Archive for the ‘Web/Tech’ Category

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.

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.


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

Measurement “experts” huh? “LOL”

Friday, October 12th, 2007

Om Malik wrote a post last night about a Facebook traffic drop but was skeptical of the validity of the information.  Today Om explained the drop in an update post where  Paul Sutter, co-founder & president of Quantcast told him the reason was that (Om writes) "ComScore has a panel that has a bias toward Internet users who log on
from home. The same is true of all measurement panels – Nielsen,
Hitwise or Quantcast. As kids go back to school, they vanish from the

OK, makes sense.  The measurement panels don’t accurately represent the level of traffic from college users.  Yet here’s what reps from a couple of the major measurement services had to say (from Om’s post) about traffic at one of the most prominent Internet properties in the world:

Andrew Lipsman of comScore:  "Last year, there was a similar dip in visitation at
Facebook, which suggests there are some seasonal factors at play.
Another important factor that has not been mentioned is that September
has 1 fewer day than August."

Hitwise: "There is a small dip for Facebook in terms of U.S. visits
it appears for the last few weeks, but looking back over time this
could be more seasonal than anything."

So, apparently, the real reason for the traffic pattern is because of the makeup of their measurement panels.  Yet, both of these companies chalked this up to "seasonal factors."

Why is this significant?  Well, traffic numbers from firms like these are often the "facts" upon which stories are built that help define entire markets in the emerging technology world.  Yet, when they don’t have a clue about what’s going on with traffic at a company as high profile as Facebook, one has to question how valid a basis for analysis this type of "data" really is.

Semantic Web is great, but I want to DO STUFF

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

In my "Web 1.0" days the first software company I founded, Moai Technologies, supported many of the major "online marketplaces" of the late 90’s.  One of my colleagues in the early days of Moai who helped develop our sales and marketing strategies was Stephen Bove.  Stephen ended up becoming part of the founding team at Chemdex, a leading chemicals marketplace.  I remember brainstorming w/ Stephen about the challenges at Chemdex and what he and the team there felt were some of the key issues for online marketplaces.  Perhaps the biggest common theme that applied to all of our marketplace customers was the creation of good ontologies – creating hierarchies to classify, categorize, and organize information.

I was reminded of this by Alex Iskold’s excellent post on the Structured Web.  It really feels like a decade later we are largely struggling with the same core problems.  Brad Feld posted about Alex and Adaptive Blue in this post with links to more semantic web reading.

This is good stuff, but I think a lot of technologists get caught up in the theory of all of this and forget about the fact that what people really want is to DO STUFF.  Alex clearly understands this based on what he’s doing with AdaptiveBlue – using this type of information to help people find specific pieces of information based on context of what they are looking at and doing.  While elegant theoretical constructs for all this stuff are great, I think a key to success is developing these technologies with a perspective of the types of things users and developers will actually want to do with all that information in real-world scenarios.

We’ve learned a lot of those lessons while developing ClearContext IMS over the past few years.  A lot of the "coolest" stuff we’ve developed is related to our contact and message analysis and prioritization algorithms that mine email history to rank which contacts and emails are most important to you.  However, that information only becomes really useful to users once we put it in the context of actually being able to DO SOMETHING with it – in the case of email that means creating tasks and appointments from important emails and being able to link and view all this related information together.

I definitely agree with Alex and others about the powerful possibilities of a web built upon an underlying foundation of structured information.  But without keeping in mind what people will want to do and why this is so valuable, there’s a real risk of creating some beautiful standards that largely get ignored.

PS to Alex: I suggest you check out this 2004 Santa Rita ($14.99) and this  2004 Seventy Five ($18.99)

Blurring the lines w/ blogger payola

Friday, November 10th, 2006

It was not too long ago that the connotation of blogging was simply one of people expressing their individual viewpoints online.  As blogging evolved, it took on a second connotation as well where popular bloggers became an alternative media source – the most popular and well distributed ones effectively becoming perceived as valid journalism by many people.

That’s why companies like PayPerPost, LoudLaunch, ReviewMe, and CreamAid are so troubling to me.  Even more troubling to me is when highly influential and respected bloggers like Steve Rubel and Michael Arrington actually speak positively about the relative merits of certain approaches to this model.  Perhaps they are not explicitly endorsing companies doing this, but they are definitely giving a level of acceptance to some entrants into this field.

What I don’t think many people are paying enough attention to is the fact that this blurring of lines is happening SO EARLY in the evolution of blogging as a communication medium.  While for many in the "blogosphere" reading tons of categorized RSS feeds and engaging in many discussions is old hat, for the vast majority of people, the idea of getting information (much less participating in the dialogue) through these mediums is a  pretty foreign concept.  However, each story that breaks on a blog gives this medium more and more broad acceptance and validity.  So what happens when you NOW throw this monkey wrench of blogger payola into the mix?  Everyone knows the marketing adage of one unhappy customer vs one happy customer.  Or in "intelligent" software how significant the tiniest number of false positives are compared to a huge body of correct analysis.  I think that kind of metric applies to the blog world, too.  A few people burned by blogger payola placements thinking they are reading real journalism can have a wildly disproportionate negative impact on the blog world.

On TV, we all know what an infomercial is.  When you’re sitting on a plane and you turn on some fake business show w/ paid pitches, the audience for that sort of stuff knows what they are getting.  When you read a magazine that has a five-page sponsored "content" insert, you know that’s an ad.  And in the tech world, to those people who read them, we all know what sponsored analyst reports are all about.  So, yes, this "business practice" exists in various forms in all sorts of mediums.  However, all of these mediums have a long-standing established system of trust in place that is generally understood by the readership/viewership.

At this stage in the evolution of the blog world, that implicit understanding and trust does not exist for most people yet.  So blurring the lines at this stage of the game is just plain wrong.

(As a special bonus, because I have world class graphic design skills, I have designed a logo for bloggers who agree with me to use on their sites)


Followup to PDF in Office 2007

Monday, September 11th, 2006

I wrote about problems w/ 2007/PDF native support a while back.  The "compromise" workaround has now been posted by Microsoft.  A silly situation if you ask me, but at least there’s a way to get the functionality.  Oh, and yes, I’ll be posting part 2 of my thoughts on beta today!

Productivity monkey wrench – Word/PDF

Friday, June 2nd, 2006

Just a short comment about something very annoying I just read. 

Brian Jones – Legal Issues around PDF Support

"Adobe didn’t like that we provided the save to pdf functionality directly in the box"

Sure, Microsoft does not exactly have a flawless record when it comes to standards and APIs and interoperability and such.  But the fact of the matter is, everyone uses Word and everyone uses PDF.

When I see big companies doing things that make it harder for people to work with market-leading standards/formats, it always boggles my mind.  In our information overloaded world, we already all face enough challenges being productive.  Tossing in extra steps to convert between formats that are dominant standards just makes no sense to me.

Hopefully Adobe will see the light here and we’ll end up actually seeing this integrated functionality.  I know it’s something that would be useful to me.  As Brian asks, I’ll be letting Adobe know.  I hope you all do too.