

So says the Wall Street Journal.   Lots of interesting info about how major providers are now looking at email:

"One experimental Yahoo service known internally as "Friend Finder"
analyzes a user’s email traffic and indicates the friends with whom a
user has strong email connections. It bases its findings on the volume
of incoming and outgoing traffic and such factors as the frequency and
speed with which the two parties respond to each other. The service
works with emails sent by non-Yahoo users as well."

That’s something we’re very familiar with at ClearContext.  We’ve spent the last few years optimizing our algorithms to determine which contacts are really important to you.  We described much of our design philosophy and decisions in this whitepaper 3 years ago.  Contact relationships mined from your email history are at the core of our IMS product for Outlook, which helps prioritize and organize not just email messages, but also tasks and appointments.   But contact priority is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to information that can be learned from looking at the context and relationship of information stored within email.  We’re currently beta testing the next version of IMS and are really excited about releasing it soon for everyone to see, as it will provide a glimpse into some of the really exciting possibilities from within email that have yet to be exposed.

Contact segmentation in social networking

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

"the pendulum is going to swing from public data to private." writesTim O’Reilly.

A segmentation is already occurring within the social networking world around contacts and information.


The first level is where ClearContext plays, within people’s Outlook email.  From within Outlook, there’s full access to both email content and its relationship with contacts.  This allows for lots of very powerful information to be gathered, but it is all private and controlled by the user, a totally closed system from a visibility standpoint.

The next level is a site like LinkedIn, where people get a certain degree of visibility into your contacts.  The system is semi-private, so people are willing to share detailed business information on there as well as share valued contact information to a degree.  However, the flip side of that is that many people also restrict access to that information to a trusted network.

Facebook is the next level of openness.  Here "friends" takes on a much less important meaning for many, often meaning "someone I met once or saw somewhere on the Internet."  Profiles have much less "proprietary" information that people want to protect, thus they often are open to a much wider group of contacts to share with.  But people still put a lot of personal information on there, so a certain degree of access restriction also occurs.

Even "lighter" forms of communication take place on Twitter.  The same can be said for fun interest-oriented social networking sites like Flixster or even Yelp.  At these sites, there’s nothing proprietary or private about what’s being written, so people can be completely free with their contact and information sharing across these sites.

Somewhere in there is the sweet spot of valuable, proprietary information and a broad network of contacts to aggregate and share across.  Developing ways to bring those things together is where a goldmine of value exists.


How PR firms use blogs

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

Scoble writes on PR via blogs today.  Most PR folks I talk to are very savvy about getting blog coverage for their companies, and most have a pretty straighforward approach just as Robert describes.

However, I don’t think his "anti-coverage" strategy is really a different PR approach or trend, I think it’s just PR for a different purpose.

Companies want blog coverage for many reasons:

  • Reach mainstream media journalists who are looking to the blogs for news/feature stories.
  • Build awareness in the venture/analyst community. 
  • Build general awareness of the company among tech early adopters.
  • Lay foundation of cites in preparation for future launch/news
  • And many others

What the company is trying to do dictates the PR approach to bloggers.  When a company is trying to get mainstream media coverage, it wants to be perceived as hot and new and news that everyone is talking about.  The coordinated, tiered approach to getting the news out there makes a ton of sense in that scenario.  On the other hand, if a company is trying to slowly build up a userbase during a beta period and looking for early adopter feedback, it makes sense to slowly and organically build up a base of coverage that people searching out information on the space will be likely to find.

Now that just about everyone utilizes the blogging community as a PR channel, it’s going to become more and more important for companies and PR firms to create longer-term "full blog coverage lifecycle" PR strategies for companies they want to promote successfully.

Building a profitable company is not obsolete

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

One part of the current Web 2.0 boom (and perhaps the part that most justifies a lot of the bubble talk going around) that is reminiscent of the dot-com days is the focus many companies have on pageviews and users over revenue models and profits.  A lot of industry folks claim this is completely different due to the monetization magic of AdWords and the resurgence of online advertising in general.  In some cases that holds true, but oftentimes it’s just an excuse for a lack of substance and product people are willing to actually pay for.

What I enjoy most about the startup world is solving problems for people and companies.  Which is why building products and solutions that people actually want to buy is always a major focus for me in my businesses.  This once standard approach sometimes feels almost unconventional in the startup world these days.

So I always like it when I read things like "Then, for us, we knew in our hearts, and we didn’t want to be a web 2.0
company that’s just all hype and glam. We knew that we had planned all
of this carefully with our board. We had always wanted to start making
money." from startups that become really successful.  In this case, it’s from an article about Zimbra, an open-source email startup that sold to Yahoo for $350M.  That’s a significantly bigger exit than a lot of pretty "hot" web 2.0 acquisitions.

Here’s the full podcast and transcript.   

Figuring out the Web 2.0 Must Haves

Monday, October 15th, 2007

I fall somewhere between the "average American" and the TechCrunch/Scoble/etc Web 2.0 enthusiast crowd when it comes to how I use new "Web 2.0" technology.  I’m familiar with most of what’s out there, but a lot of it sounds sorta fun to play around with and see what people are doing/saying as opposed to really being useful.  I have plenty of stuff to waste time on, so I’m focused on finding the things that actually help me do things or find information in better and easier ways.  Here’s a bit of history about my experience with this technology so far and things I’m checking out to maybe add to my list.

My good friend Konstantin Guericke (the test of whether you are good friends w/ Konstantin is if you can spell his name right without having to look it up – I’m not checking, so hopefully I got it right) was a co-founder of LinkedIn, so I’ve been a user since that service launched.  I’ve used it to make a number of business connections/introductions and have facilitated many connections through that.  Activity on LinkedIn seemed to slow down for a while, but in the last few months it has really started to pick up for me again (based on amount of notifications/requests I get).

I was an early member (June 2002) of Friendster through knowing Jonathan Abrams, but never really used it after initially signing up (but Jonathan’s new company, Socializr, has replaced Evite for me as my go-to place for organizing group activities).  Friendster just never really caught on in any of my peer groups.  Long before that (1997!) I was signed up on, a site that no longer exists, but doesn’t get mentioned nearly enough in all the social networking hoopla.  Another early site I have had an account on is Ryze.  Like SixDegrees, Ryze doesn’t get nearly enough credit for blazing the trail of business-focused social networking.  I never found enough value in Ryze to compel me to sign up for a paid account, and without the paid account it didn’t let me access enough functionality to be useful, so I never really used that site either.  I signed up on a few other sites including Tribe, but none of them gained enough critical mass among my peers/friends to get me to stick around.  I also checked out MySpace briefly, but found it too irritating to even make a profile there.

I jumped on the Facebook bandwagon a while back largely out of curiosity.  I put a super-sparse profile on there and added a couple of friends just to see what it was all about, not really a legit user of the site.  But even without adding any friends myself, as people sign up and upload their address books, I get more and more friends added.  And unlike many of the previous sites, people update their information there a lot.  So, while I don’t use it on a day-to-day basis, I definitely check it regularly to see what some people are up to, plus it’s a very lightweight way to keep connected with people.  As more and more people sign up, I see myself checking it more often.  I can see why a lot of people spend so much time on Facebook.  However, I’m already starting to get irritated by the applications on people’s pages – a lot of the profiles are starting to get as annoying as MySpace pages.

I finally caved and today created a Twitter account.  I’m not sure what exactly I’ll get out of it besides being able to pop up a message on Scoble’s screen, but i guess I’ll find out. 

Over the next few weeks I’m going to play around with a number of other Web 2.0 apps/sites that people are talking about to see which ones I find useful. Google Reader I guess would be considered in this category as well.  One site that I access all the time, but don’t participate on is Yelp.  It’s my go-to place for bar/restaurant reviews, replacing CitySearch and other review guides.  Two I’m contemplating playing around with are Flixster and Criticker to see if they can perhaps provide me a better experience than my default movie site, Rotten Tomatoes.

So, here’s my current scorecard.  Open to any/all suggestions of things I need to be checking out.

Winners: LinkedIn, Facebook, Socializr, Yelp, Google Reader
Losers: Friendster, Tribe, Ryze, MySpace
TBD: Twitter, Flixster, Criticker, many others

Debating the future of email w/ Scoble

Friday, October 12th, 2007

Scoble is a big fan of new stuff.  Like "Web 2.0" technologies such as Twitter. 

And Robert has in the past written quite a bit about how out of control and behind he has been with email.  I don’t remember if Robert has officially declared "email bankruptcy" at any point, but he has definitely become exasperated with keeping up with email.

So it’s no surprise to see him writing at BusinessWeek about Twitter and other Web 2.0 technology unseating email.  But let’s take a look at some of his points:

"But when I left, my e-mail account was turned off. I don’t have access to that knowledge now. Neither does NEC." vs "Furthermore, anything said on Twitter stays on the Web. So your
knowledge doesn’t disappear; it stays there for your replacement at
your employer to study and learn from."

Not only can information in email be retained, transferred, and archived (and in many corporations this already happens), it has context in terms of threads, subjects, and correspondents at a level that does not exist in free-form, unstructured communication mediums like Twitter.  Having the info out there is not worth very much without good ways to actually find the specific information you need.

"With these applications, spam barely exists. If someone starts spamming
the system, he or she gets “unfollowed” and the problem is solved."

First off, these are relatively new technologies.  Spam didn’t exist when blogs first came out.  Or IM.  Or SMS.  But there’s a constant battle w/ spammers in every new technology.  Obviously, the newer and less widespread the technology, the less you’ll see spammers.  That’s just a function of time and reach.  And while the volume of spam in email is high, technology to get rid of it is pretty sophisticated.  Robert totally ignores the issue of noise, though.  The lower the cost of broadcasting a message out to a group, the more the noise.  Email has more noise "Hey guys, what’s going on for happy hour?" than phone calls do, which have more noise than face-to-face meetings.  But Twitter "waiting for bus!" and similar things put email to shame in terms of the level of noise that exists within the communication streams.

Robert has some more criticisms like "Finally, e-mail doesn’t work with groups very well. If I send a report to my boss, co-workers can’t listen in and add value." and "And you can see that people are online and answering stuff and what they are doing. " that all revolve around the idea of real-time, instant, interrupt-driven communications.

And that’s where I think the real flaw in his whole argument exists.

The benefits that Robert sees here all are largely premised on an idea that people are constantly connected and interacting with these streams.  Robert also has 5,000 Facebook friends.  And he follows 6,000+ people on Twitter.  If he’s gone for a few hours, is he going to review status updates from 5,000 Facebook friends and all those Twitter updates?  I doubt it.

Given a set of circumstances where you’re working with a specific group of people all together within a certain time period, there are many collaborative technologies that are far superior to email.  But that’s simply stating the obvious – if you need to have a meeting or a brainstorming session or need real-time feedback, then have a meeting or call/IM people instead of emailing them!  If you need to collaboratively work on a document, use a technology designed for that, not email!

But that doesn’t mean there’s any reason to replace email for the multitude of scenarios in which asynchronous communications are more effective. There is a large body of research that shows interruptions and distractions are a huge drain on productivity in the workplace and a huge source of stress to boot.  Email is a contributor to that problem, and things like Twitter only make things worse.

The problems Robert talks about are not problems w/ email.  It just sounds like Free Email Day – a reaction to a problem, not a solution. They are problems with the techniques and technologies people use with email.  The email clients of today, even "advanced" ones like Gmail or Zimbra are really not all that different than the email clients of 10-15 years ago.  Yet, the volume of email people receive and the types of things people do within email have increased dramatically. 

Email is still a great communications medium.  The fact that many Web 2.0 "sites" (sites? systems? applications? hmmm) still use the inbox as their notification point to users says a lot about that.  But as more and more activities center around the inbox, it’s true that people need better ways to manage and work with all of that information without getting overwhelmed.  The issues here parallel those I talked about in my post on the semantic web.  Just as a structured web allows for a much more useful user experience to be developed, the same opportunities exist within email.  And that’s something I’ll be talking about a lot more in the near future.