Wednesday, April 30, 2008


I'm intrigued by this service. It looks like you can easily add a comment section to any page; and you don't have to install or maintain any software, or maintain the comments repository - it is all hosted on disqus servers. All you have to do is add a JavaScript snippet to your pages.

On the other hand, I have to wonder how long they're going to be around - so far they have no business model. Seems to me they ought to be able to charge for this service, especially for larger web sites.

Vyser RoamAbout - browser widgets

Do you every find yourself looking at a web page containing an address that you want to map, but there's no map on the page and no link to have it mapped? So you open another page to display Google Maps, MSN Maps, or Mapquest, go back to the original page, cut the first line of the address, go to the map page, paste the text into the search field, go back to the original page, cut the second line of the address, go back to the map page, and paste the rest of the text into the search field, and then click on the button to display the address on the map - whew!

Or you are reading about a company, and you decide you want to look up the company's stock price, or get other information about the company. So you cut the company's name, then go to one of the myriad of business sites (e.g., Yahoo Finance, MSN Money, Google Finance, SmartMoney, etc.), paste the name of the company into the search box, and then click the button to display information about the company.

How would you like to display an address on a map just by selecting it and clicking a button? Or display information about a company just by selecting it and clicking a button? You can do these things and more with Vyser RoamAbout (though admittedly -for now - only if you are using Firefox).

RoamAbout puts an icon in the lower right corner of your browser window. You click on it to open or close a sliding icon bar displaying icons for the functions it provides. The picture below shows what your browser window looks like after you select an address and click on the "map" icon:

The picture below shows what your browser window looks like when you select a company name and click on the "stock quotes" icon:

Friday, April 18, 2008

Innotech - Day 2

Only got to the morning sessions on Thursday - family emergency kept me away from some afternoon sessions that looked like they'd be good...

Agile Project Experiences
So many discussions and articles about the superiority of the agile methods lack the depth and details I am looking for - and this panel discussion did nothing to satisfy my thirst. Am I the only one feeling frustrated? Like other discussions I've had and presentations I've seen, these panelists talked about how they could do things using agile methods they couldn't do otherwise, but they didn't specify what those things are; they said their velocity increased, but they admitted that they couldn't measure this; and they said the quality of their solutions increased (in terms of bug rates), but they didn't have hard numbers. Regarding that last issue, Arlo stated that they pretty much just don't find bugs any more, but I'm more than a little skeptical about that.

My second issue is that agile proponents always compare these methodologies with the strict waterfall methodology. But I haven't seen a strict waterfall project in over 20 years. Since those early projects (at GE), every project has had constant communication with customers and other stakeholders, iterative prototyping or development, functionality prioritized and built in order of importance or risk, and/or intra-project negotiations with respect to change requests, scope changes, etc. So it seems to me the real question is one of asking about the benefits of a strict agile methodology (which is what I always hear profferred) versus the more amorphous, flexible development progression that seems common in real life.

And now my last issue: so far I haven't heard a satisfactory answer for how, using agile methods, to provide management with the information they want. At this session the panelists said management will be happy when they see the increased velocity and the list of functions completed. Is my experience with management unusual? I've never been involved with management that would accept that. In my experience management wants to be able to plan future work and the resources needed for it (i.e., project portfolio management). That means they want estimates for the length, value (e.g., ROI), and resource requirements of every project. And they want projects managed to those estimates.

Maybe my issues exist because of the space I work in - corporate, internal development. I can see how agile methodologies could work well in commercial or open source software development. For example, Microsoft provides general guidance as to the functionality they will include in their next operating system versions, but as development progresses, they drop capabilities to help reach their desired ship date. And these methods seem even more natural for open source software development. For example, I can see how Linux development is best done using agile methods.

There's so much more I could write. But I've rambled enough.

Wiki Then and Now
Ward Cunningham gave a two-part presentation. The first was a historical perspective of his invention of the wiki and his involvement in the development of agile methodologies. Fascinating and impressive.

The second half was a discussion about, the company founded by Ray King and for whom he currently works. This company troubles me. They scan domain registrations and create a wiki page for each domain. And they allow anyone to edit those pages. In his presentation Cunningham said "you've been drug out [into the public], and we're here to help you." But they're the ones who have done the "drugging"! I may rile some feathers, but I just don't see value in their site for companies:
  • To be listed, you have to have a domain. But if you have a domain, you most likely already have a web site, so you don't need AboutUs to advertise your existence.
  • AboutUs might advertise the value of allowing your customers to comment on your companies services. But if you want, you can provide this capability on your own web site. And you'd have control over the publication of these comments too.
  • People who search for your company may choose AboutUs' links rather than yours - do you see any value in that?
And companies' customers may not see much value either. AboutUs might argue that you can see comments - both positive and negative. But smart companies will lock their AboutUs pages (Cunningham said you can do that, but their web site contradicts this statement) - or have them deleted (Cunningham said they would do that for companies who request it - though the site contradicts this statement).

Given all this, I highly recommend that, at minimum, companies actively monitor their page on AboutUs.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Went to Innotech today.  Glad I did.

The Secrets to Predictable Innovation

The first session I attended, presented by Anthony Ulwick, the author of "What Customers Want" and founder of Strategyn.  Great session.  There's an unending outpouring of articles and books talking about the importance of innovation, but not nearly as much discussion of how to innovate.

Ulwick defines innovation as "the process of devising a product or service concept that satisfies unmet customer needs", and goes on to stress that successful innovation requires an understanding of customer needs.  In his presentation he talked about what a customer need is: not specific tools or solutions, which change over time; but improvements to help them with the things they want to get done - their "jobs" - that don't change.  For example, people don't need microwave ovens.  Rather, they want to be able to cook their food faster.  The solution (currently microwave oven) may change, but the need (cook food faster) doesn't.

He discussed how to gain this understanding.  You do not ask people what they want.  Rather, find out what they want to get done, how they do it, and what their pain points are.  Watch them do their jobs.  Interview them about their jobs.

When you have this understanding, break down the job into subprocesses; and for each subprocess ask your customers how important it is and how satisfied s/he is with it.  Your best opportunities are those that are most important to the customer and with which s/he is most unsatisfied.

I like his process for creating a framework.  His process doesn't result in a set of requirements that can be used to create a product or service (more on this in the next paragraph), but it does create a context for ongoing analysis of your market.  It also helps reveal adjacent markets.  For example, rather than wanting to cook food faster, maybe the customer really wants to get food to the table quicker.  In this case, you can also look at the process of getting the food from the cooking device to the table as an area ripe for improvement.

So why doesn't his process result in product/service requirements?  Because it doesn't quantify the changes needed to create a successful solution.  For example, your customers may want to cook their food faster.  But if the product you are able to create doesn't provide enough increase in cooking speed to tip the scale against the perceived costs (e.g., money, size, attractiveness...), your product won't succeed.  So having knowledge of customers' general needs is a great starting point, but you need to determine the specifications that will result in success in the market.

Accessing Innovation in Oregon

Presentation by Dana Bostrom, Director Innovation & Industry Alliances, Portland State University (does this department have a web site?); Chuck Williams, Associate Director, Office of Technology Transfer, University of Oregon; and Rick Fisch, Managing Director, Northwest Food Processors Innovation Productivity Center.

Bostrom and Williams talked about the "Oregon Innovation Portal", a web site they are creating to communicate information about the research and IP being generated at Oregon universities.  Sounds like a good start, but I'm disappointed that they are not planning on developing a two-way conversation on the site.

The Changing Landscape of Venture Capital Investing

Christopher Logan, Entrepreneur, & Strategic Advisor; and Randall Lucas, Associate, Voyager Capital put on a good show, with Logan providing the entrepreneur's viewpoint and Lucas the VC's.

Logan started by saying he's noticed a rise in the number of professional angel investors and angel investment groups. He cautioned the audience to make sure working with them would be right for them. In contrast to traditional angel investors (friends and family), these people will want you to issue preferred stock (possibly sooner than you want), and they will expect you to put in place corporate governance structures that require time and overhead. He also cautioned the audience with regard to the micro vc's, who may want a disproportionate percentage of equity (up to 10%) for very little capital infusion.

Lucas compared these groups with traditional vc's, stating that vc's behave predictably. Voyager, for example, reserves an average of $8 million per deal (though they don't inject all of that at once); and you know that they are going to want preferred stock. He also made the point that the pedigree of the financial backer can affect the hype around the startup's future valuation and ipo.

An audience member asked if startups have to have IP to get vc funding. Lucas said they want to see sustainable advantage. It could be IP, a monopoly on knowledge in a specific space... Logan added that the rise of open source is changing thoughts on the value of IP.

Logan talked about the importance of having the right investors. When he was CEO of Driveway, the company received $68 million of vc funding. The dot-com boom ended and things got tough, but he thought he had a business model that could ensure survival. But the investors didn't want to be tied up long-term - they wanted a quick exit. So he was replaced.

Lucas stated that vc's like Voyager don't invest in R&D. If you want funding, you need a couple of credible people (management team), a product or service you can demonstrate, and possibly organizations who are customers or who will say that they will be customers if your business shows viability. He stated that vc's want to minimize 3 risks: technical, market, and execution.

Tonight's debate between Clinton and Obama

I hate to talk about politics in the U.S. because it's almost impossible here without the outcome being anger, hurt feelings, and harmed relationships.  But I'm watching the Clinton/Obama debate right now, and I'm amazed at how insipid it is and how inane are Charles Gibson's and George Stephanopolous' questions.  One of these people (thank God I mean Clinton or Obama and not Gibson or Stephanopolous) may become the President of the U.S., dealing with:
  • the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,
  • our country's $9 trillion debt,
  • global warming,
  • our country's shattered reputation in the world,
  • the rising price of oil and possible permanent decline in oil production as global demand increase,
  • the rising price of foods,
  • rising medical costs,
  • declining inflation-adjusted incomes,
  • the mortgage/home foreclosure/credit crisis,
  • etc.
and all they are being asked about is whether they will choose the other for veep, their relationship with people who have said questionable or detestable things, and whether they love the flag!  Given the real issues we have, are these the questions Americans really want to focus on?

And I can't help but compare this debate with the republican debates.  I don't recall the moderators incessantly focusing on things that trivialize the candidates and the issues.  Am I mis-remembering?

Ah, they are finally being asked some substantive questions - but even the questions about these are asked in a manner that doesn't allow for intelligent discussion.  They were asked if they would promise not to raise taxes.  This question is not meant to allow for discussion.  What if they want to redistribute taxes?  that raises taxes for some, but lowers them for others.  What if we have another Katrina, or something even more costly?  No one can predict the future, and the candidates shouldn't be forced into such a corner.

I have written to ABC news, letting them know of my disappointment in the handling of this debate.  I hope you will too.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Web Analytics Wednesday in Portland

Just a quick note - Web Analytics Wednesday, a get-together for web analytics professionals, will be held this THURSDAY at WebTrends in Portland. WAW on a Thursday - isn't that just like Portland?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Lunch 2.0 at eROI

I went to Lunch 2.0 held at eROI on Wednesday.

I didn't see all of eROI's new office space, but what I did see reminded me of HotWired - old building, warehouse-type space, wood floors, bright-colored couches. And the area they are in reminded me of the South of Market area in San Francisco, where HotWired was located. Though there are some parts of my HotWired experience I don't wish to re-live (e.g., the dismantling of the web site, the 3 failed IPO attempts...), I do miss the environment.

About 70 people met for lunch. Of the people I met (and the ones I already knew), it hit me that a surprisingly large number of them are working on ways to improve (or replace) our educational system. And that ties in with Rick Turoczy's recent call to action to make a difference in education. So I wonder if what I'm seeing is an indication of something big going on - and, if so, is it just in Portland, or is it more wide-spread?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Startupalooza Continued

Sorry for taking so long to continue my write-up on Startupalooza. Anyway...

Bill Lynch and Matt Tucker, the co-founders of Jive Software spoke next. Their goal is to enable organizations to store their knowledge in Jive's collaboration environment, Clearspace, rather than in emails.

Jive was founded in 2001. They now have 2000 customers. They built the open source Jive Forums in college in Iowa, and subsequently moved to San Francisco. In late 2000 Sun Microsystems approached them (how nice!) and asked them to enhance the software; and pushed them to incorporate. They moved to New York with their business, but found it was too expensive to do business there. In 2004 they moved to Portland, and started over at staffing. Clearspace came out in 2004, at which time they had 35 employees. They now have 140.

They were funded by Sequoia Capital; and, surprisingly, they say Sequoia has never pushed them to outsource their development or move their development staff to a low-cost country (e.g., India or China). Hard to believe, given what I have heard in the past few years about VC's and boards of directors.

When asked, they said they don't see any competition coming from open source - their customers are looking at Microsoft and IBM as their competitors. They showed a surprising lack of concern for open source. With their short track record of quick success and growth, their attitude is understandable. But I think unrealistic. There are plenty of good, viable open source wiki and collaboration projects; and if they continue to maintain developer interest, they can only become more formidable.

I'm also surprised they didn't mention Atlassian's Confluence as a competitor. It's a good product, and it is actively maintained and enhanced. I know less about MindTouch, but I wonder if it will gain traction.

Following this presentation was a panel discussion about working independently. Sarah Gilbert, Justin Kistner, and Rick Turoczy were the panelists, and Adam Duvander moderated.

Following this, there were presentations of OpenId, ExpressionEngine (very pretty CMS - I'd like to research it further to see how deep the functionality is), Unthirsty (funny guys, and I'm impressed with the number of bars they've been able to compile), Earth Class Mail (they handle your mail for you - could be valuable to large organizations), Lunarr (web app that let's you add notes to the "back side" of web pages - interesting concept, slick interface, but I don't know how valuable it is), Sidecar (a gadget you add to your site to enable IM with visitors, provide them with information, and allow them to provide you with feedback - definitely valuable), MyStrands, Fyreball (allows you to post content on their site and share with your friends - I'd love to hear what new value this provides), Toonlet (enables you to become a creator and publisher of online comic strips - what a great way to waste time - seriously!), and I Want Sandy (an innovative devleopment of an automated assistant, though I'm nagged enough by my mobile phone, email, desktop gadgets, RSS feeds...).

All in all, it was a great day - I'm glad I went, and I look forward to the next one.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Startupalooza last weekend

Startupalooza was last Saturday in Portland, at cubespace, from noon to 7pm. I stayed until 6:15, so sadly only saw a bit of the presentation on Fyreball, and completely missed the presentations on Toonlet and I Want Sandy. I've looked at the latter two before - toonlet looks like it would be a fun way to waste time (which I don't have), and people rave about I Want Sandy, but I just don't see the need, what with my calendars and cell phone constantly popping up meetings and tasks.

After a quick Lebanese lunch and meeting a couple people, the presentations started:

Garagegames, presented by founder Mark Frohnmayer and CTO Josh Williams. Mark talked about how, while working at Dynamics in the '90's, he noticed that projects required a growing number of members (from a couple people to 10's) and a growing amount of time (from months to several years). So the risk of failures grew (with the increased cost), and the fun grew less. He also saw the number of retailers selling games change from lots of mom & pop stores to just the mega-stores like Wal-Mart and CompUSA. He wanted to create software that could be used to develop games quickly and for low cost.

After slowly moving their company toward their goals, they were acquired by IAC, Barry Diller's company. And get this - they represented themselves in the negotiations. And they're happy with the deal. They have maintained control, and they got agreement to recompense their loyal, low-paid employees with equity.

They're now dealing with a totally different problem - how to handle their growth (they now have close to 100 employees).

They recently announced, an interactive, multi-player games site that runs in your browser.

AboutUs, presented by founder Ray King. Ray sounds like the ultimate entrepreneur. As a kid he took over his sister's babysitting job and turned that into a tutoring business; learned how to use a computer and built a business teaching business people how to use VisiCalc (or was it Lotus 1-2-3?) by putting a pc on a table in front of Grand Central Station and giving people a glimpse of what it could do; moved on building Semaphore, developing accounting software; built snapnames to monitor for availability of domain names and grab them based on his desire for and writing a little program to monitor for its availability; left in 2004 and started AboutUs based on the idea that he could create a page for every existing domain name, based on data in whois. His partner is Ward Cunningham, the inventor of the wiki. AboutUs is now getting ~5 million visitors/month. Their challenge now is to beef up the presentation and user engagement.

The gain revenues from Google adsense, ad buys, and by creating articles on the site to promote their customers' services (called PromoteUs).

There are 27 people in the company, with 15 in Lahore, Pakistan. He admits the difficulty of communicating across time zones but still believes it's worth it. Unlike most offshore and outsourced engagements, he provides his employees (remote and local) with the high-altitude view of what he wants done, and allows them to do the more detailed design and coding. He noted that they publicly describe tasks on their wiki, and also use irc and skype to remain connected.

A lot more was presented, but I will have to write about them later.