Thursday, October 20, 2011

Do It Yourself (DIY) vs Do It For Me (DFM)

Two unrelated events over the past few weeks highlighted for me an acceleration of change in the application and infrastructure ecosystems. Until I 'upgraded' to iOS5 on the iphone, and Apple killed the independent Siri application, I had been running Siri on my 4. Its feature set (along with Dragon Go!) is billed as a voice assistant, really a software layer that sits across a myriad of databases and retrieves the data it thinks you are looking for. Rather than opening a specific application and conduct a search, the application interprets and parses verbal instructions, searches various databases and returns an answer it thinks solves the question at hand. The application essentially provides a service for me (DFM) which replaces manual searching (DIY). 

A multitude of examples abound for DFM services which range from (storage/back-up), Google or Yahoo News (algorithmic filtering), to Amazon's suggested items to buy. Many are assuming the role of gatekeeper or curator for the personalized serving of information or commerce options. 

I was exposed to another example of DYM in the techie world while attending PuppetCon with Cloudsmith's management. Firms such as Puppet Labs are shielding administrators from layers of complexity via their automated IT management solutions, which enables IT professionals to manage dynamic cloud infrastructures. Companies, such as Twitter and, could not provide the massive global solutions they offer without folk like Puppet. Creative programmers and business folk are leveraging the latest infrastructure advances to mask complexity, enhance access, and increase utility. A killer combination.

Each time we get an advance in processing, bandwidth, storage or displays, programmers busily optimize/advance their programs by packing in more and different utility for users. It's one reason why older devices seem to degrade over time; the upgraded applications are no longer designed for their device and, the last generation(s) are ill equipped to keep up. 

Here's a video of Eli Pariser describing the potential downsides to enhanced filtering. It's really informative:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Techstars NY

Yesterday,  one of the NY based technology incubators, TechStars, hosted a session for its most recent 12 graduates to present their companies to a group of 500 investors, peers, and company executives. It was one of the most impressive young company events I have been to in many years and highlighted a few NY-centric points:

  1. This generation of companies is far different from their brothers/sisters of a decade ago. In a similar venue (though before incubators) just about every presenting company would have highlighted a business that was perched, precariously it turned out, on three fragile letters....CPM.  This group of entrepreneurs were starting companies that ran the market gamut, ranging from infrastructure to application and business to consumer.
  2. The number of second time entrepreneurs, with pedigree from great companies was notable, as were the dropouts from Penn and the one high school coder
  3. The scope of early relationships/investors with Google, MSFT, Amex and Accel was impressive

Here's a brief summary of the presenting companies, in order of appearance:

Contently- marketplace which connects writers with brands. Thesis is that every brand needs to produce their own content. Issue is to ensure they get high quality content. Contently manages the matching, workflow and payments.  Organizes the market, like Bitwine, and is compensated as a % of the deal. Have 2,000 writers in market now. AMEX Open Forum is now a partner (not sure what this means). restaurant ecommerce like a Sabre for food. GOOG ventures is a seed investor.

Urtak- A polling infrastructure (think Q+A which you can embed on your site). The company objective is to organize the world's opinions, while increasing engagement (and providing metrics) on the sites which use their infrastructure

MobIntent-A tool for the creation, optimization and management of mobile ad campaigns. Mobintent simplifies the workflow across medias and claims 3x uplift in cost/click over Admob

Spontaneously-mobile application to enable people to meet friends at the last minute; or a tool to manage your free time

Piictu-a visual network based on a mobile app. Photos are now a foundation for interaction rather than static images.  Piictu creates a network around the photos. 130k downloads in 8 weeks. Users spend 2.5 min each app session. 62% of users post photos. SoftBank, BetaWorks and RRE were seed investors

Sidetour- 'Peer to peer market for experiences'. For example, booking a luge track session with an Olympic competitor. Or to paint graffiti with an artist. The company earns a 20% fee for running the marketplace. Avg price per booking has been $60/person with 6 people per session. Foundry and RRE are investors

Ambassador-social referral platform to help brands create and manage (incentivize) ambassadors. Have an API which integrates into your site and they handle the tracking/management.

ChatID- let's companies engage with consumer via chat, but does not have to be on the company landing page (e.g. talk to a Sony rep via the BestBuy site). Feels like a LPSN competitor, but is more broadly architected to work across many chat front ends. Co-founder is on the XMPP (Jabber) committee. It works from any device and on any site. 70% of companies have chat on site, but conversation must start on their site, until now. The chat market has silos of incompatible systems, their click to chat, keeps customers on site, while engaging with multiple vendors.

Wantworthy-avg woman spends 25 minutes browsing shopping sites/day for entertainment. Company's objective is to pioneer 'time shifted buying' via a portable wish list invoked from a widget downloaded to your toolbar

Dispatch- centralized cloud management. Drag and drop amongst your services and share content In a world where I am now using five different cloud services, having one unified layer, with social sharing capabilities is compelling. I have signed up for the beta and anxiously await its release.

Coursekit- social network for education. Going after Blackboard. A place for students to download files, and stay to discuss/share content. Free download for individual teachers.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Platform philosophy

Attached is a great post from a Google Engineer, Steve Yegge, which appeared in SAI today. The author is extolling his managers/team to think of GOOG+ (and other applications) as a platform which enables others to write to it, creating a win/win for all (though not necessarily a proportional win/win).