Wednesday, October 31, 2007

OpenSocial and Facebook as Platforms

We finally are starting to hear what Google's anticipated alternative to Facebook as a platform. If you've talked to me in the past few months, you probably know that this is something I've been grappling with across a variety of projects/domains. I've talked about this issue in: Facebook Platform and Facebook as a Learning Platform.

With Google's entry, there's a nice alternative to Facebook and the key word is "open." With Facebook you are somewhat forced to make a hard choice about rewiring your application to live seamlessly within the Facebook environment or pushing Facebook users across to your site which is a bit ugly. Further, you face the prospect of having Facebook rework aspects that you are leveraging.

As I'm looking at the design of several applications that are either new or extensions of existing sites/applications, I find myself wanting to leverage the knowledge of social connections that exist across the network of different applications (e.g.,, flickr, MyBlogLog, Facebook, LinkedIn, your email, discussion groups, etc.). As a user, I find it incredibly frustrating that I have to introduce relationships over and over again to these sites. Why doesn't my MyBlogLog community follow me over to Facebook?

Google appears to be headed down the direction that will allow applications to take advantage of that knowledge across applications.

But I'm still back staring my same questions as I look at various needs:
  • Do you leverage Facebook because of installed based and easier, known viral adoption model even though you are locked in?
  • Can you justify building out your own social graph (friends, groups, etc.)?
  • Do you head towards Google's OpenSocial even though you may be ahead of your users?
Answers seem to be fuzzy and turning out different in different cases. I'm hoping to hear more from other folks about what they seem happening.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Startup LA and More Blogs

I was on a panel yesterday at StartupLA. The event was a good event and I ran into a few folks that I hadn't seen in a while and meet a few new people.

One thing that was interesting is that I'm finally starting to run into folks in Los Angeles who run in technology circles and who have blogs. This is something that I've been having a hard time finding.

So some of the newly found blogs:

Joel Ordesky
Cliff Allen
Marty Poulin

and some others I've found recently:

Fabian Schonholz
Shuki Lehavi

However, if I'm missing others that are technology and Los Angeles related, please let me know.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Entity Extraction Firefox Plugin

After hearing at a recent CTO Forum meeting from Siderean about their relational navigation technology and various discussions with other folks on search, it's seeming like entity extraction is coming up everywhere. Today I saw John Udell's post Entity extraction everywhere.

Through this post, I found Gnosis a Firefox plugin that will do entity extraction and highlight the resulting terms on the page. In and of itself, I don't believe that I'm going to get much use out of it. However, the fact is that entity extraction is a key component to making sense of large bodies of text in a form other than keyword search.

Finding Gnosis makes me believe that we may be closer to some of the solutions I envision than I had thought.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Amazon Web Services (AWS)

I went to an event by Amazon on their Amazon Web Services in Santa Monica today. The focus was S3 - storage service, EC2 - their compute cloud, their queuing system, and their flexible payment system. The S3 system is not a transactional object system, it's for larger objects, larger updates. The EC2 is very similar to having a Linux box in a colocation facility. However, there are some interesting differences in terms of not being able to control proximity of multiple boxes, having a fixed IP address and probably most interesting is the ephemeral nature of the persistent storage on the boxes. Basically, your box can go away (and its storage) at any point. You need to push out anything truly persistent to another machine and/or storage, e.g., S3.

It wasn't until a couple of the customers who used it explained what's really required. There appears to be a problem with having a single point of failure around distributing the load over machines and how DNS is handled in the patterns explained. However, the persistence issue seems to have some patterns defined that work pretty well. You definitely have to architect to work effectively for this environment.

There seems to be a very clear case if you are doing batch computing over objects, or if you have widely varying computing needs or want cheap storage of blobs. I'm assuming that Amazon will get the DNS/load distribution issue figured out and then this would seem to be a pretty compelling offering.

As it stands, there are a few cases where it would have applied on projects I've worked on:

  • LivePlanet - could have used it to bulk up for each contest, store videos and scripts on S3, and possibly do format conversions. A lot of the examples that Amazon used were media related.
What's interesting about storing media is that it's not a CDN like Akamai. Rather it's cheap, reliable storage that may or may not have good retrieval characteristics.

  • eHarmony and MyShape seem they could use it to distribute load around matching especially during media events. There are periodic intensive compute cycles and the need to ramp up quickly based on particular needs. This would seem to be a good case for us to separate off matching and making that a more scalable operation on EC2.
This will definitely be something for us to look at going forward. I'm hoping we can have one or two of the users come into our CTO Forum to talk about their experience.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Startup Opportunities in SoCal

On Ben Kuo's blog, he posted about Entrepreneurs in Southern California
and pointed to a post by Will Johnson, a Southern California entrepreneur and blogger. Will's post talks about lack of interest in working for startups here in Southern California, saying:
..we probably’d don’t have the: a) same support infrastructure (meet-ups, networking events, etc.); b) history of success; and c) abundance of start-up companies (so if one fails there is another to jump on).

Ben responded with:
I’d argue that it’s all a perception, rather than a reality. There are more than enough meet-ups and networking events; we’ve got plenty of examples of successes in the area; and there are plenty of startups to jump to in case of a startup failure.

Ben actually didn't address the issue raised by Will that there is definitely a shortage of really good developers, engineers, etc. willing to go work for startup companies. Will associates this with the fact that people who have great (or even bad) jobs with companies that are farther along don't want to leave. I'm not sure that's the only or primary reason. There are a lot of risk adverse people who won't work for a start-up. Being right next to lots of aerospace companies here in El Segundo, I can find them by the truckload at lunch time. But they won't leave there job. Still, there is definitely a pool of folks who will take more risk.

The problem is that right now it's very competitive to find good architects and developers period. It doesn't matter the size, shape, risk of the company. Maybe in this kind of good market it's harder for start-ups, but if anything I think the wave of innovation going on right now makes it easier to find people willing to take a risk.

That said, I agree with Ben that you have to know where to look and how to look. There are definitely lots of events going on. And there are tons of ways to use social networks. And if you are looking for engineers you have to be willing to go where the geeks go and look for the geeks.

This is something we've discussed before in: Entreprenuer Network and Events and Networking in Los Angeles.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The $100K Startup? Changes in VC Land?

I've been reading or hearing quite a bit about how startups these days don't take nearly as much capital to create as they used to. What used to cost $1M now takes $100K. If that's actually true, then it creates New Rules Of Technology VC. In this post RWW talks about some of the new kind of approaches to funding:
  • Y Combinator is creating tech companies with a tiny (10-20K) seed investment;
  • Charles River Ventures started a Quick start program;
  • Jeff Clavier launched a 12M fund for tech startups.
Each of these is aimed at effectively providing earlier, smaller financing rounds.

I don't really agree that $100K is the new $1M. Sure, there are some fun things you can create quickly on platforms like Facebook that may get viral uptake. And there will be examples of start-ups that didn't cost much (although $100K is pretty extreme and certainly doesn't count human effort costs). However, my belief is that while certain aspects of technology development have come down in cost and it's easy to build small applications quickly, as the scope of the effort increases, costs do. Just as they always have. Further, while some viral pick-up or online marketing is possible in certain startups, if anything, marketing and sales has become harder because of fragmented attention.

At the same time, I tend to agree that there's a need for smaller financing rounds for very early stage companies that lines up with what RWW is talking about. Angel networks act like low-end VCs and expect a company with a product and a somewhat proven market opportunity. Where does a start-up go for $150K - $300K to prove that out. Hopefully, they know some Angels personally. These alternate sources of funding may address this very common need.

My guess is that a new round of incubators (The Hive) may result or new angel networks (that act more like Angels) or possibly the VC acting like Angel model. However, since this gap has existed for a while, do we really expect this to change that much?