Personal Systems
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Friday, July 11, 2003

Lazyweb for RFID
I want RFID paper clips and disposable file folders.  There has got to be a way to handle paper better than this.
1:03:27 PM    comment []

Sunday, July 06, 2003


I am about to switch back to a Mac, just as I found the windows email client I was looking for.  Bloomba, by Stata Labs, is a simplified email client that contains the power features Outlook is missing. 

Namely damn powerful Search.  Also RSS support, anti-spam (Consumer Reports just rated their SAproxy component best in class, it also works with other email clients) and grouping tools.  Grouping of threads and subscriptions is part of the solution for Occupational Spam.

They made switching easy.  Automatically copies emails from old clients to make at least a test drive effortless. 

But the main thing is having Google-like search on my email client.  Everybody need this.

Oh, and there is a Bloomba blog.

11:52:58 AM    comment []

Monday, June 23, 2003

Socialtext Raises Angel Round

Great news. Socialtext closed an Angel round of funding with some really great people, including:

  • Reid Hoffman, CEO of LinkedIn and former EVP of Paypal
  • Joi Ito, Venture Capitalist with Neoteny
  • Mark Pincus, former co-founder, CEO and Chairman of SupportSoft
  • Erik Josowitz, former VP of Product Strategy of Vignette
  • Oakstone Ventures
  • Freedom Technology Ventures

This new funding provides resources to accelerate the development of enterprise social software, improve how we serve our customers, and give customers greater confidence that we will be there for them.

But it's more than that -- it's a network of exceptional people. A little while back, Pete, Adina, Ed and I talked about who we wanted to work with and who we thought "got it." Raising money these days is a challenge, and it says a great deal that were able to do so with the people we wanted. I don't think we could have picked a better group. Here's what Ed Niehaus, general partner of Freedom Technology Ventures LLC said:

"We're proud to back Socialtext's experienced founding team. The company's customers tell us that Socialtext made it simple for them to discover this new flexible communication form, the Wiki, and use it to create, discuss and decide. Such early customer satisfaction is rare for a new business medium, and it makes us confident that the company will have an impact."

Since the end of last year we have accomplished a great deal with relatively few resources. We developed a tremendous advisory board and I must credit Clay, David, Doc, Jerry, Kevin, Mitch, Ward & Zack with keeping us on the wiser track. We now have over 20 enthusiastic customers. Our product is moving beyond being the the first of its kind to one that has had real success advancing teams.

So what's to come? We have a new release of our product soon, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Mostly its continuing to spend time with customers and focusing on their needs. It sounds a little cliche, but that's what its really all about. Great products develop in social context.

7:10:56 AM    comment []

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Capitulation & Upgrade

Bought more storage for my Radio Weblog.  I am planning to move off of Radio to MT soon, but here's my rationale for continuing to invest in this platform.


  • Sunk costs
  • Rather give my money to Dave than some convicted monopolist
  • Switching costs (really a Con, on many levels)


  • Radio Userland stopped innovating and now demands others to do so for it
  • The aggregator is the reason I bought the product.  When we took a look at Many-to-Many's RSS stats it showed that the vast majority of RSS subscribers were Radio users.  But if my aggregator had less funk and more jibe it might not fail to subscribe to MT feeds as much.  And stand alone aggregators are improving.  And then I wouldn't have to deal with the Image Spam problem (posts with large images made by people with large screens that stretch your reader beyond the limits of your screen).
  • Did I mention I am planning to upgrade?


9:25:55 AM    comment []

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Communication and Collaboration Convergence

Uh oh, there's that word again.  Convergence.  The solution to all our problems.

Siemens has released OpenScape, which integrates phone, voice mail, e-mail, text messaging, calendaring, instant messaging, and conferencing services. Its all centered on IM to synchronize use of different modes of communication, with a SIP server (Session Initiation Protocol) for telephony integration.  OpenScape 1.0, however, requires Microsoft's forthcoming Windows Server 2003 and Greenwich collaboration server. Its the latest in a long line of communication and collaboration solutions to leverage Outlook as a platform.  And its estimated to cost as much as $400 per seat.

This may just be unified messaging redux, but Mike from Techdirt is right that it has potential as a productivity tool if its simple enough for people to use.  People use many modes of communication.  Optimize only a one or two and you may make communication in its entirety even more sub-optimal. 

With the falling cost of more traditional communcations (original videoconference sessions were $100k a pop), putting users in the driver seat is not a bad thing.  Problem is this approach of deep integration creates greater costs and risks.

Corporate IM is a good center for user management of complexity, but who knows if they have gotten this right.  If as advertised, its designed to fit within workflow, it may be on the wrong track.  Communication is not a process, its an informal practice whose patterns cannot be pre-defined.

1:54:45 PM    comment []

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Vonage, Hacks & Arbitrage

The way Joi and Gen are using Vonage is a new arbitrage method for international long distance.  International telephony has always been about arbitrage (risk free profit).  Technology driven cost reduction outpacing regulatory regimes that prop up prices.  Here's a brief history of international long distance arbitrage and a suggestion for a next stage.

International telephony was originally governed by the ITUs Global Accounting Rate system.  A body of national PTTs that would convene and negotiate bilateral settlement rates.  For example, the US and German would tally up the traffic imbalance as measured in minutes and agree on a settlement rate.  Problem was, country code #1 had significantly greater amount of outbound call volume.  With the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), to this day, calls are paid by the originating carrier to transit and teminating carriers.  The US negotiated volume discounts that were significant for its outbound calls.

When the PC came around some smart entreprenuers realized an arbitrage condition existed and the technology to take advantage of it was affordable.  They invented Call-Back.  An individual customer living abroad calls to a PC in the US, enters the country code of the final destination number (the hub country or another)  and then hangs up.  The individual is called back by the PC while the PC calls the destination country and recieves a dial tone for the destination country.  The settlement fee is paid from the hub country (the lower outbound US rate).

Next came Refile, which turned this arbitrage method from a consumer service to a wholesale operation.  Competitive carriers in foreign countries (many were cropping up because deregulation was taking place at the same time, first in the US, then the EU and culminating with the Uraguay round WTO accord that liberalized 90 countries) sent calls in aggregate over International Private Lines to the US.  A re-file carrier re-originated calls from the US to foreign countries, initially saving in most cases over 500%.

Calling cards allowed re-file carriers to provide consumers a way circumvent originating carriers and get to their re-file hub.

Next came Internet Telephony.  Initially it was used for transit on private lines to take advantage of compression.  Then some carriers used the public Internet for transit with some sacrifice for quality.  Some new businesses like ITXC leveraged redundancy in transit to increase quality.

Consumer Internet Telephony didn't prosper until now because of the variable quality of transit as well as the interface at the ends.  Vonage has changed that with some success (just reached the 25,000 subscriber mark).  But its primary focus is domestic long distance.  It probably doesnt provide the service internationally both because of the quality of transit, complexity of serving diverse markets and potential regulatory backlash in foreign countries.

What's interesting about Joi & Gen's use, and they aren't the only ones, is they are setting up their own arbitrage method -- originating calls abroad, transiting over the Internet and terminating through Vonage's network (mostly over the Internet) and re-file agreements.  Vonage's greatest value is a persistent circumvention of local monopoly carriers (where most of the cost of a call resides because of the above driving efficiency in international markets), but its value for international transit is worth consideration.

It will be interesting to see what Vonage hacks arise.  There are a few options created by its bridge feature -- If you're on the phone with party A, you can flash, dial #90, dial party B's number, # and hang up. It then calls party B and the call continues between A and B.  A hack that allows you to call to your Vonage box from your wireless phone and have it bridge you to an international destination seems tantilizing.

A hardware hack to make the box more portable would be invaluable (I would rather pay for a dedicated DSL connection from a hotel room and then use Vonage to bypass their telephony toll trolling).  Particularly with WiFi support.

When arbitrage conditions exist, as with wireless carrier rates compared to terrestrial or hotel customer capture, the market ultimately converges upon it.  Vonage has the potential to be a platform.  But if regulators try to stem its diffusion another call delivery method will just take its place.

9:06:58 AM    comment []

Monday, May 26, 2003

Paying for Software

Dave expands upon his rationale for paying for software: "If you pay nothing for software, you probably won't die from it, but you may lose data, you're virtually certain to waste time, and at some point, money."

I had to learn to pay for software.  Not the hard way, mind you.  Growing up in Palo Alto distorted my propensity to pay.  My first exposure to software was when user groups were rampant.  3 1/2 floppies were circulated as the norm at user group meetings.  Social networks were the source of service.  The hardware was damn expensive and it seemed natural that software sharing was the exercise. 

Some of my elementary school friends had parents who were Apple developers.  They had the best stuff.  We hacked together games in BASIC on Apple IIs, traded in the computer lab at middle school and the worst punishment concievable was a flying eraser from the teacher (Mr. Spinoli's favorite pastime was flinging blackboard erasers at students in good fun and occasional accident).

I still hesitate to purchase packaged software and instead often simply go without.  Maybe its all the times I purchased software only to become rapidly obsolete by new generations of hardware that purposely obfuscated backward compatibility.  Or when I bought tools that ended up not being suitable for the job.  Where I really hesitate is upgrading my operating system; feels like donating bottles of Thunderbird to a wino instead of buying them a happy meal.

But all that changed when I could buy software online.  Not because it plays into impulse purchase proclivity.  The ability to trial software or have a lite version with an easy upgrade path reduced my risk and led me to greater purchases.

Now I have turned on the spigot.  Not because I work in the software industry, like paying for the right for customer support or have some enlightened consumer guilt.  Because I can buy software as service.  There is a confidence instilled from software that changes over time.  Bugs get addressed, demands are met and risk is reduced.  I don't care where my data lives, so long as it works for me.  Better yet, when the software comes with information services it becomes alive

I buy software when I know it will get better, rather than worse, over time.  Appreciate appreciation.  But that's just one consumer's take.

8:00:54 AM    comment []

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